By Scot Kersgaard
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
When Gov. Bill Ritter announced that he would not seek a second term, he took even many insiders by surprise.
Ritter, surrounded by family and friends, said his decision was based on his desire to be more of a family man.
“This was an intensely personal decision,” he said.
Ritter was interrupted often by applause as he spoke in the West Foyer of the Capitol.
“I’m 53 years old. I have been in public service for most of the past 30 years. I still have one son in college and two children living at home, and they need me. And so does Jeannie,” he said, of his wife.
“While this decision allows me to make my family a priority, it also allows me to focus on keeping the state budget balanced and keeping Colorado on the road to recovery.”
As someone who is not running for re-election, he said he would be able to work on balancing the state budget without considering the political ramifications of his decisions.
He said political polls predicting a tight and difficult race did not play a part in his decision.
“I used to be a trial lawyer. I love a good fight. I am confident I would have won,” he said.
Although there was much speculation about who would seek the Democratic nomination, no one had come forward as of press time. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced Thursday that he would not enter the race. He endorsed Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who at press time had not announced any intentions.
GOP candidate Scott McInnis said he doesn’t care whom the Democrats nominate.
“The face may change, but the issues will not. This race is about jobs, jobs, jobs. It doesn’t change our message at all. People need jobs,” he said.
McInnis said Salazar’s announcement was not a surprise because “he takes his job at Interior very seriously.”
State Republican Chair Dick Wadhams likened Ritter’s withdrawal to giving up.
“Ritter knew he couldn’t win. The Democrat governor threw in the towel and surrendered today.”
He said the Democrats have no one who can beat McInnis.
Ritter, Wadhams noted, is not allowed under FEC rules to transfer his campaign funds to another candidate, nor is Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff allowed to transfer any money he raised to run for the Senate over to a race for the governor’s office.
“It doesn’t matter who the Democrats run — they supported Ritter’s agenda,” Wadhams said.
Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, disagreed.
“It gives them an edge in their own minds,” he said of the Republicans.
“McInnis reiterated Wadhams’ comments, saying, “What they (Democrats) will try to do is blame everything on Ritter. That is what they will try to do. We have to be clear that whoever they send out supports the same Democrat agenda that has cost Colorado thousands and thousands of jobs.”
Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien said she would not be a candidate for either governor or lieutenant governor.
“I enjoyed private life in the past, and I look forward to returning to private life.”
She said she enjoys campaigning and was looking forward to the race.
“My husband is thrilled, though,” she said.
O’Brien said she was absolutely shocked when Ritter gave her the news.
“The governor has always put the state’s interests ahead of political interests, but this will give him even more freedom to make the tough decisions,” she said.
Carroll said Ritter seemed very sincere in his reasons for dropping out.
“He told me this is really about family. You have to respect that.”
Even President Barack Obama issued a statement.
“(Ritter) leaves behind an extraordinary record of accomplishments,” Obama said, “establishing himself as a national education reform leader, building a New Energy Economy, expanding health care to those in need and rebuilding Colorado’s infrastructure.”
Several members of the environmental movement also weighed in.
Said Pam Kiely, program director for Environment Colorado: “Gov. Ritter came into office with a bold promise — to build a New Energy Economy for Colorado. And, on that promise, he swiftly delivered. He put Colorado squarely on the map as a national leader, helping to shape the debate on our energy future at a defining time for our country.”
“Clearly this was a very personal decision and a very heavy one for him,” said Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak. “I think it is good for him.
“I don’t know who the candidate will be. We have a long list of qualified people for governor and lieutenant governor. We will talk to them all individually over the next few days and see who has the commitment, the organization and the fundraising. We all just need a few days to think about this.
“Bill Ritter has been a great governor for the state of Colorado and will continue to be a great governor,” she said.
Waak said the move is “something of a game changer” for McInnis.
“He has spent his energy designing a campaign against Bill Ritter. But that is not my problem,” she observed.
McInnis issued a brief statement, in which he referred to himself as “the frontrunner for governor.”
