06 January 2010

Ritter Out, Now What

Governor Bill Ritter announced today that he is not going to run for re-election as Governor in 2010. Ritter had been having trouble raising funds and was polling poorly with Democrats before deciding not to run for re-election, although his official reason for not running for re-election was to spend more time with his family.

The 2010 Race To Be Governor Of Colorado

This leaves the field wide open, with the Denver Post duly identifying the usual suspects to replace him: Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff, Lieutenant Governor Barbara O'Brien, State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, Seventh District Congressman Ed Perlmutter, and Second District Congressman Jared Polis, as of the print edition this morning. One could easily add to the list Secretary of State Bernie Buscher and Third District Congressman John Salazar, both of whom have made their names as moderate Democrats from outside the Denver area. As Democratic Congresswomen from Colorado, Diana DeGette from the First District, and Betsy Markey from the Fourth District, also deserve a mention, as do our U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, and Speaker of the Colorado House Terrance Carroll.

Realistically, I'd be surprised if Diana DeGette threw her hat into ring, because her seniority in Congress is starting to pay off and her willingness to vote the perferences of her liberal Denver district wouldn't be helpful in a statewide race. Jared Polis likewise, might have difficulty as a junior Congressman from a liberal district, winning statewide support. Betsy Markey won her Fourth District seat in large part on the strength of her personal character, and the Democrats would probably lose the race is she did not run for re-election. John Salazar's Third Congressional District would likewise also be probably lost to the Republicans if his name were not on the ticket. Many observers think that Ken Salazar, who gave up a U.S. Senate seat to serve in the Obama administration, is unlikely to give up that post to run for Governor. Mark Udall likewise seems unlikely to give up his hard won U.S. Senate seat to run for Governor.

Mayor Hickenlooper is the most popular politician in Colorado of any party, leads the largest executive branch in the state other than the state government itself, and is term limited, so he cannot run for re-election as Mayor. While the Mayoral post in the City and County of Denver is non-partisan, Hickenlooper is a Democrat. He would be my favorite as a Democratic candidate for Governor, and he is widely mentioned as the front running in the less than a day old race.

Of course, the Governor's race is a two person ticket, and someone who doesn't seek the top job could also be considered for the number two slot. Bernie Beuscher has experience in that department, having previous run for the Lieutenant Governor's job.

The Republicans seeking their party's nomination for Governor are Scott McInnis and Dan Maes, with Scott McInnis almost sure to win that primary.

The Stakes

The biggest prize at stake in the 2010 election is a say in the redistricting process following the 2010 census, with the redrawn Congressional and state legislative districts to be put in place in 2012. The number of seats will remain the same, but the new districts must reflect shifts in the state's population over the last decade.

A good candidate for Governor, by reinvigorating the Democratic party base, could very well help the Democrats in a wide array of state legislative races and in the likely to be close race of Betsy Markey for re-election in the conservative Fourth Congressional District, where her role as a moderate Democrat and an incumbent helps, but is hardly enough to give her a comfortable chance of being re-elected.

Running The State Until The Election

In the meantime, of course, Governor Ritter still has a state to run, including the entire 2010 legislative session which will present a host of bills for him to sign or veto. Given Ritter's reputation as a moderate Democrat, neither his friends nor his partisan opponents can be sure which bills will fall to his veto pen. Now, he has more of an opportunity to be his own man in making decisions for Colorado than ever.

The hardest bill for Ritter this session will be the budget, a.k.a. the long bill. Colorado is short on revenues, like many states, and has little flexibility, due to TABOR to adjust those revenues in the short term.

Another major issue still unresolved in the Ritter admininistration is executive clemency, particularly for juvenile offenders serving life without parole terms. Clemency petitions usually have a better chance when the person granting them doesn't have to worry about getting re-elected, and the special advisory board he put in place to consider the issue has had time to move forward with its process.

Another hard issue that Governor Ritter may want to use his lame duck status and credibility as a former District Attorney to address, is the cost of Colorado's prison system, for which the only serious remedy possible is some form of sentencing and/or parole reform. Budget driven sentencing reforms are becoming common nationwide, and the fact that crime is down nationwide despite the recession, and is down in Colorado in particular, provides some room for putting that issue on the table.


Anonymous said...

One correction. John Hickenlooper CAN seek reelection as Denver's mayor. Elected officials in Denver can serve three terms.

Jude said...

I haven't developed any affection for Ritter, but the true stakes in the race are that Scott McInnis will be elected our next governor. I realize that lawyers are supposed to be intelligent, but he's never proven that intelligence to me. I still remember the headlines when he was elected as part of Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" group. McInnis says, "We'll gut the clean air act!" I could never figure out how this dude who grew up 28 miles down the road from me in a beautiful part of the state could be so anti-environment.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Anonymous, thank you.

Jude, I agree with you that who is elected Governor is clearly one thing that is at stake. But, it is entirely possible that a different candidate may provide a greater chance of winning for the Democrats.