Denver Direct: A Politician Unfit to be Governor

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Politician Unfit to be Governor

(Editor’s note: Phil Goodstein, author and historian, publishes a monthly print-only newsletter called The Naysayer. He also gives us permission to publish it here, for which we are very grateful as his writing lifts the prose of this site considerably, to say nothing of the benefit of his historical insights. The Naysayers next meet on Saturday, February 6, Enzo’s Pizza, 3424 Colfax (between Cook and Madison) 5:30 PM.)

by Phil Goodstein

From the time of the Pikes Peak gold rush, Colorado has been a magnet for financial swindlers, con artists, and snake oil salesmen. Not surprisingly, the state was in the vanguard of the savings and loan swindles. It has produced a rich crop of Ponzi scheme perpetrators. The only reason the recent banking crisis mostly skimmed the state’s surface is because Colorado’s longtime dominant banks-First National, Colorado National, and United Bank-had previously sold out to Wall Street manipulators. Even so, the collapse of the $1 billion New Frontier Bank in Greeley was the country’s largest bank failure in 2009. New Frontier’s collapse stemmed from bad management, deceit, and swindling. Colorado bank regulators mostly turned a blind eye to such practices as the financial institution’s problems escalated.

This was not surprising. The state’s division of banking regulation is a paper tiger. Right as the banking crisis has soared, it has had mass vacancies among its examiners. Far from having a strong leader, it has been run by an temporary acting director. Governor Bill Ritter was quick to assert that he was not responsible for such a failure of administration. New Frontier’s collapse, his flacks explained, was not linked to anything done by the state’s leader. “It was caused by a flawed business model, risky decisions made by the bank itself, and a down-turned economy,” Ritter’s spokesman asserted. Such is to be expected from a former prosecutor who never made combating white-collar crime a foremost concern.

Virtually from their beginning, banks have been the epitome of capitalist fraud, greed, and duplicity. Their repeated failures have reflected the far from sterling character of those possessing great fortunes. Banking regulation exists precisely to protect depositors and borrowers from bankers who follow flawed business models, make risky decisions, and do not realize that the economy itself is extremely shaky. In other words, the Ritter apology is a total abdication of responsibility – the role of the division of banking is to make sure that financial institutions are not pulled down by the leadership of the stripe of New Frontier Bank.

At least Ritter did not cite budget pressures to explain his complete lack of oversight in hiring bank examiners and installing a strong leader at the division of banking. Still, this was a factor. The governor has much better places to spend state money than on regulation, education, or health care. In particular, he has paid more than $200,000 in public funds to photographers and producers to advertise himself as the “father of the year.”

The way Ritter was so quick to hide from the incompetence of the division of banking – it was not an appropriate image for the “father of the year” – shows he is completely unfit for office. To his great credit, he realized this when he withdrew from the governor’s race in mid-January. The trite and superficial were quick to embrace his concern for his family. That is the standard banality of any politician being forced from office. Usually, it covers a record of scandal and folly. Rumors about Ritter’s personal involvement with failed United States attorney nominee Stephanie Villafuerte had far more legitimacy than the crocodile tears bemoaning Ritter’s sacrifice of his personal life for the call of public duty. (Far more than any concern about his family could well have been the fear that the Villafuerte affair might simply be the tip of the iceberg of the former prosecutor’s questionable operations.)

Ritter told the truth when he stated that the Democratic machine did not force him from the race. The party’s leaders are a set of scoundrels and manipulators whose ethics are worse than those of the bankers. They care for principle; the party is all about power and serving big-money interests. The Democratic leadership knows quite well that the labor movement, which was the primary force in electing Ritter in 2006, is spineless. Despite their moans about Ritter’s betrayals, the unions would nonetheless have swallowed him as being better than the evil Republicans.

For the most part, the Republicans are little worse than the Democrats. Their likely nominee, handpicked by insiders, is Scott McGinnis. Like Ritter, he is a 17th Street lawyer, between his stint as prosecutor and his entry into the statehouse, Ritter was part of the corporate law lobbying firm of Hogan & Hartson. As the Democrats well-deserved loss in March shows, they reap defeat and scorn when, after promising “change,” they deliver as horrid a policy as those of the Republicans. The latter, in turn, protect themselves as a force of sanity compared to the sterile elitism and manipulations which have been at the core of Barack Obama’s policies, especially his fraudulent health care “reform.”

