The division between urban and rural communities is a tension as old as democracy itself. Walker Stapleton and Jared Polis should be commended for doing their part to address the urban-rural divide in Colorado by participating in the Rural Colorado Debate on Oct. 6 at Colorado Mesa University.
From the town of Maybell near the Wyoming border to Cortez and Durango in the southernmost reaches of the state, Colorado's rural communities face challenges unique to remote regions of the Centennial State. Federal land-use tensions, limited infrastructure, shortages of water and changes in agricultural represent just a few items in a long list of issues spoken about by communities who feel left behind. Likely, the disenfranchisement felt by some rural residents is both real and perceived. But the political underrepresentation of rural Colorado in undeniable. Nearly 60 percent of Colorado residents live in just five of the state's 64 counties. This fact leaves the remaining 39 percent wondering how the priorities of urban-centric legislators will affect their economies, communities and future. And wonder they well should. After all, demographic changes in Colorado are shifting the urban political dynamics dramatically. All the while, many rural Colorado communities remain largely static economically and culturally.
While much is made of today's conflicts between cities and rural regions, the problem is one people have grappled with for centuries. The ancient metropolis of Athens, with its progressive aristocracy, was underwritten by the majority of Greek residents who were agrarian farmers. History of the glory of ancient Rome often forgets to discuss the never-ending tensions between urban dwellers and the grain farmers and Roman residents, merchants, miners and millers who lived and worked in pastoral Italy.
Today, in America, the urban-rural divide reveals itself broadly between the population-dense coastal states and the sparsely inhabitated interior lands. States often serve as a microenvironment mirroring the national dynamic. While these demographic challenges persist, and are ever-pressing, the Rural Colorado Debate partners are committed to hosting a statewide gubernatorial forum, held in rural Colorado, focused specifically on rural issues. This rural debate will be available for the first time to all Colorado residents. The discussion between Mr. Stapleton and Congressman Polis will be delivered to all through a primetime broadcast on Rocky Mountain PBS; by publishing and reporting on debate outcomes in rural newspapers; and, by meeting people in rural Colorado where they are via technology and collaboration.
Rural Coloradans can watch the debate at home or on their electronic devices or computers. For those with technological challenges and internet limitations, the debate sponsors are working with other partners to host community debate-watch opportunities. We will also provide individuals with a platform to list and advertise community watch parties.
Why broadcast a rural debate statewide? Urban legislators will develop empathy for rural issues when their constituents do the same. The only way to develop policies that benefit all Colorado residents is through rigorous debate in the public forum easily observable to all Colorado voters. No matter who ends up in winning the November election, RMPBS, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and Colorado Mesa University will have worked to make each politician accountable to rural Colorado when their tenure as governor begins. This is the role of universities and free press in a democracy and one that we hope provides value to the people we serve in Colorado.
Jay Seaton is the publisher of The Daily Sentinel. Email him at email@example.com.
Tim Foster is president of Colorado Mesa University.
Amanda Mountain is the president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Public Media.