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The fate of Bill Owens

For the Republican party, the fate of Colorado governor Bill Owens comes as the footsteps of doom.

Many of us, regardless of whether we tend to lean left or right, are becoming convinced that the biggest problem with George W. Bush is that he's simply incompetent. But what if Bush isn't an anomaly? Colorado governor Bill Owens' recent fall from grace suggests that the GOP might actually be selecting for incompetence in the name of ideological purity.

As Mark Schmitt writes, Owens' decision to buck the party's kingmakers for the sake of responsible government has sunk his presidential chances. Those kingmakers, such as Grover Norquist, were touting Owens as one of the best governors in America just a few years ago. But when Owens' was compelled by a combination of factors to campaign for a pragmatic revision of Colorado's TABOR amendment (the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights), the big players in Washington interpreted it as a betrayal. By supporting Referendum C, which allowed the state to keep tax revenues that TABOR would otherwise have required it to refund to taxpayers, Owens violated the ideological mantra of the GOP's national leaders: tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

That the GOP leadership would write Owens off for this "betrayal" demonstrates how ideologically extreme they've become. Referendum C was passed, 52 to 48 percent, by voters that favored Bob Dole in 1996 and went for George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004. Colorado isn't Utah, but it isn't Massachusetts either. Owens' popularity in Colorado -- he was re-elected in 2004 by the greatest margin in Colorado history after the National Review dubbed him the "best Governor in America" -- is itself a demonstration of Coloradans' desire for small government and fiscal responsibility.

This concern for fiscal responsibility was what put Referendum C over the top. Most people who looked at the details knew that this wasn't a license for big-government spending. It was a reasonable way to ensure that state government would continue to be lean and effective, instead of just starved and impotent.

Bill Owens supported Referendum C for good reasons. Unfortunately for Owens, though, that support revealed him to be a competent governor, not an ideological zealot. It bodes ill for the national GOP that Owens' prospects for the Presidential nomination lasted only as long as the party leadership believed he was a wingnut.

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