Jared Wright deserves a second look after his first year in the Legislature
“You need to meet with Jared Wright and hear him out,” read a text from a very good friend, who is also a member of the Colorado General Assembly.
I was glad to accept, and I did. I was interested to hear Wright’s account of what must have been a very challenging last year.
I’ve known Wright a fair amount of time, though never particularly well.
Wright made his way into politics a few years after I did. He was student body president at then-Mesa State College, young Republican Guy, campaign volunteer Dude — you know the type, an ambitious young politico.
During his time as 20-something-campaign hand, he seemed to be aware of the exhortation my father used to dispense when I would get mouthy at the dinner table: Kids are to be seen and not heard. Wright never wanted or tried to be the most charismatic person in the room.
As a young activist, that was Wright’s approach — solid, but not flashy, willing to work, but not one hunting for the spotlight. All good things.
All that changed last year when Wright ran for state representative. They say no press is bad press. Whoever came up with that saying didn’t read The Daily Sentinel last fall.
First, it was his brouhaha with the police chief in Fruita. The chief told Wright to quit or be fired for being tardy and insubordinate during his time on the force.
Wright initially denied he had left involuntarily, then said his boss had an ax to grind.
Then word broke about Wright’s bankruptcy. It struck at the heart of his argument that he was a fiscal conservative.
The backlash from the community, led by key leaders in his own party, was fierce. There was a concerted effort to get him out of the race.
As Election Day drew near, I received calls from all over the state wondering: Is Jared Wright going to survive?
In the end, a hobbled Wright held on, though his standing in the community and in the wider political process was impaired.
But a funny thing happened between then and now. After a couple months on the job, I started hearing with increasing frequency things like this:
“Hey, that Jared Wright isn’t so bad.”
People from various political backgrounds were surprised to discover Wright was smart and genuine.
During semi-regular video-conferences that local business leaders hold with the Mesa County Statehouse delegation, Wright’s ability to articulate issues impressed many people in the room, I’ve been repeatedly told.
Wright’s voting record was consistently conservative, but one left-of-center operative told me that many Democrats in the state Capitol have been taken by how nice a guy he is.
Wright was, for this anecdotal sample at least, nothing like his media caricature.
When I sat down with Wright this summer, I discovered the same. As far as public policy goes, Wright clearly knows his stuff.
But more telling to me was his demeanor. He is still the same understated person I remembered.
He shows all the signs of a guy trying to get his confidence back after taking a severe political beating — much of it, he admits, deserved, some of it, I believe, overdone.
Mostly, he just wants to do a good job.
The political task ahead isn’t easy. Wright has a primary challenge and some pretty shrewd people gunning for him. He’s the only state representative I can recall who got bad press for firing his web designer.
But when I asked him about his detractors during our meeting, he kind of shrugged it off as just being the way it is. That’s a concept that too few in politics ever come to accept.
When Wright asked for my advice, I recommended a whole lot more meetings like ours all across his district. To talk to him face-to-face is to understand that this understated but highly competent young man has a lot to offer. Jared Wright wants a second look, and a second look he deserves.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.