Colorado Editorial Roundup
The Daily Camera, May 4, on reforming the board of the University of Colorado:
The regents of the University of Colorado on Thursday voted 5-4 along party lines to give Mark Kennedy a new job as CU president, but in doing so they demonstrated once and for all they themselves should be out of a job.
CU is the only university system in the country with a governing body whose members are selected by the state’s voters in a partisan general election. The political nature of the board is said to ensure that members are more responsive to constituent demands, but too often constituent interests diverge from those of the university. And as the Kennedy episode signified in mortifying fashion, Republican-vs.-Democrat discord stunts the board’s ability to perform as a trusted steward of a vital state institution.
The mechanism for selecting CU regents is a legacy from a different era, not a best-practice match for the university’s current functions. The board was established in 1876 as an elected body by the original language of the Colorado Constitution, and the last time the Constitution’s regents provision was amended was almost half a century ago, in 1972. The university since then has evolved from a Boulder-centric operation to a four-campus system that has undergone dramatic growth in students, faculty and impact on the cultural and economic life of Colorado.
While the Constitution says CU regents are elected to six-year terms, state statutes describe how those elections work. Current law stipulates that the nine members include two regents elected at-large and one regent chosen by the electors in each of the state’s seven congressional districts. Colorado can update this arrangement to better serve the university through a statutory change that calls for nonpartisan regent elections. Examples of nonpartisan elections abound. Most school board elections are nonpartisan. The Denver mayoral race this week is nonpartisan. Most cities in America run nonpartisan elections, a tradition passed down from Progressive-era rebellion against corruption and party-machine politics.
Colorado might consider adopting the University of Minnesota model. That university’s regents are elected by a joint convention of the state Legislature, which considers applicants recommended by a Regent Candidate Advisory Council. The Council establishes criteria for candidates to ensure they are qualified, and it balances board membership with respect to geography, gender, race and ethnicity.
Deeper reform, however, might be in order. The members of most governing boards at university systems comparable to CU, such as the University of California and the University of Illinois, are appointed by the governor, satisfy balancing criteria in regards to party, geography and diversity, and have terms whose duration ensures that board composition is insulated from shifting political winds, according to Aims McGuinness, a senior fellow at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Colorado already does something like this with the Colorado State University system — the nine voting members of the CSU system board are appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate.
A switch to a governor-appointed board for CU would require a constitutional amendment, but it’s a reform state leaders should consider promoting. Such a board would tend to favor professionals over partisans, experts over ideologues.
When Kennedy emerged as the sole CU president finalist, it quickly became clear that the Republican’s conservative voting record when he was a Congressman from Minnesota made him an uncomfortable fit for purple Colorado and the flagship CU campus in liberal Boulder. But doubts also arose about his donor-relation skills at his previous job as president of the University of North Dakota and his performance as a businessman, such as when he was a Macy’s executive. Reaction to his candidacy — from CU students, university faculty and, as they learned more about him, all four Democratic regents — was broadly negative. According to the Colorado Independent, the one other candidate favored by the regents’ Republican majority was also a Republican former politician.
The Kennedy debacle highlighted the warping effects of partisanship on the Board of Regents, but this problem is hardly new. In January 2018, the regents’ annual retreat turned into what Camera reporting described as “a group therapy session” meant to address political division. “Are we willing to give up our nonsense behavior to be more functional?” Democrat Steve Ludwig, a then-regent, said during the session. “What’s the cost of this dysfunction? How many students are we not serving because the board can’t get along better?”
That question was more or less answered in a 2018 NCHEMS report, “The Future Roles and Responsibilities Within the University of Colorado System.” Regents struggle to implement strategic plans, the report said. Also, it noted some regents “identified their constituents as particularly including those who supported their candidacies and voted for them,” and those regents have an interest in keeping campaign promises even when they involve matters that are “far removed from the high-level policy responsibilities of the governing body for a multi-campus system.”
