By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
As he kicked off his second statewide tour since announcing his bid for governor, Republican Scott McInnis used a stump speech on the West Steps of the Capitol on Monday to criticize Gov. Bill Ritter while promoting himself as the right person to solve Colorado’s budget problems. He was flanked by members of his family. The crowd of supporters consisted mainly of former elected officials and a few current legislators and county commissioners.
McInnis chose not to deviate from talking points that have become familiar during recent months and refrained from attacking state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, a former member of his congressional staff who is his most formidable challenger for the Republican nomination.
Calling Ritter inexperienced despite his three years as the state’s governor, McInnis said he would bring the required leadership to the table if elected.
“The difference between myself and my other opponents is that when Bill Ritter came to this office, he had zero experience,” McInnis said. “The people decided to experiment. Look at where it got us.
“If you look at where this state was when Bill Owens left office and where this state is today, there is a dramatic difference. There is a time for a change. There is a need for change. And there is a demand for results that move this state forward in a positive fashion.”
McInnis didn’t mention the nearly $1.8 billion in budget cuts — almost 10 percent of the state’s operating budget — made by Ritter and the Legislature during the last 18 months in response to the recession.
McInnis’ statewide tour began in Denver Monday morning and moved to his home turf in Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction Monday afternoon. He finished later in the week with more visits to the Western Slope and to southern Colorado and Colorado Springs.
McInnis’ itinerary for the week left out the Eastern Plains, Pueblo and anything north of Denver. His campaign said his tour would hit 28 cities in the state.
During his speech, McInnis denounced Ritter for what he called his three largest failures: supporting and signing House Bill 1317, which hindered Army efforts to expand the Piñon Canyon Maneuvering Site in southern Colorado; his choice to offer early release for some parolees in an effort to save $20 million in the state budget, and his work to impose new drilling regulations on the state’s natural gas industry.
McInnis said Ritter rejected the possibility of bringing new jobs to the state when he signed new restrictions governing the drilling of natural gas, which he called the “most punitive regulations in the country.”
“The natural gas jobs in this state are critical for economic stability of this state,” McInnis said. “This governor, instead of putting into place… best practices, he decides to put into place the most punitive regulations in the United States.
“That doesn’t give us jobs.”
The number of natural gas jobs in Colorado has decreased in the last year, but industry experts have blamed the decline — which also has been seen in other states — on the plunge in natural gas prices since last summer’s record high. The same experts note that the new regulations could make Colorado less attractive to new drilling when prices rebound.
McInnis also railed on Ritter for his support of HB 1317, which barred the state from selling public land to the Army for expansion of the Piñon Canyon Maneuvering Site near Trinidad. Although Army expansion in Piñon Canyon is favored by many Colorado Springs voters, McInnis’ support of the measure has found a cold reception among ranchers and property rights proponents in southern Colorado, including Pueblo, which he chose not visit during his statewide tour this week.
Calling HB 1317 — which had the support of Penry and some other Republican lawmakers — a “stick in the eye” to the Army, McInnis said it’s time for Colorado to begin working with the military to bring new jobs to Colorado instead of working against it.
He also attacked Ritter’s program to create so-called new energy jobs, a hallmark of the Democratic governor’s New Energy Economy.
“The United States military is responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs directly or indirectly … and while (Ritter) was in Washington, D.C., talking about all these new green jobs, the military is keeping real jobs in the United States and in Colorado,” McInnis said. “That is where you ought to be.”
McInnis pointed to a sleeper camper draped with a campaign banner parked at the Capitol and said that if he wins the governorship, he’ll sleep inside of it the night before he’s sworn into office so that he can get to work on the state’s problems immediately.
He said that if he wins, he will sleep in the camper in the Capitol parking lot the night before he is sworn in, so he can get down to business right away.