Andrew Romanoff asked both parties to come together to fix Colorado's finances.
Andrew Romanoff likes to say that Colorado was "driving with one foot on the brake and one foot on the gas." He's referring to the state's bizarre fiscal structure. On one hand, Colorado had a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) that severely limited its ability to raise revenue. On the other hand, a constitutional amendment required education spending to increase at a certain rate, regardless of how much revenue the state collected. When Democrats won control of the Colorado legislature in 2004 and elected Romanoff as speaker of the House, he went right to work on straightening out these crippling contradictions.
Rather than bullying his Republican colleagues into accepting a plan, Romanoff patiently built a bipartisan coalition around a solution. In 2005, he successfully championed Referendum C, a measure giving the state a 5-year reprieve from TABOR limits. "He really is an exceptional leader, and he always puts the interests of the state ahead of his own interests and those of his party," says state Senator Steve Johnson, a Republican who has teamed with Romanoff on fiscal issues. "A lot of people are 'bipartisan' as long as the other side completely agrees with them. But not Andrew. He's willing to give and take with his critics."
Romanoff grew up in Columbus, Ohio, the child of a Democratic mother and a Republican father — the true source, he jokes, of his bipartisan leanings. At Yale, where he edited the school newspaper, Romanoff planned on a career in journalism. But a post-graduate year teaching in Costa Rica and Nicaragua proved pivotal. "I was really shook up by the conditions of the countries I was living in," Romanoff says. "I kept meeting kids who were really bright but, because of their situation, wouldn't have the opportunity to improve their lives." He decided to devote himself to public service, and went to Harvard for a master's degree in public policy. He liked the sound of Colorado, so he moved to Denver, sight unseen.
Elected to the Colorado House in 2000, Romanoff quickly established a reputation as an affable member with a dry sense of humor, and also as a policy wonk. Both qualities have served him well in the push for a more sound fiscal policy. He's back at it again this year, promoting a ballot initiative that would permanently repeal some aspects of TABOR. It also would allow the state to create a rainy-day fund, as well as a standing savings account for education spending.
At 42, Romanoff is term-limited out of office. He isn't sure what he'll do next, but he's already made an indelible impact on his adopted state, giving its future leaders a stronger rudder with which to steer the ship of government. His greatest legacy, though, may be his unflagging commitment to bipartisan comity. "I don't happen to believe that Democrats are always right and Republicans are always wrong," he says. "That's not really a radical approach. But it turns out to be a good way to govern."
— Zach Patton
Photo by Ray Ng