Months after CSU President Larry Penley and Gov. Bill Ritter clashed publicly about state funding for the university, the governor’s son will try his hand at the issue as student government’s elected representative at the capitol.
The Associated Students of CSU swore August Ritter into a full legislative directorship Wednesday after Director Luke Ragland announced his resignation to spend next semester as a DC intern.
As legislative director, Ritter will represent the students of CSU at the state capitol next semester, talking with Gov. Ritter about important issues from rising tuition rates to voter awareness of higher education issues — a task some might perceive as a conflict of interest.
And it’s a valid concern, Ritter said, considering past projects for Legislative Affairs directors.
Penley received harsh criticism last spring for adding a last-minute amendment to the state budget that would have allowed the university to effectively increase tuition $1200 per student — a move Ragland passionately lobbied against as Legislative Affairs director.
After the state axed the increase, Penley took shots at legislators and, specifically, Gov. Ritter for giving CSU the financial short end of the stick.
But Ritter gave his word to ASCSU Wednesday night that he would represent CSU as a student and student government official, not as the governor’s son.
“I’m going to go down to the state capitol as the legislative director for ASCSU and the student representative for CSU to fight for student rights,” he said.
When Ritter returned to CSU last fall from helping with his father’s gubernatorial campaign, he said he realized students need to be informed about their government from the student level to the all the way to the big guns at the capitol.
“Coming back to CSU (from the campaign) made me realize how great college is, because you go out and get a taste of the real world and so to be able to come back, I feel like I can appreciate college more than some of my friends can,” the senior global tourism major said.
Ritter says he has a passion for public awareness of what’s happening to education. This year, higher education funding in Colorado was cut 18 percent for every full-time equivalent student — the biggest cut out of every state — a dismal truth the public is largely unaware of, Ritter said.
He wants to focus the power of the Legislative Affairs Department on fixing this problem, as well as keeping tuition low.
“There’s been several polls that have been done that show voters feel like higher education is fine right now, there’s absolutely no problem with higher education and that’s not right at all,” he said.
To keep up with the national funding average, the state would have to budget $830 million yearly on top of the $59 million projected for next year’s higher education funding.
“Voters aren’t really aware of that,” Ritter said
Colorado’s limited funds ultimately affect the tuition price tag, he said, forcing funding wars between institutions to stay competitive. He wants to encourage lawmakers to focus on a long-term solution to these funding wars.
“We’ve been fighting for a couple million dollars here, a couple million dollars there with other universities for state money because there’s just no state money and that’s just the reality of it,” he said. “My shtick is trying to keep higher education as affordable and accessible as possible, not only for students next year, but for students in 10 years.”
While Ritter hasn’t ruled politics out of his career path, he wants to start a tourism company in a foreign country.
But he plans on always being involved in government somehow.
“It’s important to be an active citizen,” he said.
ASCSU President Katie Gleeson has high hopes for what Ritter will do with his directorship.
“August is tremendous young man and I think he’ll excel in his new position,” Gleeson said.
Assistant News Editor Aaron Hedge can be reached at email@example.com.