The once-vaunted Colorado Democracy Alliance has begun to learn the hard way a couple of steadfast political rules: 1) that politicians are still politicians, even if they are your friend and 2) the only thing predictable about Colorado is that it is unpredictable.
Rumors have swirled for the past few legislative sessions that CODA's shadow funders/founders are beginning to get fed up with their paltry Return-on-Investment. Quite frankly, it's hard to blame them. In CODA's well-documented origins, one of the driving forces behind it was Pat Strkyer and Tim Gill's desire to push issues such as civil unions. Naturally, as in any endeavor to elect liberals, the unions were close by. It is almost laughable how many times both camps have been stiffed by the legislative Dems they've gotten elected. But when, and will, the money-train run out?
Since 2004, Democrats have controlled both chambers of the legislature in 6 of the 7 sessions; and the Governor's office in 4 of those 6 years. Any legislation the Democrats wanted could pass virtually uncontested. However, outside of Gov. Ritter's executive order allowing state workers to unionize, few liberal pet issues ever passed both chambers–and even fewer were signed by Ritter.
As the Colorado Education Association (teacher's union) found out, your political enemies can come from the most unlikely places. Last year, Sen. Michael Johnston, who hails from the most heavily Dem Senate District in the state, introduced and was able to get SB 191 passed. The bill was nothing more than a common-sense bill holding teachers accountable, and letting principals have a stronger say in teacher evaluation. The CEA fought back, and even had their diligent foot soldier Rep. Max Tyler call special-needs students "maggots" on the House floor. Ultimately, it passed both chambers with some Democrat support and was signed by Ritter.
More perplexing and frustrating for CODA has been the issue of civil unions. Gill has heavily financed both 527s attacking Republicans, as well as One Colorado–a group which lobbies on behalf of this issue. Setting aside the pros and cons of civil unions, Gill's investments are both bizarre and counter-productive. In the summer and fall of election years, his 527s blitz and attack GOP candidates relentlessly; then, the following legislative session his non-profit groups (ProgressNow, New Era, One Colorado, et al.) try to pressure the same legislators to pass civil unions. This isn't unlike a kid calling their parents nasty names at the grocery store, and then wondering why they can't have desert later. Then again, most kids don't start Facebook groups saying their parent's have "blood on their hands," as one activist did to Rep. B.J. Nikkel after her vote.
As one former Senate Democrat Leader put it, they have accomplished essentially the same results they did as when Dems were the minority–but it cost millions of dollars less. There are some Dems, notably Rep. John Soper (who is a minister and leads the legislative Bible Study and opponent of civil unions) and Rep. Rhonda Fields (an opponent of civil unions), who will not support civil unions. Unfortunately for Gill and Strkyer's 527s neither is in a competitive district which can be blitzed with mailers.
As the posts on the Peak by several current and former lawmakers demonstrated earlier this year, if civil unions ever pass it will happen because of Republican support. (For the record, I am ambivalent about CU's, it is just the most glaring example of CODA's ineffectiveness). With this much Democrat domination it is indeed stunning how little, outside of the "green economy" farce, they were able to accomplish. But considering it's strategy of attacking Republicans in even-numbered years and asking for favors in odd-numbered ones, this lackluster performance isn't surprising. At this point, it's all just rumors, but either CODA will have to either re-work their strategy or keep throwing money down a rat hole.