“The act of voting is one opportunity for us to remember that our whole way of life is predicated on the capacity of ordinary people to judge carefully and well.” Alan Keyes
Campaign Rhetoric vs Reality
In the first two 2022 Gubernatorial debates for Republican candidates, the audience has often responded favorably to candidate responses that are not within the powers of the Executive Branch. It is understandable that people have forgotten the limits of the executive branch because Gov. Polis extended a 30-day emergency order in succession for 16 months, and then steamrolled the powers designated to the legislative branch with representation from each district. This article aims to inform voters on state issues as they listen to candidate responses, so they can discern fervent rhetoric from responsible reality. The paraphrased examples below contrast campaign rhetoric with the actual powers of the governor.
Campaign Rhetoric: “As Governor, I will reduce the budget by 20%! I already have it figured out!”
Reality: The Governor’s Office submits the executive budget proposal with input from his executive departments to the Joint Budget Committee (JBC). The judicial and legislative branches also submit their budget proposals to the JBC. The JBC painstakingly makes the reductions needed for a balanced budget with supplemental appropriation requests from departments and quarterly revenue updates from the state. The General Assembly ultimately votes on the Long Bill in April, and the governor signs the budget, with veto and line-item veto powers. Although the governor sets budget priorities or a wish list, it is ultimately the JBC who is the watchdog of the state operating budget. The Capitol Development Committee and the Joint Technology committee also have input. The JBC can direct the governor to restrict spending when shortfalls occur. A gubernatorial candidate cannot have a state budget, without input from all of these sources, and without having established priorities. A more realistic answer would list the areas where reductions can be implemented, typically in agendas not supported by conservatives like electric school buses (which are in the current budget wish list of Gov. Polis).
Campaign Rhetoric: “As Governor, I will tell health care workers who were fired to do x, y, and z and to take legal action against businesses!”
Reality: The governor cannot give legal advice to citizens, nor can the governor control hiring and firing policies in the private sector. The governor can protect privacy of medical choices, and enforce anti-discrimination laws and religious protections. The governor can also impose fines on businesses who violate fair employment laws. The governor will appoint a new director of CDPHE, who can direct the Board of Health to change the rule that required the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for healthcare workers, and ultimately resulted in losing 5290 health care worker jobs and reducing hospital bed capacity.
Campaign Rhetoric: “As Governor, I will repeal all the bad laws passed in the last four years!”
Reality: The Colorado House and Senate both currently have Democrat majorities, so repeal is almost impossible. The most controversial law passed by Gov. Polis was the Red Flag Law, that allows judges to remove firearms for a year from people who are deemed to be at high risk of harming themselves or others. Law enforcement or family members can petition the court to confiscate weapons of an individual with “clear and convincing” level of evidence of risk. Polis signed an additional six gun laws in 2021. The Red Flag law is being challenged in court, so it is likely the incoming governor will not be able to influence it until the court makes a decision. The governor could support sheriffs in Second Amendment Sanctuaries who refuse to enforce Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) based on Constitutional rights.
Gov. Polis also signed controversial legislation against the oil and gas industry in Colorado, the top industry in Colorado. The incoming governor can appoint new commissioners to oversee the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and can direct the new CDPHE director to shift focus to foster oil and gas, and not to over-regulate the industry.
Gov. Polis similarly showed his disdain for the Colorado’s second largest industry, agriculture. Meat is the most lucrative export from Colorado. Gov. Polis proclaimed a “MeatOut Day” which caused a national outrage among ranchers despite the day being nonbinding. The incoming governor can appoint an Agriculture commissioner to protect this vital part of the economy, can remove appointed animal rights activists from the State Board of Veterinary Medicine, and can end restrictions that resulted in the annual Stock Show moving from Denver to Oklahoma.
Campaign Rhetoric: “As Governor, I will stop giving Colorado’s water to other states!”
Reality: According to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, “The State of Colorado is directly involved in one international treaty, two U.S. Supreme Court decrees, one interstate agreement, and nine interstate compacts.” These are legally binding contracts originating as far back as 1922 that dictate how the western states and Mexico share water from Colorado’s rivers and creeks.
The San Luis Valley and High Plains aquifers are both in alarming decline due to drought and irrigation needs in crop agriculture. There has not been legislation since 2017 to provide engineering projects to help in these areas. Gov. Polis assumed office in 2019 and did not make water a priority in his administration. Because the tributary water is regulated by the compacts, Colorado must focus on groundwater in creative solutions. Colorado has successfully engineered water projects in the past with Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) projects in agriculture areas like the South Platte Basin, Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) projects that store water in wet years for drought years in municipal and industrial areas, and Water Infrastructure Supply Efficiency (WISE) projects in residential areas. A new governor could prioritize legislation and funding for these groundwater projects, as well as prioritize new reservoir development to store water runoff from snow.
Locally, a governor can promote slowing development by decreasing population density metrics in zoning rules and enforcement of development permits based on water level.
Campaign Rhetoric: “As Governor, I will audit every state department immediately after taking office!”
Reality: There is vocal support among conservatives for auditing the Secretary of State’s office for election integrity. However, state audits of departments are on a rotating schedule to reduce impact to state operations. A newly elected Secretary of State will make decisions on updating voter rolls, counting mail-in ballots, and safeguards against online hacking of machines. In the meantime, poll watchers and election judges are the watchdogs on election night. The governor’s duties include enforcing state laws, so he or she can direct the Attorney General to review the operations in the Secretary of State’s office to ensure neutrality and not favor one party over the other in election process.
Campaign Rhetoric: “As governor, I will have elected people arrested and thrown in jail!”
Reality: The governor cannot bypass due process or the judicial branch. People accused of crimes in the public square are not equivalent to people charged with crimes by judges and subject to arrest and jail by law enforcement. Furthermore, demonizing Democrats with this rhetoric is divisive and will not persuade the needed swing voters to elect a new governor. (I bemoan that I must explain this simple concept that candidates need to be appealing to a broad base of voters in a purple state, and yet people wildly applaud this go-to-jail rhetoric.)
Judge the candidates carefully and well
The governor is charged with the powers to enforce state laws, to approve or veto laws by the Colorado General Assembly, to convene the legislature, to grant pardons in some crimes, and to serve as the commander in chief of the state’s military forces. It is imperative that Colorado elects a Chief Executive that has experience to lead in the current reality. We must all educate voters on the appropriate role of the governor, and not what tickles the ears. This is especially challenging in the celebrity culture of today, where people have been groomed by the media to give preference to the candidate with the bold one-liners during interviews or the VIP lifestyle on social media. Humility is often overlooked as a strength. Attend the next Gubernatorial debate in Centennial Hall in Colorado Springs on March 15, 2022 at 6pm and determine what is rhetoric and what is reality.