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Colorado deserves better

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One month ago, on the front page of The Denver Post, Gov. Bill Owens claimed that he was going to focus on being governor of Colorado.

Since then, the governor has staged numerous national television interviews, crafted articles for the Wall Street Journal and the New Hampshire Union Leader, and last week, was the subject of George Will's syndicated column that was featured in hundreds of our nation's newspapers.

It's not surprising that Gov. Owens would promote his national ambitions on the taxpayer dime. And it's not surprising that conservative Will would channel the governor's ambitions: Last time they were in the papers together was for a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference where they joined Sen. Jesse Helms, NRA President Wayne LaPierre and campus agitator David Horowitz to discuss their political agenda.

The surprise is the facts regarding Owens' record promulgated in these articles are selective, outdated or simply not true. Let's take the economy. Will cites Owens' high marks in a report conducted by the Cato Institute. Putting aside Cato's political bias, the study was released in 2002 and the data it utilizes goes back years before then.

While the governor blames the nation's economic downturn for Colorado's problems, the truth is that Colorado has done much worse than other states during his tenure. Governing Magazine measures Colorado's economic momentum based on changes in employment, personal income and population compared to the national average. In 2000, Colorado ranked first of the 50 states for economic momentum. By 2003, under Gov. Owens' watch, Colorado dropped to 40th, the greatest decline of any single state over the three-year period.

A July 2003 analysis from economy.com confirmed that Colorado's economy lags behind most of the states in the West. It concluded that "things are stable or looking up in the Western U.S. with the exception of Oregon and Colorado."

Last month, a University of Colorado economist cited Colorado's 1.9 percent decline in employment last year, which put the state 50th, the worst on that measure and also noted Colorado was ranked last for personal income growth in 2002 after leading that measure during the 1990s.

It is no wonder that the National Conference of State Legislators, based in Denver, reported that in November 2002, Colorado had the third-worst budget deficit as a percentage of its overall budget in the nation.

This also may explain why last week the ranking Republican member of our state's budget committee suggested that we may have to stop funding some of our state's colleges and universities.

The governor also touts his record on education, citing an outdated Corporation for Enterprise Development study. Owens fails to mention that in the very same study, Colorado ranked in the bottom five for investment in K-12 education and providing insurance for low-income children.

Two weeks ago the governor worsened the pain by announcing that Colorado will no longer accept new children into its children's health plan, despite a hefty federal match.

These statistics aren't shared to simply show the flaws in Will's and Owens' self-serving articles. They are important because the people of Colorado have the right to hold their governor accountable -- as they have in California.

The people of Colorado deserve better than a governor who tries to take credit for the passage of a constitutional amendment that was approved in 1992. Or one who attempts to balance his state's budget by triggering a higher property tax for our state's seniors in 2003. Or even one whose focus is to set himself up after his term expires in 2006.

If there is one message we can leave the governor, it is not whether the information cited is accurate (every fact in this column is documented extensively on our Web site at www.rmpn.org) or even whether Owens has an interest in running for national office. We believe he does and that's his right.

Instead, the message is that the people of Colorado deserve a governor who will articulate to us, the media and public in Colorado, on when he will start focusing, completely and honestly, on a clear strategy for saving our state from further economic downturn, solving our fiscal problems, and returning jobs and growth to the people of Colorado.

Michael Huttner is executive director of the Rocky Mountain Progressive Network, whose mission is to provide an independent, credible voice to counter the policies of the extreme right, hold our elected leadership accountable and promote concrete solutions to improve the quality of life in the Rocky Mountain region.


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