Doing as we say in D.C., not as we (sometimes) do at home

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Few of us, given the nature of current events, hesitate even for a moment to criticize members of Congress and others in our nation’s capital for the governmental deadlock that seems to preclude any real progress in solving problems ranging from the budget and deficit to energy policies, with many other issues in between. 

Fewer of us stop to think about the many ways we’re sometimes guilty of the same sort of thinking closer to home.

I’ve had several opportunities recently to witness discussions that began the same way many of those arguments start in Congress — with an insistence on defining any new issue or opportunity by first revisiting past conflicts, by redrawing some real or imagined line in the dirt before the new battleground is established.

It happens with disappointing frequency in discussions about water, including some witnessed in my late-January jaunt to Denver for the annual meeting of the Colorado Water Congress.

I was again reminded that, here in western Colorado, we have to first mark the hydrant about the dreaded Front Range, the whole litany of historic diversions of “our” water over the Continental Divide. Only then do we attempt to resolve the various issues that will remain before us so long as most of Colorado’s population is on the sunrise side of the mountains and most of the remaining available water is over here where we’re last to see the sun before it slides beneath the western horizon.

Another reminder came earlier this month when a handful of locals gathered in a conference room on Independent Avenue for a teleconference aimed at gathering opinions on reorganizing the combined board that will govern activities of two newly-joined state agencies, the Division of Wildlife and Colorado State Parks. Multiple times, here in Grand Junction and at similar venues across the state, participants were treated to reruns of several old arguments, some of which had little to do with facilitating the merger of two separate boards into one.

We listened to recaps of battles over whether the governing body ought to be comprised mostly of those who “pay to play” via license fees for hunting, fishing, boats and off-road vehicles at the expense of others whose outdoor recreation might be hiking or climbing, bird watching or photography or just relaxing quietly in some state park.

Ranchers and guides, as well as members of wildlife organizations, found it necessary to hoist their flags on their versions of the high ground. Often ignored was the thought that lands, rivers and streams and wildlife might belong to all Coloradans, not just the roughly one-half of us who actively engage the resources in question and pay fees for our various activities.

Friday of last week I sat in on the meetings of a couple of Club 20 issue committees where the same sort of thing happened.

Early on in one committee’s discussion of the Colorado effort just getting under way to determine what Colorado residents might think about pressing state issues, there had to be a comparison of this new effort with several panels and commissions put in place by the Ritter administration that, in the opinion of the local speaker, resulted in little of value to those of us on the Western Slope.

In another committee, a report on issues surrounding possible designation of the Colorado National Monument as a national park included acknowledgement that old battles over access to Glade Park and Fruita’s water line and newer ones about bicycle events color the question in the eyes of some, despite the fact that there’s no difference in management practices between national parks and national monuments.

It is important that we learn from history so as not to repeat past mistakes. It’s also clear that dwelling on the past, using battles won or lost to define current issues in a way that hampers resolving them, unnecessarily delays progress.

It’s a lesson we need to learn here at home as well as in Washington, D.C.

“Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.” — Mark Twain


Jim Spehar realizes he’s not immune to the illness he describes. And he welcomes your comments at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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