DENVER — Bill Ritter seized the governorship in 2006 on the wings of his "Colorado Promise," a 54-page pledge to insure hundreds of thousands of Coloradans, boost higher-education funding and improve the state's aging transportation system.
Then he ran into the recession — and Colorado's vexing constitutional limits on tax increases.
Ritter's surprise announcement last week that he won't seek re-election this year means he'll be Colorado's first one-term governor since Republican John Vanderhoof, booted out of office after just 18 months in 1974 under the Watergate cloud that hurt the GOP.
Ritter leaves a mixed legacy.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Colorado lost 5 percent of its jobs in the recession, and jobs in the green-energy sector heavily promoted by Ritter weren't spared. His ability to maneuver was severely limited by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1992 that requires a popular vote to raise taxes and limits revenue the state can receive, even in good years.
Still out there is Ritter's promise to provide health insurance to 790,000 uninsured Coloradans by 2010. Ritter did sign legislation increasing hospital fees to provide insurance to 100,000 people.
In 2007, tuition at the University of Colorado rose 14.6 percent.
Ritter signed bills increasing auto registration fees and freezing mill levy rates to raise money for education. Republicans called both tax hikes.
Transportation improvements did come — in part thanks to the federal stimulus bill. Still, Colorado has scores of aging bridges and other highway infrastructure in need of repair, and no solution is in sight for the increasingly congested — and costly — I-70 corridor.
Ritter now admits that some of his promises were too ambitious to get done in four years, but said he'd rather set the bar too high.
In some ways, Ritter, like Vanderhoof, is a victim of his times, said John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University. In Ritter's case, it is the economy.
"He couldn't possibly do it with the fiscal situation in this state," Straayer said.
But Straayer said Ritter has a different management style from his predecessors, preferring policy over politics and trusting instincts that often got him in trouble with his constituents and his party.
Mike Stratton, a Democratic political consultant, said many people think there is something more than Ritter's explanations that he simply wants to have more family time.
"I really think it was difficult for him to govern in this political environment that has gotten so nasty," Stratton said, adding that "missing time with his kids was tearing him up."