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Ritter Drops Out of Governor’s Race (2)

January 8, 2010

Ritter Out of the Running

Two days after Colorado Governor Bill Ritter announced that he would not run for re-election the state’s political elite – in both parties – are scrambling. At this moment nothing is clear concerning how it will all play out. A few comments are in order now though.

Ritter’s announcement took alot of people by surprise.

There were some allegations that he was having a long term affair with one of his staffers, actually his former chief of staff – Stephanie Villafuerte – who also worked with him at the Denver District Attorney’s office. The suggestion is that Ritter’s inability to squash the rumors or allegations were a major factor in his dropping out of the race. That the affair – real or imagined – , or his personal situation in general – influenced his decision is likely, that it was the major factor, probably something of an overstatement, a way of deflecting the main reasons for Ritter’s dropping out:

  1. His political base, never that broad, had narrowed even further in the past years
  2. Some of the former local power brokers who had offered him some support in the past, have failed to come forth for him this time. Perhaps they were waiting to exact even more concessions from him that even Ritter was not willing to make

As to the affair allegations…

The affair allegations are easily found by simple google searches and appeared in several issues of Westword and on a number of blogs. (google Stephanie Villafuerte and they will come up). Beyond the usual dumb christian fundamentalist feigned outrage at such things, it gets complicated by the fact that Ritter had nominated Villafuerte for a US attorney general (regional) post and was appointed for that post by the Obama Administration.

There is some kind of law against nominating your mistresses for federal posts.

It’s making it harder for people to get ahead as they have in the past by sleeping their way to the top, a real pity. At the same time that Colorado’s Governor Ritter had nominated Villafuerte as US Attorney for Colorado, Max Baucus, the chair of the Senate Finance Committe – and one of the key figures pressing to undermine whatever chances a single payer health care system had in our country – was nominating his girl friend – one Melody Hanes – for the attorney general position in Baucus’ home state of Montana.

Villafuente’s nomination was being considered by Congress until, under pressure of these allegations at least in part, she withdrew her candidacy for the position a month ago. From what I could tell, it was the affair allegations that were key to her withdrawal. A shame. Looking at her record, she would have done well in the job.  No doubt right wing conservatives in the state were at least in part behind sabotaging her nomination and in the process, doing what they could to undermine Ritter.

Still, how dumb can you be as governor of a state like Colorado to think such relationships can remain hidden for long? The governor’s office constantly denied the affair, but the allegations, which have been circulating in the press for at least a year, just seemed to multiply and fron different sources, in response to every denial.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire? Perhaps.

Colorado’s Gubenatorial Tradition of Wong-Dippers

Frankly I care about the affair only in so much as it was used to bring down Villafuerte and the governor. We have a great tradition of political figures, some of the quite decent, others skunks, brought down by wong dipping. And while one can point to political opposition as getting the dirty stuff out in the open, if a politican is dumb enough not to understand the consequences, they do share in their own downfall.

That said, who knows what kind of president Gary Hart would have made? Or if the financial crisis would have been handled a little differently if Eliot Spitzer – one of the few mainstream politicans who genuinely took on the financial industry – hadn’t given in to temptations. Here in Colorado we are developing an esteemed line (just made longer it seems) of gubenatorial wong dippers, Democrats as well as Republicans. Romer, Owens and now, it seems, Ritter joining their ranks. And who knows how many more? What is it with these guys? Do they think they are invulnerable? It seems so transparent that they would `get caught’ and suffer the consequences, especially if their political base is narrow and their prospects fading?

Colorado’s gubenatorial wong dippers are so famous that their exploits – real or alleged – have been openly discussed out of state. Take for example this recent column from the San Francisco Examiner (December 8, 2009) naming Roy Romer and Bill Owens (in a piece on the Ritter allegations).

Colorado has  recent history of horny Governors. Roy Romer was caught making out with his girlfriend in a parked car. Bill Owens was rumored to have both male and female lovers, and at least one out of state child. Bill Ritter is the first in this distinguished lineage to nominate his lover for a federal appointment.

In The Footsteps of The Great One…

Are they following in the footsteps of one of the greatest wong dippers – Bill Clinton – a man who was truly out of control of his libido which nearly derailed his presidency (and ruined his `legacy’ forever even if he survived it) or do they simply think that screwing around is a part of the political package that comes with political (and/or economic) power. Or that the way to get ahead politically – and I am the last one to say that it hasn’t worked – is to sleep your way to the top. Still, let’s remember that because Clinton had delivered to his political base he was able to survive the Lewinsky Scandal and the impeachment movement against him.

Beyond The Affair Nonsense…Ritter’s Base, Never That Broad, Simply Collapsed

All of this is so pathetic but long typical of both politics and power both here in the great state of Colorado (and it is a great state) and nationwide.

But in the end, Ritter’s affair – real or fabricated – is little more than the good old `last straw’ , `the icing on the cake’ that brought him down. It was something far more serious that made the governor cry uncle: his political base, a bit fragile even at the outset, has badly eroded. Keep in mind that even before he won, he was not that popular in Democratic Party circles.

