Colorado Politics is taking a look back at some of our most significant and compelling stories of 2018. This story originally was published Oct. 28, before Jared Polis was elected governor.
What advice would you give the next CEO of Colorado’s state government? The one we’re now electing?
We sought the input of eight prominent figures in Colorado politics, academia and media. From their various vantage points, they’ve gleaned more than a thing or two about the state’s top elected post.
Serving up some informed insights are two former governors; a former lieutenant governor; a former state Senate president; a former rural lawmaker who made news by moving beyond the partisan divide; an esteemed, longtime professor of political science; a dean of Colorado’s news media — and not least, our current governor.
You’ll find links to their letters to the next governor at the end of this story. They’re also all in our Oct. 26 print edition.
Not surprisingly, these veterans of Colorado’s political scene — representing both major political parties as well as no party in particular — touched on some common themes based on their common experiences. Most notably, this: Unite the state. Build bridges; bring Coloradans together.
That’s certainly not a message you’ll pick up from the hyper-partisan bombast so characteristic of these closing weeks before the November election. Judging by the style and substance of the prevailing political fray, you’d think Coloradans never were more divided.
Which is why we consulted folks who have been through the wringer enough times to give us a longer view. And from their perspective, whomever Coloradans elect as governor would do well to reach out to opposing parties, to other branches of government in general, and to the public at large.
“…The driving underlying purpose in your first term should be seeking opportunities to unite the state,” former state Senate President Peter Groff — a noted peacemaker in his time at the legislative helm — writes in one of the essays below. Former Gov. Bill Ritter offers in another of the essays: “To govern successfully, you need to understand how your agenda intersects with the lives of all Coloradans, no matter their political stripe.”
In other words, as Ritter reminds us, the new governor sworn in next January must “realize that the campaign is over.” Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton reaffirms the point: “While it may be enough to mobilize a party’s base and a majority of unaffiliateds to your side to win an election, it is something entirely different to govern the state in the face of strong differences.”
Or, as the current occupant of the governor’s mansion puts it, “Put people over party.”
Maybe you’ve heard a lot of that before at one time or another. Yet, our contributors, some of whom have sat in the very same hot seat, seem to think our state and its elected class have yet to get it right.
They also bring up some other truisms of Colorado politics. Among those is the fact that the vast majority of our state’s land mass is rural, with concerns that will be addressed, or neglected, by what is a largely urban and suburban General Assembly and governor.
Another familiar refrain emerges in a contribution from political science Professor Emeritus John Straayer: The need for Colorado’s elected leaders to look further down the road — rather than just kick the can down it — regarding policy concerns like transportation and fiscal reform.
And give former Gov. Bill Owens credit for bringing up one not-so-familiar consideration the new governor should carry with him into the executive office: You actually have to roll up your sleeves, sit down at your desk, and run the government. And you do it far from the media’s gaze; farther still from the banquets and ribbon cuttings and conference keynote speeches at which a governor is showered with applause and well wishing.
This less glamorous side of the guv’s job is, as Owens observes, “Not necessarily fun, not necessarily noticed by casual observers — but certainly essential to running a state.”
While that might go without saying for the average Coloradan, it’s arguably a sobering thought for those bedazzled by their own ambitions as they ascend the stage in the political theater.
Savor these words of wisdom, encouragement and just plain common sense. They’re all in the essays that follow. And then set them aside and read them again, after Election Day, when the heat of the hunt and the thrill of the chase are over, and the real work begins.
To find out who the next Colorado governor will be, join us on Election Night, Nov. 6, at ColoradoPolitics.com.