DENVER– If it’s tough to pin down Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on gun-control legislation, a bigger challenge is assessing his support for unions. Though Hickenlooper has distanced himself from a pro-union bill, he appointed a teachers’ union boss to become a university trustee.
The Senate debated Thursday Hickenlooper’s appointment of Colorado Education Association union boss Anthony “Tony” Salazar to the Board of Trustees of the University of Northern Colorado.
“We need to really ask the governor what his intentions are here,” said state Sen. Scott Renfroe (R-Greeley). “Why are we potentially putting this conflict in play?”
Salazar is the CEO of the state’s most powerful union which has bankrolled numerous Democrats’ campaigns and leads the charge for a statewide tax hike to fund public schools.
One of the conflicts, Renfroe said, is that Salazar represents K-12 school teachers as well as higher education professors and staffs. Salazar’s day job is negotiating higher pay and benefits for education professionals.
Renfroe asked how Salazar will simultaneously balance his responsibilities as a union boss with the higher education trustee position.
“How do you reconcile that? And where will your allegiance be?” Renfroe said he asked Salazar.
“His answer (was) we need a bigger pie, we need more money,” asserted Renfroe.
“But that’s not the reality,” said the lawmaker, noting the constraints of balancing the state budget. He voiced concerns that Salazar would favor taking money from public schools for higher education – or increase college tuition again.
“Do you want the head of the teachers’ union, whose job is to increase membership and to increase benefits for his members, to be the trustee at… one of the major colleges in our state?” Renfroe asked his peers.
“I’m a teacher,” protested state Sen. Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood) who found it offensive that Salazar’s union boss job was a point of contention.
“It’s unfair to judge a person’s ability by their profession,” steamed Kerr, a curriculum specialist for Jefferson County School District and whose campaign was CEA fueled.
Kerr said there are teachers in both the House and the Senate who have been qualified to discuss and balance funding for K-12 schools and higher education.
But Renfroe countered that there’s a big difference between being appointed by the governor to a board of trustees versus being elected by 150,000 constituents to represent them in the legislature.
“(Salazar) admitted he has no ties to UNC,” said Renfroe. “He’s never lived in northern Colorado.”
A graduate of the University of Denver in 1994, Salazar joined the CEA in 2001 as a lobbyist. He previously worked as associate budget director at the University of Colorado System Office and as a research associate in the Office of Legislative Council.
“I rise in support of my friend Tony Salazar,” declared state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver). “We’ve all spent too much time talking about his day job and his qualifications. I want to speak about his character and his intelligence.”
Steadman said he’s known Salazar since his stint at the Office of Legislative Council nearly 20 years ago. And that experience, he said, gives Salazar unique knowledge of the budget mechanisms for higher education funding.
“I think he’s a man of integrity,” said Steadman, “and he’ll serve honorably.”
Salazar’s appointment to serve a four-year trustee term was approved on a 21-14 vote on a party line division with the exception of state Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) who voted with the majority party.
Hickenlooper issued a statement last month in opposition to a bill that would mandate fire fighter unions on municipalities and rural districts. Then, the governor seemed to be hinting that he would veto the bill if passed by the legislature.