The Silence Is Deafening

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Sen. Rollie Heath on Monday (credit: CBS)

Sen. Rollie Heath on Monday (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

The Denver Post’s Tim Hoover reported Sunday that Governor Hickenlooper and Mayor Hancock have yet to stake an official position on Proposition 103, the only issue on the 2011 statewide ballot.

Their collective silence on the issue is likely one of the biggest reasons that the proposal to raise sales and income taxes to 1999 levels to help fund K-12 education has yet to catch serious momentum.

It’s not as if the idea doesn’t address a serious problem in Colorado. Education funding was cut by millions of dollars in this year’s state budget, despite the fact that Amendment 23 exists.

(Yes, technically when the state government did not raise school funding, and instead cut it by millions, they broke the law. But don’t expect anyone to sue the state anytime soon.)

The raising of the income and sales taxes are each less than .5%, so even though the effort can raise an estimated $3 billion, it’s not like it’s creating a situation that we weren’t living in 12 years ago.

But I’ll let the political groups and think tank debate the details of the pros and cons of the initiative.

My point is that when the top two Democrats in the state are also the top two elected leaders in the state, being the Governor and the Mayor of our state capital, their collective silence becomes a major hurdle to the issue’s success.

Colorado voters do not hinge their decisions on what John Hickenlooper and Michael Hancock believe should or should not pass. But the fact that neither of these leaders are on board with this issue shows that Sen. Rollie Heath, the author of the initiative, has yet to build a broad enough spectrum of support for the issue.

That need for a large and diverse group of allies is always important for Colorado ballot issues, especially when taxes are involved and to an even greater degree when the state is in its current economic state.

And while my political memory isn’t infallible, I personally cannot remember the last time Colorado voters passed a tax hike that wasn’t openly supported by the sitting Governor.

So, if Governor John Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael Hancock are both Democrats and both in favor of supporting education, why aren’t they lending their support to the cause?

My belief is the answer to that question is that they are both smart politicians. To be successful at any job, but especially a politician, one must know when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em.

It might be nice to think that every elected leader would simply stand behind their principles every single time, but we voters cannot get mad for them failing to do so. The first thing we do as a collective group is jump on and eventually fire politicians who forget to use occasional discretion with their views.

I believe in their heart of hearts, both Hickenlooper and Hancock would love to see this tax initiative pass. However, they know that without a large, bi-partisan coalition, the odds are long on its success.

They also know that if their names are not attached to an issue that fails, they may have a better chance at helping the next one pass. It seems cruel and even a bit cold, but that’s the political reality we all live in. It’s also the political reality we helped create.

There are still a few weeks for the tide to change on this one, but I think that the current silence we are hearing is signs that Hickenlooper and Hancock are waiting for the next wave.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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