Daily Sentinel's Silbernagel falsely claimed Ritter vetoed labor bill over economic, workplace concerns

Bob Silbernagel falsely asserted in his April 8 column for The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction that Gov. Bill Ritter (D) vetoed a measure to revise Colorado labor law because “he was convinced [the bill] would be bad for the Colorado economy and all of the state's workers.” But Ritter indicated it was the “over-heated politics” surrounding the bill that prompted his veto.

In his April 8 column for The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction, editorial page editor Bob Silbernagel falsely claimed that Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed a revision to Colorado's Labor Peace Act because “he was convinced [the bill] would be bad for the Colorado economy and all of the state's workers.” In fact, as Colorado Media Matters has noted repeatedly (here, here, and here), Ritter made clear in his February 9 veto message that it was the failure of the bill's proponents and opponents to engage in “civil” debate -- not the substance of the bill -- that convinced him immediate enactment of the bill was not in the state's best interest.

Silbernagel made his false assertion regarding Ritter's veto of House Bill 1072 in a column that criticized organized labor's purported influence over the Democratic Party:

Responding to the ongoing dispute between organized labor and Demcractic Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Denver-area Teamsters' representative Ed Bagwell made this awkward but revealing statement:

“The state better start realizing that when you put a 'D' in front of your name, you better know what it stands for.”

Translation: Democrats are expected to carry water for labor unions, no questions asked. If they don't, they can expect to experience labor's wrath.

Gov. Ritter is experiencing that wrath now because earlier this year he vetoed a bill that would have made it far easier for unions to organize non-union workplaces. The bill would have overturned a law that's been on the books in Colorado for decades. A few Democrats, including Grand Junction Rep. Bernie Buescher, opposed the bill.

To listen to the union attacks on Ritter, one might think that the Democratic governor of Colorado is the greatest threat to organized labor since Republican President Ronald Reagan broke up the Air Traffic Controllers Union.

National labor leaders like the heads of the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters Union are demanding that the 2008 Democratic National Convention be relocated from Denver in retaliation for Ritter's action. Failing that, they are threatening large protests outside the convention. High-level peace negotiations between the unions and Ritter, facilitated by Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean, are scheduled for later this month.

Doesn't matter that Ritter has hardly abandoned unions, that he has already signed several other bills supported by labor. He must be punished for his one divergence from union doctrine.

To his great credit, Ritter has showed no inclination to reverse his decision on the labor-organizing legislation -- should a new version of the bill pass the Legislature -- which he was convinced would be bad for the Colorado economy and all of the state's workers. But Big Labor seems just as intent in reminding Ritter at every opportunity what the 'D' next to his name stands for.

HB 1072 proposed revising the Colorado Labor Peace Act to strike provisions regarding procedures under which workers preparing to negotiate a union contract can obtain necessary authority to make the contract an all-union agreement. The bill passed the House on January 22 and passed the Senate on February 5. Ritter, who during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign indicated he supported the bill, vetoed it on February 9.

Ritter's veto message, in which he indicated his support for the bill, directly contradicts Silbernagel's assertion that the governor “was convinced [the bill] would be bad for the Colorado economy and all of the state's workers.” As Ritter explained in his message, it was the “bitter, divisive and partisan battle” over the measure -- not the bill's substance -- that prompted his veto:

During the campaign, two labor organizations asked me in written questionnaires if I would support an amendment to the Colorado Labor Peace Act that eliminates the second organizing election ratifying an all-union agreement. I indicated that I would, believing that requiring a second super-majority election seems, on its face, undemocratic. It also injects government into what should be a private negotiating process between employer and employee.

I recognize how deeply disappointed my friends in organized labor will be with this decision. I know that members of my own party in the legislature stood firm in the face of outrageous, unprecedented and shameful partisan rhetoric done only for political sport.

But I strongly believe that the way we do the people's business is as important as what we do. And I am obligated to judge legislation by its consequences, intended and unintended.

Over the last several days, I have listened intently to people I respect who worried deeply about the impact this change would have on our ability to attract new business to Colorado, to create new economic opportunity for all. I am persuaded by their argument that changing long-time Colorado law relating to business and labor negotiations in this manner, in the atmosphere with which it was debated, is not now in the best interests of our state.

From the beginning, this was a bitter, divisive and partisan battle. Opposite sides dug in, refusing to consider reasonable compromises. It demonstrated precisely why so many people have grown so cynical about American politics. The bill's proponents made no effort to open a dialogue with the opponents. At times, the opponents were neither respectful nor civil. It was over-heated politics at its worst.

How we govern is important to me as governor and to the people of Colorado. The spirit of cooperation and collaboration embodied in the passage of FasTracks, Referendum C and other initiatives offers a perfect example of how we as a state can join forces, forge coalitions and move Colorado forward together.