As Gov. Bill Ritter prepares to vacate his office on Tuesday and assume the directorship of the Center for New Energy Economy at Colorado State University next month, Democrats and Republicans predict his legacy, share memories and espouse comments juicy enough for a roast.
Democrats tend to view Ritter’s leadership through rose-colored glasses. Most Republicans view the governor’s policies through dark Blues Brothers shades.
“Governor Ritter will most be remembered through the concept of the New Energy Economy,” said state Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak.
“He coined the term, which now is used nationally and internationally. He made the concept real by showing the state how to find a balance between renewable and non-renewable resources and attracted new industry and jobs to Colorado. Because of Bill Ritter, Colorado has set an example for the world. It was another example of doing what he thought was right,” she said.
“He is the architect of the ‘New Energy Economy,’” agreed former House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, who was term limited in 2010, and recently named chief of staff of the House minority caucus.
“It helped Colorado not ‘tank’ as much as the rest of the nation and puts us in a position to recover faster than most of the rest of the nation,” said Weissmann.
House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, said Ritter’s legacy would be “growth in green energy and passing the Healthcare Affordability Act” in 2009, to provide more than 100,000 uninsured Coloradans with health coverage.
Across the aisle, incoming House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, countered, “One has to say that Ritter will be remembered for his ‘green energy economy,’ which was a total farce. (It’s) more like government subsidized green energy economy that is not showing the return it was touted to be.”
“I have great respect for Governor Ritter and appreciate his many years of public service in Denver and for the citizens of Colorado,” said state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan. “Even though I do not agree with these policies, I believe the governor passionately and earnestly fulfilled his commitments to his base by increasing renewable energy mandates, adding regulations to protect the environment and promoting other policies to increase tax revenues.”
“Even though some of his policies found broad bipartisan support,” said Looper, “other policies were supported by his Democratic House and Senate members, and those were more punitive, restrictive and costly to the citizens of Colorado.”
State GOP Chair Dick Wadhams offered an entirely different view of how Ritter will be remembered.
“Two very different things, one deplorable, one courageous,” declared Wadhams. “First, signing the executive order on a late Friday afternoon in November 2007, handing state government over to union bosses. Second, confronting the teachers’ union — aka CEA (Colorado Education Association) — and getting teacher tenure reform passed.”
Retiring state Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, said the governor would be remembered for engineering the passage of “The Dirty Dozen,” a package of state revenue producers to balance the budget. The revenue was derived in part from repealing or freezing tax credits and levying new taxes on such items as soda pop, candy and online merchandise sales.
“The Dirty Dozen is a business-killing attempt to avoid making serious attempts to cutting the budget,” he declared.
“Actually, though, I wish Governor Ritter the best. I’m sure it was not an easy four years for him,” said Schultheis.
Democratic state Rep. Lois Court of Denver said Ritter’s legacy would be the decision of abandoning a re-election bid in order to protect his family from relentless media scrutiny and criticism.
“I will remember him most for stating the unpleasant truth that because of our current media climate, public officials must consider the significant impact of campaigns on their families. I think that’s tragic,” said Court.
“Governor Ritter is a man of integrity who cares about his family,” she said. “He decided not to seek re-election because he didn’t want to put his family through the intense negativity associated with campaigning.”
A year ago Ritter announced he would not seek a second term — the news stunned Coloradans.
State Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, said she hopes that “Governor Ritter (will) be content and not second guess his decision to leave office, rather, to move into the future being thankful for the privilege of serving the people of Colorado — and even more thankful for his beautiful family who stood beside him while he did so with honor.”
The governor’s decision not to run for re-election would also be the subject of state Democratic Party Chair Waak’s comments if she were to ‘roast’ Ritter.
“After a particularly stressful conversation about a decision the governor made, he asked me to run for an unprecedented third term. I did — although his re-election campaign was not what I anticipated,” said Waak.
Wadhams said he’d nominate Ritter for “National Spokesman for the Unintended Consequences of Term Limits. Close friends of Bill Ritter have told me he would never have left being Denver District Attorney if term limits had not forced him to leave resulting in his election as governor.”
Outgoing state Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison, who switched from Democrat to unaffiliated in December 2009, said she would rib Ritter and his prosecutorial style with legislators.
“When the governor wanted you to do something his way it felt like you were in court with him presenting arguments, very effectively by the way, and you came away from the meeting wondering how you just got convinced to adjust your thinking,” recalled Curry.
As an unaffiliated candidate, Curry waged a write-in campaign but lost to Democrat Roger Wilson of Glenwood Springs. Curry said she hopes to run for office in 2012 — as an independent.
Senator-elect Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, said, “We could try to roast him under one of his solar panels, but they wouldn’t produce enough power to give him a good suntan.”
Ritter’s passion for bicycling — and his publicized spill — inspired “roast” puns and pokes.
An avid cyclist, Ritter broke six ribs in a bicycle collision during a routine morning ride with friends on March 2, 2010. The crash occurred when Ritter’s bike wheel came in contact with the bike of another rider.
Nikkel said her “roast” speech would quote Mark Twain on the wisdom of cycling, “Learn to ride a bicycle. You will certainly not regret it, if you live.”
“The Road (FASTER Bill) to Clean Energy (30 percent Renewable Energy Bill) is paved with tons of coal (after HB 1365 is mined out of Colorado laws),” said Looper. “Even though you may have had an accident or two and were bruised along the way, you were never thrown off of your course and always honored your commitments.”
Wish list of farewell gifts
In addition to suggestions of bikes, helmets and even a Kevlar bodysuit for cycling…
“A big Western saddle embossed with a wind turbine and a place for the newest fly fishing equipment,” said Waak. “If you are going to dream, do it off the ground or in the water.”
“A gag gift — a Toyota Prius,” said Stephens. “SUV’s are in; Toyota Prius-hybrids are out.”
“A copy of the Colorado Constitution without TABOR in it,” said Court. “That’s not a gag gift!”
“A copy of the Bill or Rights, with an attached primer, and a book on the reasons behind the Boston Tea Party,” said Schultheis.
“A copy of the Kenny Rogers song, ‘The Gambler,’” said Wadhams. “Bill Ritter knew when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.”