This was a very sad interview for me. Governor Ritter has done a superb job and I hate to see him go. We’ve been really lucky to have him as Governor. As always, he was very straightforward as he answered questions, both looking back at his term and looking forward at Colorado’s future. So with that, on to the interview.
I started with pointing out that he’s now had two jobs where you get no thanks for doing well, get pounded on for everything done poorly, and there are times where you can say yes, but the best thing to do is say no – and you get major drama. So my question is – which is harder, being a parent or Governor?
Governor Ritter replied that it’s a tie. There are days when there’s nothing better, and there are low moments. He went on to talk about how he appreciated the opportunity to serve as Governor and every day was a good challenge for him. He continued that he enjoyed it, although he did not enjoy the fundraising or politics parts. He then went on to discuss how he absolutely enjoyed moving the agenda forward and that requires politics to accomplish that.
The Governor went on to discuss how running for office is not a picnic anymore. But the governing part, the policy and thinking about the future of the state – that he has really enjoyed. He lit up when talking about being about to change where the state is headed.
I next asked about the Oil & Gas regulations. The Republicans claimed that the regulations had a major impact on how many wells are drilled, so I asked if he agreed that his regulations are the cause of the present boom in drilling. Governor Ritter responded with a Latin phrase that means “after(?) the fact means because of the fact” (or as I’ve often heard it – correlation does not imply causality). He then went on to discuss how the price of natural gas tanked after the rules were passed does not mean the rules had any impact on that price or amount of drilling.
He then went on to discuss what is presently occurring vindicates his approach to the new regulations, modernizing the rules to protect the environment and communities, and at the same time the industry can thrive here. Even with hindsight he thinks the new rules are a very good balance for everyone involved. He went on to say that he thinks they came up with a well-balanced set of rules because they brought everyone in to the process to craft the rules and listened to everyone. And the end result is we now have other states looking at Colorado as we’re now the model for effective, efficient, fair regulations on this.
Governor Ritter then said something that I think defines not just this issue, but his policies across the board – “We took the long view in so many things where we knew that we were going to have some pain at the front end of things but that it was the right thing to do for the state.” He then discussed how doing a good job governing requires that you take the long view.
I next asked him what is his proudest accomplishment. He started off saying that they made the quality of life better under very difficult circumstances. He then immediately dived in to specifics starting with education policy. He talked about the package of education policy bills that have been passed and how that is of dramatic importance for the future of our state, especially to address the drop-out rate and achievement gap. He next discussed healthcare policy, calling out in particular the healthcare availability act. He completed his list with sustainable transportation funding (FASTER).
He then switched gears and discussed what he thinks the history books will say. He thinks history will remember his administration for changing the energy culture in this state. He talked about how Colorado is now a world leader in new energy, both in where we get our energy, in the R&D facilities in the state, and in the manufacturing to provide items like wind turbines to the rest of the country. And another nice payoff of this is it has generated new jobs.
My $0.02: I think he’s right points above. The history books will credit Governor Ritter with transitioning our state to green energy use and making us the silicon valley of green energy R&D and manufacturing – because that’s a much simpler story. And I think his greatest legacy, if the education bills bear fruit, will be making this state competitive in the world economy. We can have a great future even if we trail on green energy, but our future would be bleak if we don’t significantly improve our educational system.
Next I told Governor Ritter he gets a time machine, but gets to go back 4 years for 10 seconds to tell Governor-elect Ritter one thing. What would it be. He immediately answered that he would tell himself to pay more attention to the relationship between labor and the business community. He then said he would go back 5 years before the campaign started and stop himself from over-promising where was then not able to deliver. He later said that this was his biggest regret.
I then asked the Governor what was the biggest surprise over the last 4 years. He said it was how difficult it was to reach across the aisle to find common ground. He thinks a large part of that was a giant shock to the Republican party to lose so much ground since 2004 that they decided to focus on harming him politically as much as they code for electoral advantage rather than focusing on what is best for the state. (Gee, I’m shocked, repeat shocked.)
He then went on to discuss how fortunately we Democrats had a majority in both houses and so we were able to get legislation through on a party line vote. But he clearly found it frustrating that at times Republicans would vote against what they knew was in the long term interests of the state merely to gain a political advantage. He then observed that once he announced that he was not running for re-election, it suddenly became a lot easier to craft bi-partisan bills, because there was no political win in handing him a defeat. Governor Ritter also gave props to the Republicans on educational reform saying that the Republicans consistently supported education.
He went on to say that elections mean a lot. If you don’t win elections, you don’t get to govern. He also discussed how the same thing happened with Governor Owens, once it was clear he was never going to run for political office again, it was a lot easier for both Governor Owens and the Democrats in the legislature to find common ground.
I asked if he was still comfortable with his decision to not run for re-election. He replied with an emphatic YES! He went on to discuss how this has improved his relationship not just with his family, but with a lot of people he knows. He talked about how this is an all-consuming job (and that’s understating it) and relationships suffer from that. He also made a really good observation that it not only is good for his family, but it’s good for him personally.
He then added that he thinks there are a lot of people who are able to do both, do a good job in office and put in the time required to have a strong relationship with family & friends, “but I wasn’t one of them.”
