George Will

DENVER -- On a credenza in the office of Colorado's governor sits a 1967 photograph of a teenager from Fort Worth. Bill Owens, a congressional page, stands on the U.S. Capitol steps, shaking hands with a congressman from Houston, George Herbert Walker Bush. In 1970, Rep. Bush ran for the U.S. Senate, and Owens, then a college student, ran Students for Bush in East Texas. The campaign aide with whom he worked was a whippersnapper named George W. Bush.

Today it is just 51 months until the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary -- the 2008 caucuses and primary -- and some Republicans are looking to the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains for a possible candidate to become the 44th president.

Owens, who in 1998 became the first Republican elected governor here since 1970, is in his second and final -- he is term-limited -- four-year term. In 1998 he barely won, 49-48. In 2002 he won a 63-34 landslide. He is 52 and looks younger. He has no political plans. He has three children, hence an incentive to return to the private sector. But his record between 1998 and 2004 will, in 2005, lure many Republicans, aware that National Review calls Owens the nation's best governor, to his door.

His is an economically vibrant and largely urbanized state. Half of all Coloradans live in Denver's metropolitan area; 80 percent live in the Front Range corridor from Boulder to Pueblo. Thanks partly to the flight of high-tech workers from misgoverned California, Colorado has the nation's highest per capita concentration of such workers. It ranks first among the states in percentage of college graduates, third in venture capital per capita and eighth in per capita income (up from 18th in 1990).

Today most state governments have budget crises. Colorado's difficulties are much milder than most. One year ago the Washington-based Cato Institute, a free-market think tank, graded all 50 governors. Owens was one of just two governors --the other was Florida's Jeb Bush -- to receive an A grade.

Since 1992 a voter referendum has been required to raise Colorado's taxes. That has concentrated political minds on maintaining a business-friendly environment to generate revenues. The state's tax climate has facilitated what has been decorously called ``entrepreneurial federalism,'' poaching of businesses from states less hospitable to enterprise.

This has enabled Owens' Colorado, facing education and infrastructure spending needs associated with growth, to avoid the equation of conservatism and parsimony. In the 1990s, Colorado's per capita spending increased 44 percent, faster than in 35 other states. Yet Owens used his line item veto to cut 50 times more spending in his first five years than his immediate predecessors cut in 24 years.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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