Colorado governor comments on the upcoming Democratic National Convention and describes how Sen. Obama can best run against Sen. McCain in the coming months.
Tavis: Bill Ritter Jr. is serving his first term as governor of Colorado. In addition to his career in public service as a district attorney and prosecutor, he and his wife spent almost three years running a food distribution center in Africa. He joins us tonight from Denver. Governor Ritter, nice to have you on the program, sir.
Gov. Bill Ritter: It’s great to be with you, Tavis, and I thank you for the opportunity.
Tavis: I’m delighted to have you on the program, and more delighted to be packing my bags to be heading your way. We’re going to do this entire show – I should say this show for the entire week from Denver – of course, the Republicans the week after in Minnesota. But we’re excited about coming to Denver. But I keep reading that things aren’t completely tight the way they’re supposed to be. How you feeling about us coming there?
Ritter: Oh, we’re going to be fine. We had a goal that we had to get to in terms of money raising; we’re going to make that goal. Because of construction inflation we’ve got to raise a little bit more money for that. We’ve done tremendous logistics planning, tremendous security planning and I really do feel like this convention is going to come off in a way that we can be proud of.
So I know there are the people out there that expressed concern, and it’s right for people to I guess address concerns, but we’re really happy with the amount of planning we’ve been able to do, and what we think is going to be a fantastic convention.
Tavis: How excited are you about the Thursday night speech of Mr. Obama in that 75,000-seat stadium?
Ritter: I’m very excited. You mentioned, actually, that I have been in public service and been a prosecutor, so I’ve been in public life for a long time. Barack Obama is a phenomenal person, I think, and he’s an important person just in terms of the kind of change that he’s promising.
I really believe this is a watershed year to be in our home field stadium, to be in Denver, Colorado, to have Barack Obama on the 50-yard line making the case for how we go forward as a country is going to be one of the highlights of my life, I bet.
Tavis: Tell me how you think having the convention in Colorado helps, if at all, to deliver the state for Mr. Obama and the Democrats in November.
Ritter: I think it actually helps deliver the country. In the West, if you think about it, Tavis, we’ve got Democratic governors in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona. There’s 28 Democratic governors in the country, but in those states we’re all Democrats and we all succeeded Republicans.
So there’s something that’s been happening here in the West that’s pretty important, and we help, I think, with the conversation nationally about how Democrats can run and about how they should govern.
In addition to that, I think there’s just a lot of excitement happening because of this convention because it’s Barack Obama and the people of Colorado are going to get a chance to meet him firsthand and see how exciting it is to have a person who speaks the way he speaks and really, I think, speaks to a lot of voters who are ready for a change.
Tavis: To your point about the way Democrats ought to run and the way Democrats ought to govern, to your other point about the fact that these 28 governors, many of them in these western states who succeeded Republicans, if you were in a room, you and these other Democrats were in a room with Obama talking specifically to that point about how in the West Democrats ought to run, how Democrats ought to govern, what’s the message you all would deliver to him, given your unique position?
Ritter: Well I’ll tell you, in Colorado when I ran in 2006, we called it the Colorado promise, just to speak to how we can go forward as a state, and I would say to Barack Obama as a country, with a message of hope. He’s already captured that dialogue long before he even began running for president.
But in addition to that, there’s a lot of issues in the West that involve energy issues, climate issues. We’ve made it about opportunity. We tagged it in my campaign and we’ve lived up to that in the first 18 months – the new energy economy.
So make our energy future about something completely different. The winds have shifted and we have to think about producing and consuming energy differently than we do, but you could make it about opportunity, not about desperation. And that’s what I think Barack Obama is actually good at. He says that in many respects already in his energy message and I tell him just to emphasize it, because then it gives you a reason to hope if you’re a person of the West.
Tavis: As you mentioned, Obama on energy, he gave a big speech about energy yesterday. What’s your sense of whether or not – and it obviously worked for you in your run for governor in Colorado. But for Democrats more broadly, for American voters even more broadly than that, is energy an issue on which you can get traction in terms of picking up votes?
Ritter: I believe it is, and I think that we have to be aggressive about an energy message that says energy security is about developing a diversified energy portfolio in this country. It’s not about a one part of the agenda strategy. To say it’s only about drilling is really wrong-headed. It’s actually the energy policy of the past, and it hasn’t worked for us in terms of energy security.
So you say it can be about drilling. Here in Colorado we’ve increased the number of natural gas wells – or we’ve increased the number of permits sevenfold in 10 years. But we have to think about wind, about solar, about efficiency, about different kinds of conservation programs, and about the ways that we bring energy security here and say we can build this economy around it and at the same time address some pretty serious climate issues.
And that’s the way we need to think and talk about it, not go running into the night because this issue is just about drilling. And I’m not saying anybody’s running into the night, but I’m saying the thing that I would do, and the thing I think we need to do as Democrats is just be aggressive about thinking differently, about our energy future, because I believe the American people will be with us on that.
