For a great many Colorado labor unions and their supporters in the Democratic Party, the decision of Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, a Democrat, to veto of House Bill 1170 was the last straw. The bill would have allowed locked out employees to receive unemployment benefits, something that was true until Governor Owens reversed the policy during his administration. From a common sense justice point of view, this bill presents a much more clear issue than the national debate over the Employee Free Choice Act did.
When I was a a vacancy committee meeting for Senate District 31, replacing Jennifer Veiga as state senator for the district, the vast majority of people I spoke to either sworn not to contribute money to Ritter's 2010 campaign, or to not volunteer for it. A large share of the rank and file Democratic party faithful, probably more the half of the core group of active Democrats, have given up on the Governor as a result of the veto. This is not an idle threat, considering that sixteen of the top twenty contributors to his last campaign were labor unions, and unions provide a disproportionate share of the warm body volunteers needed to run a campaign.
Ritter has also earned the enmity of a good portion of the Democratic caucus in the Colorado General Assembly, not necessarily for vetoing the bill, but for failing to give them clear warning that he planned on doing this, and then publicly claiming that they knew a veto was coming. It doesn't help that his veto message doesn't even claim that the bill itself was wrong on the merits, just as he failed to the last time he vetoed a major pro-labor bill (despite perceived promises that he would sign the previous pro-labor bill). Ritter has earned a reputation under the dome as a man whose word cannot be trusted and who does not communicate with his own party. This dramatically reduces his legislative effectiveness. Suffice it to say also that this isn't the only bill where communication with the legislative caucus has been subpar.
Only a handful of people are saying that they wouldn't vote for Ritter over a Republican. And, Ritter has weak opposition so far on the Republican side. I'm not personally so disgusted by the veto that I've lost all hope, perhaps because I have a somewhat more cynical view of politics. But, the veto doesn't help either. It shows the Governor's bad judgment on the merits of the veto, and it shows miserable leadership and communications skills by the Governor and his senior staff with the legislative caucus and his base.
This veto was a serious self-inflicted wound. It could cost Ritter his re-election if the race gets close and Republicans start acting hungry. The Republicans show no sign of actually mounting a coherent campaign, but there is blood in the water. Yet, Ritter seems in no hurry to mend fences or make amends. If there was a plan in connection with this bill, it isn't apparent to anyone but him. If he wants to accomplish anything for the rest of his term of office, he needs to figure out how to make up this mistake to his base.