What it Takes to Move a Governor


Legislative sessions following a political "sea change" are the most dangerous ones for interest groups—conservative or liberal. Colorado's 66th General Assembly, which convened in January 2007, was no exception. In the2006 election, Democrats added to their slim majorities in both houses and gained control of the governorship with the election of Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter.

Labor Seizes the Day

Catching many by surprise, Colorado's labor interests struck quickly in the session. In the first week, Representative Michael Garcia (D-Aurora) introduced HB 1072, which would remove the requirement for a workplace vote on whether to establish a closed shop following a vote to unionize. Without that second vote, the closed shop issue would become an element (some would say a tactical weapon) in the collective bargaining process.

Throughout the campaign, candidate Ritter portrayed himself as a moderate leader who would promote economic development, stand up to extreme interests from both the right and left, and try to bring opposing interests together. Even before he was sworn, though, he collaborated with Garcia and the unions on this issue and as HB 1072 quickly moved through the process, Governor Ritter sought to downplay the significance of the bill and its impact on the state's business climate.

Business Seizes the Message

Bill understood that in the political process, controlling the message can be just as important as counting the votes. As communications director for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, he and others in the business community realized that the only way to stop HB 1072 was with a gubernatorial veto. Further, he believed that this veto would only be possible if the Governor's inclination to sign the bill could be overridden by a widespread public repudiation of the bill's intent and of labor's cynical attempt to ramrod the measure through.

Bill helped develop a detailed message and compiled documentation about how HB 1072 would put Colorado at a competitive disadvantage vis � vis neighboring states. As the bill headed toward the House Floor, he carried this message to the daily newspapers and other media across the state, making the conscious decision to build momentum in the smaller media markets before pressing the major urban newspapers to take a position.

These local papers quickly came out with editorials opposing HB 1072 and when they reported on the legislative battle and ultimate Senate passage, Bill was widely quoted. As the groundswell of opposition grew across the state, the Denver Post and other major papers followed suit and urged a veto.

As one of the leading spokesperson for business on this issue, Bill utilized email blasts to more than 8,000 business leaders to help educate and motivate them to speak out against the bill. He also monitored and weighed in on the major political blogs to spread the business message even wider.

Governor Ritter Sees the Light

As the opposition grew, Governor Ritter's position on HB 1072 seemed to moderate and he took a non-committal position on the bill. Ultimately, pressure from business leaders and the unanimous opposition by Colorado's daily newspapers put the Governor in the position of having to disappoint his labor constituency and veto the bill.