Mesa County officials acknowledge possible factors behind Ritter move

When Mesa County Democratic Party Chairwoman Martelle Daniels learned Gov. Bill Ritter wouldn’t seek a second term, she was stunned.

Daniels, along with Grand Valley political observers on both sides of the aisle, was inclined to accept Ritter’s explanation that he wanted more time with his family.

“What he said is why he’s doing it,” said Daniels, whose family has become close to Ritter’s since he was elected in 2006. “I know it’s taken a powerful toll on all of them. They moved out of a neighborhood they dearly loved. It’s a very tight-knit family, so it’s been hard.”

Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland, who was the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor against Ritter, said she took the governor at his word.

“Politics takes its toll on families,” Rowland said. “But there also are political reasons.”

Among those, she said, was that Ritter, who engineered support from unions and business in 2006, could have afforded to lose support from one of those groups, “but now I don’t think he’s supported by businesses or unions.”

Fairly or not, Ritter also stood to be blamed for the slowdown in the energy economy that buoyed the state until late 2008, Rowland said.

Republicans have criticized Ritter for backing drilling rules they say contributed to the slowdown, and Democrats say the national economy is the most significant factor.

“Those lines get blurred when you’re unemployed and you’re going into the voting booth,” Rowland said.

Although Ritter’s decision appears to bolster the campaign of Republican Scott McInnis, a six-term U.S. representative from Grand Junction, people attracted to politics through the tea party movement have something new to study, said Rose Pugliese, a Palisade conservative loosely tied to the tea party movement.

Without Ritter, “I’m curious to see who else is interested,” Pugliese said. “I know there is Andrew Romanoff, and I’ve heard a lot of Republicans really like him. I’ll be curious to see if he jumps in and how he does.

“I definitely think this changes things a bit.”

Romanoff is a former speaker of the Colorado House now posing a Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Michael Bennet, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Ritter.

Mesa State College President Tim Foster said Ritter will be missed as a “staunch supporter of higher education. He’s probably been the best governor in the last 50 years for higher education.”

Ritter was expected to attend the reopening Friday of Saunders Fieldhouse, and Foster said he still expects the governor to attend.

“He’s a pretty stand-up guy,” said Foster, a former Republican House majority leader.

Grand Junction City Councilwoman Teri Coons, whom Ritter appointed to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, said the decision caught her unawares. Ritter’s office had called Tuesday to confirm her attendance at a fundraiser for the governor in Grand Junction on Friday.

“It really does create an interesting dilemma,” Coons said. “I think it changes the whole strategy from the Republican perspective as well.”

Ritter was the focus of voter ire, and he could help Democrats statewide by stepping aside, said Reeves Brown, executive director of Club 20, the Western Slope advocacy group.

When state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, pulled out of a primary challenge to McInnis last year, “it was strategically the biggest boon to Republicans,” Brown said.  “For Democrats, the same could be said of Bill Ritter’s decision.”

Ritter “is a person I respect. I wish him well,” said State Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction.

But, he added, “We have a lot of work to do to face the challenges his administration has created. This improves our ability to move forward on changes we need to make to right the ship, hopefully without a lot of push back from the administration.”

Ritter’s announcement came as two Democrats in the U.S. Senate, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, announced they wouldn’t seek re-election. State Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, said the timing leads her to wonder if they were coordinated.

Colorado Democrats were just recovering from the defection of state Rep. Kathleen Curry, a Gunnison independent, Bradford said.

“That was a real boomerang they thought they had handled,” Bradford said. “And now this. If the wind is blowing in the right direction, it just picked up a few knots.”


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