Romanoff skirts rumors, focuses on school buildings

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Back in the Capitol and making his first public appearance in many weeks, Denver Democrat and former Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff wasn’t saying much about rumors that he may run a primary against newly appointed U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

Former Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff addresses a press conference at the Capitol last week. Romanoff was promoting the state's first use of BEST funds.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

In fact, Romanoff wouldn’t talk about it at all.

“I am here to celebrate this important day in Colorado education,” Romanoff said to reporters at the state Capitol Thursday afternoon directly following a press conference highlighting the BEST, or Building Excellent Schools Today, bill.

“I am here to answer any question you have on schools, construction or BEST. But that is it,” Romanoff said with a smile.

Romanoff joined Gov. Bill Ritter, State Treasurer Cary Kennedy and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, at a press conference highlighting the first round of BEST grants, which were given out by the state Board of Education last week to help fund capital construction projects in rural school districts across the state. The grants were the first BEST funds to be made available to school districts across the state by leveraging $30 million to $40 million annually from the state’s School Trust Fund.

The State Board approved 11 grants funding more than $98 million in 2009 construction projects mostly in the San Luis Valley. The projects will create as many as 600 new jobs.

Romanoff used his position as speaker of the House to play a key role in the passage of BEST in 2008 after he toured the state and took stock of the aging and dilapidated condition of many of Colorado’s rural schools. Unlike districts in populated areas, which can more easily ask voters to approve bond elections to build or renovate schools, rural districts lack the population and property value levels to utilize such a funding
mechanism.

“We have schools where the roofs are caving in and where desks are literally falling through the floor,” Romanoff said. “The quality of your education shouldn’t depend on your ZIP code.”

After the press conference concluded, reporters tried phrasing the question about a possible Senate primary against Bennet in a number of different ways, going as far as asking him in Spanish. (Romanoff is fluent in Spanish.) But to no avail. Romanoff has been rumored to be considering a primary run after being passed over by Ritter in favor of Bennet to replace Sen. Ken Salazar. Salazar left the Senate when President Barack Obama tapped him to serve as secretary of the Department of the Interior.

Romanoff traveled to the Middle East earlier this month on a fellowship with the Aspen Institute and recently began a scholar-in-residence program at the University of Colorado-Denver.

When asked by reporters what he misses most about being at the Capitol, Romanoff said he missed being able to pass important legislation, such as BEST, that helps Colorado and its residents.

When asked what he missed the least, Romanoff smiled.

“Having to sit here and answer all kinds of hard questions from people like you,” he quipped.

Jason@coloradostatesman.com