Friday, January 28, 2011

Moonlighting officials steal private-sector jobs

I thought we were supposed to be creating jobs here in Colorado, not insuring the six-figure incomes of officials who are recruited to public service in the state.

Public service is called that for a reason, and I'm sure many state employees would love to make an extra 20 grand on the days they are forced to take unpaid furloughs in order to save the state some money.

But the public officials who insist on moonlighting to maintain $100,000-plus incomes and their status in the privileged class in Colorado don't seem to worry much about that. Neither, apparently, do they worry about setting a bad example.

The latest entrant to the "show-me-the-money" crowd is Dwayne Romero, an Aspen city councilman who apparently knows if you can't keep your salary cred in the respectable six figures you might lose some of your gilded Aspen status.

So instead of working as a full-time economic development director, he's giving up 19.2 percent of his state salary so he can part-time it as president of Related Snowmass, a subsidiary of a New York luxury real-estate developer.

Eric Brown, spokesman for Gov. John Hickenlooper (who gushed over Romero's gambit), told the Denver Post the new state employee will make about $28,000 less than other governor's cabinet members, which sounds to me like enough to hire a new assistant in the eco-devo/international trade office.

But that won't happen because the state is so short on money. Hickenlooper likes saving the money. He's assigned his lieutenant governor, Joe Garcia, to head the state Department of Higher Education, and has billed that as a way to save money, too.

But Garcia's double assignment was also a way to insure him a higher income, and that's the problem with the precedents being set here by Democrats and Republicans alike. Public service is public service and it has usually required some self-sacrifice from those who serve.

Now we have the elected Secretary of State, the elected State Attorney General, the elected state Treasurer, the elected Lieutenant Governor and the appointed executive director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade making money on the side because the state won't pay them enough to make a "living" comparable to executive positions in the modern business world.

Actually, I don't begrudge the men -- notice they are all men -- the extra dough because private business in Colorado has been traditionally pretty cheap, certainly with most employees below an executive level.

But that's not necessarily true about private-company executives, so there's a bit of sticker shock among those members of Colorado's privileged class when they take on public-sector jobs. They don't want to lose their C-level social and economic status.

In a jobs-creating government, these good men would not only forego their private salaries and urge their former employers to hire or promote someone new to their vacated positions in the private-sector, but they might even double-down on their state public service and at least consider taking less money than is owed them for their valuable time.

That's the best way these wealthy men could serve the people of their state.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

McCarthyism in the Colorado Capitol

What does it mean when a Colorado state representative asks a union member during a legislative hearing: "Are you a dues paying member of Colorado Loses?"

Or when a Secretary of State tells a newspaper: "There have been certain family pressures that have been created by the press."

It means Republican state leaders are reverting to the language of McCarthyism, speaking in conservative code, trying to discredit people with labels meant to stir uncivil anger.

Language matters, and for that reason state Rep. Keven Priola (R-Adams County) and Secretary of State Scott Gessler ought to pick their words more carefully.

I've heard that Priola has already apologized to Tom Orrell, a member of Colorado WINS, a union representing state employees, for using language that echoed the Joe McCarthy-era inquiry: "Are you a dues paying member of the Communist party?"

As far as I know, Gessler doesn't even think he should apologize to the Denver Post for blaming the press for his own decision to take outside work with his old law firm to supplement an admitedly penurious $68,500 state salary.

The press had nothing to do with creating the pressures on Gessler's family finances. He chose to run for the low-pay state office. He opened himself up to charges of a conflict of interest by announcing he wanted to moonlight on weekends in order to make more money.

But language matters. And blaming the press (a politician's trick not exclusive to McCarthyism) offers Gessler no refuge from responsibility for his own words and actions.

I'm relying here on reporting in the Post, although I was told by a legislative staffer that Priola aplogized to Orrell and not Democratic Minority Leader of the House Rep. Sal Pace, who wasn't involved. The Post reported that House Speaker Frank McNulty suggested Priola direct the apology to Pace as well.

Perhaps McNulty, too, recognized the true offense loaded into Priola's word choice. He told the Post: "I wasn't happy with his tone."

Monday, January 24, 2011

In the Chemo Room

When you are a cancer patient, you watch the news for breakthroughs and try to assess how they might affect your treatments, but you are also frequently alerted to a variety of folk cures by people who are concerned about you.

Lately along my path to wherever my disease is taking me, I've come across this list of such recommendations: Lypo Spheric Vitamin C, Dr. Oz's cancer diet (bok choy, artichokes, tomatoes and strawberries), cooked and pureed asparagus, and saffron.

