Bringing the battle home
On the heels of every regional and national tragedy, when the grieving gives way to discussion and debate, there almost always comes a wave of local political posturing.In the late autumn of 2001, Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone called for the signing of a resolution that condemned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and supported President Bush’s response. Commissioner Arn Menconi was absent and the measure passed with votes from Stone and Michael Gallagher, but Stone called another public meeting on the issue and wrote a column for a local newspaper questioning Menconi’s beliefs.When confronted on his failure to vote on the issue, Menconi said he supported some of the ideas in the measure but that he wasn’t confident about the portion declaring unwavering allegiance to President Bush and a national policy that endorsed violence as a principle means of retribution.In the past few weeks more than 147 city, state and county governments in the United States have passed some form of a resolution endorsed by Cities for Peace, an organization that is bringing municipal governments together to urge President Bush and his administration to avoid war in Iraq and pursue further diplomatic options.About a dozen Colorado cities and counties signed a resolution similar to Eagle County’s in late 2001. Now, about 10 have signed Cities for Peace resolutions and nine more are considering the matter.Although signing the 9/11 resolution in 2001 became a driving and divisive issue for the commissioners, this time around all three say there will be no resolution passed in Eagle County similar to the ones recently approved in Denver, Boulder, Crested Butte, Pitkin County, Telluride and other Colorado communities or for that matter, one that backs the president.”If there were to be a resolution passed, it would be one in support of the president,” Stone says. “And I only see that as a very remote possibility.”Stone says the time is not right for official support of any upcoming liberation/invasion of Iraq, but he personally supports any move President Bush may make.”I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to take a position on a national issue; I represent local issues,” says Stone. “This is different than when we came together and united as a nation on Sept. 11, and demonstrated (by signing a county resolution) that we were united as Americans.”Gallagher, a veteran of the Vietnam War, says a resolution was reasonable the last time around because war had been declared against terrorism. But he adds a resolution endorsed by Cities for Peace isn’t necessary.”If we go to war, and I hope we don’t, but if we do, I think it’s important to support (it),” he says. “And I don’t know if that means passing a resolution or praying for our troops and our nation, which I’m already doing.”All three commissioners said voters shouldn’t be affected by a candidate’s stance on national issues. But the last resolution had near-dire consequences for Menconi, who was the subject of a recall attempt led by three members of the local Veterans of Foreign War post Theron “Buddy” Sims, Marshall Gordon of Edwards and Nick Varsames of Eagle-Vail. That dire fallout from Menconi’s abstention was never realized, as the petition came up short of the signatures needed to put the recall on the ballot.”I don’t think I know the answer to (why there was a resolution in 2001), other than that was a more emotional time,” Menconi says. “America had been attacked and it was a boiler-plate resolution that was sent down to all counties around the country.”The $100 billion questionThe state legislature of Maine is among the 140 non-federal bodies that passed a resolution supporting further diplomatic actions before attacking Iraq. About $267,000,000 of an estimated $100 billion war budget would come from Maine taxpayers’ pockets. That money, the resolution stated, “could really go a long way to meeting our health and education needs.”Elected town, county, city and state officials from around the nation are posing this same question to the federal government. Maine Democrats aren’t alone in using the financial argument to justify their right to speak on the war issue, but Maine Republicans were “saddened by the attempts to link national security with financial aid to our state,” as Sen. Kenneth Blais, R-Litchfield, put it in the Portland Press Herald.The Eagle County commissioners all agree that a conflict in Iraq would have an effect on Eagle County, but the question is how it would impact us and what Eagle County citizens can do about it.”One simple action people can take is by conserving energy, either through their car use, or building homes that save energy or other means,” Menconi says, drawing a connection between energy demands, Middle Eastern political power and America’s foreign policy in the region.But he agrees that these types of actions have only long-term consequences.When it comes to immediate ripple effects of the conflict, both Stone and Gallagher point toward a higher-than-projected year-to-date revenue to show that, so far, there hasn’t been a negative impact. Menconi notes that the war on terror has encouraged our health and emergency officials to refocus on terror threats that weren’t a concern before 9/11. He also says that emergency personnel are working in a more integrated manner.War worries were incorporated into the yearly revenue projections that Stone and Gallagher say we have surpassed. Concerns over the conflict have also had a strong pull when it comes to budget allocation.”If you’re an elected official, you’re always looking at (state and federal) budgets, because it impacts you,” Menconi says. “It trickles down to the local community.”Leaders and forumsStone and Gallagher recently returned from a trip to Washington D.C., where they met and spoke with state and federal Republican officials such as Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Rep. Scott McInnis (who sits on the NATO parliamentary assembly), and Menconi will talk with Democratic leader and potential presidential candidate Gary Hart March 14, when he comes to the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek.Foreign policy discussions occur during these meetings, all agree, but the commissioners say they are acting as individual citizens during these talks, not as representatives of Eagle County voters.People like Marshall Gordon, who was one of the three men who circulated the petition to have Menconi recalled, say commissioners are in a unique position to forward support or disapproval of government actions.”Although it’s not their primary position, anybody in government also has a little bit more image, or whatever it is, but obviously they can voice an opinion,” Gordon says.Stone took the opportunity to do just that during his recent meetings with Campbell and McInnis.”As another citizen, I fully support the president,” Stone says. “What we’re doing (in the Middle East) is not nation building. I think it’s up to the U.N. and the U.S. to help the Iraqi people rebuild their own country, and guide them to installing their own version of a freedom-loving government.”This would not be a pre-emptive strike,” he adds.Menconi disagrees, saying any military action would be perceived as a pre-emptive strike by the world community, and would be followed by “Kosovo-like nation building.”Saddam is a dictator and he is making weapons of mass destruction,” Menconi adds. “The fundamental question is do we think he will give them to terrorists who will use them on the United States. That’s what we have to calculate against the lives of our troops, difficult future foreign relations and unknown effects to our economy and national security.”
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