Craig Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s announcement Wednesday morning that he would not seek re-election elicited no tears from two Moffat County commissioners, both Republicans.
Commissioner Tom Mathers feigned confusion when asked about his feelings regarding Ritter’s decision.
“You mean other than happiness?” Mathers said. “He shut our industry down here. He’s one reason we’re in the shape we’re in, in Moffat County.”
Even comments from state Democratic Party officials that Ritter’s withdrawal would enable Democrats to put a stronger candidate in the gubernatorial race did nothing to dampen Mathers’ enthusiasm.
“I know even another Democrat might not be as bad as he was for our area,” he said.
Mathers’ concerns centered on Ritter’s policies on energy development and tax revenue generated by mining and drilling for fossil fuels.
Ritter flew over Vermillion Basin in 2007 without informing county officials of his plans, and later stated publicly he would not want energy development to ruin its landscape.
His administration also created new drilling regulations to increase wildlife and public health protections, as well as used millions in severance tax revenue slated for local government grants to balance the state budget.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said these positions have hurt the local economy.
“I don’t think Ritter’s been good for Moffat County,” he said.
Moffat County’s economy exists, Mathers said, because of the area’s relationship with the energy industry.
“The whole town of Craig survives on natural resources,” Mathers said. “Everything is natural resources. … Whether it comes out of the ground, from the air or water, natural resources makes wealth.”
Commissioner Audrey Danner said she had no comment about Ritter’s decision.
Brian Baxter, a member of the Moffat County Democrats, said he is sorry to see the governor decide he would not serve another four years, though he added it is too early to have an opinion on what Ritter’s decision means for the state’s future.
“I am disappointed,” Baxter said. “He’s not going to continue the work he started, but who knows what the right thing to do was. I’ll have to sort of listen and see what happens.”
Baxter said he was impressed with Ritter’s handling of the recession and the more than $1 billion in spending cuts officials have made since 2008.
“We have to evaluate and think about what we’re doing instead of just blindly cutting,” he said. “Ritter was good at that.”
He said he did not have a comment regarding the governor’s positions on energy development.
Baxter, who was on Ritter’s re-election campaign mailing list, said he was surprised by the announcement.
“I hadn’t expected it at all because all the things I’ve been getting from his re-election campaign seemed to suggest he was very focused on the election,” he said.
State Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, said Ritter’s announcement likely will have little affect on the next legislative session.
“An election year is always an interesting time for the Legislature,” he said. “Both sides try to get the other to make stupid votes so they can use them against the other side. … There’s just a lot of weirdness that takes place. I don’t think that will change.”
Democrats still control both houses and the governor’s office through January, White said. Regardless of who the next governor is, conservatives probably will find it as difficult to push their agenda this session as they did during the past few years, he said.
White added, however, that the governor’s choice not to accept his party’s nomination might have some consequences for the Democrats’ unity, which could be fortuitous for Republicans seeking to win more control in state government.
Rumors began circulating Tuesday night as to who might seek the Democratic nomination, including such names as Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator for Colorado and former state attorney general.
Salazar’s office said the secretary would not comment on his possible candidacy, though the White House told reporters it would not object.
Hickenlooper hosted a press conference Wednesday afternoon and said he would only consider running for governor if Salazar declined.
Outside of party lines, Mathers said he has some idea of what kind of person he would want in the governor’s office.
“I guess an ideal governor would have to be somebody who pays as much attention to the small towns as the major city he’s in,” Mathers said. “It’s like Moffat County and Dinosaur.
“Dinosaur gets left out in the cold a lot, because we’re in Craig, and we don’t see what goes on there all the time. … So far, I haven’t seen anybody, but there’s got to be somebody in the world like that. If there was, though, they’d probably have enough sense not to run.”