By SEAN GOODBODY
With plenty of progressive candidates and questions on city ballots this spring, this election felt like a referendum on what Grand Junction is to become this decade. The Sentinel’s Wednesday editorial said it best: “(This election) felt to us ... like a choice between moving forward or applying the brakes and trying to reel the city back from becoming too visionary.”
Tuesday night, Grand Junction voters made progressive decisions in a way I have not seen in my nearly 10 years here. The three left-of-center City Council candidates (Herman, Reitz, Taggart) and the needed watchdog candidate (Simpson) all won by landslide margins. Pro-marijuana measures also won by large margins. First, congrats to all the organizers who made these wins possible. It’s not easy selling new ideas (or new people) in Grand Junction.
Next: What a surprise! In the past, I’ve wondered about Grand Junction: “Will it be an ambitious small city that strides forward to lead the western part of the state, and the region? Or will it remain a small town, locked into its assumed limitations?” I’ve asked whether the city will take steps to build up its schools, show compassion to the homeless and alleviate poverty, and lead on criminal justice reform. I posited that we could do all these things, as long as we had the will.
According to the City Council victors during their campaigns, they have the will to do those things. And now it’s time to make sure they’re done, and done equitably so that we all share in the city’s future success.
Expanding local small business and creating jobs was a big topic for each candidate. But we need to make sure workers are paid a living wage and have adequate benefits — no matter if the employer is an industry titan like Walmart or mom-and-pop shops on the corner. Yes, any job is better than no job. But do you know what’s better than just any job? A good-paying, steady job that puts money into consumers’ hands.
The candidates talked about addressing challenges with unhoused populations. Let’s make sure that’s done with housing and wraparound supportive services — like mental health and social services — so that unhoused people get a roof over their head and keep it. People are people and deserve support and compassion.
Mr. Reitz in particular talked about family values. To me, family values are about supporting families: good wages, support for new mothers, affordable childcare, health-care benefits. And — this cannot be said loudly enough — well-funded schools and well-paid teachers. We must affirm that “family values” are tangible things that make families thrive, not just ideas about what families should look and act like.
Affordable housing is an urgent need. The cost of living in Grand Junction has risen dramatically in recent years. Building new housing is great, but we must make sure new builds are not just for those with substantial income. The poor and working class live here, too. Without all our people, this city would not function. All people deserve safe, affordable housing, and in places close to services.
Most of the council candidates expressed reluctance to endorse marijuana measures, but the move to bring commercial marijuana sales to Grand Junction is long overdue. Marijuana is safer than alcohol, people are buying it, and the city might as well get in on those sales. However, the connection between commercial sales and the criminal justice system cannot be ignored. I’ve never forgotten a tweet from a guy named Aaron (@BearCov): “When the dispensary looks and operates like an Apple Store, it’s time to release a lot of incarcerated human beings.” If people are getting rich off marijuana, then poor people should not be in jail for it. This must be an immediate priority for Grand Junction.
This community has deep conservative roots. In the past those roots have manifested themselves as isolation from other communities, keeping things the same, and tightfistedness with public dollars. But those are not necessarily conservative values: I know conservatives who thirst for progress in this town. And we now have a City Council to make some strides.
But those strides should be made with everyone in mind, and everyone should be pulled along. The good-old-boys/girls club will be just fine (they always are). Previously unrepresented community members yearn for a voice in local matters, and it’s time they had one. Let’s build better schools, pay workers better, house the unhoused, and include underrepresented voices. It’s time: the voters said so.
Sean Goodbody is a Grand Junction attorney representing injured workers all over western Colorado. Email email@example.com.