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McInnis to leave Congress

Dennis Web

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Calling his work is done in Washington, U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis says he is looking forward to returning to Colorado when his term ends in 2004.

The Glenwood Springs native surprised political onlookers when he sent out an e-mail late last week to some key supporters announcing his intentions not to run again for the 3rd Congressional District, which covers much of the Western Slope. Until redistricting, McInnis represented Eagle County in Washington, too.

“I’ve completed my mission,” McInnis said. “My focus right now is coming home. I want to come home to Colorado. This is home.”

Still unclear is whether coming home could mean seeking a job in Denver at some point, in the governor’s mansion. McInnis has been touted as a possible Republican candidate for the job, after fellow Republican Bill Owens is forced out by term limits. But McInnis said he has yet to decide whether to run for governor.

“You never say never, but right now I think it would be fair to say that … our goal is to come back to Colorado. Whatever we can offer Colorado in the future we’ll take a look at, but we’re not talking about coming back with the intent of laying the strategy for another office.”

The Denver Post reported Monday that aides to the congressman say privately that it’s a “near-certainty” he’ll run for governor in 2006.

McInnis plans to hold press conferences later this week to discuss his decision to make this his last term in Congress.

Kohler McInnis, McInnis’ father, a former Glenwood businessman now retired in Grand Junction, said he doubts his son will run for governor.

“There’s been a lot of rumors going about the governorship, and as far as I know he’s not interested in that,” Kohler McInnis said.

Political career

He said of McInnis’ political service, “It’s a very stressful thing and he’s been in it now for over 20 years, either with the state or the federal, so I think he’s ready for a change.”

An attorney and former Glenwood policeman, Scott McInnis was narrowly elected to the state House of Representatives in 1982. He rose over the years to the position of House majority leader, before winning election to Congress in 1992. He sits on the influential House Ways and Means Committee, and has been active in public lands issues as chairman of the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health.

Glenwood mayor Don Vanderhoof, who chaired McInnis’ political campaigns while he was in the state House and remains a close friend, said he spoke with McInnis this weekend and received no indication McInnis planned to seek another office.

“I certainly didn’t get that feeling from him. He just said that he and Lori (his wife) just decided that he had put in enough time. I told Scott I was disappointed because it would be a loss to Colorado but I told him that I certainly respected his decision.”

Got to work

McInnis said he doesn’t yet know what he’ll do after he completes his current term. He noted that he still has a house payment to make, and said he plans to go to work in some form or other.

“That’s my nature. I love hard work,” he said.

“I’m sure that there are a number of opportunities that will arise. I’m going to do something where I will get to spend more time in Colorado,” he said.

McInnis said he could have seen himself saying in his current job “another 10 years or 15 years. I really enjoyed it. … The more I was in it the more I grew in it and the more I grew in it the more I really enjoyed it.”

But in talking with his wife, “We both said, “Hey, you know at some point you’ve got to consider things,'” he said. “We just thought, “Hey, there’s another peak over there, who knows what it is, let’s throw our sail to the wind and see what happens.'”

Choosing when

He said he was shaken by the recent death of a friend, Paul Shideler, who was killed along with a second person when lightning struck them in western Garfield County.

“The one thing you can’t pull in and refuel in the gas station is time, and unfortunately the car you drive doesn’t have a fuel gauge in it,” said McInnis. “I’d rather work to live than live to work.”

He said he and his wife wanted for him to leave Congress on a high, rather than stay too long.

“We wanted it to be a time of our choosing,” he said.

He noted in his e-mail, “I have no political threat, no ethics problem, hopefully no health problem and a wonderful marriage.”

Lori McInnis said she hesitated to say much about her husband’s decision.

“This is something so personal for him. It is for me, too, because we’ve always shared it together. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been good. We’ve done a lot of amazing things, that’s for sure.”

As for the future, she said, “I’m very excited. I think people are so afraid to make changes in their life, and we’re not. It’ll be a whole new ball game, that’s for sure.”

Who has next?

That’s also the case in the 3rd Congressional District, where the next election could be a wide-open battle, after many runaway victories by the incumbent.

Leslie Robinson, chair of the Garfield County Democrats, predicted that interest among Democratic hopefuls will “explode.”

State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, said the congressman’s decision would shake politics up.

“I figured the logical dominoes would have been for (U.S. Sen. Ben Campbell) to run for governor and for McInnis to run for Senate. But it doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen,” Taylor said.

McInnis said he has seen people stay in Congress for a long time and become bitter toward the institution.

“I’m walking away from a lot, but I’m walking away on a good tone, happy and fulfilled,” he said.

Achieved goals

While he has many memories of accomplishments during his term, one that stands out came near the beginning, when he got a bill passed allowing for a land exchange giving the Tree Farm property in El Jebel to Eagle County. Many years earlier, McInnis met his first congressman, his predecessor in the 3rd District, Wayne Aspinall, when the Tree Farm had been first dedicated.

“That’s kind of fun; I saw that entire transition,” McInnis said.

He said part of the success of a congressman comes not in the bills he passes, but those he keeps from passing. He also considered constituent service with such matters as passports and immigration as vitally important.

“I thought we were real masters at it,” he said, crediting the hard work of his staff.

Asked about what he might hope for in the person he replaces him, he said someone who understands Western Slope water issues will be important.

He said he’s confident that whoever replaces him will find a niche and do a good job for the district.

Vanderhoof believes McInnis has done a good job, as well.

“Everybody hasn’t been in agreement with everything he’s done, of course, and they shouldn’t have. If you’ve pleased everybody all of the time, I think you’re not doing a good job.

“The thing that I always admired about Scott was he was a hard worker, he was on the job, he loved his district, his district was very, very important to him and he supported it every way he could as strongly as he could.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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