Was Gov. Jared Polis wrong to observe that Denver seems to have a better chance than Grand Junction of becoming the new home of the Bureau of Land Management's relocated headquarters?
The governor seems aware that he touched a nerve with a statement he made before Denver business leaders at a luncheon on Wednesday.
"Denver is the most likely site even though we are more supportive of Grand Junction from an economic development perspective," he was quoted as saying in a Colorado Sun story.
Nothing incendiary there. Yet Polis did two things after the story was published on Thursday to indicate some measure of regret over how his remarks may have been received. First he issued this statement:
"The governor spoke with (Interior) Secretary Bernhardt and reiterated his support for moving the BLM to Grand Junction because of the strong community support and the positive economic impact it would have for western Colorado. The governor has made clear many times that if it were up to him he would choose Grand Junction. The governor believes that Colorado would be a perfect home for the agency that oversees the things Coloradans love like our public lands and would give them more insight into our western way of life."
Then he called Grand Junction Economic Partnership Executive Director Robin Brown. "He called me to explain that his first choice would be GJ and he will help us tackle any issues we come up against, such as flights or incentives," Brown said. "If GJ can't support it because it requires amenities of a larger city, then of course he wants to see it in Denver. I appreciate him reaching out and look forward to working with him to secure the BLM HQ in GJ."
Polis wasn't exactly backpedaling. He never said he preferred Denver over Grand Junction. But all the message refining after the fact does seems to indicate that the governor wishes he had been more clear with his original remarks. Perhaps it's because he also said, "They seem to be favoring a metro area, just because we don't have enough flights out of Grand Junction. We are pushing Grand Junction, we are pushing both."
To be clear, Grand Junction voters passed a measure to be able to incentivize more direct flights out of our local airport. The Air Service Alliance informed former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that it would secure a direct daily flight to Washington, D.C. to strengthen Grand Junction's case to be chosen for the BLM headquarters.
We would have preferred that Polis had simply extolled the virtues of locating in Grand Junction instead of handicapping the race. But that's easy for us to say. He is the governor of Colorado, after all, and not just the Western Slope. His interest is getting the BLM to come anywhere in Colorado.
But, the unfortunate downside to his remarks is that it underscores a predisposition to Front Range interests. As the governor has acknowledged, the BLM would be an economic game-changer for Grand Junction. It would be a drop in the ocean of Denver's economic might.
Denver has outgrown its infrastructure. It's one of the least affordable places in the country to live — with serious traffic congestion.
Meanwhile, Grand Junction has a more affordable cost of living and good quality of life — in part because of our proximity to public lands. As Brown told the Sun, "...every single thing within the BLM's mission happens in Mesa County and not Denver."
We have been surprised at the lengths to which Gov. Polis has gone to show that he cares about western Colorado. He has carefully framed his legislative victories with concrete benefits for Western Slopers. Let's hope this was a minor gaffe — a murky position — that the governor quickly saw fit to clarify. By now it's clear that Grand Junction is his first choice for the BLM headquarters. Let's encourage him to keep banging that drum.