Ritter defends antiabortion stance in Aspen visit

Joel Stonington
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Democratic candidate for Colorado governor Bill Ritter arrived in Aspen on Friday, a day after The Denver Post reported he is the early front-runner. “We’re gratified by what the polls show, but we know this is going to be a very difficult election,” he said. “We’re going to work every day and every night to win this.”On Friday night he was here to energize the Democratic base. Ritter met for a few hours with members of the Pitkin County Democratic Party and members of the public at Aspen Square Hotel. The hot topic was abortion. Ritter has run into some criticism from Democrats for his antiabortion position. He heard more on Friday.Camilla Auger, chairwoman of the Pitkin County Democratic Party, started the evening off with a short pro-choice speech. Then she said she supported him even though she disagreed with him passionately “on so fundamental a point.”Many of the people there said they felt similarly.

“I certainly want a Democrat to win,” Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield said. “If it weren’t for the pro-life issue, I would unequivocally support him. I’ve been a member of Planned Parenthood for 30 years, so it’s a tough issue.” Ritter, a former prosecutor in Denver, defended his stance. “It’s a matter of conscience and faith for me,” he said. “Other people feel differently about that, and they have equally strong convictions. It’s not part of my agenda to change the law. It is part of my agenda to reduce unintended pregnancies.”When pressed, he said, “I can’t get to that place where I say I fully support the woman’s right to choose.”But abortion wasn’t the only issue he discussed. He spoke passionately about the need for improving primary and secondary education, as well as about the need for more support for higher education.”We need to do as much as we can about the K-12 school system,” he said. “This is the state that could have the best-educated work force in the nation.”

He said he intends to be part of the leadership on health care that “is coming from governors and legislatures around the country.” After the meeting, Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said she fully supports Ritter. “There could be excitement about this race,” she said. “And I’m trying to remember the last time I felt that.” At this early point, Ritter leads the leading Republican, U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, by 6 percentage points, the Denver Post poll showed. So far there is only one other Democratic contender, Gary Lindstrom, a state representative from Breckenridge. House Majority Leader Alice Madden, a Boulder Democrat, has said she hopes to make up her mind about entering the race by Wednesday. Ritter declared his candidacy nine months ago.

For the next eight months, he said he will be hitting the road campaigning. “I’m traveling the whole state,” he said. “I’m doing everything I can to talk to the Democratic caucus attendees. It’s important for me to reach out and understand concerns on the mind of people. That is my life.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is