Oct 162006
Authors: J. David McSwane The Rocky Mountain Collegian

It’s 9 p.m., and the Bill Ritter for Governor campaign is ready to turn in. After a long day of campaigning in Pueblo, Ritter and his staff head for Denver. But he must make one last phone call on his way home – this time to talk with his alma mater’s student newspaper.

“I attribute much of my success to Ram Power,” Ritter said in an interview with the Collegian last week. “The foundation laid at CSU helped me do and achieve a lot of things in my life.”

Ritter, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, says education should be the number one priority for the governor. He will bring this message to the Lory Student Center Plaza today, where he will discuss with students, Associated Students of CSU and President Larry Penley his plan for higher education in Colorado.

Ritter will also be speaking to professor John Straayer’s State and Local Government and Politics class.

Thirty years ago, Ritter was a student in that very class.

“I just had a lot of fantastic instructors,” Ritter said. “Professor Straayer is a wonderful guy. It’s one of those deals where he doesn’t remember me, but I remember him.”

After completing his undergraduate degree in political science at CSU, Ritter moved on to Colorado-Boulder to pursue his law degree.

When asked about moving to Boulder despite a long-standing rivalry between the two schools, he said with assurance, “That’s just a Colorado boy trying to cover all his bases.”

Ritter remembers his stint as a Ram from 1974 to 1978 with appreciation.

“I really could not have been better served by the instruction I had at CSU,” he said.

But things were different then, he says.

“When I went to CSU, this state provided higher education with 25 percent of all its money,” Ritter said. “Now, we provide about 8 percent. We have de-funded higher education in this state.”

Ritter, who supported Referendum C last year, said his opponent has not made a plan for funding higher education. His opponent, Republican Representative Bob Beauprez, strongly opposed Referendum C, a position Ritter says is a cause for concern among many college students.

“Kids who go to college and are well served by the college system in Colorado should really pay attention to this race because of his opposition to Referendum C,” Ritter said. “Referendum C is the one thing that gives us some sort of safety valve in funding higher education in Colorado.”

Ritter also scrutinized Beauprez’s support of a measure that would allow institutions such as CSU to set their own tuition rates without the regulation of legislators or the governor.

“The fact of the matter is we have to ensure that college is affordable for kids in this state, and moving it away from legislative or governor’s oversight becomes a real big problem,” Ritter said. “Hypothetically, tuitions could increase dramatically if that were to happen.”

Ritter’s plan to alleviate such high costs for higher education involves several measures including the unification of state colleges, community colleges and junior colleges to, in essence, eliminate the fight for limited state funds.

“I will be the first to admit that that is a very difficult thing to do, but it is an important mission statement for me as governor,” Ritter said. “The second part is to do everything we can to adequately fund higher education with the scarce resources that we have.”

“Education is the number one priority,” he added. “We should be educating the kids in Colorado to enter the work force in a 21st century way.”

Ritter’s position with respect to higher education, among other things, seems to be helping him in the polls. The latest polls show Ritter is ahead by double digits.

One reason for Ritter’s success in the polls may be his unusual stance on the abortion debate. Ritter, although a Democrat, is against abortions with exception to birth abnormalities, rape and incest cases.

“I have made it clear that it is not part of my agenda to change the law in this state as governor,” Ritter said. “I do believe that reducing unintended pregnancies should be part of the governor’s agenda. It will be part of my agenda.”

His unique stance, Ritter says, has allowed him to enfranchise a demographic of voters that might otherwise be swayed by the abortion debate.

“I think it’s affected it in a very positive way,” he said. “We think that there’s a great deal of common ground around this notion of reducing unintended pregnancies, and that’s why there’s such a positive response to our campaign.”

Despite Ritter’s popularity as evidenced by election polls, some have criticized the candidate for his leniency toward undocumented immigrants. A recent advertisement takes aim at Ritter’s work as Denver district attorney.

The ad states that in 150 cases, Ritter plea-bargained with illegal immigrants in felony cases including rape, burglary and assault, giving the suspects the lesser sentence of trespass on agricultural land. Ritter has not denied these allegations.

“They looked at 150 cases out of 38,000 that we handled during that eight-year period, ” Ritter said. “If you are talking about a sampling of less that one half of 1 percent, it is not a fair sampling.”

Ritter defends his 12-year stint as district attorney.

“At the time I was DA, we put 12,000 people in prison,” he said. “We took our role very seriously, and we protected the community in Denver. I am proud of my work as DA.”

Ritter’s work in the criminal justice system has strong influences on his belief system. This includes his stance on Colorado’s controversial Amendment 44 – the legalization of small amounts of marijuana.

“I am a person who has been in law enforcement as a prosecutor,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of cases revolving around drugs or substance abuse, so I’m just opposed to its legalization.”

As Nov. 7 draws nearer, both candidates are scrambling to reach the masses. And college students represent a significant number of potential votes, which is a fact Ritter does not intend to overlook.

Ritter comes to pay homage to his alma mater. This time, he will be accompanied by his son August, a Ram in his junior year.

“I travel to college campuses all over the state just talking to kids about the need to be involved because this election is about your future,” he said. “It’s about how this state will invest in your future.”

Staff writer J. David McSwane can be reached at news@collegian.com.


See Ritter

Noon to 1 p.m. today on the Lory Student Center Plaza

Editor’s Note: Read the Collegian for more about Ritter, Bob Beauprez and other gubernatorial candidates in the coming days and weeks before the Nov. 7 election.

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