Bill Ritter

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Bill Ritter
Bill Ritter official photo.jpg
41st Governor of Colorado
In office
January 9, 2007 – January 11, 2011
LieutenantBarbara O’Brien
Preceded byBill Owens
Succeeded byJohn Hickenlooper
District Attorney of Denver
In office
June 1993 – January 11, 2005
Appointed byRoy Romer
Preceded byNorm Early
Succeeded byMitchell R. Morrissey
Personal details
August William Ritter Jr.

(1956-09-06) September 6, 1956 (age 64)
Denver, Colorado, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1983)
EducationColorado State University, Fort Collins (BA)
University of Colorado, Boulder (JD)

August William Ritter Jr. (born September 6, 1956) is an American politician and lawyer who served as the 41st Governor of Colorado from 2007 to 2011. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as the district attorney for Denver before his election in 2006.

Ritter was the first Colorado-born person to be elected as Governor of Colorado since 1975, as well as being the first Democratic officeholder in 50 years to serve with a Democratic majority in the Colorado General Assembly. Ritter did not run for a second term in 2010.[1] Ritter announced that he would not run for a second term due to family reasons. He supported fellow Democrat John Hickenlooper, who was elected to the governorship.

Early life[edit]

Ritter was raised on a farm in Aurora, Colorado with 11 brothers and sisters; he was sixth-oldest. His parents were Ethel and August William Ritter [2][3] He attended Gateway High School while he lived in Aurora. He also attended St. Anthony Catholic High School in San Antonio, Texas from 1970 to 1972.

Ritter's father, Bill, was a heavy equipment operator in the construction industry. His mother, Ethel, was a homemaker until the family began to struggle economically; 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, and financed his college education by this (along with student loans).

Ritter enrolled in Colorado State University and completed a bachelor's degree, and then pursued a degree at the University of Colorado School of Law in Boulder. By 1981, he had earned a Juris Doctor. That year he was hired as a Deputy District Attorney in the Denver District Attorney's Office.

Career in law[edit]

In 1990, Ritter took a position in the United States Attorney's office. He returned to the Deputy District Attorney'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.[citation needed] He worked extensively on the prosecution of sexual abuse and domestic violence, as well as criminals targeting senior citizens.

Ritter advised United States Attorney General John Ashcroft on affairs after the September 11 attacks.[citation needed]

Charity work[edit]

Ritter served 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. They opened 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 gubernatorial campaign, Ritter's campaign and the press often noted his work in Zambia.[4]


Ritter speaks during the final day of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.
Ritter visiting with members of the U.S. Armed Forces from Colorado in Iraq, December 2007

Murder attempt[edit]

On July 16, 2007, 33-year-old Aaron Snyder stormed the Capitol while holding a pistol and threatening to kill Governor Ritter.[5] Snyder was shot and killed outside Ritter's offices by State Trooper Jay Hemphill.[6]


At the start of his term, Ritter was relatively popular with rural Coloradans, who in the past have tended to vote for Republican candidates (particularly Front Range voters). Ritter's rural roots and construction work background may have appealed to them, as he was a self-made man.

His popularity also extended to the Democratic strongholds in Colorado: the voters of the continental divide ski resorts such as Aspen and Vail, as well as the Denver-Aurora metropolitan area. An August 2007 poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports showed Ritter's approval rating at 60%, while 36% were disapproving and 4% remained undecided.[7]

By July 2008, however, Ritter's approvals had begun a sharp decline, with a Rasmussen poll showing his approvals at 45%.[8] His numbers failed to improve—an April 2009 poll by Public Policy Polling showed the governor's approvals had declined to 41%, with 49% disapproving of his performance. More significantly, the same poll also showed Ritter trailing his most likely 2010 opponent, former U.S. Representative Scott McInnis, by 7 points.[9] Though Ritter cited family reasons in his January 2010 announcement that he had decided not to run for re-election, he was dogged by rumors that his poor polling numbers led Democratic power brokers to force him out of the race.[10]

Political positions[edit]

As a member of the Democratic Party, 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. During his first campaign, more progressive state Democratic leaders encouraged other candidates, including Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, to pursue the Governorship, because of concerns over Ritter's anti-abortion stance. Others believed that Ritter would win more votes in the "purple state", as opposed to Republican opponents. Hickenlooper did not pursue the office in 2006 and he eventually supported Ritter. Ritter opposes same-sex marriage in another culturally conservative position.[11]

