Morgan SmithMorgan SmithOctober 9, 20173min5880

I first met Wally in the late 60s in Adams County when I handled a minor traffic ticket for him. That was the start of a rich and treasured friendship that included both politics and agriculture but was always full of laughter. In fact, as I learned of his death on Oct. 6, I was driving from the Albuquerque airport north to Santa Fe when suddenly the huge Sandia Casino appeared on my right. He would come down to the casino to gamble and we would meet for lunch. He would assure me that he was winning big and I woild never question him. Our last lunch was on April 4 and as sharp as his mind was, his body was obviously failing him.


Morgan SmithMorgan SmithJune 19, 20177min1920

Now that the Trump administration has initiated the process of renegotiating the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), let’s hope that this process is marked by thoughtfulness and not rhetoric like the president’s earlier comments that NAFTA was “the worst trade deal in history.” Despite the anti-trade rhetoric, NAFTA has been ...


Morgan SmithMorgan SmithJanuary 3, 20177min2824

“What now?” my son, Jay asked. It was Sunday, Dec. 5, and we were just north of Dilia, New Mexico, where he has a small farm and where we had loaded his Toyota Tundra with firewood. We were preparing to head out to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota but had just heard that the Army Corps of Engineers had called a halt to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project that had been under protest there. Should we call it quits or continue the 1,000 mile drive? “Let’s keep going,” we both said simultaneously.


Morgan SmithMorgan SmithOctober 24, 20168min1960

In a stunning setback for Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, Colombian voters narrowly defeated a referendum to approve a treaty between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) Oct. 2. The margin of votes was 53,893 out of 12,808, 858 counted so it was a razor thin loss. The leader of the opposition was Alvaro Uribe, twice president of Colombia (2002 - 2010 ) and the man who, during his presidency broke the back of the FARC and the violence that has consumed the country for more than 50 years, cost 220,000 lives and displaced as many as 5 million people.


Morgan SmithMorgan SmithJuly 14, 20166min1790

“Bill Armstrong is going to be your co-chairman,” Joe Shoemaker said. “Oh no,” I thought. “Not Bill Armstrong.” It was 1998 and former state Sen. Joe Shoemaker had asked me to co-chair a campaign to build an endowment for the Greenway Foundation called the Greenway Preservation Trust Foundation. He had an excellent relationship with then-Denver Mayor Wellington Webb but wanted to create an endowment as insurance against the possibility that a future mayor would be less supportive of his efforts to improve the South Platte or that the economy would crash.


Morgan SmithMorgan SmithJanuary 14, 20167min1630

Congratulations to those Mexican Marines who recaptured Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán after a bitter gunfight in his home state of Sinaloa. Unlike his 2001 escape when he was at large for 13 years, this time he was recaptured in less than six months.

For most Americans, this seems like a fairly simple case of excellent police work with the major side story being Sean Penn. What I’ve heard from many calls to friends in Juárez and Palomas is very different.

Angela, a businesswoman in Juárez asks why Chapo was captured just two days after a very critical editorial (“Mexico Stubbornly Resists Accountability”) in The New York Times about President Enrique Peña Nieto. To bump up the president’s sagging popularity? Why were others killed in the shootout but not Chapo when the Mexican Marines have a reputation of not taking prisoners? Why was his head covered when he was put in the helicopter to go back to Mexico City? An employee of hers suggests that the man being loaded in the helicopter was a double. José Antonio says that this is a “cortina de humo,” or smoke screen or a game, between Chapo and Peña Nieto and that he will never be extradited because he has too many secrets.

Vicente, a doctor who works in one of the prisons agrees that this is a deal between Chapo and Peña Nieto to get the latter’s favorability ratings up and that part of the deal is that Chapo won’t be extradited. The photographer Julián says that, if there is an extradition, it will be a lengthy process during which all sorts of strange things can happen. Ivonne, a businesswoman in Palomas, sees this as a distraction from the much larger economic problems of sinking oil prices and the increasingly strong dollar.

This overwhelming sense that the government in Mexico is only for the rich and powerful is one reason why Chapo was able to escape twice from the most secure prisons in the country and why he is so highly regarded by so many.

Obviously, money is a factor. It would be fascinating to know how much the two escapes cost Chapo. Fear is a factor. Wouldn’t you help him escape if his people knew where your wife worked or your children went to school? More to the point, how would you feel if you were one of the soldiers standing next to him at the time of his capture with your face uncovered?

However, respect and contempt are even stronger factors. Respect for Chapo’s contributions to the poor, especially in his home state of Sinaloa and contempt for the failure of the Mexican government to do the same. This creates an environment in which the severity of his crimes are diminished, in which someone like Aurora in Juárez can say that he is just a “businessman” and that drugs are really an American problem.

Given his brutal history, this is a tough argument to accept until you have a chance to witness firsthand this daily callous disregard of the needy. In my case it happened once again the day before Chapo’s capture. My brother-in-law and I crossed the border at Santa Teresa on the west edge of Juárez, my car bulging with used clothing for a hospital down the road as well as for several desperately poor families. Then I got the red light in the Mexican customs traffic lane, was pulled over, searched and fined. My argument that I was helping the poor — in fact, doing what the Mexican government should be doing — went nowhere.

