Exclusively online: Q-and-A with Gov. Ritter

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Exclusive online: Q-and-A with the Gov. Ritter

Give a speech.

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Get a set of skies as the keys to the city.

Make a few jokes.

Fly off to the next destination.

All just a day in the life for Gov. Bill Ritter. Before flying off to Grand Junction Saturday after the regional meeting of Northwest Colorado Cultural and Heritage Tourism Initiative at the Craig Holiday Inn, Ritter sat down for a couple a minutes for a quick question-and-answer session.

Q: The education bill (the School Finance Act, which increases school funding in Moffat County by more than $270,000 next year) went through. Your thoughts?

A: It was an amendment to the School Finance Act. It won in the Senate by one vote, so it was very close, and it won in the House, and I forget what the vote count was in the House. But what was significant about the House is there were a few different Republicans who ultimately voted for the act. Al White voted for the amendment. ... Al and I were involved in this conversation for most of the session about this, and he showed a lot of courage because the Republicans inside that building decided to make it a partisan issue. ... We believe it was the right thing to do. It does a host of things. There are a bunch of counties out on the Eastern Plains that, because of their lack of economic activity, they haven't seen that mill levy float down, so they were still paying 35, 36 mills, and you have very wealthy counties paying 3 or 4 (mills). It doesn't increase the mill levy. It just says it can't float down.

The state share ... was 40 percent in 1980 and the local share was 60. Now the state share is 65 percent of K-through-12 funding, and the local share is 35. We could keep going in that direction if we didn't stabilize the mill levy, and if we do go in that direction, constitutionally money would have to flow to K-through-12 and out of other places, and things like higher education and human services or that tourism money ... that kind of thing is not constitutionally protected.

Q: You mentioned economic development in your speech today. Craig and Moffat County's focus seems to be in one basket. Right now, the focus is on oil and gas and coal. How do we diversify, and how does the state help us with that?

A: I think we have to help through tourism. There is a few different things you have to do. You have to add value to whatever is going on there. You have an agricultural economy. Certainly you're part of the oil, gas and coal development. And finally tourism, and that in itself can be a fairly diverse economy.

So we have to protect the water in the Yampa Valley so agriculture remains a viable economy, and we have to ensure that we don't do things that shut down the ability to develop coal and oil and gas resources, but at the same time, protect the environment. Because the other part of the economic activity up here is tourism. I talked about in my talk there that wildlife and migration patterns -- those are important to local hunters, but they're also important in that it is a tourism destination for hunters who come here from outside of the state.

And we appreciate that, and we think two things about that: You have to protect those activities, and to the extent that you can, you have to invest in them.

That was part of adding tourism dollars to the budget so we could market this state for all of the different things that tourist come here for. Sure, the ski industry is very important; all of the water industries -- fishing, kayaking, rafting -- those things are important, but we view hunting as one of those activities, too.

Q: Mr. (J.B.) Chapman talked about hunting as tourism. If proponents who want to limit the number of out-of-state licenses move forward with trying adopt it as a law, will you come out against it?

A: A few things. You never comment on something that is an abstract comment. And I don't mean to be evasive. I've just learned my lesson. I want to see what they do concretely before I take any position.

Like (Chapman) said, we do have the opportunity to appoint a new Division of Wildlife director. We have heard about this issue the entire time I campaigned. I heard about both sides of this issue. I have a group of sportsmen I talk to regularly. I have a good friend who is a former employee of the Division of Wildlife, and he's helpful in informing me about this. But again, this is one of those important balances that you try to strike. I think part of the balance is understanding the importance that outfitters play in having the ability to attract tourists, marketing the state to people outside of the state and talking about the opportunity to come here and hunt. And we don't want to take away the ability of local hunters, citizens, state residents to be able to hunt in this state as well. So, we will just do all we can to strike the right balance, and part of that is viewing hunting as an economic development driver for a place like Moffat County.

Q: One more question from a Republican county. It seems like as a Democrat in your first couple of months, you have reached across the Republican-Democrat line. How do you get the national government to do that?

A: I tell you, I think that is part of why the Democratic National Convention is coming to Denver, because you've got Democratic governors in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. ... And the reason Democrats are successful here is because we reach across the line, and we focus on problem solving. To let the conversation to always be driven by partisan politics is to allow conversation to polarize, and you can't fix problems if that happens. And if you really are about fixing problems, if you think about those governors in those Western states -- including me -- we're centrist, we're privatest, we care about fixing problems. And I think there a whole lot of Republicans who care about that, too.

-- Interviewed by Jerry Raehal and Bryce Jacobson

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