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Legacy of an Election Long Past

it's in the small local elections to boards with huge budgets - often ignored - that the changes are made

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, November 13, 2002.

Years ago, Jon Caldara, who now leads the Coors flunky Independence Institute, did the city of Boulder a huge favor when he ran for and won a seat on the RTD Board. This entity normally held the same grip on public attention that Assistant Coroner has in this country or Gold-Stick-in-Waiting has in European theme palaces. He proved that in dedicated hands, the political system is always malleable, and the public needs to beware of who it allows into positions of power, for what reasons they ran, and who they answer to. The RTD board generally housed folks only slightly less sane than the blowhards who people arts commissions, only marginally less intelligent, only slightly less violent when their tantrums aren’t feared. This proved what could be done if an agenda was planned out and pursued relentlessly against incompetence. RTD, which runs public transportation, has one of the largest state budgets, and until then, nobody paid much attention outside of Denver’s dependent communities.

And we see what happens now when a similarly ignored, rich, and powerful public entity has to accept a threat to its chronic incompetence and sense of entitlement. After years of messing around, the Regents of the University of Colorado have talked the City into discussing, in camera, its bovine purchase of what it laughingly calls its South Campus. It is entering into talks in secret so that, well, who the hell knows? Will Toor, our mayor who accepted this method, is probably correct when he says that the Regents wouldn’t likely discuss it under any other circumstances.

Why the sudden rush to talks? Because in January, Cindy Carlisle takes her seat on the Regents, replacing Robert Sievers whose hysterical activities of the last few months seemed designed to replace in the public mind (and, one suspects, his own) years of inertia. Carlisle campaigned on a platform that put high priority on public input at the meetings of the Regents, which scares the daylights out of those who have treated their perks, the benefits offered by their masters at entrenched Colorado institutions, and their status as an entitlement that the public, whose tax dollars finance it all, need not know about. The Regents fear, with reason, Carlisle can whip up enough public support to force the Regents to open up all their meetings. Imagine. Public universities funded by public money under the gaze of the public.

And now the Republicans have cut, under Governor Bill Owens, the budgets of all institutions, and one of the victims might be the physics library at the University. I realize the institutional politics at work here, and it’s probably a ploy against another department for public sympathy, but regardless of what is closed or reduced, we can be sure the football team will not lack for a jockstrap, a scrap of tape, a single recruitment meal. The reason is that the CU Foundation, which technically is just another not-for-profit corporation, will step forward and push its millions towards the athletic center. Actually, just towards football, because you won’t see the tennis or swim teams or intramural sports for actual students getting excessive funding. The CU Foundation is the financial poodle of the Regents and their administrative hirelings, primarily its President - which calls into question its actual independence, which calls into question its tax free status – and it is possible that some accountability will emerge in the future from these houses of hypocrisy. I hope so.

Tax free institutions that pander to the self image of the wealthy by the method of hagiography and suppression, as clearly seen in the current tempests over the Stearns remembrances and the Hutchinson Report, ought to be looked at long and hard by a public that needs to chronically recall: it is in the small local elections of no particular claim to public attention to positions of generally unknown and appreciated power that change is made.

Lessons repeatedly learned are, as a construct, oxymorons. Fortunately, we learned once with the RTD board to our pain. We’re about to enter into a period when the Regents, for a change, will be visibly squirming in embarrassment because of that lesson and a proactive election of the public will.