Several Republican regents, including John Carson, Heidi Ganahl and Chair Sue Sharkey, have campaigned to expand what they euphemistically call “diversity of thought.” They have tried to exert their influence down to the classroom level by calling for more conservative faculty to be hired on CU campuses, even though faculty should be hired based on academic excellence, not ideological credentials.
But by far the most alarming recent instance of partisanship on the regent board was an April 29 Facebook post by Republican Regent Chance Hill. He dismissed all criticism of Kennedy as smears from “radical Leftists” who can’t stand a Republican being CU president — an odd charge given that Kennedy will succeed a Republican, Bruce Benson, who served for more than a decade. Hill described CU campuses as “liberal college fiefdoms where people suffer real negative consequences if they dare challenge the Leftist orthodoxy,” and, affirming fears that the sole president finalist had been selected precisely because he was a conservative, Hill said “Leftist hypocrisy” shows “all the more the need for leaders like Mark Kennedy” to assume the presidency. Hill attacked his “Democrat” colleagues on the board and accused them of providing “misinformation to the press.” In closing, Hill wrote, “I will not reward a small, well-orchestrated Far Leftist mob — who in my opinion represents a mentality as dangerous to this nation’s future as any foreign threat we face.”
Still think a partisan Board of Regents is a good idea?
Hill in his post exposed himself as unfit to serve as a regent, but he also unwittingly illustrated that a partisan-elected form of governance is unfit to serve the CU system.
The politically divided regents have brought national ridicule and disrepute to the CU system, and they have lost the trust of Coloradans. It’s time to reform the Board of Regents and ensure a level of stewardship worthy of the state’s great university system.
The Daily Sentinel, May 2, on Grand Junction’s pursuit of housing new headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management:
The Interior Department is expected to choose a Western city as the new headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management by the end of September.
Whether Grand Junction lands the coveted designation, we’re a better city for having gone through the process of competing for the opportunity.
Let there be no lamentations if Interior places the headquarters elsewhere. We’ve already won by rising above our own pessimism about whether we had any realistic shot at such a game-changing development. In the process, we’ve set ourselves up for other opportunities.
Instead of questioning why the BLM would have any interest in Grand Junction, local leaders flipped the script. Why wouldn’t the BLM want to come to the one place that checks every box on its wish list?
As Rep. Scott Tipton observed early in the process, his congressional district serves as a microcosm of every land-management issue in the American West. Or as Grand Junction Economic Partnership Executive Director Robin Brown put it at the recent Western Colorado Economic Summit, “Every single mission under the BLM’s purview actually happens in Mesa County. I don’t know a single other city of our size that can claim that.”
Where else is there a combination of affordable housing and an airport capable of delivering a non-stop flight to Washington, D.C.? What county has a greater percentage of land in BLM’s inventory?
The move is being touted as a way to improve decision-making and customer service by putting BLM bureaucrats closer to the 388,000 square miles of public lands they manage, nearly all west of the Mississippi. It would bring more than 300 government jobs whose salaries would ripple across the local economy.
That opportunity gave rise to an unprecedented level of cooperation. GJEP, the local chamber, the city of Grand Junction, Mesa County, the airport authority, economic development partners across the valley and our representatives in Congress have been unrelenting in promoting Grand Junction as the most ideal spot for a new headquarters.
When Interior officials mentioned air-service requirements, the community found a way to bolster the potential for direct flights. If the BLM goes elsewhere, we don’t come away from the experience empty-handed. Improved air service will be an important economic development tool for years to come.
And let’s not forget that the BLM move is part of a far-reaching Interior reorganization that calls for consolidating 49 regional boundaries of eight sub-agencies into 12 unified regions. In putting Grand Junction’s best foot forward to lure the BLM, it has already made an excellent case for hosting one of Interior’s regional offices.
In the meantime, local leaders can keep reinforcing the message that Grand Junction, its proximity to public land (70 percent of Mesa County) and its affordable, high-quality lifestyle, make it a perfect home for the BLM.
