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The Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons: A Ten Year, Mismanaged Administrative Disaster. Part One: The `Guv’.

December 28, 2013
2013 - 12 - 12 Colorado State Veterans Home 3

Colorado State Veterans’ Home – Anschutz Campus, Aurora, Colorado. December, 2013

Part One of a Series: Between Tragedy and Farce: Governor John Hickenlooper’s Sorry Record with Colorado State Public Employees… .

A Fish Rots From The Head Down”

At his annual Christmas Party at the Governor’s Mansion, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was holding court – as is the tradition -when two employees from the Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons, both members of the statewide public employee’s union ColoradoWINS,  approached him. Giving them his undivided attention for a full 60 seconds, the governor listened as the two did their best to inform him of the hostile work environment at the facility. They warned the governor that, if anything, the situation continues to deteriorate.

Hickenlooper was indeed concerned, not so much with the crisis itself but how such a crisis might effect his election chances.  Hickenlooper,  caught in the middle! – always trying to put the brakes on those left of him (labor, minorities – ie the main constituency of the Colorado Democratic Party) while fearing those on his right whose financial support he doesn’t want to alienate.  Hickenlooper would like to get through the upcoming 2014 election season with his thin Democratic majority in the State legislature intact. He fears “controversy” – and will put off making commitments to constituents as long as possible. This does not bode will for Colorado’s labor movement that would like to see state laws strengthening union and employee rights in both the public and private sectors.

John Hickenlooper and I met once, a memorable experience for neither of us.

It was at an annual dinner of the Front Range Economic Strategy Center (FRESC) – a Denver, labor-community support organization and policy group with some genuine achievements under its belt. FRESC’s annual dinners bring together hundreds of local trade unionists as well as local and state officials hustling for votes. Hickenlooper, then Denver’s mayor, was present, shaking hands with one and all, doing his darndest to appear `a man of the people’. To his credit, he has gotten the fine art of shaking hands down to a tee, with a genuine talent for zeroing in especially on those, like me, who would prefer to avoid such meaningless formalities.

But `Hick’ honed in on me, shook my hand, babbled out a few vapidities about how important it was to support labor and education (I had told him I teach). As often happens in such situations, we both played `pretend’. He pretended to care about labor and I pretended to believe him. We both knew better. Then he quickly moved on to his next victim. He had miles of handshakes to go  before he slept. The fact of the matter was that a few days prior I had met with a group of dissatisfied city employees and a few others who were looking for a candidate to challenge Hick in the next  mayoral election. It looked promising, but shortly thereafter he flew the coop and began his run for governor.

Many Coloradans do not share my cynicism.

I might have had my doubts about Hick as mayor – based upon his tendency to swap more valuable city property for real urban duds with developer friends,and his tight-fisted treatment of the city employees – but John Hickenlooper was a popular mayor and remains a popular governor.  Until his numbers went down with Obama’s in the Obamacare fiasco, Hickenlooper  had high marks on the popularity scales with Colorado voters. In recent years he has been among the top five most popular governors in the country. Admittedly, he has charm, a way with words, oozes concern and sincerity…but unfortunately, there’s not much else there.

Coloradans seem to prefer their governors handsome and shallow. I have always  thought his bid for mayor was contrived, a way for those in power to avoid having to deal with a more consistently politically liberal Don Mares-led administration. I might wonder about a bar and restaurant owner, who at the time had precious little political experience, positioned on the liberal-left of the Denver Democratic Party, who suddenly emerged as a major Denver mayoral hopeful with promises of support from the state’s political power brokers. Once elected, he moved quickly from the left to the center, and then some. Old wine, new bottle.

True enough, Hickenlooper has become  a national figure. A May 132013 in-depth article in The New Yorker thrust him on the national political meat market as potential, national political timber. He has carefully crafted an image as “a sensible centrist” – a rather amorphous term which essentially translate as `pro-business, pro-finance, pro-oil and gas, anti-labor’ but thrown in with a dash of of civil rights. In any case, Colorado’s man in the state mansion is currently busy running around the country giving speeches about how he’s not running for vice president. In private he is weighing his chances and lobbying for a possible offer on a Hillary Clinton – John Hickenlooper 2016 Democratic Party ticket. Could happen, we’ve witnessed stranger things.

