Leading By the Wrong Example

May 11 2006, 11:36 AM
The 2006 legislative session ended early on Monday, and immediately both Democrats and Republicans got to work trying to spin the results of the four-month session in their favor. But it's hard to argue that the Democrats didn't come out ahead, and they did it by doing exactly what Republicans should have done two years ago. Here's how the Rocky Mountain News summed up the sum up:
Leaders in both parties took credit for a string of bills designed to help economic development, including money for tourism and job creation, that has business leaders equally happy with the session. Democrats, who controlled both houses, said they kept faith with the voters by frugally doling out Referendum C money. "I feel pretty good about this year," said Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Coal Creek Canyon. But Republicans, fighting to win back the majority, said if Democrats kept their promises it was because the GOP forced them to. "I think the promise was that if you give us more money, we would spend it, and they did that," said, Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs. And so it went, the day after the legislative session ended and less than two weeks before both parties hold their state assemblies to kick off what is expected to be a bruising campaign season.
Basically, it comes down to this: Democrats are saying that they did what the voters asked them to do, using the tagline "Promises Made, Promises Kept." Republicans respond by saying that if the Democrats did anything good, it was because they -- the minority party -- forced them to do it. Whatever your bias may be in this regard, I don't have to tell you that one of those messages sounds a lot more plausible than the other. I've repeatedly said in this space that I believe one of the primary reasons the Republicans lost control of the legislature in 2004 was because they had spent so many years previous accomplishing very little that they could brag about. Rather than sticking to core issues like education and the economy, Republicans spent most of their time trying to force debate on wedge social issues -- like gay marriage and abortion -- and used the rest of their time trying to find ways to gain more power (like ramming through a redistricting plan in the final days of the 2004 legislative session). Democrats, meanwhile, may have learned a lesson from those Republican errors. They have done the opposite in their two years in control of the legislature, wisely focusing their efforts on bigger issues like health care reform (passing a bill that would offer discounted prescription drugs) and education (boosting public school funding). They also stuck to the plan laid out last fall by Referendum C, which is the transition into their "Promises Made, Promises Kept" message. All of this puts Republicans in a tough spot as they enter the fall elections, which is why the best they can come up with for a post-legislature message is to say things like "We made the Democrats do all the good things they did." I'm betting that voters aren't going to buy that message, so Republicans better figure out something else to sell. In doing things wrong two years ago, Republicans may have shown Democrats just how to do it right.