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The Big Thumbs Down


Down, down, down, down, down de-doobie doobie down ...wah wah wah ..." The voters must have been listening to oldies radio, where "Come Go With Me," by the long-defunct Dell Vikings, pops up with disconcerting regularity.

Down went D-11, down went the cable-franchise agreement, down went MERTAA, down went collective bargaining, and down went the zoo. And as the smoke cleared from the wreckage of so many hopeful campaigns, only Gov. Bill Owens and Dickie Wadhams emerged triumphant.

You've gotta give Bill Owens credit; he's got moxie. He put his prestige, credibility and political power on the line for this issue, even appearing on commercials touting Referendum A. Had it failed, he would have been toast. There were a lot of Republican legislators and power brokers who didn't much like loading the state with $2 billion in debt, but they kept their mouths shut in order not to embarrass their newly-minted Republican governor. The result: For the first time in living memory, we have a governor who can dictate to the legislature. Just watch -- only the most foolish and obdurate of Republican legislators will dare cross our boy Bill now.

And as for the Dems, they'll draw their salaries, show up for committee hearings and votes and scarcely bother to oppose the Governor's policies. Let's face it: Bill Owens is the Bill Clinton of Colorado, a political animal of such frightening capacity that he can pretty much do what he likes. After today, Owens rules a political landscape littered with the bones of those who underestimated him.

Our local political landscape, by contrast, looks like postwar Berlin.

While the mayor and Council did their best to distance themselves from MERTAA and the cable deal, the sheer magnitude of defeat is both disheartening and delegitimizing. Council has some tough decisions to make, now that the voters have given them a couple of swift kicks in the butt.

Will Council try to impose storm-drainage fees without seeking voter approval? Will they ask voters to increase the sales-tax rate a year hence? Will they alter budget priorities in any significant way? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, cops and firefighters can't be pleased with voter rejection of collective bargaining. The relationship between uniformed public-safety employees and City Council, always uneasy, has deteriorated significantly since ex-mayor Bob Isaac quit.

Unfortunately, D-11's proposed tax increase was badly structured and poorly presented to the public. Its failure may mean that class sizes will increase, and popular programs will be cut. Let's hope that the school board won't be dumb enough to try to close or consolidate smaller elementary schools. If so, expect recall elections.

Lessons to be learned? There's no substitute for political leadership. Thanks to Gov. Bill, both Referendum A and Denver's billion-dollar light rail proposal passed easily. Contrast the governor's performance with that of our own elected officials, who, after loading the ballot with referred issues, simply disappeared. Rather than spending their time crafting ordinances to deal with the grave problems posed by freeway beggars, mayor and Council might have done what politicians do best: campaign.

But, as a seasoned political observer remarked Tuesday night, they knew that none of 'em would pass anyway. Maybe so; but with a debacle of this magnitude, the search for scapegoats is sure to begin soon.

Wasn't this whole thing Jim Mullen's idea all along ...?

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