The year of 2010 began, just as 2009 had, with Gov. Bill Ritter making the first headline and creating the first controversy.
Almost exactly 12 months after his unexpected appointment of Michael Bennet to the U.S. Senate, Ritter started this year with another stunner. Facing the likelihood of a strong Republican challenge in the 2010 election, Ritter said he would not run for a second term.
Little did Ritter realize how badly the state GOP would stumble. If he had known that Scott McInnis would self-destruct, Dan Maes would be a total joke and Tom Tancredo would alienate so many as a late third-party candidate, Ritter probably would have stayed in and might be gearing up now for another four years in office. Instead, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper jumped into the fray, ran a smart and always-upbeat campaign, and kept the Democrats in control of the governor's office.
If we were compiling a list of Colorado's top political stories for 2010, the Ritter-to-Hickenlooper scenario would have to be No. 1. But let's look back over the bests and worsts of a fascinating year at the state and local levels, after a quick report card for some people and entities close to home.
City Council: B. Thankfully, Council kept community centers afloat, avoiding what could have been a nightmare. Turning off many streetlights wasn't so bad, and being supportive in working with the medical marijuana industry became a positive. Another potential land mine, shutting down homeless camps, worked out acceptably because the city wasn't obsessed with hard-line enforcement.
Board of County Commissioners: F. The commissioners voted to spend more than $50 million in relocating county offices and departments. Not asking the voters about that was a definite no-no. Even worse was putting term-limit extensions on the ballot with confusing language, clearly intended to confuse less-informed voters and enhance chances of passage, as admitted by County Attorney Bill Louis.
Fort Carson-Army: C. More confusion, not making the public better aware that a new combat aviation brigade probably will mean 100 more training helicopters flying the area skies.
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn: F. He sank to new lows, pushing for de-funding NPR, fighting for extending the Bush tax cuts and then voting against the tax-cut compromise that gave the GOP what it wanted, opposing the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and supporting Tom Tancredo for governor.
Biggest consequence: State Rep. Dennis Apuan, after one term of constantly reaching out to House District 17 constituents, lost his seat to Republican Mark Barker, and the Democrats lost control of the House by a 33-32 margin.
Biggest surprise: Despite the pro-GOP momentum nationwide, Colorado still has Dems in the governor's office, both U.S. Senate seats, and in control of the state Senate.
Smartest political move: Bennet, after being soft for much of his primary race, attacking Republican Ken Buck from start to finish.
Dumbest move: Republicans failing to push Maes out of the gubernatorial race, leading to voter apathy that also cost Buck.
Rising star, Democrats: State Rep. Sal Pace of Pueblo, now the House minority leader just starting his second term.
Rising star, Republicans: State Rep. Mark Waller of Colorado Springs, in a good position to have an impact during his second term.
Best timing, local: Organizers of the strong-mayor campaign seized their chance, with public confidence in City Council at low ebb, and won easily.
Best timing, state: Hickenlooper, no further explanation needed.
Worst timing, local: Michael Merrifield, term-limited from the state House, losing a county commissioner race to Republican Peggy Littleton in a redrawn district that subtly gained more GOP strength.
Worst timing, state: Ken Buck, always saying the wrong things at the wrong time, even with the state GOP hoping to salvage the election in that race.
Hardest thing to believe: Andrew Romanoff, still on the outside looking in politically, now working for International Development Enterprises helping poor farmers on other continents.
Story to watch in 2011: Congressional redistricting, with the possibility of Colorado Springs and Pueblo being put into the same district.