EAGLE — Gov. Bill Ritter on Thursday predictably touted his “New Energy Economy” as a way out of the current economic wilderness during an hour-long, town-hall-style meeting in Eagle County’s seat 30 miles west of Vail.
Adeptly sidestepping heated questions about illegal immigration and property taxes — two hot-button issues for local conservatives — Ritter continually brought the conversation back around to successes his administration has had in bringing 90,000 new-energy jobs to the state, according to independent studies.
In an early preview of a stump speech for his 2010 run to retain office, Ritter joked about the Obama administration co-opting his mantra.
“Barack Obama started talking about the New Energy Economy when he was campaigning here in Colorado, at my suggestion,” Ritter said. “The very first time after I suggested it, he actually attributed it to me … he kept talking about it during his campaign and never mentioned me again.”
In an article about the transformation of Pueblo from a steel town to a wind-energy manufacturing hub on Thursday, The New York Times also took a shot at Ritter for his broken-record approach to energy issues while lauding the state’s progress:
The new energy economy — a phrase Gov. Bill Ritter Jr., a Democrat, uses incessantly, to the point of parody by his critics — is playing out and paying off in places like Pueblo, which is at the overlap of areas rich in potential for wind energy, stretching north into Wyoming, and for solar energy, extending south into New Mexico.
The article singled out Vestas Towers America, a Danish company that is poised to bring 2,500 new jobs to the state at various wind-turbine production facilities. Ritter again mentioned Vestas at Thursday’s meeting in Eagle.
But his critics are quick to point out that the state and its 7.6-percent unemployment rate is in a mess that renewable energy alone can’t fix. And Ritter acknowledged the current budget crisis makes it difficult for Colorado to see beyond the next couple of years of stagnant growth. He said the potential of the New Energy Economy may not be fully realized until future generations begin reaping those rewards.
Earlier in the day he addressed health care workers at Keystone resort in Summit County and said that health care reform will be difficult for the state given that it’s already trimmed programs to resolve a $1.4 billion budget shortfall and faces another $900 million in cuts next year.
Those grim numbers allowed for a bit of levity in Eagle when town manager Willy Powell asked: “Governor, I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to offer your condolences to Gov. Schwarzenegger?”
Ritter quickly replied: “Offer my condolences? How do you feel sorry for a guy who’s Mr. Universe, made more on films than Sylvester Stallone and is married to a Kennedy?”
The he took the question a little more seriously:
“They have a $24 billion deficit; their deficit is well over three times our general fund, and what I think we need to do is make sure that Colorado doesn’t get into the position that California got into.”