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Ritter’s New Year’s resolution: No second term

If we're to believe Bill Ritter, he's placing the needs of his family above the needs of public office and his political career.

Right. He's dealing with a state budget in shambles, lagging unemployment, a rickety relationship with business and the prospect of a campaign very likely more grueling than the last one.

And he expects people to swallow the idea that he wants to reconnect with his family?

Let's believe him while we can and hope it sticks.

For a moment -- before the digging and the dumping begins -- let's take the governor at his word. For a moment, see if you can get your head around the idea that someone in this country who has fought his way to the top can actually take a step back and say, "Hey, maybe this isn't all my life is about." For a moment, embrace the idea that scandal is not the only thing that could ever drive someone out of political office.

During a press conference Wednesday at the Capitol that was over after about 20 minutes, Ritter said he made his decision to end his re-election campaign during the holiday break.

"I came back and told my staff you should never give a busy person time off because it gives them the opportunity to really engage in the kind of reflection that was important to me and ask the question, what are the most important things?" Ritter said.

For Ritter, family is at the top of that list. With his wife, Jeannie, and three of their five children behind him, he talked about making a tough decision and the struggle he's faced.

"Over the past years but particularly over this last year, I've attempted to balance many roles in my life. I've been the governor, I've been a candidate for re-election and I've also been a husband and a father ... It is my family who has sacrificed the most."

Ritter opened by reprising his "Colorado Promise" campaign theme, and briefly touched upon the "new energy economy" central to his administration and re-election campaign as well as education and health-care reform and improving the transportation system - projects his successor will find remain among the state's toughest challenges.

Ritter said bowing out of the campaign will allow him to focus on balancing the state budget and making unpopular decisions. But that reasoning seemed a distance second to the personal one he cited.

"I'm 53 years old. I've been in the public sector or public service for most of the past 30 years ... but I still have a son in college. I have two children who live at home. And quite frankly, they need me," Ritter said. "And my wife needs me. This is a decision that is intensely personal but what I consider to be in the best interests for my family."

The suddenness of the decision was surprising for a man who just weeks ago was actively campaigning. When ColoradoBiz featured Ritter on our cover in September, there was no question he was mapping out a second term. And a guest column from Ritter for an upcoming issue had been in the works as the election season began unfolding.

"I was fully committed to the campaign. Over the break I decided to take some time and really ask myself some really serious questions about the costs involved in going forward, what that meant to me, what that meant to my family," Ritter said. "What it meant to us for the next year during the campaign but also, assuming we might win the election, what that meant for five years."

Ritter said he was pressured neither to step aside nor run for re-election.

"You'd appreciate this: I didn't appoint a blue ribbon commission to make this decision," Ritter said, alluding to a recent Denver Post editorial that chided him for creating so many of them.

The former prosecutor also said he believes the election was "absolutely winnable."

"I'm a trial lawyer. I love a fight," Ritter said.

Perhaps, when it comes to his family, there's one fight Ritter simply can't risk losing.

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Mike Cote

Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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