The Ugliness Has Just Begun

With a little over seven months until voters cast ballots on the soon-to-be-approved budget deal between Governor Owens and Democrat legislators, the campaign within the Capitol has already begun. And it sure looks ugly: between an anonymous flier and a state-sanctioned e-mail message, neither side comes out looking clean.

A spoof flier depicting Governor Bill Owens in a most unflattering light was sent anonymously to many Republican legislators. Reading the description of the flier in the Rocky Mountain News, it sounds like run-of-the-mill satire at best, more like propaganda done in poor taste. Whoever has hidden in the cloak of anonymity to send these is doing no good for the cause of opposition to the tax increase, but Senator Norma Anderson’s remark that the flier was “beyond disgusting” seems a bit of an overreaction to me – unless there was some key description omitted from the news story.

Meanwhile, questions arise regarding the ethics of a message sent by Owens’ Revenue Director through the state e-mail system. Following a description of the compromise agreement to his department’s 1,400 employees, Michael Cooke wrote the following (according to Chris Frates of the Denver Post):

“Over the course of the next several months, you will hear much about this proposal. In the governor’s words, it is ‘a moderate proposal that’s good for Colorado and good for our economy,”‘ Cooke wrote in the letter’s last paragraph. “I hope, once you have looked at the facts surrounding the Colorado Economic Recovery Act, you will agree.”

Whatever Cooke’s intentions were, and they were probably harmless, at least one recipient took it as a political message to be a “team player,” that perhaps one’s employment status might be dependent on his support or lack thereof of the impending budget proposal. That seems like a bit of a stretch, but Cooke’s message did broach a fine ethical line and handed a chance to the governor’s opponents to make some hay. The perception it should generate won’t be beneficial to the cause of those supporting the governor’s compromise plan. Then Frates points out the technicality:

Both [Cooke’s spokeswoman Diane] Reimer and [Owens’ spokesman Dan] Hopkins said Cooke did not break any laws prohibiting campaigning with state resources because the proposal is not yet on the ballot.

Pete Maysmith of the government watchdog group Colorado Common Cause said he doesn’t think the memo fits into the category of campaigning with state resources.

“This letter I certainly don’t think crosses that line,” he said. “This letter serves a legitimate purpose.”

One has to ask if Maysmith, the “genius” behind Amendment 27, would poo-poo complaints if a similar e-mail were sent through the state system decrying the watered-down version of the Romanoff ripoff (in the words of Jon Caldara: “No refund for you!”). One also has to ask what he thinks about teachers’ unions abusing public resources in last year’s election, but only if the Denver press puts a spotlight on the complaint.

Before I stray from the subject at hand, it’s worth comparing the two stories in today’s Denver papers – separate actions taken on behalf of different sides of the heating budget issue. To whatever extent either will have any impact at all on the ongoing debate – and who can say which will have more – I say they will backfire against the intentions of those who sent them. Unless there’s sabotage involved (oh, what the cloak of anonymity will do to foster speculation), both sides can only hope they haven’t shot themselves in the foot.

But then again, there’s probably a lot more of this yet to come.

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