BIDLACK | What has government ever done for me? Let’s count the ways

Author: Hal Bidlack - July 27, 2018 - Updated: July 27, 2018

Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

You may have heard that we in El Paso and Teller Counties had a spot of rain a few days ago. A spot of rain in that there was a massive storm that dumped lots and lots of water, as well as inches of hail in some places. And there was damage after the rain and hail stopped, to be sure, but not nearly as much damage as one might expect from such a colossal weather event.  But back to that in a moment…

My late father, a remarkable man and my personal hero, grew up in the 1920s and 30s as a farm boy in western Iowa. I mentioned him in these columns before, and I talked over his youth with him on many occasions. I remember him telling me that the Great Depression was not what dominated his parents’ thinking during the crisis, but rather the draught and dust bowl that happened at the same time. For farmers, crop failures are much more immediate and pressing than any banking collapse. And so, his words were seared into my conscience when he said “never complain about the rain. It’s where your food comes from.” And so, I try not to complain about the rain, because, well, it’s where my food comes from.

However, when rain comes down in buckets followed by heaps of hail, it becomes a tad harder to embrace my father’s admonition. But that leads me to another of my father’s sayings, “people are good.” While there are bad folks out there, most people are good and well-intended, even across party lines. Which is why I was very impressed by the response of the local and county government here to the challenge of water falling on the burn scar after the Waldo Canyon Fire. They took action! Governmentaction!

The Waldo Canyon fire did a great deal of damage, which I nearly experienced up close and personal – ash fell in my yard as I evacuated – and greatly complicated the challenge of storm water runoff. Very hot fires make the soils “hydrophobic” in that water won’t sink it, but rather run off.

You may have heard about our city and county’s issues in trying to fund storm water projects, and the shrill voices of some in opposition that seem to claim any governmental expenditure is a waste, and all taxation is theft. But those folks’ arguments are all wet, or rather, less wet than they might be, due to the very significant storm water mitigation efforts made here after Waldo Canyon.

What a difference a smart and effective governmental program can make. On Aug. 9 of 2013, a similar rain to last Monday’s hit the same area. Unfortunately, back in 2013 the waters had nowhere to go other than roads and buildings. You can find video of cars being swept away on Highway 24, flood waters pouring through Manitou Springs businesses, and, tragically, taking a life. Happily, in 2018, because of decisive governmental action and construction, the rains brought inconvenience and irritation and not death and massive destruction. There is clean up to be done, to be sure, but thankfully, no one is searching for bodies.

I bring this up because all too often taxpayers ask, “what has government ever done for me?” and I think that question merits a response. In addition to things like the interstate highway system, safer foods, carefully tested medications for your kids, national defense, the mail, police and fire protection, and more, government can and at least sometimes does respond to changing threats – like flood waters – and works to mitigate them.

During the storm last Monday, I was watching the coverage on TV, as a reporter gallantly checked in from his car, driving up Highway 24 toward Teller County. The rains were pounding and the thunder was deafening. Yet his car, and the other cars on that same Highway 24, were wet but at no risk of being swept away. The water went by them, not through them. So, when you next want to ask what government has ever done for you, recall please the motorists who were notswept away, and how Colorado Springs is notin the news to report deaths from lost motorists.

I’m not arguing, even for a moment, that government is always right nor always good. I most certainly have issues with, I dunno, maybe the president? But while I continue to disagree on broad policy questions with my Republican friends in local government, I also laud their efforts to put government to work on storm water. Your tax dollars at work. Well done, and thanks.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.