John Swartout, Gov. John Hickenlooper's point man over the last five years on greater sage-grouse and other rural issues, will be the next executive director of Colorado Counties Inc.
Swartout will begin working for the nonprofit association of counties after finishing up Jan. 7 as senior policy adviser to Hickenlooper, who is term-limited and will be succeeded by Governor-elect and fellow Democrat Jared Polis.
Swartout told The Daily Sentinel he wasn't interested in staying on in his current job under the new administration.
"Five years is a long time to work for a governor," said Swartout, who said he worked 70-hour weeks, and worked a straight 90-day stretch during the wildfire season.
But he said he loved the job and working with people of all interests on the Western Slope and other rural parts of the states. He described his position as "special and unique," as he had direct access to the governor in dealing with rural issues.
Swartout said the idea of his position came up during a meeting in Craig on sage-grouse and other things, when Western Slope interests told Hickenlooper they didn't think they were being listened to.
"They just asked to have someone they could work with," Swartout said.
Swartout is the longest-serving member of Hickenlooper's policy team. He previously had worked on environmental and other issues for former U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard and former Gov. Bill Owens, both Republicans, and has been executive director of Great Outdoors Colorado and the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts.
Working for Hickenlooper, Swartout has been particularly involved with the greater sage-grouse issue, seeking to balance protection of the bird with preservation of activities such as oil and gas development and ranching. The state, local counties, conservationists and others participated when the Bureau of Land Management in 2015 revised its resource management plans with a goal of better protecting sage-grouse habitat so the bird doesn't need to be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Those entities, with Swartout playing a leading role, likewise have been involved with the BLM's ongoing effort to amend those plans under the Trump administration.
He also has been involved in other issues, from how to deal with coal mine methane emissions to supporting the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas terminal proposal in Oregon that could open up Asian markets to Western Slope natural gas producers. When the federal government agreed to refund money paid for canceled oil and gas leases under a settlement involving the Roan Plateau, Swartout worked to help make sure the state repaid all of Colorado's share of the refund so local counties weren't on the hook for any of that cost. He also was involved in the Anvil Points funds resolution, which involved the federal government's long-sought release to local counties of oil and gas revenues left over following the cleanup of an oil shale research site near Rifle.
"No one understands the true benefits of collaboration better than John Swartout," Hickenlooper said in a news release Friday. "He is a true mastermind at resolving conflicts by skillfully bringing together opposing parties, and finding the right compromise for the common good."
Said Swartout, "I love working with local governments and I think it's a place where bipartisanship is still a big deal and still matters, because they (local elected officials) have to go to the grocery store with their constituents."
Swartout is succeeding longtime CCI executive director Chip Taylor, now deputy executive director at County Technical Services Inc., a nonprofit, member-owned entity that provides insurance products to Colorado counties.