We are happy to bring you our third major Q&A of the week, this time with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter. Mr. Ritter has answered your questions over the last week, and the Q&A posted below features the complete, unedited answers to those questions.
Ritter was appointed Denver DA in 1993 to replace Norm Early, who left to run for Mayor. Ritter successfully ran for re-election in 1996 and finished a 12 year career as DA when he was term-limited out of the office and succeeded by Mitch Morrissey in January.
Ritter is currently a partner in the law firm of Hogan & Hartson, where he specializes in government investigations and litigation practices. We asked Mr. Ritter about his campaign and about some of the issues that he'll confront as a candidate, and then he answered a variety of your questions. Click below for the full text of the Q&A.
*Note: Bill Ritter is not answering further questions at this time, so please don't submit questions in the Comments section.
Colorado Pols Q&A with Democrat Bill Ritter
1. Why should Coloradans vote for Bill Ritter for governor?
I have the passion, the vision, the experience, and the commitment to leave a better Colorado to our children. I’ve spent my entire life serving people, whether as a prosecutor in the trenches for eight years, or as the Coordinator of the Mongu Nutrition Center in the Western Province of Zambia for three years, or as the elected District Attorney of Denver for eleven and a half years, or as a member of the Denver Public Schools High School Reform Commission. I’ll bring that same commitment to serving the people of Colorado.
Our state calls out for an innovative leader whose experience grounds him in the issues facing ordinary people and families across this state, and who is unafraid to make the tough calls on their behalf. From jobs to education, health care to scarce water resources, we need vision and leadership
Perhaps few things in my life speak to my commitment to people as well as my time in Zambia. I spent three years of my life in a Third World country, as a volunteer, facing seemingly insurmountable problems of malnutrition and undernourishment of children. I built innovative programs designed to improve the health of these children and designed these programs to be self-sustaining once I returned to Colorado. At first, the problems seemed overwhelming, but with courage and a commitment, we left this community better off than we found it.
An author I respect recently observed that we’re involved in a fundamental battle over the role of government. On one side are cynics who insist that government can accomplish nothing and are willing to stop at nothing to prove themselves right. On the other are those who believe with inspiration and investment, commitment and common sense, we can make things better.
I know that with the right vision and leadership, the future can be brighter for average working Coloradans and their children. The people of this state are longing for a leader that understands their struggles the way I do, and is willing to work night and day to ensure that quality education, health care, employment and a clean environment are available for all Coloradans. I am filled with hope that we can work to make this state better for your children and for my children.
2. By most accounts, running for a citywide office in Denver is much different than running for office anywhere else (especially statewide). What makes politics and campaigning in Denver unique from the rest of the state?
Building a political campaign has many elements that are similar no matter what office a person is seeking. I had a tough election battle in '96 against a formidable opponent, and I won handily. Certainly, running statewide involves a broader political fight, but the core elements remain the same. Listening carefully to understand the challenges that confront people across this state is fundamental to any campaign and certainly a requirement for anyone who seeks the Governor's chair. It will take a great deal of travel, and broad outreach to the people across the entire state, but campaigning is essentially a function of how a candidate connects with people. Given my life experience, I have the ability to make that connection and earn the support of Coloradans.
I was raised on a farm with eleven brothers and sisters. My dad was a construction worker and a dry land wheat farmer on the side. I started working full time at age fourteen to help support my family. My siblings and their families are still mostly involved in construction in one form or another. I know and understand the struggles faced by most Colorado families. As a native Coloradan, I know this state from corner to corner. I have traveled every part of this state, and feel confident I can connect with voters and gain their support.
3. If Referendum C&D fail, does the governor's office become less attractive? If it does fail, what could be done besides just making additional cuts?
Clearly, the Governor's job will be more difficult if C & D fail, but no less attractive. While I support passage, I am also prepared to lead the state should these ballot issues fail. Throughout my years as Denver DA, I found innovative strategies to deal with budget constraints. Our workload increased, yet we successfully prosecuted more criminals while resources were stagnant and at times shrinking. Leadership is about playing and making the best of the hand you are dealt.
