DENVER As he wraps up his first and only term as Colorado governor, Bill Ritter says his administration will have a lasting impact on the state, providing more jobs in the emerging field of renewable energy and more money for hospitals and transportation.
We changed the direction of this state, Ritter said in an interview with The Associated Press as he relaxed in his office at the Capitol, mulling over what he still considers a great job to have.
So why is he giving it up after only one four-year term to another Democrat, Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper, who takes office in January?
Ritter said his priorities were out of balance, and leaving the governors job was the only solution.
Im a husband, Im a father, he said. It was a rebalancing act, it actually worked, it was the right thing to do. Im in a different place a year later.
As governor, Ritter said, raising fees for automobile registration was the only way to pay for badly needed road and bridge repairs. He called the impact minimal, estimated at $40 a year per vehicle.
Thats about the cost of a tank of gas, he said.
He said he promoted renewable energy because there was a leadership void, and no one was willing to talk about increasing mandatory renewable-energy requirements from the 10 percent that had been approved by voters to 30 percent, which became the new standard.
Its not just providing clean energy, its providing jobs, he said.
Ritter acknowledged a number of mistakes during his four years in office, including a belief he could fundamentally change the relationship between labor and management. That resulted in policies that angered both sides, including his executive order giving state employees the right to negotiate with their bosses and his veto of a bill that would have made it easier for unions to organize.
I had a sense that we could develop a different way of interacting between those two communities, Ritter said. And that so many people were kind of locked into a 1960s model, of labor vs. management.
I think the disappointment flows from the fact that it feels to me, four years later, that the business community and the labor community both behave like they, you know, used to. That we were not able to advance that dialogue. And at the end of the day, the people who get hurt most by that are working people.
He also said he made mistakes as a candidate, including parts of his 54-page Colorado Promise that everyone in the state would get health insurance by 2010, and that sweeping changes would be made in education from kindergarten through college.
Ritter insisted the Colorado Promise was really a vision for the states potential and not a list of campaign obligations. He said the plan would have cost more than $1 billion, and there was no way to give people everything they wanted.
It was about the potential of the state, he said.
Halfway through his term, Colorados economy went from boom to bust, forcing him to make tough decisions that angered Democrats who were counting on him to carry out the party agenda after he became the first Democratic governor in 40 years to have a Democratic House and Senate. Some party members called it a squandered opportunity, though they wont say it publicly.
There are places where the safety net was strained, but we believe we have done a very good job of keeping the safety net intact, Ritter said.
Ritter said his relationship with incoming Democrat John Hickenlooper cooled after Ritter appointed Michael Bennet, Hickenloopers former chief of staff, to the U.S. Senate instead of Hickenlooper.
I strained the relationship to some extent by not appointing him, Ritter said. But, quite frankly, he was over that as quickly as anybody. ... I think it impacted some people, but John was least among them, in terms of impacted by it.
Ritter said the two have remained allies.
Later in the interview, when asked what advice hed give Hickenlooper, Ritter said, Im not being public about that. Im really having my conversations with him. We are having, I think, really healthy conversations.