  • There are some pretty active women in Colorado’s Democratic Party who mounted something like an `anyone but Ritter’ campaign because of his open opposition to abortion. I saw some of these fine ladies take Ritter on when he was a candidate and was duly impressed with them, not him. They never took to him, even after the election
  • While Ritter had some support from labor before the election – some unions canvassed for him and it did make a difference – the support was never that strong. Shortly after his election though, the publisher of the Denver Post, Dean Singleton at the urging of, among others, local furniture magnate, Jake Jabs, launched a vicious campaign against Ritter. Singleton, with a long and deep antipathy to unions, feared that Ritter would support legislation making it easier for unions to organize in this `right to work (for less)’ state. He wrote some scathing – and quite frankly hysterical – editorials, one on the front page of the Post threatening how the state would go to pot if unions were given more elbow room to grow. Simply put, Ritter caved, without his support the pro-labor legislation died on the vine. Colorado legislative Dems like Andrew Romanoff, now fighting for the nomination for the US Senate, didn’t do much to help either.
  • at the same time, Ritter did sign an executive order legalizing the right of state government workers to organize and a major organizing campaign did take place (and continues). But there were a number of key caveats. 1. they do not have the right to collectively bargain, only to make suggestions to the governor who could agree to or veto their proposals at will. 2. Since the right of state employees was granted by executive order, it could also be taken away but executive order, either Ritters, or, more likely, if a Republican (or even more moderate Dem) replaced Ritter. What is missing is solid legitimizing state legislation giving workers in the state sector union rights. So the gains labor made were at best fragile, almost ephemeral. It also locked in the state employees to supporting Ritter as their fate became so closely tied to his. Now these good folks are left out in the cold.
  • Many of Ritter’s appointment, especially to higher education boards were people with either high level corporate or quite conservative conservative circles (Blake, Jane Norton, Bruce Benson, Ritchie). These had to backfire on labor, especially teachers.
  • Ritter refused to replace Ken Salazar, when the latter was tapped as Secretary of the Interior, with a Chicano, alienating those Chicanos have expected political favors in exchange for their party allegiance. But beyond that, Ritter’s base among Hispanics – Chicanos, Mexicanos, others has never been that strong – they are about a third of the population of the state – given his record as District Attorney. Whatever else he might have promised this possible constituency essentially evaporated with the financial crisis.
  • His record on putting the breaks on oil and gas drilling in the state’s Western Slope, both in terms of the environment damage that is being done and the low tax base it earns for the state, was also weak. Much of this is done on federal lands it is true, but there are state regulatory agencies which are notoriously weak and have not been strengthened. Same goes for those state agencies regulating the banking sector and the state is beginning to see the same kind of `Silverado’ banking scandals and crises that plagued the state 20 years ago. He’s done rather little to address this either

Over a beer late last night, a friend of mine put it (it = Ritter’s fate) aptly:

 “Ritter saw writing on the wall — and it wasn’t “que se vaya, h’ue’pu’! The same monied interests Ritter sought to please at the expense of his ephemeral base refused to sign the checks to replace the ones he got last time. “

Ritter tried to please the state’s power brokers, who somewhat gingerly supported his first campaign,  in order to get re-elected. In so doing Ritter weakened the already tenuous ties to his own increasingly narrow social base. So we voted for Ritter, but in the end we got Beauprez – or something close to him – anyway. Too bad for Ritter, worse for the rest of us.


So we voted for Ritter, but in the end we got Beauprez – or something close to him – anyway. Too bad for Ritter, worse for the rest of us.


Not a bad guy, just someone caught in the meatgrinder. It’s tough up there in the stratisphere. Hope he can save his marriage. Although I don’t know his wife, it turns out that like myself she served in the Peace Corps in Tunisia so I feel a bit of a distant bond, and there is that `coffee shop solidarity’ – he shows up on occasion at the coffee shop where I hang out (if I hang out anywhere).

… And, it ain’t just in the great state of Colorado where hopes that a Democratic victory would change things have been dashed, is it?

 … So,… what’s next? More on that later.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. GiGI permalink
    January 9, 2010 7:31 am

    Is it really the affair? He has such a beautiful, cute wife. There has to be another reason. Is Ms. Villafuerte still his chief of staff – that would be telling.

    • January 9, 2010 9:05 am

      Yes, Jeannie Ritter is a pretty neat lady from what I know of her.

      As I wrote, the alleged affair itself, I don’t think would have brought down Bill Ritter, but combined with the narrowing of his political base he faced an uphill battle on the election front and it seems also at home. And it just wasn’t worth it for him.

      What we can say about the affair is that the allegations just wouldn’t go away and that they continued come from within his staff (although some of the people involve changed).

      One way or another `they’ (a combination of right wing opponents and political power brokers) sufficiently weakened his position that he had to drop out.

