Gov. Bill Ritter (D)
Elected: 2006, term expires Jan. 2011, 1st term.
Born: Sept. 6, 1956, Denver .
Education: CO St. U., B.A. 1978; U. of CO, J.D. 1981.
Family: Married (Jeannie); 4 children.
Elected office: Denver dist. atty., 1993-2004.
Professional Career: Denver chief deputy dist. atty., 1981-87, 1992-93; Catholic missionary to Zambia, 1987-90; Asst. U.S. atty., 1990-92; Practicing atty., 2005-06.
Bill Ritter, a Democrat, was elected governor in 2006. He had been expected to seek re-election in 2010 but surprised his supporters with his decision in early January not to run again. Ritter had been facing a possibly tough challenge from former Republican Rep. Scott McInnis in November.
|Bill Ritter (D)||888,095||(57%)|
|Bob Beauprez (R)||618,342||(40%)|
|Bill Ritter (D)||Unopposed|
Ritter grew up on a five-acre wheat farm in eastern Arapahoe County, the sixth of 12 children. His father worked the farm and earned extra money as a heavy-equipment operator. An alcoholic, he left the family when Ritter was 13. (The family reconciled in his father’s later years.) Ritter’s mother applied for welfare and worked as a bookkeeper, while he and his siblings got jobs to support the household. Ritter found work in construction at age 14. He then won a scholarship to a Catholic prep school in San Antonio, but after two years decided to return home. He joined the local pipe-layers union at age 18 and worked his way through Colorado State University and later through law school at the University of Colorado.
After earning his law degree in 1981, Ritter joined the Denver district attorney’s office. He rose to chief deputy prosecutor. In 1987, Ritter shocked his colleagues by quitting and moving with his wife, Jeannie, and young son to Zambia, where the couple volunteered for three years as Catholic missionaries to expand a food-distribution and nutrition center. While Ritter was driving slowly through a crowd, a man abruptly stepped in front of the vehicle and was killed. Car accidents were common, and Ritter was cleared of any wrongdoing. But Ritter, who rarely talks of the incident, later told the Denver Post he was devastated: “It is a very big tragedy.”
In 1990, he returned home to Colorado to work as a prosecutor in the U.S attorney’s office, and two years later, he rejoined the Denver district attorney’s office. In 1993, after Ritter's boss left for private practice, Democratic Gov. Roy Romer appointed Ritter as his successor. Ritter was elected to the position three times and served until 2004, when he was term limited.
In 2006, term limits also prevented Republican Gov. Bill Owens from seeking a third term. Ritter jumped into the race to succeed him in May 2005, which gave him an early start in organizing a campaign. Party leaders worried about his abortion stance. He was personally opposed to abortion but said he would enforce Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion across the country; he also said that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, he would sign a law banning abortion except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. Some Democrats, worried that he was not supportive enough of abortion rights, urged him to change his position or drop out of the race. But Ritter would not switch, although he did not embrace the term “pro-life” or the anti-abortion-rights agenda. He also picked as his running mate Barbara O’Brien, the head of a children’s advocacy group who supported abortion rights. Ritter won the state party’s endorsement in May 2006.
Ritter’s Republican opponent, two-term Rep. Bob Beauprez, had a much harder time winning his party’s nomination, and the primary fight required him to court anti-tax and social conservatives. Beauprez faced former University of Denver President Marc Holtzman, who criticized him for his opposition to a 2005 referendum that amended the 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights to allow budget surpluses to be tapped to pay for health care, transportation and education rather than be refunded to taxpayers. Beauprez won the state GOP convention 72%-28%, but Holtzman’s criticism of “Both Ways Bob” stuck with Beauprez into the general election campaign. By the end of the summer, a series of gaffes was taking a toll. In a media interview, Beauprez incorrectly suggested that 70% of African-American pregnancies end in abortion. In August, he picked first-term Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland as his running mate. She had once ignited controversy by comparing gay marriage to bestiality, saying, “Do we allow a man to marry a sheep?”