Trim, still relatively young, and articulate, John Hickenlooper is especially popular among moderate Democrats, mainstream Republicans and developers; the oil and gas industry loves him, as do the state’s overall  business community for whom `Hick’ is nothing short of the state’s number one business booster. But he’s far less popular in environmental circles as a result of his defense of natural gas and oil fracking and general poor quality mining and energy regulating. Same goes for public employees. Denver’s city workers had a low – very low – estimate of him; city union reps referred to him as `really a Republican.’ Now state employees are getting a sense of what he’s about as well.

John Hickenlooper remains a busy man, very busy indeed.

As his popularity in the polls starts to sink, he’s looking around for greener pastures. While denying he is interested in national office, a flurry of news stories speculate otherwise. As Shakespeare  aptly put it, “[he] doth protest too much me thinks”. He is considered by some locals – nobody knows him better -  to be something akin to  the Dan Quail of today’s Democratic Party.  Hick has accumulated powerful friends, a reputation – well deserved I might add – to be so “business friendly” that some grass roots Colorado Dems quip that he might be a Republican Party plant in their midst.

Although he assiduously avoids terms like “global warming”, Hickenlooper does have a talent for media appearances – Johnny-on-the-spot – during Colorado tragedies: floods, forest fires and the horrific Aurora shooting of July, 2012. Mostly he’s stuck to hot button cultural issues (gun control, legalizing marijuana, a weak but still mildly useful preventive healthcare initiative), just enough to push him a degree left of  center.

It is on economic policy that Hickenlooper has shown a brilliant propensity for doing something approaching nothing. Even though Colorado is a very wealthy state, Hickenlooper shows his true colors by supporting a tight budget including wage repression for state employees, keeping unions weak and trimming social welfare programs. One has to wonder if there is such a thing as a Hickenlooper economic policy that is in any way fundamentally different from that of former Republican Governor Bill Owen, a former energy industry lobbyist turned politician.

True, it was Owen who pushed through legislation ensuring that the share that Colorado tax payers would receive from energy royalties would be among the nation’s lowest, that the industry would be highly deregulated, etc. But Hickenlooper has done nothing to change that and in fact, in the face of growing state-wide opposition, has proven to be nothing short of a hard-assed defender of fracking. If he’s sucked up to corporate and business interests in the Owen tradition -  in particular energy, mining, and real estate development – on the other hand, John Hickenlooper has done very little for Colorado labor, its public employees and the state’s impoverished population.

As he has his entire political career, John Hickenlooper gets by with a little help from his friends. These include Denver-based power brokers Norm Brownstein and Steve Farber, whose reach has long been national in scope. More than likely, without their help, Hickenlooper might as well go back to brewing beer. They are key figures in shaping his terms as mayor and governor as well as his well-studied image. Brownstein and Farber have “helped” several other Colorado political figures reach national recognition, among them former U.S. Senator from Colorado Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

When it comes to actually running the affairs of state, John Hickenlooper is very much of a “hands off” governor. He’s much too busy these days rubbing shoulders nationally to be too concerned with state affairs. As such, he shunts off major projects and controversies to his carefully chosen department heads. More often than not, especially if controversy is involved, he really doesn’t want to hear what they are up to. His main concern about state affairs: damage control on the home front. His staff, more often than not, is in a paranoid mode, doing what they can to protect his image and re-election possibilities.

Learning from `the gov’ to pass the buck down the line, in classic fashion, the department heads, in turn, put pressure on their assistants to the degree that they can (which is considerable). By way of example, I recently heard tell of a state department head – to be named and discussed more fully in future segments of this series. When told of a major flair-up in one of the facilities he is supposedly managing, he claimed complete ignorance of the crisis unfolding there. I actually believe this servant of the public! He is simply following in the example of Governor Hickenlooper’s tried and true policy of “I won’t ask you – and please, you don’t tell me”…

___________________________

(Series Note: This series will zero in on a state-run veterans’ nursing home, most particularly, on the toxic work environment that currently exists at the Colorado State Veterans Home on the Anschutz Campus in Aurora, Colorado. Although the institution is currently in full crisis, this environment has existed for some time, going back as far as ten years. Currently there is an effort to `restructure’ the institution. Unfortunately, the way the state administration is going about the `transition’ has only made matters worse. To my knowledge the crisis unfolding there has not been covered by the media, in fact, most Coloradans have neither an idea that such a crisis exists.