Regardless of the outcome for C & D, there is much that can be done other than making budget cuts. Much of the needed reforms, in areas like health care and education, should be implemented apart from what revenue is available to implement them. This is a state that is projected to add two million people to the front range by the year 2030. We need to plan for that growth, we need to understand where the water resources will come from to support that burgeoning population, we need to think seriously about the impact to our environment with that amount of growth, and we need to understand what transportation modes are best suited for our future. With or without passage of C & D, Colorado will need a Governor capable of addressing all of these areas.
4. You have been labeled as being strongly pro-life, but it has also been said that you would not be aggressively pro- life. We want to give you a chance to provide your stance clearly. How would you articulate your position on abortion? In other words, how strongly pro-life are you? Would you veto a pro-choice bill or actively work for a pro-life bill?
This is one of the most contentious and divisive issues in politics today. As Governor, I would work, as I have throughout my career, to find common ground. I think we can all agree that abortion should be rare. I think we can also all agree that we are not living up to our responsibility to our children to provide immunizations, quality education and access to health care. There is so much work to be done in these areas, that we should not allow wedge politics to cloud our vision.
However, voters do have a right to know where I stand on this issue. I am pro-life as a matter of personal faith. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, and the decision of whether or not to legalize abortions reverts to the states, and if the Colorado Legislature passes a bill banning abortion, I will sign the bill only if it provides protections for women who are victims of rape or incest, or to protect the life of the mother. However, should the Colorado Legislature pass a complete ban without these protections, I would veto that bill. That said, Roe V. Wade is the law of the land and abortions are legal. As Governor I will act in the same way I did as DA. I will respect the law as it stands, and I will not act to undermine the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion. For example, as Denver DA, I prosecuted those who caused damage and created disruption at family services clinics.
I do believe that there is much to be done in our society, and in our state, to make abortions rare. In the area of teen pregnancy prevention, greater efforts can be made in educating our youth. We can examine the adoption policies of this state and look for ways to support girls and women who find themselves confronting an unplanned pregnancy.
Further, I have been asked by people whether, as Governor, I would insist that the judges I appoint pass a pro-life litmus test. The answer is no. I would require that the judges I appoint make a commitment that they are willing to uphold the laws of Colorado and the United States. I have written innumerable letters of recommendation for individuals applying for judicial positions, and I have never once inquired about any individual's position on abortion.
5. The role of religion in politics has been a hot topic in the last few months. As someone who is very open about his Catholic faith, how do you feel about the role of religion in politics right now? Is it okay? Is it too much? Where do you draw the line between your own religious faith and your politics?
I am a practicing Catholic, and I value greatly the role that my faith plays in my life. I cannot pretend that, as a Governor, I can check my faith at the door of the Governor's office, and that my decision making will somehow be devoid of my spiritual beliefs. Having said that, I also believe that being the Governor involves seeking the common good for all people throughout this state, no matter what their own faith journey entails. This is a state richly diverse in people from all faith traditions, including those who choose not to be part of any faith system. We should respect, value, and protect this diversity that brings a richness to all of our lives.
The decisions I make as governor will be rooted in what should be best for the people of this state, and it would be wrong for me or any other public official to rigidly impose personal beliefs on public policy. No doubt, there will be times when my decisions on some issues may be at odds with the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church. As Governor, my job is to serve Coloradans first.
6. You were often criticized for how you dealt with police shootings as Denver District Attorney. How will you defend yourself against campaign attacks that say you went easy on police officers?
In the police shootings I reviewed as District Attorney, I had an ethical duty as a prosecutor to file charges only if I held a reasonable belief that I could convict the officer of the crime charged, which was usually murder. In the cases I reviewed, I concluded that I could not ethically prosecute the officers, because of insufficient evidence necessary to gain a conviction.
Making tough decisions without regard to future political consequences is the essence of leadership. It might have been best for me politically to have chosen a case or two to have taken to trial, but given the evidence it would not have been the right thing to do. Because I was sensitive to how important my decisions were to holding the public's trust, I did do something that at the time was unique to DA offices around the country. I opened every police shooting file where no criminal charges were filed to inspection by ANY member of the public who wanted to review the file. Any person who wanted to review every piece of evidence that I examined in making my decision was welcome to do so. The rationale for this was to insure the greatest amount of transparency in my decision making process, and to allow the public to verify that every thing written about the incident in my police shooting letter was accurate. Further, when my Office developed a Website I posted police shooting letters on the Internet for the public's review.
