Bill Ritter likely hears about public schools every night over supper -- it's only natural that he should talk about schools on the campaign trail.
The Democratic candidate for governor, Ritter appeared at two events in Steamboat Springs on Saturday, as part of a campaign swing through Northwest Colorado. Ritter is a former Denver district attorney, and his wife is a schoolteacher. The influence came across during Saturday's events, both of which focused on education.
The first event was a discussion with local teachers and school administrators at the Tread of Pioneers museum on Oak Street. The second was a "meet-and-greet" at the Routt County Courthouse lawn on Lincoln Avenue, where Ritter took advantage of the nearby farmers market to draw a crowd of more than 50 to hear his remarks.
The meet-and-greet contrasted a Thursday visit from U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez of Arvada, the Republican candidate for governor. The Beauprez event drew about 20 people to the Egg & I restaurant on Anglers Drive, for a morning conversation about state issues over coffee and breakfast.
Held in a back room of the restaurant, the conversation had an air of formality and restraint.
The Ritter event had anything but.
Nearly shouting to make himself heard over braking trucks, passing trains and Steamboat's distinctive, noontime lunch-whistle, Ritter spoke to a lively, responsive crowd that grew steadily in size as people wandered over from the market.
"Investing in early childhood education is the single best thing you can do for education in this state," Ritter said. "There's a pretty dramatic difference between me and the congressman (Beauprez) in that -- in government's role in education funding."
The crux of that difference, Ritter said, is Referendum C, a tax measure approved by voters in November 2005 that allows the state to use an estimated $4.9 billion in surplus taxpayer refunds during five years to fund education, health care and transportation needs in Colorado. Ritter criticized Beauprez on Saturday for not only opposing the measure, but also for supporting Initiative 88, a proposed ballot measure that would cap the amount of surplus refunds that state government could use.
On Thursday, Beauprez said he opposed Referendum C because it "doesn't fix the systemic problem" of too much spending in state government. Like Ritter, Beauprez stressed the importance of early childhood education during his visit.
"We're sending way too many kids to kindergarten and first grade today that don't have a fighting chance to learn," Beauprez said. "We're not planting the seedbed with our kids."
Ritter challenged that sentiment Saturday.
"Saying you support education doesn't make it so," Ritter said about Beauprez's opposition to Referendum C. "You can't starve the institutions of this state and then say they're malnourished."
Dana Stopher, a member of the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission, said she attended the meet-and-greet because she did not know much about Ritter. She came away impressed.
"I like what he said about re-investing in Colorado," Stopher said. "I think we've starved education and a lot of the aid agencies -- what I know is that everyone is out of money, and that has to change."