Mar 212011
Authors: Jim Sojourner

It doesn’t matter that Bill Ritter was run out of the governor’s office in 2010 faced with the prospect of becoming the first incumbent governor to lose a reelection bid in Colorado since 1992.

And it doesn’t matter that he managed to alienate Colorado’s voters and critical, job-creating energy industry during the worst economic recession of our lifetimes.

Because if CSU’s decision to appoint Ritter as the director if it’s Center for the New Energy Economy proves anything it’s this: At this public university, merit and competence don’t matter.

No, at CSU, all you have to do is say the words “new energy economy” enough times during your failed political tenure and CSU President Tony Frank will not only name a policy center after your beloved catchphrase, he’ll pay you $300,000 a year to keep saying it.

Unfortunately, repeating that phrase like a broken record isn’t going to get much done. The problem with CSU’s new center isn’t the center itself, though.

As Thomas Friedman argued yesterday, the nuclear crisis in Japan threatens to make the world more dependent on oil and gas at a time when violence, turmoil and unpredictable transitions in the world’s top oil and gas producers could limit or choke off global access to their resources.

The danger that situation poses to the fragile global economy should highlight the stupidity of America’s current energy policy –– or lack thereof. The time to play our energy future by ear should have ended years ago, but it needs to end now.

Policy centers like CSU’s Center for the New Energy Economy could take point in developing sustainable and enlightened energy plans that pave a bright path for future Americans. Such centers could lead us through a smooth transition from the much-needed oil, gas and coal-based energy sources of today into the clean, renewable energy sources of tomorrow.

To succeed, those centers will need smart, pragmatic and effective leaders who don’t have volatile political baggage and who know how to build coalitions and broad bases of support.

In other words, they need people who aren’t Ritter.

As per a Collegian article published yesterday, Ritter’s appointment as director comes with a web of connections that might have landed him the job and link CSU to big-time Democratic donors and agenda-pushers.

So much for “non-partisan.” Such a tangled web could mire CSU in partisan politics and damage any hope the center has of pushing for real energy reform.

And then there’s Ritter’s own history.

During his governorship, Ritter signed 57 clean-energy bills into law; no one can question his undying dedication to clean energy.

But to accomplish anything productive, the center can’t have at its helm a new-energy-economy zealot raging around and putting heretics to the sword on his march toward martyrdom –– which is exactly what Ritter did as governor.

On the way to crucifying his chances of reelection, Ritter tried to railroad lucrative oil and gas companies out of Colorado by passing stricter drilling regulations and then damaged the viability of the profitable coal industry with the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, all while Colorado’s economy languished in recession.

Ritter may have won the adoration of “overboard” environmentalists, but he burned bridges with many powerful and important energy industries and marginalized Colorado’s hurting workers before he skedaddled out of office and straight into CSU’s welcoming arms.

America needs groups like the Center for the New Energy Economy to push it into greener energy pastures. But to do so, the center will need to garner the support of industrialists and environmentalists alike and pull America’s deeply divided partisan policy-makers on board, as well.

A polarizing politician who’s succeeded only at giving the metaphorical middle finger to half of those parties isn’t going to get it done.

If CSU really wants to participate in reshaping America’s energy economy, Tony Frank should’ve looked for someone capable of garnering wide support from Colorado’s citizens, its interest groups and from politicians on both sides of the isle.

Because paying a failed politician $300,000 a year to keep on failing doesn’t make much sense.

Managing Editor Jim Sojourner is a senior journalism major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

 Posted by at 3:39 pm

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