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All aboard the Ritter train 

It was quite a sight: former Colorado Congressman Ray Kogovsek, a Democrat, introducing Pueblo Chieftain publisher Bob Rawlings, undeniably the "biggest Republican in Pueblo" to toast newly elected Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter.

Rawlings, a loud and longtime critic of Colorado Springs especially its water management, which last year included sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of sewage spills 40 miles downstream to Pueblo held a glass of clear water aloft.

Behold, Rawlings said, the "sludge," courtesy of all those Republicans in Colorado Springs.

Take that, Little London. Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera didn't happen to be on hand to weigh in with his take on the state of water, or of Colorado, for that matter. But the crowd of about 600, which gathered at the Pueblo Depot to greet and share a spaghetti dinner with the new governor, burst into laughter and wild applause.

The event marked the conclusion of Ritter's whistlestop tour across the Front Range on a vintage Union Pacific that has also carried Clark Gable and President George H.W. Bush. The expedition started in Greeley with stops in Brighton, Denver and Colorado Springs before arriving at its final destination.

Ritter's ride capped several days of inaugural ceremonies and festivities that carried an estimated price tag of $750,000, mostly paid by corporate contributors.

Ritter's wife Jeannie, their four children, Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien, and state Treasurer Cary Kennedy and her family were on board. A hundred or so supporters shelled out $300 each to ride a train from one end of the Front Range to the other, along tracks normally used to transport coal and freight and envisioned for decades as a high-speed commuter rail corridor. The passengers included unsuccessful 5th Congressional District candidate Jay Fawcett and his wife Susan, but otherwise there weren't many friendly Colorado Springs faces.

When the train pulled out of Greeley at about 10 a.m., the thermometer was at all of 1 degree. It had risen to 16 by the time the train pulled in at Brighton.

"A kind of a warming trend," Ritter said. Still, crowds gathered, and some people along the route held up handwritten signs of support.

By the time the train pulled into downtown Colorado Springs at midafternoon, the temperature had dipped again, bringing a few snow flurries and a sizable number of Ritter supporters. The governor got off long enough to underscore his theme of the week: building new partnerships in a spirit of bipartisanship with a focus on energy, education, health care and transportation.

Mayor Rivera could briefly be seen as he popped his head out from the depot to take a look. Seeing the mayor brave the cold to gander at the Democratic entourage evoked a memory of another blustery day. It was back in 2004, and Rivera took the microphone at a local rally featuring Vice President Dick Cheney to whip up a crowd of 500, claiming that Democrats never would have shown up in such force for their guy.

Democrats, Rivera declared then, are "weak they can't take the cold."

Upon hearing this story, the new governor's chief of staff, Jim Carpenter, chuckled a little. No hard feelings, he insisted. Ritter is looking forward to working with Colorado Springs community leaders and politicos, no matter what their affiliation. He's serious about that.

Anyway, even the power of being governor couldn't stop a coal train from taking precedence on those tracks, leaving Ritter's train idling south of downtown for an hour. By the time the train pulled into the Pueblo Depot, it was nearly two hours behind schedule.

The throng of well-wishers went crazy. It included nearly every elected official from southern Colorado, it seemed at least south of the Pueblo County border from Congressman John Salazar to state Rep. Liane "Buffie" McFadyen to a score of county commissioners and city council members. Many of them gave speeches.

Pueblo, rich with its history as a steel city, a union and Democratic stronghold, was a fitting end to the journey, a place "we really feel at home," Ritter said.

"We are Puebloans," he declared.

And Colorado Springsians, too, it would seem. Are El Paso County Republicans ready to get on board?

degette@csindy.com

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