John Hickenlooper’s promise to approach Colorado’s problems from a bipartisan perspective met its first challenge this week. Governor-elect Hickenlooper began filling Cabinet positions with the stated goal of representing Colorado’s political and regional diversity.
Hickenlooper’s Cabinet picks immediately came under fire from Republicans in the Colorado Senate who will participate in the approval process for his nominations. And while Hickenlooper (a Democrat) will surely face opposition on one or more appointees, Democratic control of the State Senate has ensured him fair latitude in making selections.
Easily the least controversial of Hickenlooper’s appointments was his selection last Friday of Major General Michael Edwards as Executive Director of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Maj. Gen. Edwards held the same position in outgoing Governor Bill Ritter’s Cabinet, and also serves as The Adjutant General for Colorado, overseeing the state’s National Guard & Civil Air Patrol.
Easily the most controversial appointment by incoming Governor Hickenlooper was his selection this week of prominent progressive activist and union executive Ellen Golombek to head Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment.
Ellen Golombeck served as National Campaign Director at Progressive Majority, a Washington, DC-based activist organization that educates and supports progressive candidates for elected office. She currently holds a position as the state director for America Votes, a liberal group which works to promote voter registration and orchestrate GOTV efforts.
Golombek formerly served as the Political Director of the Colorado branch of the AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation of labor unions. Ellen moved on to a position as the National Campaign Director of Americans for Health Care at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Washington, DC before becoming the Assistant to the Secretary-Treasurer, Director of Government Affairs in 2005. She also worked for Planned Parenthood in DC.
The selection of a noteworthy union executive to head the Department of Labor and Employment was doomed to draw criticism from Senate Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp (R-Littleton) fired off a round immediately, characterizing the pick as anti-business and pro-partisan.
“Gov.-elect Hickenlooper’s appointment to the Department of Labor may certainly take some of the air out of the bipartisan atmosphere he has promised to promote as governor,” said Kopp on Tuesday. “His selection of a noted progressive activist and a union boss in Ms. Golombek certainly will raise plenty of eyebrows in the business community, and with good reason.”
To offset his pick for the state’s top labor executive, Hickenlooper moved right and to the west in selecting a top executive for the Department of Local Affairs.
Hickenlooper picked West Slope Republican Reeves Brown to orchestrate the state government’s local outreach efforts. The Dept. of Local Affairs offers financial and technical assistance, emergency management services, property tax administration and programs addressing affordable housing and homelessness to Colorado communities.
Reeves Brown is the current Executive Director of Club 20, a coalition of West Slope counties founded in 1953 to ensure a stronger voice for Western Colorado. Brown is an ideal political hire for John Hickenlooper because Club 20 is a conservative-leaning organization that has successfully integrated liberal perspectives into its agenda.
Balance For Now
Republicans in the Senate will undoubtedly point to Golombeck’s strong liberal background as a damning characteristic. However, like Brown, Ellen has spent considerable time brokering deals between conservative and liberal elements, albeit from a definitively progressive perspective.
Assuming Hickenlooper’s pro-business mantra holds true from the top of his organization, the addition of a metro liberal and a rural conservative to John’s new Cabinet is a clever move by his administration.
Unless Golombeck starts handing down decidedly pro-labor policy positions that make it more expensive to operate businesses in Colorado. The next few months should reveal Hickenlooper’s true agenda as he takes the reigns of a predominantly liberal state government from Democratic predecessor Bill Ritter and seeks a productive balance.
Democratic Majority Leader Sal Pace (D-Pueblo) leveled an alternate analysis of Hickenlooper’s appointments saying, “Golombek comes out of labor and has a history of working-class values. She’s a perfect fit. I know Reeves Brown well, and I think he’s a very good pick who works hard for communities throughout Colorado. He’ll bring a pro-business, pro-rural vantage point to DOLA. These appointments show perfect balance.”
Last week Hickenlooper filled other cabinet positions by nominating Tanuj “TJ” Deora as Executive Director of the Governor’s Energy Office and Sue Birch as Executive Director of the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.
Deora is a Denver-based project manager for Horizon Wind Energy, a Houston wind farm producer. TJ will spearhead one of Hickenlooper’s pet projects; moving Colorado towards energy independence through the development of alternative energy production.
Birch is another West Slope product (Steamboat Springs) and is the CEO of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. Sue has worked with NWCOVNA for 17 years providing health care services and health education to NW Colorado residents.
In another nod to Colorado Republicans, Hickenlooper nominated 10-year legislative veteran Al White to lead the Colorado Tourism Office. White is another well-known face of the West Slope, serving in Denver representing the 8th Senate District. Al’s wife Jean was selected by a Republican nominating committee to replace him in the Senate.