GOP lawmakers blast Democratic leader for criticizing Benson
February 5, 2008
DENVER – The controversy surrounding the nomination of oilman and Republican fundraiser Bruce Benson to lead the state’s flagship university system has spread to the state Capitol.Republican senators criticized House Majority Alice Madden on Tuesday for opposing Benson’s selection as sole finalist for University of Colorado president. Last week, Madden was quoted in published reports as saying she thought Benson’s selection was “a really bad joke” and that, with a bachelor’s degree in geology, he would be “the least educated president ever considered in modern history.” She also said the search committee that picked him had been stacked with Republicans.Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, said some lawmakers were “working aggressively” to undermine Benson’s candidacy. He said Madden and others opposed to him should let the university regents do their job as they consider whether Benson should be hired to replace Hank Brown, who is stepping down.”We would expect students in Boulder to throw a temper tantrum. We expect more from the members of this assembly,” Penry said.Madden declined to comment Tuesday. Benson, who was visiting CU’s Colorado Springs campus Tuesday, didn’t immediately return a message left at his office.CU spokesman Ken McConnellogue said it makes sense that lawmakers are paying close attention to what happens at the school.”Obviously our legislators have a keen interest in the future of the university because it’s tied so closely to the health of the state and we understand that interest,” he said.Penry said he and three other senators, Nancy Spence, Greg Brophy and Mike Kopp, decided to publicly speak out about Madden’s comments after discussing them on the floor of the Senate.Kopp said Benson’s dedication to CU was demonstrated by the $1 billion fundraising campaign he led. He also pointed out that Gov. Bill Ritter appointed him to serve as a co-chair of a panel studying the future of Colorado’s education system, from kindergarten through graduate school.CU regents voted 7-2 last Wednesday to pick Benson as the sole finalist after meeting with a committee charged with conducting a nationwide search. The committee interviewed fewer than 10 candidates but no other names were released.The regents have to wait until at least Feb. 13 to decide if they will hire Benson but McConnellogue said no date for a vote has been set. Since being named the finalist, Benson has been visiting CU campuses to meet with faculty, staff, students and alumni, McConnellogue said.Benson helped found the Trailhead group in 2005 with former Gov. Bill Owens and beer magnate Pete Coors to help elect Republican candidates. He and Owens both supported Referendum C, which helped provide more funding for higher education by allowing the state to keep tax surpluses for five years. Many Republican lawmakers opposed it.Benson’s family donated money to build the earth sciences building on CU’s Boulder campus and a portrait of him was discovered vandalized there Monday. The graffiti accused him of being a “right-wing nut” and claimed the reason he’s being considered for president is the amount of money he’s given the school.