I first visited Club 20, an influential Western Slope group, in 2002 to cover the U.S. Senate debate between Republican Wayne Allard and Democrat Tom Strickland.
That was my introduction to the Western Slope’s complex issues.
During most of my Club 20 visits to Grand Junction, first for the Rocky Mountain News and then for The Denver Post, I covered candidate debates at the fall conferences in even-covered years. Every visit, I met more and more folks, from county commissioners to water experts, and the experience made me appreciate the uniqueness of our state.
Now when I attend Club 20 I go with my boss, Secretary of State Wayne Williams, as was the case Friday and Saturday.
Williams Friday morning kicked off the UChooseCO campaign in Grand Junction, which is designed to inform unaffiliated voters about the June 26 primary. For the first time they’ll automatically be able to participate. That night he attended Club 20’s awards dinner and on Saturday the secretary addressed the group about ballot measures.
At the two-day event, I realized that in a way I had come full circle.
The keynote speaker at Friday night’s award dinner was Gale Norton, former Colorado attorney general and former secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, who gave an interesting talk that started with the fact that Club 20 turned 65 this year.
Norton was the favorite to win the 1996 GOP Senate primary, but lost to Congressman Allard, who won the general election and his re-election bid in 2002.
During the dinner there were numerous of mentions of the late Wayne Aspinall, who represented the Western Slope in Congress from 1943 to 1973. For years he was chairman of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, and focused his efforts on Western land and water issues.
Aspinall’s congressional career ended in 1972, when he lost the primary. A prominent Larimer County Democrat, Amos Allard, was so mad he left the Democratic Party. So did his son, Wayne, who registered as a Republican.
“Aspinall was a conservative, pro-development Democrat. Many of today’s Democrats would say he’s a right-wing Republican,” Norton said in her speech, which was covered by Colorado Politics’ Joey Bunch.
Also at Club 20 event was U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Denver Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Cortez Republican, as well as candidates for statewide office.
In addition, Marti Whitmore, county attorney in Montrose , was at the dinner. She was the GOP nominee for attorney general in 2002 trying to unseat the Democratic incumbent, Ken Salazar. She also was at the 2002 event.
One of the award winners at Friday’s Club 20 dinner was Terri Binder, who once served on the Regional Transportation District board. I covered RTD, which is how I met folks like Jon Caldara and Jack McCroskey. The RTD board was a deliciously dysfunctional assignment, and this was the start of a story I wrote for the Rocky in 1996:
A bizarre lesson in democracy occurs once a month in a brick building in downtown Denver when the deeply divided RTD board meets.
And meets. And meets.
Between snipes at each other and jabs at the staff, the directors establish policy for the behemoth Regional Transportation District. The meetings begin at 5 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month and continue late into the night or early the next morning.
“I look forward to the meetings as a cow would to slaughter,” said one director, David Bishop, who chose not to run for re-election in November.
The new general manager, Cal Marsella, called the RTD process “very unique.”
“We get the agenda passed, but there is a lot of bloodletting in the process,” he said.
Binder joined Club 20 when she moved to Grand Junction, and although she and her husband are back in the metro area she remains a member.
Binder clearly was moved Friday when she was one four recipients to receive Club 20’s Johnson-Theos Bridge Builder Award award for their commitment to collaborative problem-solving. The other three were Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, Kathy Welt of Hotchkiss and Irv Halter, executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
Former Rep. J Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, and Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and others also received awards.
Secretary Williams talked Saturday about measures Coloradans have passed or rejected over the years, including Gallagher and TABOR. A separate panel also addressed those measures.
Coloradans in 2016 passed Amendment 71, which requires backers of proposed constitutional amendments to gather petition signatures in all 35 state Senate districts and requires a 55 percent majority to pass. A judge just struck down the petition requirement.
Williams drew plenty of applause when he said his office will appeal. The secretary pointed out that 60 of Colorado’s 64 counties approved the measure. Only Denver, Boulder, Gilpin and San Miguel counties voted against it.
“We want to protect the will of the voters,” he said.