My $0.02: I think it speaks incredibly well of Bill Ritter that he put family before political office and that he is totally upfront about it. I think he’s wrong though that some people can do all of it well – an all-consuming job does negatively impact your relationship with your family because there are only so many hours in the day.
Next question for Governor Ritter was “what next?” He said he has not decided yet but he is in discussions with a number of folks and will probably make a decision shortly after the first of the year. I asked what type of job and he said he hadn’t decided on that yet – but he will definitely stay in Colorado (which makes sense as elsewhere would have an impact on the family).
Next I asked what is the big issue Colorado will face in 20 years (assuming we are a green energy center and education is better). Governor Ritter replied “that we can get more for less money” (he’s right – people who say that are lying!). That we can get more services, more jobs, and at the same time we can shrink government. He said that yes we need to always be fiscally prudent, but there are a number of things that would be better for the state that would cost money.
He went on to say that higher education is a good place to start. We are underfunding higher education and we cannot continue to underfund it without losing an edge. We’re 5th in the country for jobs that require a college degree. Yet our most rapidly growing segment of the population is Latino/Latina and we’re doing a lousy job providing them education. That we need to fund the programs that get people through K-12 ready for college, get them in to college, and get them to successfully graduate from college.
He went on to say “if we haven’t figured this out 20 years from now, we’ll be in real trouble.” He says the people of this state have to figure out what they really want going forward. And they have to understand the impact higher ed has on the quality of life, economic development, etc.
I asked if the root problem is that a significant chunk of the populace doesn’t care about the benefits higher ed brings, or if it’s that people think they can keep taxes low and should be able to get the services they want. He replied both. First that people don’t know, or that they haven’t made the case to the people, about how key higher ed is to the future of this state.
Governor Ritter then said that an equal problem is the cynicism people have for the government. They look at the federal government with the deficit spending and the debt to GDP ratio is worrisome. And that reflects on to the state government. And with that comes people’s lack of trust in the government to do these things, and do them well.
My $0.02: Governor Ritter is spot on about this. The biggest limit my company faces is finding qualified people to hire. And we’re a software company that sells world-wide, we’re exactly the kind of company Colorado needs more of for a better future. But without employees to fill the jobs, we’re limited in our growth. This is a problem today and it’s getting worse at present.
I next asked if he was only about to give Governor-elect Hickenlooper one piece of advice, what would it be. He replied that while he has talked to Hick, he is keeping his advice to him private.
So I flipped to, if he got to give one piece of advice to the upcoming legislature, what would it be. He immediately answered “they have to reach across the aisle.” With a split between the legislative houses and a 3:3 split on the JBC they will have to work together to create a budget that is balanced both literally and figuratively. That no one group bears the brunt of the cuts.
I next asked how he managed to handle the significant budget cuts required by the economy and do so in a way that there was no drama and everyone was pretty accepting of how the cuts were allocated. Governor Ritter first pointed out that there was push back from the business community. (Note: Just the greedy I’ve got mine so screw you businesses.) He said it was due to their warning people what was coming, that the state was in better shape than other parts of the country, and that they did their best to do it in as fair and low-impact a way as possible.
So that led to my asking if TABOR is truly a problem. Governor Ritter first spoke to how we should have built up a rainy day fund when the economy was booming but instead refunded taxes due to TABOR. He then said it is not an issue in the near future because of the Ref C adjustments, especially how the base year is now the best year rather than the last year. But he sees it being a serious issue again by 2016 because of all the necessary things we don’t fund. The state can’t survive without investing in the future.
My $0.02: I think fundamentally what has occurred over the last 15 or so years is the cutbacks have forced us to stop investing in our future and instead run out the previous state investments. In other words we’ve been spending our principal, running up the credit cards, and you can only do that for so long. Now we not only have to get back to investing in our future, but we have to invest even more just to get back to where we were.
Last question – I asked him about the money we spend on prisons and should we treat drugs as a mental health issue instead of a criminal issue. Governor Ritter first talked about how he started the state’s first drug court. But he then said we cannot legalize drugs. He then went on to say that 75% of violent crimes are committed because people are intoxicated. He then continued saying we have to continue to educate kids about the problems that come with drugs, we have to spend money on treatment, and you have to address those people who won’t obey the law. But you cannot legalize it because if you do then drug use will become normative. He then went on to discuss how crime has dropped over the past two years and with that the number of people in prison has dropped.
Saying Goodbye Sucks
Family should come first so I have to agree that Governor Ritter made the right decision to not run for re-election. But he’s done very well for this state. Minimizing the damage during economic cratering does not get the accolades that building during economic booms gets, yet the tough times are the much harder job. Getting us through the depression as well as he did makes Ritter a really good governor. Setting in motion efforts to significantly improve K-12 education and making us a green energy center, on top of handling the terrible economy, makes Governor Ritter an outstanding governor.
I have every expectation that Governor-elect Hickenlooper will also do an outstanding job. But I hate to see Governor Ritter go. I respect him a lot as both a Governor and as someone who puts family first. So I’ll leave it with this message to him.
Recording at Governor Ritter – The Last Four Years, and Some Thoughts on the Next Twenty