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Fitting the focus

Don Rogers

I’m reading through transcripts of speeches last June to the Vail Valley Institute, which each year puts on a three-day seminar on the hottest subject of the moment and gets top-line speakers to come. New York Times columnist David Brooks, author Thomas Frank, Arianna Huffington, Stanford political science professor Morris Fiorina spoke last year.

Last year it was this whole red-blue America thing. It fit, too, in the still fresh wake of the presidential election. It really fit Eagle County, too, which itself split red-blue. The west, or downvalley, went red. The east end, or upvalley went blue. You can see shades of difference in the areas to go with how they tilted in the elections.

Downvalley is more families, and upvalley is more young professionals, as well as retirees who made their second homes primary. Upvalley is the wealthier and is tied close to the ski hills. Lots of downvalley people, like me, work upvalley, but more of us are raising children. That and slightly less expensive homes with more room define us.

More of the middle class, middle management lives here. The upvalley has more wealth, and more of the poor. I’m counting Edwards, the county’s population center, as upvalley, even though they have the richest mix of everything: second-home owners, young retirees, upscale families, young professionals, dirt poor Hispanics in a giant trailer park just underfoot of Cordillera, the gated golf community where Kobe Bryant was caught acting up.

The county taken as a whole has moved left, like the other mountain resort towns in Colorado. The red meat Republicans still form a majority to the more family and church oriented west, and in the rural reaches along the Colorado River Road and ranch holdouts around Burns and McCoy. But the population center in the suburban mid-valley and headwaters of Vail have gone definitely blue. The piece of Eagle County that’s really Aspen’s neighborhood ” Basalt and El Jebel ” are solidly Pelosi-type Democrats. That is to say, completely nuts.

Further, the local Democratic Party has strengthened. They are better organized, more engaged than I’ve seen before. Before, they were a fun bunch but pretty much scatter brained. It was not unusual for their way to telling the press about events was a panicked call about 20 minutes beforehand. The Eagle County Republicans ran like a clock, even if their leadership turned partisan and obnoxiously so. I think that actually turned a lot of us off and away from association with those nuts.

Tom Stone represented the height of local Republican power, and then its end. The partisan touch wore thin quickly, along with he and his wife, Henri’s touchiness. Soon both will be gone from the scene. Henri left the chairmanship of the local party a few years ago, and the Eagle County branch pretty much has drifted since. Tom, in lame duck mode now as county commmissioner, is racing to the end of his term limit. At the commissioner level, term limits are a good thing. It is time for new blood after eight years of the same commissioner, whether Stone or anyone else.

Let’s see if the Democrats this fall will win the third seat on the Board of Commissioners. That would be unprecedented for a once solidly Republican county.

The only thing stopping them will be themselves. Stone never earned a majority in his elections. The Democrats could never have just one candidate for the seat. Their primary loser ran as an independent in the fall race, ensuring that Stone would win, even though he always has been a polarizing figure, not entirely popular with moderate voters inclined to vote Republican. Let’s see if the Democrats have grown a brain this fall.

This year’s Vail Valley Institute seminar ” it’s 15th ” will focus on immigration and globilization. Immigration is a huge issue in Eagle County, too. Right up there with growth. The combination of the institute’s global focus with what’s happening right here makes this seminar particularly valuable. There will be a lot of terrific insights that can help us in Eagle County better understand our challenges with immigrants.


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