Shortly after I started as the founding director of Denver’s Mayor’s Office of Regulatory Reform in 1991, Elbra Wedgeworth, the office’s deputy director, told me she wanted us to have breakfast with one of her Leadership Denver classmates from the district attorney’s office. Shortly thereafter, she and I met with Bill Ritter. From that day, the three of us went on to bigger and better things. Elbra became president of the City Council and brought the Democratic National Convention to Denver. Bill was appointed Denver district attorney in 1993, was elected twice to the position and became Colorado’s governor. I write a column for the Canyon Courier, High Timber Times and Columbine Courier every other week!
As word leaked out that Gov. Ritter would not pursue a second term last week and then announced that he couldn’t meet his responsibilities, as he saw them, to his family if he continued the campaign, I have been thinking about the Bill Ritter I know. He is a thoughtful and compassionate man guided by an inner compass that keeps him grounded, but is not always his best friend when it comes to things political.
When my niece Emily was in eighth grade, she and one of her classmates prepared a film documentary on assisted suicide as a class project. Emily was motivated to do the project because of her father’s debilitating multiple sclerosis and asked me to help her identify public figures she could talk to about public policy implications. Because of his role as district attorney and his faith, I knew Ritter opposed assisted suicide. He agreed to meet with Emily but was going to California to see his terminally ill father the day she’d been excused from school for interviews. He didn’t think he could fit her into his schedule but found a half-hour. After Emily and Ray got to his office, he spent an hour and a half with them. He treated them like professionals, not 14-year-old middle school students. The way he treated those kids, while trying to balance an overcrowded calendar and the mortality of his own father, affected me profoundly.
As governor, that moral compass made him an enigma and created political vulnerability. The best examples were issues related to organized labor. On one hand, he issued an executive order related to state employees’ ability to participate in employee organizations that earned him the distain of the Denver Post and opposition from business groups. On the other hand, vetoes of bills to make it easier for employees to organize and to create collective bargaining rights for firefighters alienated unions. That middle ground did not earn accolades from either side but was true to his beliefs.
Ritter has four children, the youngest of whom is 15. He faced a nasty campaign. I believe he analyzed how his family would be affected by the attacks he would suffer during a campaign, the time a campaign would take and the fact that by the time he finished serving a second term in 2014, his kids would all be grown, and he thought, “Enough is enough.”
Bill Ritter was unfortunate to be our governor during the worst economic downturn of most of our lifetimes. His political legacy is yet to be written. We won’t know the ultimate effect of his policies and priorities until after he leaves office and the economy improves. But his personal legacy as a man who knows who he is, who is guided by a strong sense of right and wrong and who is committed to his family, is even more secure after one term as Colorado’s governor.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.