From campaign give and take to ‘be careful what you dream’

“The single most important thing you can do is leave this place a little bit better than you found it.” — John Love, former Colorado governor.

None of the five candidates running for the at-large seat on the Grand Junction City Council asked for any advice when I moderated last Thursday’s candidate forum out on Orchard Mesa. If they had, the simple but compelling words of former Gov. John Love provide more wisdom than anything I could offer.

It was nice, I mentioned that evening, to be in the front of the room but not the target. But I’ll also admit to some nostalgia as I helped five good people take questions, exchange ideas and present their visions for the future of Grand Junction.

Campaigns are the fun part of elective office — meeting people, being challenged by the give and take, the adrenaline that flows as you compete. There’s nothing quite like it, once you get to the age where high school athletics are a distant memory.

But, for one of the five responding to questions from neighborhood panelists and the audience out at the Mesa County Fairgrounds last week, there’ll be a dose of reality come early May.  Then, as I warned in my introduction, comes the “be careful what you dream” stage, when issues become real, when the questions you answer are no longer theoretical but have consequences, both immediate and lasting.

Sooner rather than later, either John Ballagh, Jim Doody, Aaron Norris, Jacob Richards or Joshua Wussick will find out what unopposed incumbent Sam Susuras and his six compadres in those big chairs behind that semicircle in the council chambers have discovered like many before them. Bennett Boechenstein, who’s running unopposed for the seat of departing City Council member Gregg Palmer, will also learn this truth:

Things look a lot simpler before you’re getting those big briefing books, hearing the pros and cons from constituents and interest groups, and trying to sort out whether $500 a month worth of your time should be focused on big picture things or be consumed by the tempest du jour of who serves snacks at the golf course.

Somewhere along the way, those we choose will have to look a friend or neighbor in the eye and say “No,” and then face the personal consequences of that decision the next day at the gas pump or in the aisles of City Market or Safeway or Albertsons.

The day will come when they’ll realize that some initiative they campaigned for isn’t in the cards — that choices aren’t always between good and bad but are most often between several good things that can’t all be accomplished right now.

Being a City Council member or county commissioner, a legislator, member of Congress, a governor or president, would be a walk on the beach if everything were as black or white as all those loud voices claim it to be.  Office holders find out quickly there are as many shades of gray as there are zeros in a budget.

They’ll find it’s a lot easier to answer “Yes” to a generic question about whether they support historic preservation than it is to decide if Ron and Sherri DeRose should be able to operate a bed and breakfast at Seventh and Chipeta. They’ll realize it’s one thing to support development of Las Colonias and Matchett and Burkey parks, but quite another to find the money to “git ‘er done.”  They’ll learn that being the traffic cop at the intersection of private property rights and neighborhood values is infinitely harder than giving an after-the-fact thumbs down to a gravel pit or a trucking company.

There’ll be no shortage of advice.

The Chamber of Commerce and Western Colorado Congress, The Daily Sentinel and the Downtown Development Association, interest groups and neighborhood associations may all weigh in. Whoever is elected, it’ll be their responsibility to determine whether the few self-anointed voices — those who speak loudest or longest or first, even the 200 people who might crowd the council chambers for some controversial issue — really know what’s best for all 50,000 city dwellers or if the truth lies elsewhere.

Making decisions for your community is hard but rewarding work. I salute those folks on the April ballot who are willing to step forward to do that on our behalf.

Jim Spehar’s thankful both for the opportunity to have been a local elected official and that he’s done. Your comments are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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