Governor Bill Ritter might be a lame duck, but he still has seven months to get some work done.
Five months after Governor Bill Ritter announced he'd step down from his perch at the Capitol and not seek reelection, the state has turned its attention to his replacement. Cue the hullabaloo over Mayor John Hickenlooper and former U.S. congressman Scott McInnis. Now, though, is Ritter's time—if he so chooses. The governor won't likely return to elected life (leaving office after one term doesn't exactly burnish one's political resumé), the Legislature has gone home for the summer, and while Hick and McInnis are playing politics, Ritter can actually show the public what he believes in.
To start, Ritter could tackle some politically unsavory ideas on fixing the state's recessionary budget crisis. The governor even has a natural nemesis in this dogfight: TABOR author Douglas Bruce, whose three November ballot initiatives promise to sink Colorado's tax revenues to even lower levels. (Dear Doug: A $10 car registration is nice on the wallet, but it's fiscal insanity when Colorado's roads and bridges already need an upgrade.) Ritter has the chance to condemn those measures roundly and loudly—and, heck, even promote some plans of his own.
Other worthy ideas: Working with public universities to find new sources of funding for higher education, and ensuring that his new-energy economy is humming along nicely by the time he leaves office. Finally, he could commute the executions of Colorado's death row inmates, like Nathan Dunlap (see "The Politics of Killing," December 2008), which would save lives and potentially free up money that is spent annually on death penalty appeals.
Really, Ritter can act boldly on pretty much anything to make a difference right now. "He's been freed of the pressure of reelection," says Bob Loevy, a professor of political science at Colorado College. "He no longer needs to be a politician—he has the opportunity to be a statesman."