Last night, sandwiched in between the retirement announcements of Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and “Countrywide” Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) came the news that Colorado’s governor, Democrat Bill Ritter, will not seek a second term in office.
Ritter was increasingly seen as a re-election long-shot, likely to lose to presumptive Republican nominee Scott McInnis, a former Congressman from Colorado’s Western Slope. But Ritter’s problems (much like Dodd’s) were mainly of his own making.
Like Barack Obama, Bill Ritter ran as a moderate: Pro-business, for efficient government (and, unlike Barack Obama, pro-life.) Again like Obama, Ritter abandoned much of that moderation, becoming a tool of unions and radical environmentalists while the ballots were still wet with voters’ ink.
One of Ritter’s first actions as a “moderate” governor was to impose collective bargaining on state employees…something which the employees on the whole were not calling for. To give Ritter credit, he did veto two Democratic bills which would have allowed collective bargaining by firefighters and given taxpayer money to striking or locked-out grocery workers. He earned the disdain of both pro- and anti-union forces in the state with one union group saying to the governor “Don’t piss on my back and tell me it’s raining.”
In 2008, Ritter imposed a state hiring freeze due to Colorado’s massive budget squeeze. Over the next three months, he had approved 7/8 of requested “exemptions”, hiring more than 300 new state workers while the rest of Coloradoans were being forced by the financial crisis and recession to cut back and economize.
And in one of his most destructive enterprises, Ritter worked with environmental extremists to draft draconian new regulations for oil and gas exploration in Colorado which, in the name of protecting animals, gives power to the Department of Wildlife to regulate, delay, or kill drilling projects even though there was no evidence that Colorado wildlife was being harmed under the prior regime. Particularly in the western part of the state, where drill rig counts have plunged by more than 50% (in part due to lower natural gas prices but also due to the new regulations), Ritter’s policies are extremely unpopular.
A taint of corruption also covered the Ritter campaign surrounding the apparently political prosecution of Cory Voorhis, a saga which came back to life in recent months with the nomination for US Attorney (and later withdrawal) of Ritter campaign operative and now deputy chief of staff, Stephanie Villafuerte. Rumors are flying in Colorado about whether a continuation of this scandal was a factor in Ritter’s decision.
All that said, Bill Ritter generally came across as a likeable guy even when one disagreed with him on issues. A likeable guy, just not the right guy for the job. Ritter also has several children and has complained in the past about the youngest having to grow up in the fishbowl of the Governor’s Residence; I am inclined to take him at his word about that being at least a factor in his decision.
Now that Bill Ritter will not be the Democratic candidate for governor in Colorado, speculation is turning to who the likely candidates might be. So far, there are four names leading the pack:
• Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper
• Congressman Ed Perlmutter
• Former Speaker of the State House of Representatives, Andrew Romanoff
• Interior Secretary and former Senator Ken Salazar
• (The Denver Post mentions Congressman Jared Polis as a possibility, but I believe that to be extremely unlikely.)
The conventional wisdom — which I agree with — is that Hickenlooper would be by far the strongest candidate. With a relatively pro-business reputation for a Democrat, a successful tenure managing Denver, including during difficult economic times, and an affable personality, he would be an instant frontrunner in any political race he entered in Colorado.
The other three candidates would be, in my opinion, underdogs to Scott McInnis in the race for governor, even though McInnis is yet to inspire much enthusiasm among the Republican base and particularly the Tea Party crowd in the state.
Perlmutter and Salazar are too easy to tie to Obama and the failing, failed, and unpopular policies of far-left liberalism. Romanoff can’t be as directly tied to Obama, but his policies are just as liberal and he has the lowest name recognition of the likely Democratic candidates. Also, Romanoff has already declared himself as a primary challenger to Senator Michael “Who?” Bennet and may prefer to stay on course to try to become a legislator once again.
There is plenty of speculation in Denver whether Ritter’s announcement was coordinated by outside forces who encouraged him to get out of a race he probably couldn’t win. If we see John Hickenlooper quickly announce that he will run, it will fuel those suspicious as will any job offer received by Ritter from the Obama Administration. (Ritter was one of the first governors to endorse Barack Obama…again showing just how “moderate” he really is.)
Ritter’s withdrawal slightly increases the Democrats’ chances to keep the governorship. If the Democratic candidate is Hickenlooper, I’d bet on just that outcome. If it’s anyone else, I’d bet on Scott McInnis winning. But McInnis doesn’t have an easy road ahead: He must come out with detailed plans for how to deal with the state’s budget woes, he must convince the Republican base that he actually has conservative principles, and he must prepare for an as-yet-undetermined opponent — much more difficult than knowing exactly whom you’re competing with.
Overall, the Colorado governor’s race (and Senate race) will deserve national attention. It’s a purple state, no doubt, with each side thinking they’re getting the better of it. The results here in November will send an important message to the Democratic and Republican parties alike across the entire, and politically critical, southwest.