Hey, Bill – thanks for the nod
January 23, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoIt’s about time that new Gov. Bill Ritter looked beyond his metropolitan home base for a top appointment to his Cabinet. On Saturday, apparently bowing to pressure from Western Slope civic and business leaders, Ritter named Russell George, a Republican from Rifle, as head of the Colorado Department of Transportation.Until last weekend, it was safe to say that Ritter and his Cabinet were geographically challenged – all of his appointments up until Saturday’s announcement in Rifle were Front Range politicos.According to published reports, Ritter has, along with the usual bevy of white males, named experienced women, Hispanics and an African-American to his Cabinet. The demographic diversity of his selections deserves a nod of recognition, even if critics say he hasn’t gone far enough. At least he has tried to hire a variety of qualified Cabinet members who share his philosophy on governance.Until the George appointment on Saturday, however, Ritter had ignored the Western Slope entirely. Communities whose livelihoods and sense of self are intimately tied to the land were left out of the loop at the governor’s office. It appeared that Ritter was succumbing to the Front Range myopia that has bred so much mistrust on the Western Slope.Russell George brings strong credentials to his new job. He rose to speaker of the state House of Representatives. His constituency in the House included ranchers in Rifle and outdoor enthusiasts from Glenwood and Carbondale. He ran the state Division of Wildlife from 2000-04 and the Department of Natural Resources from 2004-07. During that time, he led negotiations on water allocation, bringing stakeholders together in a way never tried before to address the issue. He played an important role in brokering the deal that kept Roan Plateau from being completely decimated by gas companies. Through it all, he has brought the moderately conservative voice of the Western Slope to the state capital. He will likely represent the Western Slope well as CDOT’s top dog. A word to George: Please remember that CDOT is more than a department of highways, and provide support for transit programs like the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.A word to Ritter: As you and your new Cabinet make that second round of appointments – the people who actually implement policy and manage the various departments – look to Western Slope and the eastern plains for the kind of geographical diversity that makes Colorado such an interesting place to live.