7. When you announced your candidacy for governor, education and immigration were your issues of choice. Without getting into too many details, what are your ideas for addressing education in Colorado?
Just a quick correction, as I mentioned above my priorities are education, health care, improving our economy, and protecting our treasured natural resources.
Education will be one of the highest priorities of my administration because it is so fundamental to my belief that every child regardless of race or income status has the right to a quality education and the opportunity to work to his or her greatest potential. I grew up in a family that did not have much money, but we valued education, and from a young age, I knew that education was the path to a better life. I was fortunate to have access to good schools and scholarships that helped ease the financial burden as I worked my way through college and law school. The opportunities and success that I have enjoyed in my life are a direct result of having received a quality education. Not only do I understand this issue personally, but I also see it each day through the eyes, and sometimes frustrations of my wife, Jeannie, who is a public school substitute teacher.
As Governor, I will start with a focus on early childhood education. All children need a strong foundation if they are to succeed in school. I will work with educators from around the state to gain consensus on critical goals that are achievable and fundamental to preparing Colorado youth for the very competitive world we confront. My experience on the Denver Public Schools’ High School Reform Commission helped crystallize my thinking about the need for additional relevance and rigor in our high schools. Far too often as DA, I saw the results of youth who did not receive an education and for a variety of reasons turned to crime. These are lives lost, potential not realized, and from a purely economic perspective a terrible financial burden for our state. With strong leadership we can and will improve education in Colorado so that all of our children will have the opportunity to explore their full potential.
8. How will you address immigration reform if elected governor?
Immigration policy is a federal matter. I would advocate for a guest worker policy along the lines suggested by President Bush and as outlined by various Denver Post editorials. I would also advocate that the Federal Government provide the necessary resources to deport individuals who have committed crimes in Colorado, and who, under current law, should be deported after completing their jail or prison sentence.
9. As Denver District Attorney, how would you have handled the Raul Gomez-Garcia charges and extradition discussion differently than your successor, Mitch Morrissey?
I believe Mitch has handled this situation appropriately by working to find the correct balance between our community’s need to quickly bring Mr. Gomez-Garcia to justice in Colorado with the practical challenges of working with the Mexican government’s extradition policies. I will not second guess him, and do not believe it is helpful to play politics with this extraordinarily tragic case.
10. As the only current candidate for governor who is NOT independently wealthy, you are probably particularly sensitive to the issue of campaign finance reform. Do you think the current rules under Amendment 27 are working, and if not, what changes would you make?
I believe that many of the issues that Amendment 27 intended to address have been resolved by its passage and implementation. However, the fact that self-funders can spend money limited only by their bank books means that a person like me will never be able to outspend them.
Fortunately, successful campaigns in Colorado often have more to do with vision and ideas and the ability to connect with people than simply the size of one’s checking account. As the only candidate in the race of average means, I’ll have a natural advantage in connecting with average Coloradans. I share many of their same situations, such as worrying about how to pay for the college educations of my four kids, and can speak from the heart about the challenges families face today.
That said; make no mistake, this campaign will be aggressive on all fronts, including fundraising. We may be outspent, but we will not be outworked, and we will have the resources needed to get our message out to all Coloradans.
11. Bill Owens got to pick the design for the Colorado quarter. What would you put on the nickel if we had state-by- state designs of that coin?
I would agree to put my opponents on the nickel, if they would agree not to spend their own money, and raise it a nickel at a time like I am doing.
The following Q&A comes from a selection of questions submitted by Colorado Pols readers. Questions are organized by the reader's name.
1. Monkey Wrench
As the Governor of Colorado would you support or help lead an initiative that would inaugurate Colorado as the first state in obtaining two-thirds of the state legislatures to ask Congress to call a national convention to propose amendment and then being the first state in the three-fourths needed to approve ratifying a Constitutional amendment?
As Governor, I do not see becoming involved in any effort to amend the U.S. Constitution.
2. Phoenix Rising
First, thank you for taking our questions...
a) Governor Owens is faced with a decision pushed on him by the Bush Administration: what do we do with our Roadless Areas? What would you propose we do with these areas, and where would you like to see the development of our western gas and oil reserves go (esp. the Roan Plateau other remote/wilderness locations)?
b) As a more morally conservative Democrat, what is your position on the gay marriage issue? If you are against it, do you support efforts to amend the state constitution (again) to limit the equal protection of homosexuals?