“Lori and I understand the pressures and sacrifices of public life and the toll that elected office can take on a family. We wish the governor, first lady and the entire family all the best in the years ahead,” he said.
“We must bring Colorado back from the toughest and most challenging economic times in decades.
“Our message of job creation, economic security and fiscal responsibility, which is clearly resonating throughout Colorado, will remain steady and strong,” he said.
House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said the Democrats have very few possibilities to run for governor.
“Who would even want to run for governor and inherit a budget that’s going to be more than $1.5 billion in the hole? he asked.
“I think you have to take his remarks at face value. Campaigns are tough, and if you think you are going to lose, then why put your family through that?” May questioned.
“Ritter was going to lose because of the Democrat agenda, and whoever the Democrats nominate will lose because of that agenda,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, who dropped out of the governor’s race unexpectedly himself a few weeks ago, echoed May’s remarks, saying you have to take the governor’s remarks at face value — but also offering his opinion that Ritter was going to lose anyway.
“His poll numbers were bad, and, as the likelihood of winning diminishes, you become less likely to want to put your family through it. Maybe he recognized that he was not the best messenger for the Democrats,” Penry said.
Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Metro Denver Chamber, said the chamber has worked well with Ritter and expects that relationship to continue through the rest of his term.
“When announcing his plans for the remainder of his term, the governor was clear that his focus will be on supporting the policy steps necessary to ensure Colorado emerges from these challenging economic times in a stronger and more solid position,” she said.
If Hickenlooper emerges as a candidate for governor, Brough will be dealing with her former boss — Brough was chief of staff for Hickenlooper before she stepped down last year to take on the chamber position.
Senate President Brandon Shaffer said nothing had changed in terms of the challenges facing the state or the Legislature.
“We will change quarterbacks next season, and today we field a first-rate team. We’re suited and ready with a full legislative agenda to bring good jobs, better health care and a first-class education system to Colorado,” he said.
Congressman Ed Perlmutter, D-CD 7, said Ritter’s withdrawal is not good news for McInnis. “This is a nightmare for the Republican Party. This decision is a game changer.”
Perlmutter, who was hoping to be selected by Ritter last year to Salazar’s vacant Senate seat, is reportedly eager to jump into this year’s race for governor if Hickenlooper decides to stay put.
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who was at the press conference, said Ritter’s decision was “was difficult and heartfelt, and I was proud to stand with him today. I am confident we will field a successor who will be elected governor in November.”
Andrew Romanoff, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Michael Bennet and the former speaker of the House, issued the following statement:
“I have known Bill and Jeannie for more than 16 years. And I appreciate how much they and their children have sacrificed for the sake of our state. I join all Coloradans in thanking the governor and his family for their selfless service.”
State Treasurer Cary Kennedy said she was honored that she was mentioned as a possible candidate but that her focus will continue to be on working with Ritter and the Legislature to balance the budget.
“I’m shocked,” said Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, vice chair of the Joint Budget Committee. “I did not see this coming, and I am sorry to see him leave. He was a strong leader with a reputation for making tough choices.”
She said Ritter’s decision will make this session of the Legislature easier.
“Ritter can fully devote himself to our agenda and to doing what’s best for the public. This frees the governor up to concentrate on our agenda. We know what’s coming, but the fight will be easier when Ritter’s politics won’t get in the way,” she said.
Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, chair of the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee and a former candidate for governor himself, said this decision gives Ritter more freedom.
“He won’t have to worry about politics. In a lot of ways, it will make the session easier.”
Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, also thought the decision would help the governor do a better job.
“It frees the governor to make decisions that he feels are absolutely right.” said Boyd, Senate president pro tempore and chair of the Health and Human Services Committee.
Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said she was shocked. “I honestly didn’t see it coming. This means starting from scratch and building a campaign from the ground up.”
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, vice chair of the Education Committee, said she was very disappointed to be changing candidates this late in the game.
— Additional reporting by Leslie Jorgensen, Anthony Bowe and Jimi Valenti.