Ponytailed, liberal and a member of the Green Party, San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes served for 10 years on the board of Club 20, a traditionally conservative organization that promotes Western Slope opinions on issues and policy. Goodtimes had been Club 20’s “poster child” representing the organization’s attempt to move to the philosophical middle as more Democrats and environmentalists make inroads into the Western Slope’s political scene, especially concerning oil and gas development.
The progressive movement within Club 20 might have taken a step forward recently, but with Goodtimes’ resignation on Tuesday under the charge that energy companies have taken over, Club 20’s attempt to politically diversify seems to have now taken two steps back.Club 20 is a civic and political organization that has represented the interests of 23 counties on the Western Slope on issues such as growth, energy development, the environment, transportation and public policy since 1953. Several months ago, Club 20 Executive Director Reeves Brown acknowledged those interests have had a conservative Republican and pro-energy industry bent in the past because it reflected the political will of the Western Slope. However, as more Democrats have been elected west of the Divide and as environmental groups have gained influence, Brown claimed Club 20 has slowly moved to more moderate views.
In fact, just last year, former Republican legislator and current CU Regent Tillie Bishop said he had noticed the change: “Club 20 is modifying its philosophy to be more sensitive to the environment and the development of natural resources.”
The San Miguel commissioner couldn’t have agreed more at that time. Goodtimes had been a Club 20 board of directors member for a decade, and he had also observed the recent turn. “The old guard has seen the writing on the wall,” Goodtimes said at the 2007 Club 20 fall meeting last September. “To reinvigorate Club 20, they realized that they had to start shifting to the middle.”
However, also on the horizon of political changes on the Western Slope has been the rapid growth of the energy industry, especially in the Grand Junction-based Club 20’s back yard. Recent former Club 20 chairs with oil and gas interests have included Craig area rancher and former Republican Moffat County commissioner, T. Wright Dickenson and Colorado Oil and Gas Association lobbyist and former Republican Mesa County commissioner, Kathy Hall. Over half of Club 20’s corporate sponsors are from the energy field.
Featured on a new Club 20 member recruitment brochure was a photo of the longhaired, hippy-looking Goodtimes. “Art was the poster child of the organization’s diversity of interests and political philosophies,” Pitkin County Commissioner and another decade-long Club 20 activist, Rachel Richards, observed.
Yet, ironically, that association had abruptly ended by the time the brochure was distributed two weeks ago. Goodtimes had lost his quest to unseat the president-elect and Moffat County Natural Resources director, Jeff Comstock, a Republican, whose job includes reviewing the bids and terms for county mineral leases. “I wanted to break the pro-industry chain of command,” Goodtimes said. “So I ceremoniously ran for president.”
Then oil and gas consultant and Republican Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis successfully ousted Goodtimes after a two-year stint as executive board secretary. “When Club 20’s executive board chose Meis, their true colors were showing,” Goodtimes claimed.
With accusations that the oil and gas industry has taken over Club 20, Goodtimes decided it was time to quit his 10-year association with the organization.
In his open resignation letter to Club 20, Goodtimes wrote:
I am sorry to have to end my decade-long association with Club 20.
I thought I offered the Club a diverse perspective from one of the more economically successful counties on the Western Slope, and I did my best to work in partnership with other interests in order to arrive at collaborative positions appropriate to our far-flung membership. However, when an organization gives an officer a vote of no confidence, I believe that the only appropriate action is resignation.
Still, I believed that Club meetings provided a valuable regional forum for diverse interests and at times in its 60+ year history this Western Slope institution has done exactly that. But not so currently. The Club has been taken over by the oil & gas industry, from its recent leadership to its big gun funders.
Goodtimes said he tried to convince the chair, who can appoint members to the board, to consider progressive members like Democrat Rachel Richards in Aspen. That attempt failed, too.
“People from San Miguel thought I was crazy to try to work with Club 20 all these years,” Goodtimes noted. He admitted Club 20’s conservative political philosophy is not in line with residents from Telluride. “I’m going to present a formal proposal to the San Miguel commissioners next week, but as far as I’m concerned, our ties are severed with what I now call Club 19.”
Duke Cox, interim director of the environmentalist group Western Colorado Congress, said that although the WCC is a member, Club 20 continues to be less and less a voice of Western Colorado and more of oil and gas mouthpiece.
“I think Goodtimes is right in his assertion,” Cox said. “Club 20’s claim of diversity has lost its message. The majority of people on the Western Slope want to protect air, water and environment from the negative impacts of energy development, but Club 20’s actions are in exact opposite of that desire.” Cox said Club 20 has earned the nickname ‘COGA-20’ in some political circles.
As an example to support Goodtimes’ claim that oil and gas interests have taken over Club 20, Richards said at the spring executive board meeting, she offered the amendment to move some of the bullet points around under Club 20’s energy development policy.
“The first point says, ‘Be it resolved that Club 20 believes that rules regarding the development of Colorado’s oil and gas reserves should be to support and encourage the development of Colorado’s oil and gas reserves,'” Richards said. “But I felt that people should be put first, so I suggested the bullet point that reads, “To provide appropriate protections for public health, wildlife and the environment’ be moved up to the first position. With arguments to the contrary led by COGA lobbyist Kathy Hall, the committee flatly refused to consider it.”
Reeves acknowledged Club 20 has had to deal with the stigma of conservatism, but he denies the energy industry has a pull over membership. “We still have a one person, one vote rule. Even though Hall may be vocal, she has only one vote,” he noted. “Art has scared some traditionalists but our board and committees have diverse representation and what comes out of them is good policy. Our future depends on who is active. People can embrace change or fight against it,” he said.
Richards disputes some of Reeves’ statements. “I haven’t checked everyone’s political affiliation on the 14-member executive board and committee chairmanships, but I have yet to find a Democrat or an environmentalist now that Art is gone. That’s diversity?”
However, Richards says she is going to continue to be active in Club 20. “Art had his reasons for leaving, but I can’t let the organization become even more one-sided,” she said. “Art will be missed. He was more than willing to collaborate on key issues, saying this is how we grow consensus. But now, in my opinion, Club 20 has a winner-take-all attitude.”
She was especially unhappy with the recent policy change that allows one representative from the pool of top corporate sponsors, of which five out of six include energy companies such as Chevron, Williams Production and EnCana, to have a seat on the executive board. “The biggest loss to Club 20 is the perception that they are an industry puppet and now any position they make, is taken with a grain of salt.”
Richards reflected on one incident during the spring meeting that highlighted her concern about the influence the energy companies have on Club 20. “During the invocation before the main dinner event, the minister asked for a blessing on the two main oil and gas dinner sponsors. Frankly, I would have rather had beanies n’ weenies to eat than to thank God for Chevron and Shell,” she said.
Top photo: San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes. Second photo: Reeves Brown, executive director of Club 20. Third photo: In the audience at the spring meeting, Colorado Oil and Gas Association lobbyist and former Club 20 chair, Kathy Hall (lf) with Meg Collins, president of COGA. Fourth photo: In the hall of the 2008 Club 20 spring meeting: Left to right, Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards; David Nesbitt, director of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; Russell George, director of Dept. of Transportation, and Harris Sherman, director of Dept. of Natural Resources. Fifth: graph of counties in Club 20. All photos by Leslie Robinson — except for Reeves Brown and map from Club 20