Peter Blake

Two veto strategies – will either work?

How much is one vote worth? If it’s the governor’s, it’s either 46 cents or tens — maybe hundreds — of thousands of dollars.

Two controversial bills got the 33 and 18 votes they needed to pass the House and Senate, despite intense lobbying against them. Now the opponents are working just as hard to get the one last vote — or veto — they need to kill the bills: Gov. John Hickenlooper’s.

One group is spending a ton of money, the other not so much.

Senate Bill 25 would authorize a collective bargaining process for firefighters in Colorado’s 260-plus cities and towns, even those designated home-rule. It is being fought by the Colorado Municipal League and many of its member cities. A similar bill was vetoed by former Gov. Bill Ritter four years ago, and the hostility he got from labor was one reason he didn’t run for re-election in 2010.

icon_op_edSenate Bill 252 would require rural electric cooperatives to boost the energy they produce from renewable sources to 20 percent from the current 10 percent by 2020. As introduced the quota was 25 percent but it was lowered during the process. Tri-State Generation & Transmission, which supplies 18 of the state’s rural electric associations (REAs) with power, calls the bill a “war on rural Colorado.” But urban, investor-owned utilities like Xcel Energy must provide 30 percent renewables.

The municipal league’s arguments are set out in a five-page letter it sent to Hickenlooper on May 8, the last day of the session. It claims, among other things, that the bill infringes on the powers guaranteed to home-rule municipalities by Article XX of the state constitution.

Tri-State also wrote a letter to the governor. But apparently afraid it might not be delivered, it also paid to have it published as full-page advertisements in The Denver Post, Greeley Tribune, Colorado Springs Gazette, Pueblo Chieftain, Grand Junction Sentinel and Durango Herald. It has also bought television ads urging Hickenlooper to veto the bill, which it claims would cost REA customers “billions” over a period of years.

Just how much have Tri-State and its allies spent on their campaign to win one vote? “We’re not disclosing that information yet,” said spokesman Lee Boughey. Presumably it is less than the “billions” it claims the bill will cost.

Veteran political operatives like Katy Atkinson could recall no similar campaign waged so publicly, and so expensively, to gain a veto. What’s more, the newspaper ads didn’t even call on readers to lobby the governor themselves. “If there’s not a call to action, that really is weird,” said Atkinson.

Veto solicitations are usually waged by letter and by personal visits — which have also been made.

We’ll soon discover whether the Big Spenders or the Non-Spenders get their way. It could be both, it could be neither. The governor must act before June 7.

Going cheap has been the municipal league’s strategy — or at least habit — for years. Back when lobbyist Sam Mamet roamed the statehouse halls he was famous for never buying lawmakers lunch or even coffee — even though that was still legal in those days. He apparently believed he could persuade through charm and/or logic alone.

Mamet has since become executive director and retreated to the league’s headquarters, but his successor, Kevin Bommer, would be just as cheap even if he didn’t have to be under 2006’s Amendment 41, which was supposed to produce “ethics in government” by banning most freebies.

In its letter the league reminded Hickenlooper that on his first day in office he signed an executive order promising not to impose unfunded mandates on local communities. SB 25, they said, “creates a state-mandated collective bargaining process when none is needed and there is no “clear and compelling reason to overturn local control and home rule authority.”

The firefighters’ bill was amended to require a public election authorizing collective bargaining, but the municipal league argues that it’s a “convoluted mandate in direct conflict” with existing statutes and the state constitution.

Bommer noted in an interview that the bill might have even further consequences. “If the business community doesn’t think it’s a big deal, it’s not thinking about the language in the statute that other public employee groups might latch onto,” he said. Even police departments already that already have collective bargaining agreements might try to get a batter deal under SB 25.

Tri-State complained that back in 2007, the bill establishing its 10 percent renewable mandate was “negotiated fairly and openly” by the interests involved. But this year, SB 252 “was conceived and crafted in secret before being sprung on rural constituencies.”

What Tri-State may well fear is that SB 252 might lead to even more expensive mandates by future legislatures. And so it might. But that battle was lost when they agreed to the 10 percent renewable mandate in 2007. Co-ops, being owned by customers, should always resist legislative mandates.

Could Tri-State’s big-spending strategy backfire, convincing the governor he could show “courage” by resisting the public pleadings of numerous organizations (26 groups signed on to Tri-State’s newspaper ad)? Boughey dismissed the possibility. “The governor is very reasonable,” he said, and the “flawed process” that excluded rural interests might convince him to veto the bill.

UPDATE: I owe an apology to the Colorado Municipal League. It didn’t squander 46 cents from its members’ hard-earned dues money on a stamp. Its letter was hand delivered to the governor’s office.

Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for Contact him at You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and


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