Written by Dominic Dezzutti

What some pundits predicted to be a tough bill for Governor Hickenlooper to support has proved to be the first bill that the Governor may veto if it is passed as it is currently written.

A bill that would grant firefighters the right to unionize throughout the state, supplanting local control on the issue, was the subject of a letter that Governor Hickenlooper sent to Senate President John Morse and Speaker Mark Ferrandino.

In the letter, the Governor warned that he cannot support the bill as it is currently written because it does not allow for small communities to opt out, regardless of how small the firefighting force may be in those communities.

For me, the particular details of the Governor’s problems with the bill are not the real issue. How legislative Democrats will react to this letter is the heart of the matter.

Obviously, labor allies of Democrats in the legislature would like to see this bill move forward as is. But do Democrats prefer to let down those same Labor allies, or call the Governor’s bluff and force him to veto the bill?

Initial reactions seem to show that legislators are willing to take the warning of a veto and remove an amendment to the bill that applies to fire fighting forces of 2 or more people. I’m unsure if simply rolling back this amendment will ensure Hickenlooper’s blessing, but that amendment looks like the center of his problems with the proposal.

However, removing that amendment is no slam dunk. All but one of the Democrats in the Senate voted for the proposal. Setting back the line so that the freedom to unionize only applies to forces of 50 people or more is a significant move. Outside the metro area, communities are predominantly smaller and the overall influence of this bill shrinks considerably. A reverse on the issue is hardly automatic, especially since the only reasoning to make the move will be that it’s the only way the Governor will sign the bill.

This will serve as the first of many tests of the Governor’s ability to influence his Democratic colleagues, both publicly and behind the scenes. It will also serve as a major test for Democratic legislators and their desire to force the Governor to play the “bad cop” on issues that are important to their key supporters. They may be able to play that card once or twice, but Hickenlooper is too savvy to play that role too often. He’s not one of the most popular Governors in recent history by accident.

The first official public shot across the bow has been fired by Governor Hickenlooper. Will his Democratic colleagues heed the warning or call his bluff?

Since John Hickenlooper is not known as a big bluffer, and since they need him far more than he needs them, I think I see acquiescence in the near future.
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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