Gov. Bill Ritter’s inaugural celebration took him to the Eastern Plains and Western Slope over the weekend and one of the stops was at the Garfield County Airport in Rifle. After visiting La Junta, Alamosa and Durango earlier on Saturday, Ritter said it was important to come back to Rifle where he had earlier debated his opponent about oil and gas issues.“I want all people to know they matter whether they are in the Eastern Plains, Front Range or Western Slope,” Ritter told the Rifle audience. “I also want to say “thank you” to the folks who voted us in. It is an honor to be given this opportunity to be your governor,” he said.
Talking about the “Colorado Promise,” his campaign theme that has transcended into his vision for Colorado, Ritter stressed that he would make improving education his priority. Some of his goals included reducing the drop out rate by 50% by 2010 and preparing students entering the workforce.
Another effort Ritter wants to pursue is to offer health care coverage for all Coloradans. “We can follow Massachusetts and California’s lead,” Ritter said, “and offer access, low cost and quality health care for our citizens by 2010.”
Although Rifle is in the middle of an oil and gas boom, the crowd applauded Ritter’s pledge to do more about renewable energy. “There must be a balance between energy development and its impact on land and air and water quality,” Ritter noted. He would like the state to develop more energy from wind, solar power and bio fuels.
Ritter waited to announce his cabinet appointment to the Colorado Department of Transportation until he came to Rifle because he had selected Rifle’s favorite Republican son, Russell George, to lead CDOT.
“I can’t say how many times I was asked, “Are you going to keep Russell on board?” ” Ritter said to the approving Rifle audience. “Just because I didn’t put him in charge of the Department of Natural Resources didn’t mean I wasn’t going to put him someplace else on my cabinet.”
Photo: Gov. Bill Ritter greets Russell George in an inaugural swing through Rifle. By Leslie Robinson