First, I supported the intent of the executive order during the Clinton Administration to strengthen the protections for our roadless and pristine areas of Colorado, and was disappointed when the Bush Administration decided to rollback these protections.
However, one side effect of this decision is that governors now play a greater role in deciding the appropriate public uses of these lands. This new authority underscores the importance of electing a new governor committed to protecting our state’s natural treasures.
In addition, I will be a strong advocate to the BLM to hear local voices and the opinions of local government leaders on the need to protect the Roan Plateau from land use practices that harm its unique landscape and wildlife, as well as the effect on the property values of landowners without mineral rights. The BLM’s recent rapid escalation of issuing of drilling permits on public lands in the Roan Plateau and elsewhere concerns me. I am left to question whether all members of the public are being equally served by this new policy.
Regarding gay marriage, I support the existing state law that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. However, I feel there is no need for a state constitutional amendment on this issue. And, I support civil unions that would extend to gay couples the rights and benefits married couple now enjoy.
3. too much green tea
You probably observed how vulnerable a DA is to attack ads.
Dave Thomas was viciously attacked for those times when his office offered plea bargains for DUI Offenders. It would appear that the public at large cannot think in terms of resource allocation (TAX $$ spent on home detention v. incarceration) or who is more likely to respond to punishment v. treatment. How can you respond to the "get tough on crime" crowd in view of the fact that pleas are necessary to the process? How do you plan to deal with the inherent record a DA brings to the table?
I am very proud of my record as DA, and feel my record of experience and accomplishments will be a solid asset in this campaign. In my nearly twelve years as DA we made significant progress protecting the safety and well-being of the citizens of Denver. Any close examination of my record as DA will show I fought aggressively to prosecute criminals at all levels, creating innovative prosecution strategies to go after gang violence, white collar crime, crimes against seniors, domestic violence and sexual assault perpetrators.
We also had one of the best conviction records in the state on DUIs, and prosecuted more DUI cases than any other DA’s office in the state. My office was very tough on criminals, but we were also smart in using innovative strategies that convicted greater numbers of criminals, reduced crime and diverted youth from a life of crime.
4. Roger P
As you know Mr. Owens has come out strongly against a proposed Indian Reservation Casino. Without addressing the proposed casino specifically, how do you feel generally about tax revenue producers like casinos, tobacco taxes, etc and their role in solving some of the budget problems faced by the state. In other words, should you win election do you envision using these sorts of revenue streams to address the budget crunch that our state is in. If not is this because you think the proposed TABOR compromise is sufficient or do you have other proposals that might be used should the compromise be rejected by voters or prove to be inadequate in keeping our state fiscally healthy.
I believe that there are times when it is in the public’s interest to have targeted taxes that produce revenue to address specific problems. Amendment 35, the tobacco tax, was a good example of such a targeted tax. I supported its passage because it created a disincentive to start smoking and provided resources to address health problems in our state.
However, I believe that these targeted taxes should be used infrequently, and a state should never become reliant on such taxes. More important, we should all be working to support passage of Referendum C and D so that the state will have the resources needed to invest in our future.
5. Dianne Tramutola-Lawson
What do you think about recidivism, transition and the continuum of services for parolees or those discharging their sentences from CO prisons? Thank you again.
Over 60% of prisoners upon release commit new crimes and return to prison. Additionally, we pay $27,000 per year to house each of these prisoners. It is common sense and good economics to explore ways to reduce our recidivism rate while keeping our communities safe. One key area where we can make progress reducing the recidivism rate is tougher drug treatment efforts, including monitoring and counseling programs for convicts. A large proportion of convicts are addicted to drugs when they enter prison. Returning them to the streets with an existing drug habit almost guarantees their return to prison.
If you become Governor, would you be inclined to sign into law a bill similar Rep. Betty Boyd's emergency contraception bill? This bill would have required hospitals with religious orientations to at least inform rape victims about emergency contraception.
I would have signed Rep. Boyd’s bill if we could have found a way to provide an exemption for religious hospitals. I believe there are ways to ensure that information is provided to victims of sexual assault without forcing religious hospitals to violate their principles. As Denver DA, I built a model program, now replicated in other cities, to provide a comprehensive response to support sexual assault victims while we aggressively prosecuted the criminals. As Governor, I think it is critical to find common ground on issues like this where the goal is to fully support the victim, and not get sidetracked by ideological arguments.