This was a minor inconvenience compared to the experience of the founder of the hospital that same night. In order to get a van full of donated beans the 25 miles from Sunland Park, New Mexico, to his hospital and avoid an exorbitant bribe at Santa Teresa, he had to drive more than an hour west to the border at Palomas, Mexico, wait several hours until the right Mexican customs official came on duty, give him a $300 bribe, cross into Mexico and drive an hour and a half back to the hospital on a terrifying two lane road — a trip of almost 200 miles plus a payment of $300 because of the cruelty of the Mexican government. No wonder even someone as brutal as Chapo has public support. These aren’t isolated events; this is simply the reality of the border.

As for the future, Chapo is probably finished, whether or not he is extradited. And other narcos will quickly fill his place as has repeatedly happened when kingpins are arrested. There will be little impact on the drug trade.

More important, Mexican leaders and perhaps even President Enrique Peña Nieto might ask themselves why someone whose drug trafficking had caused such extraordinary damage can still be so popular. It doesn’t matter what country you live in. Government ought to be for the people, not against them.

Morgan Smith is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and served as Colorado’s commissioner of agriculture. He travels to Mexico at least monthly to document and assist various humanitarian projects. Reach him at


Morgan SmithMorgan SmithJanuary 10, 20167min1870

“Hey, Morgan. It’s Paul and we’re in Santa Fe.” What a surprise to hear this voice from the past. Paul Brown and I served together in the Colorado House of Representatives for two terms — 1975-1978 — but I hadn’t seen him or his wife, Sue, for decades.

Paul first became involved in politics in 1970, joined the “Vietnam Veterans Against the War” and was an alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach for George McGovern in 1972. In 1974, the Watergate year, he was one of those gutsy candidates like Nancy Flett and Dorothy Witherspoon who were willing to run in traditionally Republican districts (Grand Junction in his case) and, by winning, gave Democrats the first House majority in many years. (Little did we know then that it would only last two years and would be followed by nearly 30 unbroken years of Republican majorities.)

Former state Rep. Paul Brown and his wife, Sue, look back on a long life in politics during a recent visit with Morgan Smith. Photo by Morgan Smith/The Colorado Statesman

That year, Paul ran against the then-Mayor of Grand Junction and, to quote him, “was probably the only person in the county who didn’t have enough sense to know that I did not have a chance to win the race.” He won by over 14 percent that year and 6 percent in 1976, a lower margin because of a gun control bill he had co-sponsored. Those were unique times. As he says, “Regardless of political bent, we were able to talk to each other and even disagree as friends.”

When he cites the legislators he remembers best, as many Republicans as Democrats appear on the list. Republicans like Sandy Arnold, Joe Shoemaker, Frank Traylor, Ann Gorsuch and Betty Ann Dittemore, most of whom would probably be unelectable today, given current conservative litmus tests. He also cites Democrats like Jim Lloyd, Arie Taylor and Ruben Valdez. He describes serving on the Judiciary Committee as his most interesting experience as a legislator, as well as having to go before the Joint Budget Committee for issues like making the case for a new sewer system for the town of DeBeque.

He then decided not to run for a third term. “Serving in Denver while Sue and our daughter were in Grand Junction was proving pretty rough on our family life, especially on the salary that we got at that time. “ (It was $7,600 a year.)

Paul later worked for the Division of Property Taxation, as community impact coordinator on the Colony Oil Shale Project and as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Ray Kogovsek from 1983-84.

However, what Paul described as his most intense political experience occurred fairly recently. In 2006, he ran for Mesa County assessor and lost to Barbara Brewer. “Over the course of the campaign we became friends,” Paul says. “There was no mudslinging.” In fact, Brewer suggested that Brown apply for the position of Mesa County public trustee and offered to write a letter in support. In 2007, Gov. Bill Ritter appointed him to the post and in 2011, Gov. John Hickenlooper re-appointed him.

Then-state Rep. Paul Brown, D-Grand Junction, hams it up at the Legislature’s annual Hummers event in the late 1970s. Photo by Morgan Smith/The Colorado Statesman

One of his jobs was to have legal notices published in a legal newspaper. Initially, he used the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. This was highly lucrative for the paper; Mike Moran, the current Mesa County public trustee has said that the Sentinel was paid more than $500,000 for foreclosure notices in 2010.

Finding repeated mistakes in the Daily Sentinel’s notices, Brown began looking for other options. There were two other papers in the county at the time, the Fruita Times and the Palisade Tribune (the Daily Sentinel eventually bought both papers). After going through a bidding process, Paul entered into a contract with them in 2012.

This unleashed the fury of the Daily Sentinel’s publisher, and Paul was subjected to an unending cascade of negative articles and editorials. As a result, Gov. Hickenlooper declined to reappoint him in 2012, not even giving Paul the opportunity to tell his side of the story. Staffers at the governor’s office told him that he was “too controversial” and that he had made the largest newspaper on the Western Slope very angry.

Notwithstanding this treatment, Paul and Sue remain very involved in local Democratic politics. Sue is on the State Central Committee as one of Mesa County’s representatives. She is also the CEO and founder of Home Care of the Grand Valley, a non-profit providing care for a wide range of the ill in Mesa County.

Despite the Daily Sentinel issue, Paul continues to be optimistic about the need to work together and about the quality of people who run for office from both parties.

“Sometimes differences of opinions are the best vehicle for making sound decisions,” he says. “I have never met anyone who got into politics for anything other than honorable reasons. We all truly wanted to do the best for our constituents.” Congratulations to him and Sue for their service.

Morgan Smith is a former state legislator and served as commissioner of Agriculture and executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. He can be reached at