Tavis: As you mentioned, you don’t want to say that anybody’s running into the night, but let me ask you in a very forthright way whether you call it a flip-flop, whether you call it a shift, whether you call it a pivot. Obama, over the last few days shifting his position on oil drilling – how did you perceive that?
Ritter: Well, I think the Obama campaign – and I haven’t had a discussion with him about that, but I think people are looking at it as a necessity at this time to look at offshore drilling as one part of it, and circumstances change as it relates to issues like $4 a gallon gasoline. But the fact of the matter is that’s not the only part of his energy message.
His energy message is about a whole host of things. It’s a very broad message; it includes how we promote renewables in a very serious way. We have a way in Congress right now to promote renewables – investment tax credits, production tax credits – and Obama has voted for those; McCain’s voted against them. And I’ve got to tell you I think that’s an important point because it says – it speaks to energy security, not just to this one issue that’s about drilling.
Tavis: But you don’t sense, though, that given, again, whether you call it a flip-flop, a shift, a pivot, you don’t sense that there’s going to be movement – pardon the pun – in his environmental support?
Ritter: I think the environmental community – and I have a fairly aggressive environmental community here in Colorado – they understand this man, and I think they understand the promise of this man and what he will do going forward.
I think everybody has to acknowledge this economy is at a very difficult place. Energy prices are part of that and certainly make a difference, but that doesn’t mean that we only rely upon sort of failed strategies of the past that have been one-dimensional.
And I do think that if you listen to how these two men, Obama and McCain, talk about energy policy, it’s Barack Obama who speaks to the environmental community the need for a diversified policy and the failure of a one-dimensional policy and at the end of the day, they’ll be with him.
Tavis: What is it about Colorado that makes you the first person in 35 years who was born in the state to be elected governor of the state?
Ritter: People in Colorado – if you’re from Colorado, you understand these issues because you’ve seen development happen, you’ve seen what we would call, I think, some unique landscape be developed and really, people understand the need in this state to protect those things that are special about the state – our mountains, our water, our air.
And that’s given me the ability to have a conversation about how we strike the balance. I think that’s the important point, is that as a native Coloradan you have sort of a shared sense about what a great state this is and the things that can happen to it if you don’t protect the resources that are natural.
Tavis: What’s your sense of how Obama best runs against McCain in the coming months? And I ask that against the backdrop – as you and I have this conversation tonight, these polls, if you believe polls, are tightening. Depending on where you look, they’re three points apart, four or five points apart, but this race is tightening, to be sure.
Ritter: I think Barack Obama has to address how he sees the economic future of this country. There’s no doubt that the economy is staggering under its own weight, there’s no doubt that the Iraqi war has been difficult for us in terms of what it’s done to our budget deficit, and I think Barack Obama has to address, really, his economic view of the future.
When I was running, we said let’s develop a new energy economy – make it about promoting renewable energy, but let’s make that economic opportunity instead of just doing it out of some sense that we have to do it because of climate issues. And you know what? It’s worked, Tavis. It’s working. We’re in the first 18 months of it but we’ve seen some real successes, and I think we’re going to continue to see those kinds of successes.
And like everything else, where Barack Obama is future-looking, where he can see a real sense for hope on the horizon, where he can capture the language of sort of hope and promise and say, “We are Americans, we can resolve the kinds of economic difficulties we have, and we can do it by finding opportunities in places where we’re hurting, like energy prices.”
I really believe that the American people have the kind of spirit, the kind of entrepreneurial spirit, and really the resilience to make that happen. And they’ll listen to Barack Obama, I believe, and at the end of the day he wins the election because of it.
Tavis: I got just about 30 or 40 seconds here. Tell me quickly, because I’m fascinated by it, about your time in Africa.
Ritter: My wife and I were Catholic lay missionaries; there was a group of Catholic priests. I had gone to a high school seminary and we struck a deal where we went for three years and ran a nutrition center. I practiced law for about five years as a prosecutor, and so it was something completely different.
But it was three years; it was in a place that was pretty desperate – the western province of Zambia. AIDS was taking hold, malnutrition was a real problem, and as a result of that, as a lay missionary you learn what real problems are for people.
We deal with problems as governors, but my goodness, nothing really prepares you to live in third-world Africa, particularly in a part of it that was desperate in many respects.
Tavis: And that helps you as governor of Colorado in what way?
Ritter: Oh, I really think it helps in that it provides some sense of perspective and really some sense of proportion. We dealt with issues like AIDS and the rising incidence of AIDS, and just saw what kind of a devastation that was for the population.
Again, as governor I have real problems and this state, we have real challenges that we face. But I have some sense of perspective about those things that are real problems and those things that are issues that I have to face, but not necessarily problems. And part of that is just informed by living in a place where people live hand to mouth every day, and a lot of people, and they’re children under five, actually suffer from malnutrition or serious undernourishment.
Tavis: Governor, nice to have you on and good luck on the convention, and we’ll see you shortly.
Ritter: Great being with you, Tavis, I look forward to seeing you.
Tavis: Thank you, Governor.
Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm