Gov. Ritter’s decision causes political storm

The old bromide about Colorado’s weather is: “If you don’t like it, wait a bit. It will change.” That notion could apply to the state’s political climate these days as well.

Gov. Bill Ritter’s announcement Wednesday that he won’t seek re-election this year amounts to at least a Class 4 political hurricane. It changes the election landscape substantially.

Not too many months ago, Coloradans were contemplating the possibility of a gubernatorial race between Ritter and Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry of Grand Junction. In November, Penry abandoned that race. Then, just a week ago, he announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to his state Senate seat this fall. Those actions set off a scramble for local legislative seats.

Until Wednesday, the gubernatorial contest looked like a horse race between Ritter and former 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis — with McInnis maintaining a firm lead.

Now, speculation is rampant about which Democrats might try to challenge McInnis. Names mentioned include Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, former Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. None had announced his plans as of late Wednesday.

Ritter’s announcement also highlights questions about whether Colorado, which had been tilting Democratic in the past few elections, is beginning to swing back to the Republican side.

The Daily Sentinel endorsed Ritter in his 2006 election bid, but we have not endorsed any candidate yet this year.

We have supported a great deal of what the governor has done during his three years in office, however, including his efforts to revamp Colorado’s oil and gas rules and his difficult decisions on how to cut the state budget.

We have also disagreed with or questioned some of his efforts, such as pushing to raise vehicle registration fees in the midst of a recession and urging the Legislature to freeze school district mill levies, which added to Coloradans’ property-tax burden.

There have been other missteps, often by people he hired or appointed. A commission he put together on social services managed to anger county officials of both parties with its recommendation that the state assume county responsibilities.

At times, it seemed Ritter and his team were simply tone deaf to Coloradans’ concerns. Hiring a “stimulus czar” for $146,000 a year to oversee spending of federal stimulus money while other positions in the state were being cut was but one example.

During his press conference, Ritter said making his family a higher priority was the principal reason for withdrawing from the governor’s race. But a lot of people weren’t buying that, as comments on various Web sites showed.

We have no doubt that family is extremely important to Ritter. But it’s hard to believe poll numbers that repeatedly showed Ritter trailing McInnis and showed Ritter’s job approval ratings tumbling below 50 percent didn’t have some influence.

The fact that Ritter’s announcement came the same day that Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota — both Democrats and both facing uphill re-election battles — were withdrawing from their races only heightens the sense that Democrats in trouble are choosing to step aside this year.

Whatever his reasons, Ritter’s surprising announcement means Colorado’s political climate will remain very unsettled.


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