By GENE DAVIS
Denver Daily News Staff Writer
A new report from the Colorado Progressive Coalition gives Gov. Bill Ritter and the Colorado legislature a “C-” for their efforts in the 2009 session to increase racial equality within Colorado.
The Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity evaluated and graded Ritter and members of the Colorado legislature on their responses to 12 pieces of legislation that the Colorado Progressive Coalition (CPC) said would have created a “more just state for Coloradans of color.” The inaugural report’s goal was to hold elected officials accountable for public policies that result in racial inequality, according to Arthur Way and Carlos Valverde of the CPC.
“Simply put, we must not be silent concerning race,” said Way. “Unfortunately, talking about race is similar to wearing polyester bell bottoms — nobody thinks it’s cool anymore. This does not mean that it’s not necessary.”
The racial equity scorecards for the lawmakers were based on a 100-point scale. Lawmakers got 80 points for voting favorably on the 12 bills that CPC determined would have helped advance racial equity. Lawmakers received an additional 20 points for being the lead sponsor of the bill, and 10 points for being a cosponsor.
Colorado lawmakers in the 2009 session received an average score of 70 on the legislative report card, and lawmakers of color received an average score of 85. While CPC acknowledged that Ritter signed all of the bills that they deemed favorable into law, the nonprofit said the governor’s grade reflects the entire legislative body as a whole, as well as his leadership in preparing for a multiracial future.
Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said he doesn’t agree with the C- grade, but added everyone could agree that more work needs to be done to promote racial equality. Additionally, Dreyer pointed out some the pro-racial equality policies that Ritter has supported —tuition equity, the Colorado Healthcare Affordability Act and the Colorado Criminal and Juvenile Justice Commission — that he said proves Ritter’s commitment to increasing racial equality in Colorado.
“Over the past two years, Gov. Ritter has demonstrated an extremely strong commitment to increasing educational, healthcare and job opportunities, as well as fairness in the criminal justice system, for Colorado’s communities of color,” said Dreyer. “This is something that is extremely important to him and is something you can see very clearly in a number of areas and is a commitment that dates back to the three years he spent in Africa providing food and healthcare to some of the most impoverished communities in the world.”
The CPC said lawmakers missed an opportunity to advance racial equality in Colorado by not passing SB 286 — which would have reduced sentences for non-violent criminals.
According to the CPC report, people of color in Colorado represent 55 percent of the prison population but only 25 percent of the population. Also, blacks are less than 5 percent of the state population yet constitute 20 percent of the population, they said.
As a result of the high proportion of minorities behind bars, CPC said that SB 286 would have had a positive effect on communities of color. SB 286 did not get passed in the 2009 legislative session because it was introduced so late in the year.
However, a version of SB 286 is expected to come back in the 2010 legislative session.