Guest Columns

HARBER: LET'S LOOK BEYOND THE USUAL SUSPECTS

Ritter needs bold choice to replace Salazar

Colorado’s pundits and politicos are advising Gov. Bill Ritter to replace U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar with someone well-known and well-connected in Democratic circles, someone who can raise the millions of dollars likely to be needed for the 2010 election campaign.

Those criteria are too simplistic — if not altogether wrong.

Instead, Ritter needs to make a bold choice, selecting someone who has academic training in economics, significant business experience and an intimate knowledge of the financial world.

Connections, celebrity and fundraising skills will come automatically to whoever is appointed. What will not come are the skills necessary to make a difference for Colorado and the nation.

Our new senator will have two years to establish a record before facing the 2010 election, and his or her reputation will be weighed more carefully than any other factor when voters go to the polls.

Salazar illustrated this with his freshman participation in the bipartisan “Gang of 14.” Because he
aligned himself with this Senate faction, Salazar was involved in many key decisions as he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the Senate’s most senior and best-known
members.

On the Republican side, we have the example set by Tennessee’s junior senator, Bob Corker, a businessman with a degree in industrial management who served as Tennessee’s commissioner of finance and administration during the ’90s. Because the Senate offers few experts in the field of finance, Corker took on a leadership role in the automobile industry bailout.

If Ritter selects the right person, Colorado’s next senator could easily rise to national prominence in a matter of weeks rather than years, especially given the even greater vacuum of financial and business expertise on the Democratic side of the aisle.

It is this type of creative approach that is needed today. And — by selecting that rare person who can succeed in a gloomy and difficult political environment — Ritter ultimately would benefit the state and his re-election efforts.

Today, Democrats are understandably optimistic. They control the nation’s agenda, and they believe they will right America’s economic ship. But the challenge may be far greater than they realize.

If the economy is still in tatters as 2010 approaches, the blame will be laid at the feet of the Democratic Party, and the election is likely to reduce the ranks of its officeholders.

In addition to a senator who can win election in 2010 and help bring federal resources to Colorado, Ritter also should be looking for someone who can be a major player as the multi-trillion-dollar bailout process continues. If Colorado — which has 1.6 percent of the nation’s population — were to get a proportional share of the bailout, it would receive $14 billion.

So far, Colorado’s federal officeholders haven’t been able to get the state anywhere near its proportion of federal expenditures. As a result, Colorado serves as a “donor state,” sending more federal funds to other states than it receives. Our next senator should have the ability to do a much better job for Colorado than both past and current federal officials have done. Ritter knows that — without a significant infusion of federal dollars — the state’s recession will only get worse, and it could last several years.

Colorado’s next senator also should have the financial expertise needed to create bailouts and deals that would be understandable, sensible and transparent to the general public, the business community and the new administration.

As the Bush bailout demonstrated, most government officials know little or nothing about business or the structure of private-sector investment deals. Consequently, the Democratic-controlled Congress and the Republican-controlled White House gave away hundreds of billions of dollars and, with the help of the Federal Reserve, pledged trillions more — all without either the reasonable terms prudent businesspersons normally would require or the regulatory structures needed to avoid abuses.

As a result, we’ve heard story after story of how taxpayer dollars were misused (albeit legally) in deals that made little business sense. When we hear about bailout recipient companies paying year-end bonuses or structuring outrageous retention deals, it becomes clear that both Democrats and Republicans grossly failed in their obligations to taxpayers. These actions were irresponsible and certainly will be a focus of the 2010 campaign.

By being bold and not traveling the typical path trod by those before him, Ritter has the opportunity to aid the entire nation, make a real contribution and help his own chances for re-election. He can do this by appointing the right person to succeed Salazar — someone whose name probably isn’t on the list of usual suspects.

Aaron Harber is host of The Aaron Harber Show on KBDI-TV, Channel 12, www.HarberTV.com.