Ritter pledged that, as governor, he would not act to overturn abortion laws and he would veto any bill prohibiting abortion that did not provide for an exception for rape, incest, or fetal anomalies.[12] Ritter 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. Ritter also staked out moderate positions on business and labor issues, vetoing legislation in 2007 that would have made it easier for workers to form unions,[13] and, mid-term, naming moderate Republican Don Marostica his director of economic development.[14]

In September 2010, Ritter was one of seven governors to receive a grade of F in the Cato Institute's fiscal-policy report card.[15]

Plea bargains[edit]

Controversy arose during the campaign over Ritter's use of plea bargains while serving as DA. Ritter had plea bargained 97% of cases that were brought to his office (this is close to the national average; prosecutors use plea bargains to settle lower level cases in order to best use their resources).[16] However, controversy surfaced regarding plea bargains Ritter had made as DA that prevented the deportation of both legal and illegal immigrants who had been charged with drug, assault, and other crimes.[17] Both illegal immigration and drug use were hot topics in the race for governor, raising further controversy. Ritter has defended his office's use of plea bargains, stating that "Our priority was to try the most serious cases."[17]

Post-gubernatorial career[edit]

Since February 2011, Ritter has served as the director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University.[18]


Bill and Jeannie Ritter married in 1983. They have four children: August III, Abe, Sam, and Tally. Jeannie is a substitute teacher in the Denver Public Schools District. The majority of Ritter's extended family lives in Colorado. His mother, Ethel (1925-2013), was a resident of Strasburg at the time of her death.[19]

Electoral history[edit]

Colorado Gubernatorial Election 2006
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Ritter 778,510 56
Republican Bob Beauprez 565,871 41
Libertarian Dawn Winkler 20,494 1

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bartels, Lynn (January 5, 2010). "Sources: Ritter expected to withdraw from governor's race". The Denver Post. Archived from the original on 9 January 2010. Retrieved 6 January 2010.
  2. ^ "Former Gov. Bill Ritter's mother, Ethel, has died". The Spot. Retrieved 2020-02-15.
  3. ^ "Ethel Ritter Obituary - (1925 - 2013) - Aurora, CO - Denver Post". Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  4. ^ "Bill Ritter in Africa: 1987 - 1990". Bill Ritter for Governor. Archived from the original on 2007-06-26.
  5. ^ "Assassination Attempt in Denver". DailyKos. Retrieved 2016-10-08.
  6. ^ "Neighbors say man killed at Colorado Capitol troubled - Online Athens".
  7. ^ "Colorado - Survey of 500 Likely Voters". Rasmussen Reports. August 8, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-11-30.
  8. ^ Ciruli, Floyd (July 23, 2008). "Midway in first term, Ritter struggles". Rocky Mountain News. Archived from the original on 2008-09-06.
  9. ^ Jensen, Tom (April 23, 2009). "Ritter in Trouble". Public Policy Polling. Retrieved 2011-08-10.
  10. ^ Axelrod, Ethan (January 6, 2010). "Bill Ritter Retirement Announcement: 'Intensely Personal' Decision Will Free Him To Make 'Tough Decisions'". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2011-08-10.
  11. ^ "Bill Ritter, Jr.'s Issue Positions (Political Courage Test)". Retrieved 2014-06-29.
  12. ^ Gathright, Alan (August 12, 2006). "Beauprez, Ritter draw lines in sand - Immigration takes spotlight in debut governor's debate". Rocky Mountain News. p. 4A. Archived from the original on October 19, 2006.
  13. ^ Isenstadt, Alex (September 28, 2009). "Gov. Bill Ritter's rocky road with labor". Politico. Retrieved 2010-07-12.
  14. ^ Bartels, Lynn (July 23, 2009). "Ritter taps GOP lawmaker for economic post". The Denver Post. Retrieved 2010-07-12.
  15. ^ de Rugy, Veronique (September 30, 2010). "How's Your Governor Doing on Taxes and Spending?". National Review Online. Archived from the original on 2012-10-19.
  16. ^ Couch, Mark P. (August 11, 2006). "Beauprez, Ritter square off in first debate". The Denver Post.
  17. ^ a b Crummy, Karen E. (September 30, 2006). "Deportations avoided via DA's plea deals". The Denver Post.
  18. ^ Colorado State University (2011). Gov. Bill Ritter to Head New Colorado State University Policy Center for New Energy Economy Archived 2012-06-28 at WebCite. Retrieved October 3, 2011.
  19. ^ "Ethel I. Ritter obituary". 2013-02-16. Retrieved 2019-04-05.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Rollie Heath
Democratic nominee for Governor of Colorado
Succeeded by
John Hickenlooper
Political offices
Preceded by
Bill Owens
Governor of Colorado
Succeeded by
John Hickenlooper