      From a moral point of view, while affairs are, i suppose, tintilating, they shouldn’t matter and should not be even considered as important for political success. they are so common of politicans all over the world. With few exceptions, the US being one of them, they don’t seem to matter. But here given the strength of our particular heritage, they seem to weigh heavily.

      I suppose my point is that knowing how easily such allegations, real or fabricated can be, politicians should be a little careful but they seem incapable of it.

  2. John F. Kane permalink
    January 10, 2010 10:06 am

    Rob — three objections to your Ritter comments — First, while you’re cute enough to continually say “real or not” about the alleged affair, your entire column assumes and proclaims its truth — without any evidence beyond the hate-Ritter slanderers in the press and gossip — shame on you for joining the latter while feigning innocence and ignorance. Second, the ladies and others (including you, it seems) who’ve opposed Ritter from the start and still because of abortion are one of the groups killing the Democratic party here and nationally — as a Catholic Democrat (and member of Democrats for Life) I’ve watched with dismay as this elite coterie maintains its stranglehold on the party — and that’s the right word and image, strangle and killing — the polls show that many traditionally democratic constituencies, not only Catholics, don’t agree with the elite fanatics (DeGette among them) on abortion — in fact the masses have a more sophisticated form of thinking than the elites who continually accuse the masses of being the ones who are fanatical — no surprise there, but a terrible irony. Finally, and relatedly, you and others just can’t stand efforts to be mediating on any number of issues — and my read on Ritter is that he really tried to mediate differences (not the same as your cliches about being “centrist”) — again it’s the elites on both Left and Right on any number of issues who keep polarizing our politics in such a way that folks like Ritter find no favor. Your problem, not his. I rue his loss to you folks. John

    • January 10, 2010 11:22 am

      Will post your comments unedited
      Brief response to the substance
      1. `The right to an abortion’ – legal and state funded – and as a part of a broader program of womans’ rights has long been a basic element of the Democratic Party platform. I have fought for and agree with this and would argue that it is not those who support abortion rights that have caused havoc in the party, but those who oppose it who have undermined party unity and aligned themselves with and given a great opening to the ultra-right
      2. Concerning `Ritter the Conciliator’.. you don’t use exactly that phrase but it seems that is what you are suggesting.
      As written in entry, most of his concessions have been to power brokers with an eye on his re-election. He really screwed labor, who had worked very hard to get him elected. What is wrong with sticking to campaign promises? and following through on them?
      3. the affair stuff…there is so much out there about it – it didn’t come only from the far right that was trying to bring Ritter down but also from liberal publications and was circulated nationally. It had enough credibility to bring down Villafuertein her attempt to become Colorado’s US attorney. It wasn’t the decisive factor in Ritter’s downfall, as I wrote, but more the icing on the cake. Had he come through for the people of Colorado on more substantial issues (mentioned in the entry) I believe he would have enjoyed enough support to get re-elected. But he didn’t and that is what gave the allegations strength.

      Finally…yes my tone is flippant. and that is what seems to have riled you as much as the issues raised. It is a part of my cynicism about Ritter – what he could have been as a governor and what in the end he wasn’t, regardless of his stand on abortion or the fact he’s a moderate Dem. In the end, moderate Dems and those of us further left need to find common programmatic ground – get the candidates and party power brokers to adhere to it – and stick together on those issues on which we agree. I don’t think that’s so hard frankly.


  3. Kate permalink
    January 10, 2010 5:03 pm

    I think you’d have a lot more credibility if you had some basic facts right. 1. Governors DO NOT appoint, nominate, or have any other formal influence on U.S. Attorney picks. Senators, the DOJ and the President are involved in the process. I don’t think it’s impossible that Ritter had some back-door deals regarding the nomination, but she was qualified and again, Governors do not appoint or nominate U.S. Attorneys. 2. Villafuerte is not, and was not ever his chief of staff. She is his deputy chief of staff and yes, she is still working for him although I’d imagine she’s not in the office much anymore.

    • January 10, 2010 6:28 pm


      Thank you for filling me in on how things work..

      the comment that Villafuerte was chief of staff came from one of the pieces I read. I can find the source. She did have to withdraw from the selection process? Why?

      as for Ritter’s role in her nomination…formally you’re right of course, but please, you’re telling me he had no influence in it?

      finally…Villafuerte is a side issue… main questions: what lessons can be drawn from Ritters withdrawal from the race? Why is the process to replace him so typically stale and undemocratic, all that backroom stuff? The affair stuff – or alleged affaire is secondary. The main problem is his failure to deliver on his campaign promises to his base, the way he caved to developers, oil and gas interests, military circles etc, as elaborated above. Ritter shot himself in the foot. That is my take.

      So beyond your barbed comments how do you explain is withdrawal? Or do you actually believe it was the family matters that were the main factor?

      He wasn’t the worst governor in the world..i just think in the end he turned out to be that different from Beauprez?


      Rob P


  1. Yet More Ritter (3) « Rob Prince's Blog

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