Colorado Gov. Bill Owens has sure stayed on top of monitoring his little-known opponent's fundraising activities. Too bad the same can't be said of 84,000 children under Owens' watch, whose futures the governor just compromised with a slash of his red pen.
Last Friday, Owens unilaterally red-lined $228 million from the budget, chastising the Legislature's 7-percent proposed increase in state spending during lean times. So just who did the Republican governor, up for reelection in November, target? More than one-third of his vetoes -- 36 percent to be exact -- obliterated library funding, teacher development, affordable housing and other programs, which will adversely impact many of the most vulnerable children and families in Colorado.
Among the "fat" that Owens eliminated included the Tony Grampsas Youth Services program which, for the past decade, has helped nonprofit organizations provide safe havens, mentoring programs and skills that help vulnerable children and at-risk teens become productive citizens instead of potential criminals.
Strangely enough, Owens likened his budget vetoes to the kind of decision any family would make when faced with a drop in income.
But, using Owens' analogy, what parent in their right mind would, at the onset of summer unexpectedly announce that the family's vacation was cancelled and day camp was a pipe dream? What parent would, in lieu of all the cancelled goodies, urge their kids to instead buddy up to the neighborhood crack dealer and set their goals toward a summer of unsupervised, boundless troublemaking?
The governor's punitive action was completely unexpected.
"We were just shocked, absolutely shocked, when this happened," said Barbara O'Brien, the president of the Colorado Children's Campaign. The cuts go into effect immediately, meaning most organizations will have to cancel their programs, effective immediately.
"It's just devastating and so ironic that this whole program came about because of the trouble that so many kids get into in the summer," O'Brien said.
Another irony is the demise of the Tony Grampsas Youth Services program itself, the namesake of a late state senator, a conservative Republican who envisioned its necessity a decade ago after Colorado's particularly bloody Summer of Violence.
O'Brien recalls driving with Grampsas through the late-night streets of Denver's Five Points neighborhood in 1993, both of them scared as could be, watching 10- and 11-year-old children wandering about. Grampsas emerged with a vision of establishing safe havens for at-risk youth.
The senator's program was cutting edge for what has become a trend for Republican policy wonks who, at the national level, have been promoting the concept of funneling government dollars to nonprofit organizations to deliver necessary social services.
"I don't think [Owens] understands the value of what the nonprofits do," said Rita Wiley, the head of Pikes Peak Family Connections whose program for teen parenting is effectively now dead. "We did with $8 million what would cost a bureaucracy $100 million to deliver."
A cue to Owens' cluelessness appeared in a Rocky Mountain News story that appeared last Saturday, in which the governor defended his actions: "My guess is that the impact on the average citizen is going to be very, very minor."
That day, the governor appeared at the Colorado Springs World Arena to accept the Republican Party's nomination endorsing him for a second four-year term in office. In a press release, the governor was quoted saying, "Four years ago we saw a bright future filled with possibility. We saw a new Colorado, a Colorado where our tomorrows are always better than our yesterdays. And we delivered. Not bad for the first act. Now it's time for Act Two."
Smarmy, perhaps. But as demonstrated two days later, Owens is far more than just a sensitive guy. On Monday, at precisely 1:02 p.m., Owens' Democratic opponent, the little-known Rollie Heath, issued a press release announcing that he had raised more than $700,000 in his bid to unseat the governor. Exactly 32 minutes later, at 1:34 p.m., Owens dispatched his own press release, announcing his war chest has topped the $5 million mark.
It is both cynical and appropriate to point out that most of the children affected by Owens' line-item slashing likely did not contribute any cash to that war chest. Nor will they, or most of their parents, be voting in this November's election.
Owens' vision of a bright future notwithstanding, perhaps the governor could set a precedent by funneling some of his campaign largesse to those programs he just killed with a simple stroke of his pen.
At any rate, let us all hope it does not take another Summer of Violence to wake up this leader.
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