Some Capitol Connections
by Art Goodtimes
Mar 18, 2011 | 859 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MEETINGS … Although some of the daffodils were blooming and a taxi driver took me through the Rock Creek Parkway where a handful of cherry trees were just starting to bloom, DC was all work and little play for me this time around … As it turned out, I almost got to see Bag It at the Warner Theater in town, where the local film was the kick-off for National Geographic’s prestigious Environmental Film Festival. But even that entertainment conflicted with a dinner with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (see below). So I was a no go, although Suzan Beraza flew into town for the showing … Traveling can be the most daunting of any out-of-county trips, and this time was no exception. Not only did the Colorado Counties folks, who paid for me to go, schedule me on a two-day red-eye flight from Montrose, with stops in Charlotte before ending up at Reagan International, but I had a five-hour late night layover in Houston as well (sleeping in an airport plastic chair guaranteed to make your bones ache all the next day). Going home was all in one day (with stops in Pittsburgh and Denver), which wasn’t all that bad. Except U.S. Airways lost my baggage (but they delivered it to Norwood the very next day, which impressed me) … I spent a full week in the nation’s capital this year – mostly for the National Association of Counties (NACo) legislative meeting – which I wrote about last week. And then a couple extra days to attend the Forest Service’s National Forum on their new planning rule – which will guide all forest plans for the next couple decades. A big deal. All the major enviro groups and industry groups were at the Renaissance Hotel for that gathering. I was most interested in the collaboration aspects of the new planning rule that require Forest Service line officers and planners to work with local governments. It’s a light year change from the past, and a real testament to the Obama administration. Under Bush and Undersecretary Mark Ray, the administration pushed through two bad rule-makings and had both of them overturned in court. So, many forests, like the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest, have tried to redo their outdated forest plan, only to get caught in the political mishmash and have to pull it back. Seeing this new plan do its best to give Forest Service line officers the chance to realize adaptive management and balance ecology, economics and social concerns is a delight … The one question I got to ask in public was the failure of the Forest Service to address off-site impacts like housing and transportation in the last ski area expansion in our area – when we were told by Forest Service personnel that off-site impacts weren’t their problem. The new plan makes sure that’s changed, and the agency is required to review local master plans and determine if any actions on the forest’s part are complementary with local regulations. That’s a huge step forward.

FOREST SERVICE … As chair of NACo’s Gateway Communities subcommittee, I’ve teamed up with old agency hand Lyle Laverty on a Natural Resource Academy idea. That meant meetings with Forest Service deputy chiefs – Joel Holtrop, Mary Wagner – and associate deputies and planners Joe Meade, Tony Tooke, Ric Rine – and several trips to the Forest Service national headquarters at 14th and Independence … I missed one meeting with Deputy Chief Jim Hubband, getting all confused with all the shifting dates and times … But lots of work got done, and plans to try and lobby NACo for a multi-year budget for the Forest Service and expanded Resource Advisory Councils. Clearly, the most productive part of this DC trip was all the great Forest Service contacts and the ability to help them put collaboration with local governments at the top of the new planning rule agenda. For that alone, it was very successful. And I felt I made a lot of great contacts that I’ll be able to work with in future years.

MORE MEETS … Our new Third District rep in the House was kind enough to host a dinner for a couple dozen commissioners at the America restaurant in Union Station. It was a chance to meet with him, connect with his staffers, and establish the kind of personal relationships that are crucial for a small county like ours … Mike Hess, Tipton’s chief of staff, promised that he and Scott would be coming to visit Telluride, which was good news. And already I’m talking with Steve Siegel of the Norwood Clinic to see if we can get Scott down there to see all the good federal dollars have done in providing quality health care in our rural areas … Also had dinner in the Democratic National Club with policy analyst, committee staffer for West Virginia’s Rep. Nick Rahall and expert on water Dave Wegner (originally from Durango). I filled him in on our local water issues and he me on the national debates. He is a key contact to have in DC, and I look forward to working with Dave on several water issues … I also had lunch with Greg Walcher, former Club 20 director and Republican natural resources consultant. I’ve always liked Greg, and it’s good to get a perspective on issues from someone on the other side of the aisle … I also had several conference calls with groups back home while I was in DC – one with the Painted Sky group in Montrose (we voted to find a new director) and another with the Colorado Cattleman’s Partners for Western Conservation board trying to get them interested in my Payment for Ecosystem Services project (successfully).

CIVIL UNIONS … Senate Bill 172, to legalize civil unions, made it through a key State Senate Committee vote last week, thanks to Rep. Ellen Roberts, who voted with her Dem colleagues to advance the measure to the full Senate. Sen. Jeanne Nicholson is a co sponsor of this bill – one of my county commissioner allies who’s advanced to the legislature ... “I will be voting in favor of this legislation,” she explained in her weekly newsletter. “Recognizing civil unions, without infringing on the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, will provide couples with security as they face challenges of everyday life such as medical emergencies, estate planning and end-of-life decisions. In these tough economic times, we have a responsibility to ensure that all Coloradans have the tools they need to provide for the ones they love. We are also seeing research that legalizing civil unions will be beneficial for the state economy.” … All of which is true, and pertinent. But given the Republican nature of the House, it’s unlikely this bill will succeed this year … As I’ve stated before, I think government should get out of the business of marrying people. Marriage is a sacrament and should be left to religion. However, the state should grant the legal rights and responsibilities of civil unions to whomever fills out the required forms and wants to make that commitment. That would be a lot cleaner system for all of us.

THE TALKING GOURD "The only thing

he ever really stroked

was my ego."

- Shannon Johnson

Colorado Springs
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