This initial piece doesn’t deal with that particular situation, but instead, lays the responsibility for current state of affairs  where it belongs – at the feet of the state’s governor, John Hickenlooper who is too busy sowing seeds for a national political career to bother with the situation on the ground.  Frankly, he doesn’t want to hear about it, and pushes the responsibilities off on state agencies. More on this, in the episodes that follow. For now, let’s begin at the top and work our way down through the system.

_____________________________

Links:

Colorado Independent: “Public Pressure Mounting On Opposition to Hickelooper’s Utility Commission Appointment.  John Tomasic. January 8, 2014

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. wfewatts@gmail.com permalink
    December 28, 2013 4:42 pm

    ” many Coloradans do not share my cynicism . “. I do.

    I think the Don Mares loss was partially orchestrated by the big WW (Wellington Webb ) himself as pay back for Mares non-sucking up whom WW was mayor.

    Sent from my iPad

    • HarryWiggs permalink
      January 2, 2014 9:33 am

      Having been closely associated with Don Mares for over 35 years, I can *assure* you that not only was his defeat a direct result of Wellington “Turncoat” Webb’s dislike of Don–all because Don did his job,m and embarrassed Webb–but also because Don refused, and continues to refuse, to play the ideological games politicians play. He also was marred by his “doing the right thing,” vis-a-vis the Torres affair.

      Don’s loss was an even larger loss for Denver.

  2. King permalink
    December 29, 2013 5:45 pm

    I like this article so much and j agree that there is a ten year mismanaged ainistrative at the Colorado State Veterans nursing home at Fitzsimons. The work environment is worsening every day with the new person sent to the nursing home by the director of the long term care division, person who is unqualified, untrained, unprofessional, and unskilled. Her only method of management is intimidation and corrosion. All the staff at the Colorado State veterans nursing home at Fitzsimons are afraid of this lady. I think it is time for the media to cover this ongoing crisis at the nursing home. I thank you for bring up this issue to the public and hope that a solution is near to avoid more crisis. Thank you and happy new year.

  3. December 30, 2013 7:11 pm

    Dear King… There will be more articles on this as I explore the subject. Thank you for your comments. No one should work in an environment of fear. Employees should be treated with respect and in a dignified manner. I don’t think that is asking too much. Best wishes, RJP

    • King permalink
      December 31, 2013 11:13 am

      Dear Rob,
      I thank you for your interest in this matter. J don’t know how to get in contact with you because I have some other things to share with you. I would like to know if there is possibility to publish your article in the Drnver Post or other media for a large broadcast. Happy New Year to you and your loved ones.
      King

  4. King permalink
    December 31, 2013 11:16 am

    Dear Bob,
    Is there a possibility to publish your article in the Denver Post for a large broadcast. I have the impression that the people of Colorado and of the United States do not know what is going on at the Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home at Fitzsimons. Thanks

  5. Dianne Frank/Behanna permalink
    January 1, 2014 11:07 am

    Dear Rob,

    I was just terminated from this facility for false accusations. I have never worked in such a hostile work environment as this facility. There was so many clicks and favoritism there. As a new employee I had no voice, and they treated me like a pest. Employee moral was at a all time low. The management there was just horrible!! When should this hit the mainstream media channel 7, 4 or 9? I am glad I found your blog.

    Dianne Frank-Behanna

  6. HarryWiggs permalink
    January 2, 2014 9:36 am

    FYI, Rob: It’s “Fitzsimmons,” with ~two~ m’s.

    • January 2, 2014 12:43 pm

      HW…I would have thought it was two ‘m’s as well…but if you check the spelling, it is only one. or is it that the human services administrator who runs the place, besides other failings, can’t spell? rjp

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