The West Slope’s diverse economy and people are scattered across a vast region that dwarfs Colorado’s population center along the Front Range. So, it’s hard to imagine any one person or entity speaking for West Slope interests. Yet, if anything comes close to a unifying voice, it’s CLUB 20, the venerable advocacy arm of that immense, beautiful and wide-ranging swath of Colorado that lies west of the Continental Divide. In the state’s political circles, CLUB 20’s name precedes it. For generations, the organization has doggedly advanced West Slope political, economic and other interests in the state legislature, in Congress and anywhere else it can make itself heard. In today’s Q&A, we talk to the person charged with articulating and directing that voice, Christian Reece. The CLUB 20 executive director covers a lot of policy at a breathtaking pace as she enunciates what’s at stake for her region.
Colorado Politics: Give us your elevator speech for CLUB 20’s mission.
Christian Reece: CLUB 20 is a 65-year-old non-partisan coalition of businesses, individuals and local governments from the 22 counties west of the Continental Divide. Together we advocate on the critical issues that impact western Colorado to promote and protect the western Colorado way of life.
CP: CLUB 20 has been on Colorado’s political map since the early 1950s, making it one of the oldest advocacy groups in the state. It started as an effort by western counties to get more highway funding out of Denver — a challenge that still exists — and has taken up many more issues over the years. How else do yo think the organization has evolved since its origins?
Reece: As mentioned, CLUB 20 was founded because only 10 percent of the roads in our region were paved in 1953, and many community leaders saw it as a safety and economic development issue. These business leaders came together from counties across the region and lobbied the governor’s office for more funds for our infrastructure and were successful in their venture. Since then, we have grown to more than 1,100 members across 22 counties (we originally started with 20 — hence, the name) and have created 10 policy committees which guide our work: Agriculture, Business Affairs, Education and Workforce Development, Energy, Health Care, Public Lands and Natural Resources, Telecommunications, Transportation, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation, and Water.
These committees meet twice a year and develop resolutions on issues that guide the organization’s positions on legislation, regulations and other issues.
Over the years, CLUB 20 has established itself as “The Voice of the Western Slope” and leaders throughout the state know that when CLUB 20 speaks, they need to listen. CLUB 20 has a reputation for hearing both sides of an issue and taking a position that is in the best interest for western Colorado, not one political party or another. In fact, many believe that if it weren’t for CLUB 20, the Western Slope would have no voice at the State Capitol.
We have continued to build relationships on a statewide basis and strive every day to find areas of consensus to build from, and I believe that has led to the strength and reputation that the organization enjoys today.
CP: By the early 2000s, a few members from Democratic counties were complaining CLUB 20 leaned too far right and was too supportive of the oil and gas industry. Yet, a lot of the residents in your organization’s 22 counties are indeed pretty conservative, and energy exploration plays a pivotal role in the region’s economy. How would you characterize CLUB 20’s overall political stance? And how do you find balance among the different voices at your table?
Reece: CLUB 20 is a non-partisan, membership-based organization, and it is our members who guide our policy positions. We put a great emphasis on being non-partisan and advocating for what is in the best interest of western Colorado, not one political party or the other. We look for areas of consensus and build from that foundation to promote and protect our region. CLUB 20 welcomes members from all walks of life and from all political parties to get involved and be a part of the conversation. It’s not about Republicans and Democrats, it’s about western Colorado and that is who we represent.
- Executive director of Grand Junction-based power player CLUB 20.
- Planning commissioner, city of Grand Junction.
- Marshall Memorial Fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., fall 2017; traveled across Europe meeting with business and political leaders.
- Former fields rep and staffer for 3rd Congressional District Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.
- Holds a bachelor of science degree in biology and chemistry from Colorado Mesa University.
CP: Tell us a little about your background and what brought you to CLUB 20.
Reece: Well, I certainly never planned on having a career in politics! I was actually a pre-med major in college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in chemistry — a far cry from politics. After college, I had the opportunity to participate in a nine-month leadership program which gave me the opportunity to see all the different parts of government and the needs in my community, and I knew I had to get involved. I became the chairman of the Planning Commission for the City of Grand Junction and shortly thereafter, went to work for Congressman Scott Tipton. I spent two years with the congressman, traveling throughout Western Colorado meeting with businesses and individuals and really learning about the many issues impacting our region. When the opportunity to run CLUB 20 became available, I jumped at the chance to lead a non-partisan organization whose task was to promote and protect the region that is most dear to my heart. I have a passion for finding common ground, building consensus, and finding actual solutions to problems instead of kicking the can down the road for the next generation to deal with. Through my work at CLUB 20, we have been able to make the state constitution more difficult to amend; have been successful in getting burdensome regulations repealed by the federal government, and worked on numerous pieces of legislation that improve the lives and livelihoods of the more than 580,000 people who call the Western Slope home. I am proud of these achievements and each day I come to work am honored to be at the helm of one of the most influential non-partisan advocacy groups in the state of Colorado.