7. James Foy
As being a true middle of the road candidate; what strengths do you bring that will bridge the gap and enable you to reach the majority of the voters?
Given the recent examples of excessive partisanship creating gridlock in Washington and sometimes even here in Colorado, I think there is probably no better time to than now to offer Coloradans a different approach to solving our problems. It’s not just where I stand on certain issues, but how I approach problem solving that could define me as a “middle of the road” candidate. We need to reach out to people on both sides of issues to craft common sense solutions, and stop the overheated rhetoric that is turning off so many people from participating in politics.
8. Concerned parent
With prisons already taking the majority of all increases in revenues coming to the state, will you propose any changes in sentences or parole? Will you support reducing juvenile sentences to something less than adult sentences?
The increase in costs for our prison system is an issue to be addressed, but giving convicted criminals lighter sentences and reduced parole supervision is not the answer. There are a number of steps we need to take to stop the path to crime for our children, and to reduce the recidivism of existing convicts that could reduce the burden on our prison system.
Regarding juvenile sentencing, in the overwhelming majority of cases involving juveniles convicted of a crime, they are charged, prosecuted and sentenced appropriately as juveniles.
In our justice system, juveniles receive adult sentences only when they are charged as an adult for a serious and violent crime. While I believe this type of sentencing is appropriate, it is also incumbent upon the state to periodically review the outcomes of our justice system to ensure that sentencing is being applied fairly, consistently and appropriately.
9. CU Student
Regardless of the funding source, which of the following, if any, would you support to further medical research?
a) Using organ stem cells from adult donors to grow new organs
b) Using umbilical cord blood to grow blood stem cells
c) Using fetal material donated from terminated pregnancies to grow any type of stem cells
d) Using donated frozen embryos from fertility clinics to grow any type of stem cells (And do you support Rep. DeGette's bill?)
e) Transplanting DNA into and then out of eggs to grow any type of stem cells Thanks.
Stem cell research is a rapidly evolving issue ethically and scientifically. It requires ongoing dialogue that is thoughtful, informed and respectful. Rather than addressing each of many permutations of this issue, let me answer more generally by stating that I support Rep. DeGette’s bill, and believe that it is appropriate and in the public interest to use embryos that otherwise would have been discarded for stem cell research that may lead to cures for serious and debilitating diseases. However, I am opposed to the creation of new embryos for the sole purpose of stem cell research.
10. Gary Mandell
Mr. Ritter, as governor would you sign a bill that changes the felony murder rule's mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole to a sentencing guideline that allows judge discretion?
Without knowing the details of the bill, I would take a skeptical view of legislation that could create significant leeway in the sentencing of someone convicted of such a serious crime as felony murder. This is a severe crime, and deserves a severe punishment.
As a prosecutor, I know that mandatory sentencing guidelines can sometimes cause problems for both judges and prosecutors in how a specific case is handled, and we should always examine whether our justice system is appropriately prosecuting crime. Having worked with our current Colorado sentencing structure, I believe that the instances where our laws require mandatory sentences are necessary in protecting the safety of our communities.
The Colorado Supreme Court decided that, despite clear language within the wage statute, that corporate owners and officers are not responsible to pay wrongfully withheld wages. This allowed Jerry McMorris to avoid paying hundreds of thousands of dollars of wages to truckers he employed. Are you willing to at least sign, if not push for, an amendment to the Colorado Wage Act defining an employer as an officer or agent as well as the corporate entity?
Without seeing the specific language of a bill, and without the benefit of the arguments pro and con, I am not going to say what I would do with a bill that amends the Wage Act as you suggested. What I will tell you is that my dad was a farmer and a heavy equipment operator. He was a member of the Operating Engineers from the early 60’s until his death a few months ago. He actually operated heavy equipment until well past his 75th birthday. I was a pipe layer and a member of Local Union 720 while I was in college and law school., I understand the need for the law to ensure protections for working people, whether they are represented by a union or not. I would be a voice for those working people that is currently lacking in the Owens’ administration.
Please join us in thanking Bill Ritter for participating in the Q&A with Colorado Pols.