Q & A with Governor Bill Ritter

Note: This interview occurred back in July (before I was posting here). I'm posting because the questions asked are still very pertinent today.

Governor Ritter consistently answered my questions. He never avoided them nor did he try to change the subject. And an interview scheduled for ½ hour ran a bit over an hour when he had to call it quits. So being hit with a bunch of questions, he did not use the excuse of times up to cut & run. I think this is one of Ritter's most commendable features; he will talk to the points brought up and discuss them in full.

We started on what he called the "grocery bill" and his naming of it is interesting. Clearly to him unemployment for locked out workers, with this bill, was totally wrapped up in the negotiations between the unions and the grocery chains. He first discussed how governors historically did not pre-announce if they would veto bills and that he has been more open on his inclinations than Bill Owens was. Then he discussed how the House bill that took effect in 2010 was what he was looking for. He didn't say he would have signed it, but he delivered the impression he would have.

He also pointed out the Republicans in the Senate voted for the bill with a July 2009 effect because "they knew" he would then veto it. This is a very credible argument as the Republicans this session have spent most of it trying to just honk anything & everything up. And they've never been accused of being strong supporters of the unions. So very interesting argument that people knew the 2009 date was a deal killer.

With all that said, I asked if he told the legislators that 2009 was a deal killer and he was very clear that his staff had delivered a strong message that it needed to be later, but also that he did not have a direct conversation on this specific topic. Bottom line I think is that the hints from his office were not communicated well and that problem could be primarily due to either end of that discussion. But he also should have sat down with the leadership and told them point blank make it 2010 or it's dead.

We discussed jobs in different ways many times over the hour. Green energy clearly drives the governor. He started in about how we have jobs coming here because we are the center for green energy and how from Vestas to NREL to a number of others he listed these are quality jobs that are being created now. He clearly views this as a wonderful two-fer in that we are becoming the center for green energy in the country and those companies are providing jobs. Based on what he said I think making us the center for green energy is Ritter's primary driver and the new jobs are a wonderful additional benefit. And long term that is the right priority.

He also discussed a 5 year FICA credit for companies that create 20 or more jobs where the average wage is greater than the state average. This is a really interesting approach as the credit is substantial, is tied to the employee's pay, and exists only as long as the new jobs do. He claims that several companies have located new operations here specifically because of this new law. And as an executive I can say that this is something that would influence what we do. On the flip side, they might want to get the word out as I had never heard of this before – and I'm one of the targets for this.

I started a discussion of newspapers by saying that the daily paper has been the core of investigative journalism in this country for the last 100 years with the rest taking their lead from the work of the daily papers. I then asked him what does he think will happen when the daily papers are no more in 3 - 5 years. He talked first about how he & his wife read the paper every day – but his kids don't. He sees first hand that the web is the only source for the upcoming generations and sees that this is inevitable. He also said that he thinks the blogs are now driving what the daily papers cover (yo Wall Street Journal – Pulitzer Prize story for you – small software company in Boulder with incredible product – call me).

He then talked at some length of the lack of accountability and civility in the blogosphere. What was interesting is the way he talked about accountability he was talking about people being accountable for what they write, not bloggers holding politicians accountable for what they do. It makes sense from his perspective as he (and every other politician) gets hammered mercilessly, and mostly by anonymous posters. (My feeling is toughen up – this is no different from the broadsheets at the founding of our country.)

He did talk about the worry of who is going to cover school board meetings and the many other items like that. He pointed out that school boards have more impact on our lives than most other parts of the government, yet could fall off the radar with the death of newspapers. He does think that out of the blogging community we will see enough reporting done that we will have some good coverage. He also clearly now views talking to bloggers as a key part of getting his message out to the community so I think it's a safe bet he will be communicating more and more on the web (can Ritter's Twitter be far off?).

We discussed small business. He started off on this saying the biggest need he had heard from small businesses was that without credit they were dead. And credit has disappeared. My company does not need credit, but we run up substantial Visa bills between Google and ordering hardware & software – and with reduced limits we have to pay the cards off every 2 weeks instead of monthly. For a company that needs credit to bring in the materials they use to create what they sell this would kill them. So he has put a major effort into making sure credit is available. Critically important work.

I then got the standard "small business is important to us" spiel. So I asked him why the state is unwilling to consider purchasing from small high-tech companies in the state. Governor Ritter was insistent that the state absolutely was open to buying from local companies. When I brought up several specific situations he continued to insist that while a few departments might not be perfect on this issue, that the state was very open on this.

This then took us to the topic of CBMS as there are some local companies that tried to step up and offer solutions to this. And of course were told to go away. Ritter agreed that it was a complete disaster and they had gotten Deloitte to fix it. Ritter's view is that for a system this big with a problem this big, they needed a major player like Deloitte. My opinion is they have a total clusterfuck because they decided to create a gigantic system using a major consulting service. I don't expect a governor to understand who to hire to get quality software delivered on time and under budget, but he should have people working for him that do. My guess is Ritter is going to be surprised when this is still an issue four years from now. But he thinks they have it under control.

I then brought up the criticism that he tends to go for the safe plays and never goes for the hail mary pass. But with the economy in the toilet, it pretty much demands that we go for some major changes. Okay, if you want to annoy Bill Ritter, tell him he doesn't go for the impossible goals. This got a passionate response. His main point was that you don't get "Las Vegas lights" from him, you just get results. He brought up FASTER, the doubling of alternative energy requirements (and including the REAs in the requirement), and the new education measurement & 5 years of high school legislation.

And you know something… He has a point. We would always like to see more, but there have been some substantial efforts. And I think the education one is the one that actually was the furthest reach and it will have the most impact. Evan Dryer afterwards also brought up the Oil & Gas rules and A-58 which are two other examples. And the fact that A-58 lost makes it an even better example because it's one where he tried to do something that was very difficult and failed. If he always succeeded then he is being too careful.

So we (because I agreed with this criticism) should maybe change it from Ritter never tries for the big win to we would prefer that he did so on a few other issues. Governor Ritter also made the very legit point that substantial change is a multi-year effort to get passed and then takes many years to effect the system. He definitely takes the long view on applying his efforts. So if all of his work over his two terms works out well and bears fruit, then the next governor will be able to take credit for all the wonderful improvements then starting to bear fruit.

This discussion led to the work on improving K-12 education. We discussed first how the mother's educational level was the driving force in how a child does not just in school, but health, success, life. He had seen the same thing during his time in Africa. He then launched in to a discussion about the state's efforts to get adults GEDs, etc to improve that educational level.

He then discussed the efforts presently under way which is primarily pre-school for all that need it and full day kindergarten. Both of these efforts should (he said will) improve our graduation rates. He also discussed the new systems coming on to measure improvement by student, school, and teacher. And he then discussed how this will show if a teacher is effective. And if a teacher is not effective, and he stressed that this measurement is one tool but not the total story, but if a teacher is not getting the job done – then they need to be let go. This is major because measurement is a key step but if schools cannot take corrective action, it doesn't do much good.

So there you go. My big take-aways are that to him the blow-up concerning vetoing the union bills is over. That green energy & education are the two issues (we discussed) that have his passion and major efforts. That he is concentrating on doing what the state needs with an emphasis on jobs today and big picture long-term. And finally, that he's not going to show-boat.

And here's the thing: while he's not perfect, this is someone who is concentrating on governing well as opposed to campaigning well. Quiet competence is always under-appreciated.

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