CP: You’ve been in your post for about three years. What have been some of Club 20’s top issues in that time? What do you regard as your top priority in the current legislative session?
Reece: Here at CLUB 20, we have our finger on the pulse of so many issues impacting the state!
Health Care: CLUB 20 has worked closely with the state commission on health care costs to identify some of the top cost drivers of our health care system and has made recommendations to drive down the costs of care. The Affordable Care Act and the most recent federal legislation has done very little to address the actual cost drivers of our health care system and until we get those under control, we will simply be shifting from one payer source to another. We have to get costs reined in or else we will face the reality of a single-payer, government-run system, which Colorado voters have said loud and clear that they do not support.
Water has always been a top priority for us as we have fought to uphold Colorado water rights and protect our water from federal pre-emption. We continue to ask how the water plan will be funded and how we can actively work to develop more storage so we can stop watching thousands of acre-feet of Colorado water leaving the state each year. Finally, with the extremely low snow pack that we have seen this year, we will likely be facing a drought this summer and our forests will be extremely vulnerable to wildfire events. These two areas are not always associated, however, there is a direct link between healthy forest management and healthy and fruitful streams, rivers and lakes. This will be an area that CLUB 20 keeps an extremely close eye on.
As many know, broadband deployment in rural Colorado has been a constant struggle, and we will continue to work with providers to find cost-effective solutions to deploy high-speed internet throughout our region. This isn’t about streaming Netflix or Amazon Prime. This is about our school children having access to the internet to study and take required online standardized tests. This is about finding efficiencies to drive down health care costs through the use of telemedicine. This is about being economically competitive with the other parts of the state and attracting businesses to our areas. Broadband is the life source of western Colorado, and without it we will continue to fall behind.
CLUB 20 supports an all-of-the-above energy portfolio, and will continue to advocate for all energy-producing sectors, ensuring the safe and responsible development of our natural resources that are so plentiful in western Colorado.
CLUB 20 has also played an integral role in promoting career and technical education in our schools and identifying ways to develop workforce-ready students who have all the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful. We have focused on economic development from an educational perspective; if our kids have good jobs waiting for them when they graduate from high school or college, they are less likely to leave the community. Additionally, if our next generation is truly challenged and given the tools necessary to succeed, it is our hope that many of them will stay in our communities to start their own businesses and contribute to our local economies.
Last but certainly not least is transportation. As mentioned previously, CLUB 20 has been working on transportation funding for more than 65 years! We have made some progress over the years, however, more work still needs to be done. CDOT currently has a $9 Billion tier 1 project list with no meaningful revenue to complete these projects. CLUB 20 worked extremely hard last year on HB17-1242 to ask the voters if they would be willing to invest in our crumbling transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately, the bill died for political reasons. This year we are again working to identify passable solutions to get our roads repaired so we aren’t leaving the next generation of Coloradans to fix the mess that we have created.
…(L)eaders throughout the state know that when CLUB 20 speaks, they need to listen.
CP: How did your time as a research fellow traveling Europe and meeting political and business figures there prepare you for the advocacy you do now?
Reece: Thanks for asking about this! Yes, I was recently selected as a German Marshall Memorial Fellow and I spent nearly 6 weeks this past fall traveling throughout Europe meeting with business and political leaders with the mission to further understanding and strengthen the trans-Atlantic relationship. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to participate.
The experience was extremely eye-opening and personally caused me to question just about everything I thought I knew about the United Stated and public policy. We had the opportunity to have several meetings with NATO to discuss foreign defense policy and global security. We also visited two Syrian refugee camps where we heard from migrants who fled from war-torn countries to try to find a safe place for their families. The differences between an economic migrant and a refugee of war were certainly made clear! We visited with small business owners who struggle with some of the same challenges that our small businesses struggle with and brainstormed solutions and ways that our countries can work more closely together. In all I visited 5 countries: Brussels, Belgium; Lubeck, Germany; Athens, Greece; Sofia, Bulgaria, and Paris, France. The theme of finding common ground and working toward solutions was ever present and the experience reaffirmed the need to have all voices in the room to find solutions that benefit the whole.
CP: Water is an issue that continues to divide the state — West Slope vs. Front Range, rural vs. urban. Will it ever be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction?
Reece: Great question! Colorado has been struggling with this challenge for years. That is why the phrase “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting” continues to be the mantra of many water-rights holders. In order to solve some of the looming water shortage concerns, we need to be able to fund some of the projects in the Colorado Water Plan. Until we identify a meaningful and sustainable funding source, progress will continue to occur at a snail’s pace and likely won’t be enough when the time comes and there is an interstate call on the Colorado River. We have to start focusing on water reuse, creative new storage techniques, and water-wise landscaping and products in the business and residential arenas. As the population of Colorado continues to grow, the demand on our state water supply will only become greater and this should be a top priority for our state, as it is for CLUB 20.