The Aurora Daily Sentinel, May 5, on Colorado’s legislative session:
Colorado lawmakers made giant leaps this year, crafting changes that promise to have a real effect on reducing gun violence, reeling in unaffordable health care, protecting the environment, improving student performance, protecting gay children and ensuring public safety and police credibility.
It was a year of astounding achievements made possible by voters washing away the power of partisan obstruction when they removed Colorado Republicans from power last November.
Democrats were able to surge on a wide range of fronts, creating bills and measures that will have a long-lasting positive impact on the everyday lives of almost every resident and business in the state.
Critical work, however, was left unfinished. Failures during this remarkable legislative session include addressing a looming vaccination disaster, a long-term plan for a massive statewide transportation deficiency, a way to end Colorado’s death-penalty quandary, and a clear way forward in creating a so-called public option for health insurance.
Despite those serious omissions, standout and unsung legislative changes alike deserve ovations for finally moving Colorado forward on several fronts.
It would be inaccurate not to credit Colorado’s new governor, Jared Polis, Democratic legislative leaders and rank-and-file, who courageously stood up to relentless partisan obstruction. As in the past, some Republicans tried — this time unsuccessfully — to bully lawmakers with histrionics, fabrications, fear-mongering and chicanery. Blamed and credited for preventing a handful of critical bills, it was actually Democrats’ over-ambitious agenda and political diversity among the ranks that stymied more successes.
At the forefront of progress made was a handful of bills addressing a health care system that has become increasingly unaffordable, and insurance that every year becomes increasingly useless.
Legislators passed bills that will force hospitals to provide fiscal transparency, a measure expected to provide substantial savings to “Obamacare” state-insurance exchange customers with a co-insurance system, and access to cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. Another successful bill works to end disastrously expensive “out-of-network” surprise charges to health-insurance customers, just one of a bevy of ways insurance companies are gouging already tapped middle-class Coloradans.
Polis said it best on the last day of the legislative session when summarizing progress made by lawmakers on this front.
“We want you to pay less for health care because you are getting ripped off,” Polis told reporters.
While the changes are promising, much more work needs to be done to bypass a dysfunctional Congress, including a state-run health insurance program open to all Colorado businesses and residents.
On other critical fronts, state lawmakers were finally able to give local governments oversight on oil-and-gas production. They created a fair and long-overdue way to allow communities to ensure the safety and quality of life of those who, literally, live next to industrial oil-and-gas production sites.
State lawmakers were also able to muscle meaningful gun-control legislation past bullying gun-rights extremists and their legislative alarmists. Colorado now has a badly-needed “red flag” bill, which allows police to remove guns from mentally ill people in crisis before they kill themselves or others.
State lawmakers were finally able to expand Colorado’s public schools system to ensure free, all-day kindergarten for all state residents — Polis’ priority goal. But there were numerous education bills passed promising progress on a system bogged down in bureaucracy.
Improvement in personal safety is embedded in bills that now outlaw dangerous fake-therapy sessions that purportedly change homosexual children’s sexual orientation. Another bill makes it easier for transgender residents to modify their birth certificates to reflect their real lives. One of the most important bills passed this session forces police departments to make public internal investigations into alleged police malfeasance. Other bills will create new programs to address opioid and other deadly drug addictions. And another crucial measure makes a change in state sex-education standards. Next year, curricula will make clear homosexuality is neither a choice nor an abnormality. New guidelines require instructors teach young adolescents how to protect themselves from sexual abuse, pregnancy and disease.
Among the dozens of bills providing considerable change for all Colorado residents, some of the most powerful were measures address the environment and global climate change. Bypassing the Trump Administration and others who either deny or ignore this looming global crisis, Colorado lawmakers pushed through legislation guiding the state to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The work of the 2019 Legislature was so vast and so far-reaching, it will take months for analysts and the media to sort out details of how life will change in Colorado, in almost every way for the better.
We’re deeply disappointed on failures in the 120-day race to make needed laws, but we congratulate Democrats and Republicans for pushing the state ahead on numerous fronts in a historical session. We’re looking forward to more of the same next year.