|September 6, 1956|
| Assumed office|
|Former Governor of Colorado|
| In office|
January 9, 2007 - January 11, 2011
|Preceded by||Bill Owen|
|Succeeded by||John Hickenlooper|
|Website||Governor Bill Ritter Official site|
August William "Bill" Ritter, Jr. (born September 6, 1956) is a Democratic politician and the former Governor of Colorado. Before his election in 2006, he served as the district attorney for Denver. He was the first native-born governor of Colorado since 1975, as well as being the first to serve with a Democratic majority in the Colorado General Assembly in 50 years.
Early life and childhood
Ritter was born in Denver and raised on a farm in far eastern Aurora, the sixth of 11 brothers and sisters. He went to Gateway High School while he lived in Aurora. His father, Bill, was a heavy equipment operator in the construction industry. His mother, Ethel, was a homemaker until the family began to struggle economically and she found work as a bookkeeper when Ritter was a young teenager. At 14 years old, he went to work full time in the construction industry, and joined a local labor union. He continued to work in the construction field, which ended up financing his college education (along with student loans). He enrolled in Colorado State University and completed a bachelors degree, and then pursued a degree at the University of Colorado School of Law in Boulder. By 1981, he had earned a law degree and was hired as a Deputy District Attorney for the City and County of Denver.
Career in law and jurisprudence
In 1990, Ritter took on a position in the US Attorney's office, and returned to the Deputy DA's office two years later. In 1993, Ritter was appointed as Denver's District Attorney. As DA, he created one of the nation's first drug courts, as well as taking on white collar crime in metropolitan Denver. He worked extensively on the prosecution of sexual abuse and domestic violence, as well as criminals offending senior citizens.
Ritter is responsible for creating the first Victims Services Network in the United States. He advised United States Attorney General John Ashcroft on affairs after September 11, 2001 and during his time as the Denver DA, he served as Vice President of the National District Attorneys Association, Chairman of the American Prosecutors Research Institute, and a board member for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
Ritter served as Chairman of the Board of Project PAVE (Promoting Alternatives to Violence through Education), as well as on the Denver Foundation's Human Services Committee, the Mile High United Way Board, and the Denver Public Schools' Commission on Secondary School Reform.
In 1987, Ritter and his wife Jeannie moved to Zambia as missionaries for the Catholic Church, where they would open a food distribution and education center. Upon their return to the Denver area in 1989, Governor Roy Romer appointed Ritter to the DA's office, citing his missionary work as an "important factor" in the decision. During the 2006 campaign, Ritter's work in Zambia was often emphasized by his campaign and the press.
Ritter is popular with rural Coloradans, who in the past have tended to vote for Republican candidates (particularly Front Range voters). This may stem from Ritter's perceived rural roots. His popularity also extends to the Democratic strongholds in Colorado; the continental divide ski resorts such as Aspen and Vail, as well as the Denver-Aurora metropolitan area. Ritter's chief rival for office, Bob Beauprez, shared a similar background, but may have suffered from the lack of a widely recognized in-state political history, having only chaired the state Republican Party, and having served most visibly in the U.S. Congress. Denver's bid for the 2008 Democratic National Convention may also have played a role in the election. A poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports in August 2007 showed Ritter's approval rating at 60%, while 36% were disapproving and 4% remained undecided.
Ritter supports a "semi-progressive" agenda, emphasizing universal health care, environmental protection, housing subsidy and welfare increases and other stances aligned with the left wing of the Democratic Party. However, during the first campaign, more liberal state Democrats encouraged other candidates, such as Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, to pursue the office of Governor, due to concerns over Ritter's pro-life stance. Others argued that Ritter would win more votes in the "purple state" of Colorado, as opposed to Republican opponents. Hickenlooper did not pursue the office in 2006, and he eventually supported Ritter.
As Governor, Ritter has pledged that overturning abortion laws would not be part of his agenda, and has stated that he would veto any bill prohibiting abortion that did not provide for an exception for rape, incest or fetal anomalies. Ritter has further stated that he would restore state funding to Planned Parenthood for family planning and would reverse the veto of a bill that would have allowed pharmacists to dispense the emergency contraception known as the morning-after pill.
Controversy arose during the campaign over Ritter's use of plea bargains while in office. As DA, Ritter plea bargained 97% of cases which were brought to his office (near the national average). However, controversy surfaced regarding plea bargains that prevented the deportation of both legal and illegal immigrants charged with drug, assault, and other crimes. Both illegal immigration and drug use were hot topics in the race for governor, raising further controversy. Ritter has defended the plea bargains, stating that "Our priority was to try the most serious cases."
On July 16, 2007 an armed man was shot and killed outside Ritter's offices. The man stormed the Capitol holding a gun and saying "I am the emperor and I'm here to take over state government." He was shot and killed by a member of the governor's security detail.
Conflict of interest reports
Former Governor Bill Owens issued an executive order, the Executive Department Code of Ethics, that requires that all cabinet members and senior staff members submit a conflicts of interest report before the end of January each year.
The results from the Independence Institute's Colorado Open Records Act request looking for those current reports returned only three pages of "responsive" documents. Those documents were reports from Agriculture Secretary John Stulp. This is the only conflict of interest form on file out of his fifteen cabinet members and himself.
On January 5, 2010, Governor Ritter announced that he would not be seeking re-election.
Bill and Jeannie Ritter married in 1983. They have four children: August (21), Abe (18), Sam (16), Tally (14). Jeannie is a substitute teacher in the Denver Public Schools District. The majority of Ritter's extended family lives in Colorado. His mother Ethel (b. 1925) is a resident of Strasburg, Colorado.
- COLORADO - Survey of 500 Likely Voters - August 8, 2007 Rasmussen Reports
- Man Shot, Killed in Colorado Capitol Washington Post
- GOVERNOR RITTER AND CABINET ALL BUT IGNORING ETHICS EXECUTIVE ORDER, Independence Investigates, October 2, 2009]
- Governor of Colorado Ritter to retire - Washington Post
- Governor of Colorado Bill Ritter Official state site
- National Governors Association - Governor of Colorado Bill Ritter Biography
- The Governors of Colorado @ Colorado.gov
- Follow the Money - Bill Ritter Jr & Barbara O'Brien 2006 campaign contributions
- On the Issues - Bill Ritter Issue positions and quotes
- Project Vote Smart - Governor August William 'Bill' Ritter Jr. (CO) Profile
- Bill Ritter for Governor Official campaign site
- Profile: Bill Ritter The Denver Post, July 31, 2005
- Bill Ritter Cherry Creek News, ongoing collection of news stories
- County map of 2006 Gubernatorial Election Results
- Democratic Party of Colorado
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