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Romanoff's the next governor, or ... 

Mention his name around Colorado Springs, actually much of the state, and you'll likely be met with one of those quizzical looks.

Andrew Romanoff? He's a comedian, right? OK, he's an attorney? (Actually, almost.) Oh yeah, doesn't he own some restaurants along the Front Range?

None of the above. If you know Romanoff has been speaker of the House in the Colorado Legislature since 2005, you make an A+ in this adult civics class.

Romanoff also is a Democrat from Denver, which makes you wonder if he should consider a bodyguard when he comes to Colorado Springs. Yet he was driving, even feeding the parking meters himself, on a visit the other day.

This wasn't a stealth mission. He talked to a group, visited a TV station and spent time at the Independent along with two Democratic colleagues, Rep. Michael Merrifield of Manitou Springs and Rep. Mike Cerbo (the House Majority Caucus chairman) of Denver.

We welcomed the chance to congratulate Merrifield, now cancer-free after three months of chemo, radiation and uncertainty. He needs to put some pounds back on, and he'll be tested every few months. But his renewed spark should silence rumors that he might resign his House seat.

That brings us back to Romanoff. He's a sharp, well-versed, 40-year-old dynamo with one more year to serve as House Speaker and representative for House District 6 (southeast of downtown Denver, mostly affluent neighborhoods). Then term limits will send him in a new direction, which is unfortunate. He's Exhibit A for the argument that Colorado's term limits are too restrictive. With 12 years instead of eight, he could achieve so much.

Beyond 2008, Romanoff has no idea what will come next. With no state Senate or congressional seat readily available, he certainly could join Gov. Bill Ritter's cabinet. Then again, if a Democrat wins the presidency next year, Romanoff might even be a strong candidate for that administration.

Down the road, Romanoff could be his party's best hope to succeed Ritter as governor. It has to encourage Colorado Democrats, knowing they already have such a formidable presence as Romanoff, steadily laying the foundation. His rsum is stunning: He earned his first college degree at Yale, then a masters in public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He's now going through the University of Denver law school while teaching political science at Aurora Community College. He also taught for several years in Central America, giving him Spanish fluency and an understanding of Hispanic culture.

Many wondered if Romanoff might run for governor last year, but he chose to stay in the House, knowing he could do more working with Ritter. He has done just that in such areas as school finance, renewable energy and health-care issues. He walks smoothly along the treacherous line of reaching out to the "other side" while pushing agenda items that matter most to Democrats.

Romanoff's strongest point in our discussion was more philosophical than substantive. He talked about his party's mission now with control of the Legislature and the governor's office. The focus, he insisted, can't be maintaining and building on that power base. It has to be using that influence, as he did so well in the just-completed Legislature session, to "solve problems" and make life better for all of Colorado. If that means tough policy decisions, so be it.

Sounds idealistic, but it's still refreshing. The lawmakers won't be just playing golf in months ahead, either. Romanoff says committees will work on legislation for 2008, which he believes "is shaping up to be the most momentous session ever." That's unusual talk for a year when many lawmakers also are candidates for re-election, but Romanoff is already upbeat, with more emphasis planned for health care and state-level constitutional reform.

When our 90-minute conversation ended, we wished we had another 90 minutes. That's not a common reaction after talking with political leaders.

Then again, Andrew Romanoff isn't like most politicians. He's only 40, he has time on his side, and he's obviously destined for something more.

Perhaps a lot more, in Denver ... or Washington.

routon@csindy.com

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