Romanoff ran a state while attending law school

Anyone who has dreamed of pursuing higher education but thinks they’re too busy should take a look at the outgoing Colorado Speaker of the House.

When he walks across the stage Dec. 19, Andrew Romanoff will receive his law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and complete a journey he began six years ago.

While sweating over the books, memorizing cases and learning the language of law, Romanoff represented one of Colorado’s most urban districts in the State House and rose to Speaker of the House.

He helped enact Referendum C, a law that allows the state to spend surplus tax revenue on such things as education and transportation. He traveled abroad to promote Colorado’s business environment and was even rumored to be a potential candidate for governor in 2006.

He also held a job as a college instructor.

So why take on law school as well?

“There was nothing good on TV,” Romanoff jokes before turning serious. “I think I was still intellectually hungry after graduate school. And I thought a law degree would be useful to me in my job as a legislator. I guess I didn’t time it well because I’m term-limited out as I get my degree.”

Romanoff’s term representing District 6 expires at the end of the year. But looking ahead, he’s one of three finalists for the Secretary of State position vacated by Mike Coffman, who was elected to Congress in November. Gov. Bill Ritter says he’ll announce Coffman’s replacement in January.

Romanoff, 42, already holds a bachelor’s degree in American studies from Yale and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, but says he wanted to know more about how the laws he was helping create would be interpreted in the courts. He started out with a full load of night courses in 2002 but eventually cut back his course schedule and even took the last two spring semesters off during the legislative session.

“It was really good training for the brain,” he says. “It was a good experience.”

While he didn’t seek specialization, Romanoff says he enjoyed courses in international law, citing his work with Professor Ved Nanda among his most memorable. Romanoff says he also fondly recalls courses with Adjunct Professor Karen Steinhauser and Professor Arthur Best.

And in every class, he says, he enjoyed discussions about how lawyers and judges interpret laws and how courts try to determine the lawmakers’ intent.

“In the first class I took, a professor told the students ‘You’ve got to pay close attention to the words of the statute because the legislature obviously took care in choosing those words,” and I was thinking ‘No we didn’t,’” Romanoff says. “I started thinking a lot about the record we’re developing, the floor debates, intent.”

He says he’s also glad he took a course in election law, considering he’s in the running to head the office that oversees Colorado elections. Romanoff is also among those being discussed to replace Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, who was tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to lead the Interior Department.

To anyone who considering law school but thinks they can’t possibly squeeze it into a busy professional schedule, Romanoff has one thing to say: “Yes, you can.”

“Obviously, I took longer than most people to finish. I did my reading on weekends, I took a lighter load,” he says.

But now, looking back, Romanoff says he’s pleased he stuck with it and is happy to be moving forward with a degree in law.

And as he puts down the books, at least for a little while, Romanoff says he’s overcome by one defining emotion: “Relief. A great sense of relief.”

[Editor’s note: On Dec. 19, Gov. Bill Ritter picked State Rep. Bernie Buescher as Colorado’s secretary of state, and on Jan. 3, Gov. Ritter named Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to the U.S. Senate seat held by Ken Salazar.]

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