Sticks & Stones May Break Bones, But Owens' Pen Can Hurt You

June 1 2006, 10:37 AM
Gov. Bill Owens has until June 7 to act on a number of bills passed through the Colorado legislature this spring, and he'd already vetoed 32 bills as of Tuesday, according to The Denver Post. Owens has three choices on any bill that reaches his desk: 1) sign it into law, 2) veto it and prevent it from becoming law, and 3) let it become law without his signature. The reason Owens would do the latter, as opposed to signing a bill, is to allow it to pass without his explict endorsement -- sort of like saying, I don't really like this bill, but I'm not going to veto it. It is the vetoes that are worth watching from a broader political perspective, because some of the bills that Owens has killed are going to come back to haunt Republican candidates in the fall. As The Denver Post points out, some of those vetoes are worse than others:
Owens has vetoed several consumer bills, including a measure designed to lower some prescription drug prices, a bill to require more oversight of state contracting and a measure giving the state more flexibility in setting air-quality standards. He also vetoed a bill that would have protected homosexuals from employment discrimination. Several of the vetoed measures have surfaced before, and Democrats who back them are likely to raise the vetoes as a campaign argument for keeping Democrats in control of the legislature and putting a Democrat in the governor's office. Owens also vetoed a different version of the prescription-drug bill last year, despite both legislative and public concern about soaring health care costs and high-priced prescriptions. This year's bill would have enabled Colorado to pool its purchasing power with other states when buying drugs. Not surprisingly, drug manufacturers strongly opposed the bill. The new governor and new legislators, whatever their party, will need to recognize next year that drug costs are a piece of unfinished business.
Owens will probably not approach his 2005 record of 47 total vetoes, but some that have already gotten the axe are going to be great fodder for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter. The prescription-drug bill is the one that will probably play the biggest role in the 2006 election. Democrats will be able to say that they passed a bill to provide relief from the high costs of prescription-drugs, only to see a Republican governor veto it. If you elect another Republican governor, they'll say, We can't give you the help you need. That's a nice, clean talking point that Ritter should already be using on the campaign trail, and it will also help candidates for the legislature draw a distinction between the two political parties. As I've said repeatedly in this space, one of the big reasons Democrats took control of the legislature in 2004 was because Republicans hadn't done enough with their time in power to justify another term; they held control of the legislature for years and couldn't point to enough significant pieces of legislation. Democrats, on the other hand, can say that they passed a bill to reform health care costs but it was the Republicans who put a stop to it. That's a message that is going to play very well this fall.