DENVER -- Saying he needs to spend more time with his family, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter announced Wednesday he won't seek re-election this year -- a move that he said would free him politically to make "tough and unpopular decisions" in the months ahead.
A Democrat who is widely considered a rising star in the party, Ritter announced his decision at the state Capitol surrounded by three of his children.
The former Denver district attorney -- elected in 2006 in this pivotal swing-voting state -- said he needed to spend more time with his family. Ritter has four children and is married.
"I would say it this way, I haven't found the proper balance where my family is concerned," Ritter said.
The governor said he thought about retiring from politics over the winter break, and did "a lot of soul-searching."
Ritter said that in his final year he'll be freer to make tough decision if he isn't facing re-election.
"By not running for re-election, I'll be able to make the tough and unpopular decisions that need to be made," Ritter said, citing a state budget shortfall.
Colorado Democrats planned a closed-door meeting later Wednesday to discuss a new candidate for governor this year. Two Republicans are seeking the office, including former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis.
Ritter insisted fellow Democrats didn't ask him to consider leaving office.
"Nobody's ever pressured me to not run," Ritter said.
In Washington, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar -- a former Colorado U.S. senator -- refused to comment when asked if he'd be interested in the governor's position.
"Bill Ritter has been a devoted servant of the public at great sacrifice to self and family," Salazar said in a conference call with reporters. "I thank him for his service."
Ritter's decision underscored Democrats' concerns that a state once firmly in the GOP column could return to the opposition.
Since 2000, Colorado became friendly ground for Democrats, thanks to population growth, especially among Latinos. Democrats picked up control of the governor's mansion, both chambers of the state Legislature, both U.S. Senate seats and five of seven seats in Congress.
Ritter succeeded Republican Bill Owens, who was term-limited, by defeating Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez in 2006. He championed building a renewable energy economy and is banking on federal stimulus dollars to propel that initiative.
But Ritter surprised many when he vetoed a measure to make it easier to set up all-union workplaces. He later signed an order allowing state workers to organize. One of his biggest -- and most criticized -- decisions was to appoint a little-known associate, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet, to a U.S. Senate seat in January 2009. Bennet replaced Ken Salazar.
In 2008, Ritter basked in the limelight as Denver hosted the Democratic National Convention, where Barack Obama accepted his party's presidential nomination. Obama became the first Democrat to carry Colorado since 1992; one Denver rally drew more than 100,000 people, the biggest rally of his campaign.