High Country Election Reflection: Time for dialogue

A wave cloud over the Continental Divide lights up at sundown.

Mark Udall will be missed by many in Colorado’s high country towns, where people have developed a culture and lifestyle based on values that mostly transcend political and ideological divides. We don’t squabble so much about gun rights or abortion — mountain culture is global, rooted to natural resources and imbued, for the most part, with an appreciation of a clean and healthy environment.

Udall has hiked, skied and camped across the Colorado mountains and really involved himself in issues that matter to high country dwellers: Forest fires, outdoor recreation, water and wilderness preservation among the most important. He was probably the closest thing we had in Congress to a champion for the mountains, which isn’t surprising, given his family’s legacy, so there was a real sense of sadness in some of the social media comments on his loss to Cory Gardner.

More worrisome was the immediate nasty and partisan edge to some of the comments about Cory Gardner, who will represent Summit County, Vail, Steamboat Springs, Grand County … ALL of Colorado for the next six years.

Instead of setting the stage for more years of bickering and ideological grandstanding, this may be the time to make a genuine effort to reach out across party lines to try and find some common ground, even before the new Congress begins.

That goes for the media, too. Before highlighting conflicts, accusations and allegations, it would be good to take a deep breath and figure out a way to report constructively on Colorado’s new political landscape. That doesn’t mean journalists shouldn’t be watchdogs or that they shouldn’t hold politicians accountable — they should, now more than ever.

But it does mean trying to point the way toward solutions that are in the best interest of all Coloradans instead of ratcheting up expectations for the next horse race. Leave the election rehash and campaign post-mortems to the pundits and focus on what comes next.

The best course is to figure out how to make the best of today’s political reality, as presented by the map. We’re part of an island of blue mountains surrounded by a sea of red, and we need to find ways to encourage Gardner to advocate for what’s important to us here in the high country.

Let’s start by inviting Gardner and his family to visit Summit County to ski and hike the mountains and to enjoy whitewater rafting on a free-flowing stream. After a day outdoors, the Summit Chamber of Commerce, the High Country Conservation Center and the local ski areas can host an economic and environmental roundtable. Gardner would probably hear the same thing from many of the other communities in that blue mountain belt running north-south for the length of the state.

We can explain very clearly that we are concerned about clean water, clean air and climate change, that we’re pretty sure that global warming is caused by greenhouse gas emissions and that we think the government has an obligation to address those issues at the policy level. We can show him how we partner with federal land management agencies to protect the environment and nurture a thriving recreation industry at the same time, and how that’s much more productive win-win path than trying to score ideological points by heeding calls to sell off public lands or to roll back renewal energy production.

At the same time, we need to listen to what Gardner has to say about public lands, energy and the environment. Nobody claims that the current system is perfect, so it’s worth at least having an open mind and considering all options that might be on the table.

My guess is that, if we listen closely, and he listens to us, we will find some goals we agree on. At the same time, we can acknowledge that there’s genuine room for disagreement and debate about how to get there, but that we’ll try.

As for Mark Udall? We’d like to see him spend more time in Colorado, and we suspect he’s looking forward to the same. After some well-deserved time off, he might start thinking about a run for the governor’s chair in four years, because the Democrats, and the state’s majestic Rocky Mountains, need a good candidate.


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