Ritter’s departure has given the Democrats the chance to show their true mettle: compromise, evasion, betrayal, and a lack of principle. They initially slobbered over Ken Salazar, a man who was essentially a rubber stamp of the worst of the George W. Bush torture machine while he was in the Senate and has since been an equal rubber stamp of Bush III, Barack Obama. Salazar, incidentally, was the key figure in pushing Villafuerte for United States attorney. She, in a sense, is the figure linking Ritter with Salazar and the rest of the right-wing Democratic clique. Fortunately, Salazar has decided to stay in Washington, so protecting citizens from the havoc he might create as governor.

No sooner had Salazar bowed out than pundits turned to an equally reactionary darling, John Hickenlooper. As mayor, he has sought to make the City and County of Denver a private entity by selling the city’s heart and soul. In many ways, he is a mirror of Ritter; while he asks public input on policy decisions, he makes decisions regardless of what the public then tells him. His current major scheme is turning the city’s parks over to private entrepreneurs. Shortly before Hickenlooper announced for the statehouse, the city, despite being ostensibly broke, appropriated more than $1 million for new parking meters. Their advantage, supporters explain, is that they will allow the administration easily to raise the rate on meters, especially in places of high demand. In reporting this, the media forgot that Hickenlooper gained city hall in 2003 by attacking the draconian character of Wellington Webb’s parking meter policies.

But promise and performance have never mattered for Hickenlooper. More than anything, his brew-pub empire sold illusions. The utterly shallow sought to prove their insubstantial sophistication by drinking his beer as opposed to the products of Coors and Budweiser. The same illusions have remained the essence of Hickenlooper’s aura, a glow of righteousness that hides that he is at one with the corporate establishment. As much as Roy Romer and Federico Pena, he is a proponent of the “public/private partnership”; the belief that the government is essentially an extension of the business world.

Denver would benefit greatly by Hickenlooper becoming governor – it would get him out of city hall. Ideally, by running for governor he would become so involved in state politics that he would not have time to implement his horrid agenda. Moreover, in the statehouse, he would not have nearly as much power as he does as mayor. Not only is the governor’s office much weaker than the mayor in the day-to-day administration of the government, but the General Assembly would never come close to the total subservience of city council; a body that is the personification of the emptiness of the virtual Democratic monopoly in the Mile High City.

Hickenlooper’s candidacy killed a pundit fantasy: getting Andrew Romanoff to run for governor instead of against incumbent pro-establishment Democrat, Michael Bennet for the Senate. Dupes readily convince themselves that Romanoff, a supporter of the Democratic Leadership Council who has endorsed Hickenlooper for governor, is somehow a liberal and better than the likes of Ritter, Salazar, and Bennet. In the process, they forget how, as speaker of the House, he stood behind Ritter’s vetoes of pro-labor bills. Even before Ritter took office, Romanoff saw that the legislature passed vicious anti-immigrant legislation.

Romanoff’s statement that he will not accept PAC money is illustrative of the emptiness of the candidate and his followers. While the Bennet donor list is a directory of corporate America, politicians, for the most part, are not directly bought by receiving massive sums from corporate interests. Through their ready embrace of the capitalist system, the officeholders show their commitment to enhancing the status quo. In other words, Romanoff will give away the services which business donors receive through contributing to candidates.

Voters should expect nothing regardless of who is elected. The entire controversy about Ritter’s departure and the virtual anointing of Hickenlooper has made it clear that candidates are not decided through the grassroots efforts of everyday people who participate in caucuses and conventions. On the contrary, voters are nothing more than an audience who are manipulated through campaign consultants fueled by big-money interests. Over the past generation, it has not mattered whom the caucuses and state conventions have endorsed; the insiders have bought the primaries, continually delivering for 17th Street and the clients of such lawyer-lobbyists as McGinnis and Ritter.

At least the Democrats have not talked about recruiting Ritter’s worst appointment to run for governor, Michael Bennet. Shortly after Ritter’s denial of responsibility for the state’s thoroughly inept, incompetent regulation of banks, Bennet called for a federal investigation of the collapse of New Frontier. Even so, the state’s junior senator pointed out that such a probe and rigorous government oversight of the banks are not really necessary. The essential cause of the super recession, Bennet told a group in Durango, is the American populace has failed to save. In other words, everyday citizens, not the scams of Wall Street and the essential rot of the entire economic system, are at fault for the country’s decline.

The debate over Ritter, Bennet, McGinnis, Salazar, Romanoff, and company is completely sterile. They are the personifications of a system that puts the interests of the banks and corporations above all else. The Republican and Democratic parties are nothing more than agencies of those with power and money. Until this is realized, it matters little who is in power; officeholders will be nothing more than a slightly animated puppet of those who pull the strings and exercise their dictatorship over everybody else.