SLOAN | Polis snubs West Slope as Colorado’s urban-rural divide deepens

Author: Kelly Sloan - August 17, 2018 - Updated: August 16, 2018

Kelly Sloan

The decision by Jared Polis to break with decades of political tradition and sit out the inaugural gubernatorial debate hosted every four years by Club 20 has raised the ire of a lot of folks; on the West Slope, certainly, but also throughout rural Colorado — though Mr. Polis seems rather unaffected.

Part of the indignation felt on the West Slope is the violation of propriety; the Club 20 debates have, after all, been a fixture in Colorado politics for quite some time now, serving as the unofficial kick-off of the general election, dating back to the days before campaigns commenced 20 minutes after the final vote was tallied in the preceding election. But more than that, there is a sense that Polis’ snubbing of the West Slope is indicative of how he would govern.

In the strictest Machiavellian sense, skipping out on Club 20 might be tactically reasonable for Polis. The numbers in the region are fairly immutable, favoring Republicans just as reliably as the converse is true in Denver and Boulder and will remain so barring something of a Biblical nature occurring. It is unlikely he would change any minds even if his policies were not terrifying to the people who live there.

Which is, of course, another reason his campaign advisers might have counseled against his appearance in Grand Junction; it is generally considered imprudent in political circles to put yourself in a position where you are forced to defend policy positions that are anathema to your audience. It is easy to turn down an invitation to appear before the candlemakers guild, however influential they may be, if you are proposing to outlaw candles.

There are other considerations; in the cold arithmetic of politics, Polis’ calculations doubtless inform him that he need not placate the West Slope, nor other rural areas for that matter, confident that he can harvest sufficient votes from the greater metro area to easily compensate for rural losses.

Tactically justifiable or not, there is no question that it came across as a particularly flagrant expression of the arrogance, even disdain, that rural Coloradans – and rural Americans in general – feel directed toward them, implicitly or (as in this case) explicitly, by urban political figures for the way they live, the work they do, and the customs and traditions they observe.

While the jilting of Club 20 was symbolic of this, there are more concrete and substantive manifestations; Polis’ refusal, for instance, to support the Jordan Cove pipeline.

The term “Jordan Cove” is unlikely to well up many feelings one way or another in most people who live east of Vail, but for the West Slope it is hardly less than an answer to prayers. It is a pipeline, which will wind its way through the Piceance Basin, picking up natural gas for transport to a place called Jordan Cove in Oregon, whence it will be delivered to a Liquified Natural Gas terminal for shipment to energy-hungry markets in Japan. It provides, at long last, access to a substantial new market for western Colorado’s most valuable product, and the promise of an economic rebirth; a return of good jobs, local tax revenue, growth and prosperity for a region that has grimly watched each hemorrhage away over the past decade, with low gas prices, the region’s notoriously difficult terrain, vagaries of engineering, and the frustrations of creating wealth on federally owned lands conspiring in recent years to hamper vitality. Most of the state’s political leaders – including Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Gov. John Hickenlooper – recognize the promise and potential of Jordan Cove. Not, conspicuously, Polis.

This is redolent of the deeper rural-urban divide which grows only starker. On one hand, the cities: laboratories of collectivist alchemy, where the rebellious young flock and food materializes, organically, from the wellsprings of Whole Foods. On the other, the rural areas: where is it harder to evade reality, the cycles of life and death are experienced daily on the farms, hard work is a part of life and the consequences of sloth more immediate. Where traditions are observed out of necessity, and the raw materials of civilization – energy and food – actually come from.

That is not Polis’ world. Club 20, to their credit, are holding to a long-standing position of not allowing surrogates to appear in place of those who choose to be elsewhere. This could give Walker Stapleton the opportunity to demonstrate his grasp of the reality lived by the people in Colorado’s periphery, while Polis, presumably cloistered in more familiar surroundings, works feverishly to further distance himself from it.

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.