By July, Ritter had raised $2 million, nearly matching Beauprez, and had run a solid campaign. He had won friends in the business community with his efforts to keep the Taxpayer Bill of Rights intact. When Beauprez accused Ritter of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants, Ritter countered that a Republican Congress had failed to address the issue. Then in October, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began a criminal probe into whether a federal agent had illegally supplied Beauprez’s campaign with information that was used in an ad attacking Ritter’s prosecution of an illegal immigrant. Ritter’s campaign quickly cut its own spot asking, “How can we trust him to be governor?” The unpopularity of President Bush and the Iraq war exacerbated Beauprez’s difficulty getting traction. Ritter won a lopsided 57%-40% victory, winning 38 of 64 counties. For the first time in 40 years, Democrats had control of the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature. Ritter lost only Colorado Springs, Douglas County, Grand Junction and the lightly populated eastern plains.
The first governor in three decades not to come out of the Legislature, Ritter had a ready-made agenda. He had campaigned on the “Colorado Promise,” a series of policy objectives that included renewable energy, education reform, affordable health care and highway funding. After his election, Ritter named veteran former legislator Norma Anderson, a moderate Republican, to his transition team. In 2008, he severed ties with his campaign manager after learning that the aide had embezzled funds from Ritter’s inaugural fund.
Ritter has focused on renewable-energy development, signing a bill requiring utility companies to get 20% of their power from renewable resources by 2020, the first such law in the nation. In April 2008, he signed a bill that established a goal of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from Colorado by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050. His 2008 budget included $3.5 million to fund bioscience and clean energy, which business leaders praised as the most aggressive initiative in those fields in a decade. Ritter suffered a setback in 2008 when a statewide amendment he had backed to end a tax break for oil companies lost on the ballot by 3-to-2. Oil companies had waged a campaign to keep their tax break. In 2007, Ritter led a trade mission to Japan and China to promote international investment in his state’s emerging green-energy and bioscience industries as well as to push for a direct flight from Denver to Tokyo.
His budget for 2008 shifted away from the trend toward “more and bigger prisons” by including the lowest increase in prison funding in years. Ritter instead called for investing $5.9 million in programs aimed at reducing recidivism. As the national economy collapsed in late 2008 and early 2009, he was forced to rework his budget to cover an expected $600 million gap in 2009 and a $385 million one in 2010. He proposed $1 billion in spending cuts, including $125 million from K-12 education, $200 million from health-care programs, and $100 million from higher education. The budget zeroed out funding for two prisons and eliminated a property-tax break for senior citizens and veterans. It also included furloughs for some state workers and canceled pay raises for them in the next year. His decision to suspend the homestead exemption for seniors and disabled veterans was the most controversial move, sparking a battle with Republican legislators.
In February 2007, Ritter angered labor unions by vetoing a bill that would have made it easier for unions to organize nonunion shops. But he sent them an olive branch that November when he issued an executive order giving unions the right to limited collective bargaining. The order was controversial, because it was crafted in secret without input from the GOP or other lawmakers and because union organizing of any sort raised hackles in a state that traditionally has not been union friendly.
In 2008, Ritter opposed a “Personhood Amendment” to the state constitution that would have defined personhood as beginning at the moment of conception, because it made no exceptions for cases of rape or incest or for when the mother’s life was in danger. He called the amendment “bad policy, bad medicine, and bad law.” Pro-life groups, including the National Right to Life and the Catholic Church, also opposed the bill, because, in the words of the church, “It does not provide a realistic opportunity for ending abortions in Colorado.” The amendment lost 3-to-1.
In 2008, Ritter was rumored to be a dark horse candidate as Democratic nominee Barack Obama considered his vice presidential pick. Some columnists suggested Ritter would be a good selection because of his position on abortion and his Catholic beliefs. He is up for re-election in 2010.