Appreciation due current local pols and former leaders back in the fray

“The world must be coming to an end,” Janet Rowland said as she approached me at a forum on the proposed District 51 mill levy override.  “It looks like we finally agree on something.”

Regular readers of The Daily Sentinel’s editorial page might recall just a few occasions when I’ve been ever-so-slightly critical of Rowland and her fellow Mesa County commissioners. It’s not as if they haven’t jockeyed for position to hold the big red bull’s-eye while making some questionable decisions or engaging in some curious activities.

Ditto for State Sen. Steve King, an admittedly nice guy who, in the eyes of yours truly and other critics, usually falls a bit short of our standard for thoughtful decision-making as a legislator.

But, by any standard, King and Rowland deserve accolades for stepping up, at considerable personal political risk, to support the local school tax override question that’s on the ballot this fall. If you have any doubts about the political heat they’re taking, just peruse the comments on the Sentinel’s web page following any stories mentioning their support.

It seems anything short of rigid perfection regarding taxes fails the test of the slash-and-burn crowd that would like to drown any manifestation of government — federal, state or local — in the nearest bath tub. It’s the equivalent, on the other side of the political spectrum, of the earnest young woman from Telluride who, with a very straight face, asked me recently whether I thought Democrats ought to mount a primary challenge to President Barack Obama.

It won’t surprise either Rowland or King to learn they’re holding office without the benefit of my vote. I hope it won’t surprise them to also see some public appreciation for their courage in choosing the education of our kids over conventional political expectations. The rest of us should follow their example.

Enough about our current commissioners. Let’s look to the future and the 2012 election, which will bring new occupants to the seats currently held by Rowland and Craig Meis.

I move the nominations cease.

John Leane’s announcement last Wednesday that he’ll be running as an independent for the commissioner seat now held by Meis gives me a full slate to vote for a year from now. I can’t think of two better replacements for Meis and Rowland than Leane and previously announced GOP contender Paul Nelson — no matter the laundry list of folks who Leane will be up against in District 1 and Nelson’s only other announced opponent, fellow-Republican Rose Pugliese.

And yes, that does include any possible candidates my own party might come up with between now and the 2012 balloting.

Full disclosure: I consider Leane a friend. But it’s not like we meet at the coffee shop every Friday and pretend to solve the problems of the world. I did make his nominating speech when he was elected county commissioner back in 1988. And I served with him as a commissioner in the final two years of his term. It’s safe to say we saw more of each other over those two years than in the intervening span of time, now pushing three decades.

Here’s what I remember from watching John, Dick Pond and Doralyn Genova wrestle with tough decisions and gut-wrenching budget questions as Mesa County struggled to rebound from “Black Sunday,” and from the time we spent making some hard choices in the first two years of my own term.

John Leane does his homework and makes decisions based upon what he’s learned, not on the politics of the day. No commissioner will ever outwork him. He’s a listener who’s open to, even encourages, opposing ideas. And you’ll need to listen intently when he speaks, because he’s not pushy or loud and is, above all, a gentleman.

If there’s any time in contemporary local politics when a candidate not affiliated with one of the two major parties might be elected, this is probably it. Let’s hope so. A couple of years with Commissioners Leane, Nelson and Acquafresca might make us forget all we’ve put up with recently.

Jim Spehar suspects local Democrats might not be too happy with this column. Their thoughts, and yours, are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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