Andrew Romanoff, former speaker of the state House and a once rising political star, wants to be a U.S. senator. And there’s nothing Governor Ritter, the state Democratic Party establishment, or the White House can do about it. If he costs his party the big one and torpedoes his career along the way, well, that’s democracy.
A little more than 500 days earlier, above the Capitol's West Steps, Romanoff cleaned out his speaker of the House office. It was a tiny room with just enough space for a desk and a small conference table. Books were piled, ready to be boxed with his RFK photograph and a Yoda poster. Romanoff looked lost. After eight years at the Statehouse, including four as the speaker, he had to leave office, forced out by term limits. Packing his belongings, he began to unpack the question: Now what?
The rising whiz kid was now a 42-year-old unemployed politician. By way of comparison: Four years earlier, an ambitious 43-year-old Illinois state senator was elected to the U.S. Senate. That former state senator, Barack Obama, was about to be sworn into the White House.
Every political slot that a striver like Romanoff might have wanted—governor, congressman, senator—was occupied. He had been a finalist for the Colorado secretary of state position, but no dice. He had applied for a job with the Obama administration's U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) but hadn't received an offer. In his downtime, Romanoff wrapped up his law degree at the University of Denver. He didn't want to practice law; the cerebral politician just wanted to understand the law.
Then, in late December, President-elect Obama announced that he'd be appointing U.S. Senator Ken Salazar as the secretary of the interior. One of the most plum political jobs in the state was now ripe for the taking.
Romanoff certainly had the right CV, which was padded not just with dual Ivy League degrees and a law degree, but also loaded with political accomplishments. During his four terms, he built a broad statewide coalition, helped engineer a Democratic takeover of the Statehouse, and oversaw waves of legislation. He authored arguably the most important Colorado law of the past decade, 2005's Referendum C, which was passed by voters to help balance the state budget. Of particular note, Romanoff helped elect and worked alongside the man who'd be making the unexpected senatorial appointment: Governor Bill Ritter.
Many respected names were bandied about for the job, including U.S. Representatives Ed Perlmutter, Diana DeGette, and John Salazar (Ken's older brother), and Mayor John Hickenlooper. But all those folks had jobs—good, secure jobs. Romanoff, who was chosen by Governing magazine as the top public official in the country just the year before, was out of work. The former speaker rallied support quickly, earning endorsements from 61 of the 64 Democratic county chairs. The field promptly cleared, and the only men left standing were Romanoff and Hickenlooper. Either would be popular with both the party's base and the establishment.