Early on in my treatments I was told to take flaxseed oil, which I did and still do, and to some degree attribute what success I've had fighting the cancer-cell production that threatens me every day. My fight is extending into the second half of its fourth year, so I figure I can credit myself, the doctors and nurses who take care of me, and those who pray for me and suggest alternative cures with a significant measure of success.

So when I read in Sunday's newspaper a story about an Obama administration plan to set up a government research unit to come up with new drug treatments for diseases including cancer, I had a thought:

This unit should do a little research on natural substances that hold out promise of palliative or curative benefit.

Most doctors steer clear of recommending such treatments because none of the folklore behind them represents a scientific or clinical basis for a professional endorsement.

The Obama plan would undertake research pharmaceutical companies are not doing because it costs too much and there is no assurance of a return on the companies' investments. The companies have not investigated natural cures for the same reasons.

What better way to find out if natural substances work or not? Or at least whether there may be some scientific explanation, or none, for the folklore behind the so-called cures.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bipartisanship starts with oversight

There's a triple-whammy lesson in bipartisanship on the front page of the Denver Post this morning, starting with a call for a state audit of the Public Utility Commission by two Republican state senators.

Sens. Scott Renfroe, Greeley, and Steve King, Grand Junction, want the Legislative Audit Committee to look into the legality of several decisions made by the commission, including one that favored the natural-gas industry over coal interests in Colorado, rate-setting for Qwest, and the delay of a prospective taxicab company's attempt to operate in metro Denver.

Other critics of the commission have also questioned travel expenses and possible conflicts of interest for commissioners.

Renfroe, somewhat disingenuously I think, told the Post he wanted to take these questions about the commission "out of the political fray." But make no mistake, the issues are fraught with political implications.

Ron Binz, chairman of the commission, is an old public-utilities liberal from Texas, and he should be used to conservatives' political attacks on his performance. At the same time, Binz usually has been careful to provide the proper proof to justify his actions and positions.

But Renfroe's and King's request for an audit is exactly what bipartisanship is all about. Giving PUC decisions a "good-government" review allows the state as a people to test the quality of the commission's performance over time.

You will see House Repubicans in the U.S. Congress try to accomplish the same ends, as suggested in a Washington Post story that also appeared on the Denver Post's front page. It was more about the campaign finances of the Republicans who will "test" previous Democratic actions in Congress like the health-care law.

But oversight is a responsibility of any legislative body, and usually a newly gained majority tries to exercise that responsibility by going over the past actions of the party that has just lost a majority. That's politics, and there's no sense in describing it as anything less. The power to review and revise law is an asset we all should be happy legislators possess. God knows they make enough mistakes to warrant taking second looks at what they've wrought.

And bipartisanship in all its forms is finally on the rise. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has recruited Republicans to his new administration. Sen. Mark Udall is inspiring Democrats and Republicans in Colorado's congressional delegation to sit together during the State of the Union address next week. That's the subject of the third story on the front page of the Post.

Renfroe and King are invoking bipartisanship by asking for the state audit. Their move is political, no doubt, but voters sent them to the state legislature to be political and do what's right by the people of the state. The request for an audit ought to be granted.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Eco-devo tour might get it right this time

Gov. Hick takes to the road today to do a little more of what his transition team started regarding Colorado's economic-development strategy.

So far, Hick has not named a director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and to my mind that's a good thing. The last two governors did a poor job crafting a strategy for the office that actually accomplished something.

Which meant the state and its small businesses suffered for 12 years from a high-level lack of concern for the prosperity of Colorado's small-business owners. Small business, after all, generates the most jobs in our economy, and the state's interest in business owners who are job generators only makes sense.

That was not the strategy of the last two governors. Both Bill Owens, who thought a free market should allow small business to fend for itself, and Bill Ritter, who had a Democrat's instinct for stepping away from anything that smelled of the monied interests in Colorado, allowed the economic-development office to flounder.

I think both governors hoped the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and its own economic-development arm would cover their asses on the eco-devo front during their terms.

But the Denver chamber had its own problems of perception rooted in its sometimes blind following of big-business interests. It paid lip service to small business, but I think its leaders felt more comfortable, more powerful and more influential dealing with the bigs. They simply paid less attention to the smalls.

The Hickenlooper team's encore tour of statewide economic-development interests promises a broader approach our new governor calls "bottom-up."

Outstate eco-devo folks have learned from the past that the phrase might mean they are just in for another spanking. Here's hoping for more from the state's newest chief executive.