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Witwer won't run for re-election in 2008

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By Vicky Gits

After two years representing Evergreen in the Colorado legislature, state Rep. Rob Witwer announced Monday that he won't run for re-election in November 2008. He intends to serve the remainder of his current term, which ends in January 2009.

Witwer, 36, a Republican, is characterizing his departure as more of a sabbatical than a final goodbye.

"I'm stepping away from elective office for now, but I'm not leaving politics. I'll be working hard to elect candidates who believe in the ideals of limited government, lower taxes and common-sense education reform," Witwer said in a statement.

"I will soon have four kids under the age of 7, which probably speaks for itself. At this stage of my kids' lives, I want to be more available," said Witwer, who is anticipating child No. 4, a boy, in September.

Witwer is employed as assistant general counsel for Molson-Coors Brewing Co. His children are 6, 4 and 2.

"To give you an idea of what it's like, about two weeks ago I took the 4-year-old to the emergency room with his second broken bone since December."

But Witwer isn't ruling out a comeback.

"As soon as everyone's out of diapers, I'll be looking at more opportunities," he said.

In the meantime, Witwer intends to remain active in the Republican Party, helping to rebuild the organization, but in a less visible role. He will miss some aspects of being in public service.

"I love the opportunity to fix complex problems -- to find a common ground and build consensus. I'm going to miss the mental stimulation of policymaking. But I'm in my 30s, and I've got plenty of time."

Witwer's District 25 represents the foothills of Jefferson County from Coal Creek Canyon to Deer Creek Canyon, including Evergreen, Lookout Mountain, Genesee, Conifer and Pine.

Witwer originally was appointed to finish the term of his father, John Witwer, who resigned in June 2005 after being appointed by Gov. Bill Owens as manager of the Colorado Benefits Management System.

Witwer ran uncontested in the primary for the November 2006 election. He beat Democrat Mike Daniels with 57 percent of the vote in the general election.

Witwer is proudest of the bills he sponsored to expand the state's use of renewable energy, provide public access to certain backcountry trails, and establish 457 retirement accounts for volunteer firefighters.

Witwer also has been instrumental in extending the state income-tax checkoff for Special Olympics and modernizing laws that apply to businesses. He also sponsored a bill setting standards for high school graduates. Although the bill was killed in committee, Witwer intends to continue pressing the case for standards for the remainder of his term, he said.

Republican Party officials regarded Witwer's decision as a temporary setback.

"Rob is one of the best and brightest that our party has to offer," said Dick Wadhams, chairman of the state Republican Party. "He is one of the most creative and most decent people to ever serve in the state legislature. ... If I thought he was leaving for good, I would be very sad today. ... A person of this quality I could see as a congressman, U.S. senator or governor. He truly is that caliber."

Wadhams declined to name any names as possible successors to Witwer.

Renee Nelson, chairman of the Republican Party of Jefferson County, said she was surprised to hear Witwer wouldn't run in 2008. "He's going to be truly missed. It was a shock. He's been a wonderful politician," Nelson said. "He's taken care of a lot of things that are needed."

In the meantime, Witwer's departure changes the political landscape.

"It's going to be a whole new playing field now they know that Rob's stepping down," Nelson said. "There are a few people who will step up." A Republican primary race is a lot more likely.

"I don't think we've heard the last of him," said Mike Beasley, a former member of Owens' cabinet and the regional governmental affairs director for Xcel Energy. "He is the future of the party. Just because he isn't serving doesn't mean he doesn't have an incredible future. Whether it's governor or attorney general, he would be one of the top candidates," Beasley said.

"What made him a great politician is he tried so hard not to be one. He has the ability to work with both sides of the aisle and do what needs to get done," Beasley said.

State Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, said he was sworn in about the same time as Witwer.

"Rob's first election was just a year ago, and he has accomplished a tremendous amount. If I were the Democratic Party, I would be very worried. He has a huge future."

Witwer grew up in Evergreen and graduated from the University of Chicago law school in 1996.

Mortgage lender Andrew Scripter, a Democrat from Arvada, announced his candidacy for House District 25 on Aug. 1. So far no one on the Republican side has announced an intention to run for Witwer's seat.