Above is the video from a debate between myself and the Colorado House Republican Whip, moderated by the president of the Independence Institute (Colorado's local version of the ultraconservative Heritage Foundation). The debate was televised statewide on PBS here, and it shows how our states and local communities - not just Washington, D.C. - are often the most important frontlines in both the Great American Class War and the battle against the extreme right. Here in Colorado, the present battle all centers around a modest effort to give workers rights to freely associate with unions. Yes, this is not some flashback to the 19th Century - workers still are being persecuted for daring to want to come together and make their voices heard collectively.
Some background: Last week Gov. Bill Ritter (D) issued an executive order recognizing state employee partnership associations. Most states allow public employees to have full collective bargaining rights, and those rights are often issued by gubernatorial executive order rather than legislative initiative because governors are the CEOs of the state workforce.
Colorado - with its extremely ugly history of worker persecution - does not allow such rights. And that's true even after Ritter's laudatory order (his order doesn't allow strikes or binding arbitration - the two key tenets that really operationalize collective bargaining).
As shown by Colorado Media Matters, the state's editorial boards and Republican political establishment have been working together to vent the most nauseating rhetoric attacking workers in the lead up to Ritter's move. And, not surprisingly, after he issued his executive order, this rhetoric has gotten even more heated.
The most absurd attack on Ritter is the one that claims he acted in secret - even though, of course, he campaigned on a pledge to support more rights for workers and even though he has long ago responded to the GOP's Open Records Act requests about his deliberations over employee partnerships. These attacks are particularly ridiculous considering that the Republicans' chief attacker, Sen. Shawn Mitchell, seems to be refusing to follow state law by not responding to similar Open Records Act requests himself.
These modern-day royalists are so blinded by their hatred of a wildly popular Democratic governor; so embarrassed about Republicans' past mismanagement of state government that this executive order cleans up; and so wedded to persecuting workers that they are trying to stake their entire party image on an attack on a modest initiative that most other states in America have already enacted. And the good news news is that there is new infrastructure here to push back.
Jay Marvin, the local progressive radio host, has been using his show to tear apart Republicans' empty rhetoric. Similarly, Colorado Media Matters, ColoradoPols, SquareState.net, and ProgressNow have been aggressively debunking the lies spewing out of the GOP. The Progressive States Network (on whose board I serve) has distributed research materials to legislators, organizations and activists showing how public employee rights really help make state government more efficient.
The video above gives you a good taste of what this battle is really all about. Watch it - it's 30 minutes, so if you don't have a lot of time, just flip around. And make sure to check out Colorado Media Matters' fact-checking of the debate. Obviously, this was a tough forum - two-on-one is never easy. Let me know how you think I did - feedback is always welcome.
Republicans are promising to try to bring this battle into the 2008 legislature, so this is just the first of many skirmishes. Here on the frontlines of the Great American Class War, progressives are putting up a real fight - and our state and our country will be better for it.