“It’s already 2018!” said Sherrie Gibson mischievously at a holiday party. “Hasn’t anybody told you, John?”
Gibson, a prominent local Republican serving on the city planning commission, explained her remark to this
“The governor’s race! John Hickenlooper’s term-limited, and there are already three interested Democrats and about a hundred Republicans considering a run,” she continued. “There’s Wayne Williams, Walker Stapleton, Cynthia Coffman — who do you think would be the strongest candidate?”
After the vast earthquake that rearranged the national landscape, it was good to get back to local and state politics. And to know that the election for governor will mean honest, steady politics no matter who wins.
Our state politics are, in case you hadn’t noticed, commendably gracious, thoughtful, rancor-free and respectable. Our governors and lawmakers are competent, honest and hardworking. Those qualities are replicated all the way down through local governments, at least in all of those I’ve either served in or reported on during the past 35 years. Colorado isn’t like Illinois, where there might as well be a state prison specifically reserved for disgraced politicians, and Denver’s not like Albany, N.Y., where scores of state legislators from both parties have been on the take.
What makes a state business-friendly? In today’s strangely complex business landscape, where a thicket of overlapping city, state and federal regulations and mandates makes business decisions ever more difficult, honest government is key. It’s fine to change statutes and make the playing field more accessible, but that’s always difficult.
So some politicians use extra-legal means to get their reward.
As Slate reported in 2008, “The paradigmatic Illinois crook was Paul Powell, who served as secretary of state. When Powell died, his executor found shoeboxes filled with $800,000 in cash in the Springfield hotel room where he lived.”
The cash had been funneled up to Powell in $5 and $10 increments from residents who wanted to make sure they passed their driving tests.
As one of his colleagues said, mourning his passage:
“His shoeboxes will be difficult to fill!”
For businesses, crooked government means payoffs, whether disguised as political contributions, favoring one contractor over another or simple bribery. Such chicanery forces businesses into unethical behavior, discourages new businesses and inhibits growth.
Back in the early 1990s, an out-of-state developer offered a bribe to Bill Hyer, then a member of the El Paso County Planning Commission. Hyer went straight to the FBI, the developer got what he deserved, and we all applauded Bill — a stand-up guy if ever there was one.
Kidding around one afternoon with Bill, I told him that I felt insulted.
“Bill, no one ever offered me a bribe,” I told him. “Why you and not me?”
“John, I know that you’re a powerful city councilmember,” he replied, “But here’s why: Either they realize that you’re absolutely honest and incorruptible, or they don’t think you have the power to affect their business one way or another.”
The election for governor will mean honest, steady politics no matter who wins.
Corruption in government is contagious. In states such as Louisiana, Illinois and New York, officials assume their colleagues are crooked, and tend to think it their duty to get their share.
That’s real corruption. It shouldn’t be confused with politics as usual, in which folks identify ideologically compatible candidates and contribute to their campaigns. You may give $100 and the Koch Brothers may directly and indirectly provide $1 million, but everyone is using legitimate means to move the policy needle.
A few years ago, John Suthers spoke of a meeting he had attended in Washington, D.C., while serving as U.S. attorney for Colorado.
“The U.S. Attorney General spoke to us [U.S. attorneys], and he was concerned that we weren’t bringing enough cases against corrupt officials,” Suthers recalled. “I wanted to tell him that in Colorado, official corruption is when an elected official is dating a secretary.”
Of course, there’s always the example of Terry Maketa, the exception that proves the rule. Are there other Maketas who acquire and misuse power? Not many — and Stapleton, Coffman and Williams are not among them.
For the Dems, Cary Kennedy, Ken Salazar and Ed Perlmutter have been mentioned as potential candidates.
Among the six, we can expect a reassuringly boring race as the center-right faces off against the center-left. Whoever wins, we’ll have a worthy successor to Bill Owens, Bill Ritter and Hickenlooper — four more years of business-friendly, competent and honest government.
I’m already bored.