Monday, March 31, 2008

March 31, 2008 It is a myth that there are four seasons in the high country

Consider This for March 31, 2008-It is a Myth that there are Four Seasons in the High Country

One comment that I hear quite often that always brings a smile to my face is that some people believe that there are four seasons in the high country. I think that some people like to believe that we enjoy four seasons but it is simply not true.

The statement that is truer is that there are two seasons in the high country. Winter and the Fourth of July. Or the Ski Season and the rest of the year. Or Spring Break and the rest of the year.

I spent the first eighteen years of my life living in Iowa. In Iowa there are four seasons. There is cold, colder, hot and very hot. There is no in between.

Yes, there are places in Colorado and in Iowa where the leaves on the trees change color and fall to the ground eventually. In Iowa that lasts for about a month and in Colorado it lasts for a day or two. But falling leaves does not a season make.

As we leave the month of March and the pressing Spring Break crowds we can come home again to our wonderful place in the mountains. I always liked the slogan that, “We came to the mountains for the winter but stayed because of the summers.” I have lamented many times about how I hope that our guests will not ever discover that secret.

This winter we also had an excessive amount of snow. So much snow that the towns, the county and the state ran out of places to store it along the sides of the roads and especially at intersections. What a marketing dream but what a headache at times. I bought a new snowblower last fall and for a while I was using it every day.

I started skiing in 1970 when I moved here but stopped skiing a few years ago because the magic was lost in the long lift lines and the crowds on the slopes. I just could not enjoy something that reminded me of the transportation systems in the New York City that I had just left to come here.

I am not sure that these numbers are still correct but a few years ago we were told that there were as many as 150,000 people in Summit County during the busiest parts of the ski season. That included the week between Christmas and New Years, President’s Day Weekend and the entire month of March. This month that really became true when it took me almost an hour to drive the six miles from my house to Breckenridge.

Be careful of what you market for because you are liable to get it. I get the feeling that we have oversold the Summit County experience and that we have attracted too many people to come here when the total gridlock on Highway 9 becomes part of the Summit County Ski experience. I am sure that there are a lot of business owners who would disagree with me.

In contrast the same people who projected the high winter population numbers also said that during July and August the peak population was closer to 50,000. I think that number is also true. I always wondered how they counted the number of people who were hiking, camping or climbing mountains in the back country. Maybe it was mystical and something that I would rather not know.

I had a conversation recently about how the level of police and fire services must be kept at the higher level year round. It would be nice to be able to share staff and services with other communities but that is not possible. I suppose we do that to a certain extent with staff from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Our summer is their winter and our winter is their summer. Nice how that works.

Having said all of that I still believe that Summit County is the most beautiful and nicest place to live in the entire world. The best views, the best air and the best people. Temper that with the worst traffic and you end up with what we have most of the time.

Monday, March 24, 2008

March 24, 2008-For Whom the Road Tolls? It Tolls for Thee.

Consider This for March 24, 2008—For Whom the Road Tolls? It Tolls for Thee.

I remember the winter of 1994-1995 as if it was yesterday. I was the Director of Public Safety for Summit County and I-70 was closed more than forty times that winter as a result of heavy snow and the lack of plow operators. John Umbewuest was the CDOT District Engineer for this area and Ed Fink was in charge of Maintenance. During that process I gained a new respect for plow operators, district engineers and maintenance supervisors. It was a battle not to be won. It was a fight against Mother Nature that would never end. It is a battle that continues today.

In 1995 the Summit County Board of County Commissioners began working with CDOT and many other groups along I-70 from Denver to Glenwood Springs to find a solution to keeping I-70 open in the winter and to eliminate the weekly congestion every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Thirteen years later and nearly $30 million spent on consultants the road is worse today than it was when we began to study the problem.

Of course the immediate solution proposed by CDOT was to toll the road to pay for widening and other improvements. My immediate response to tolling I-70 was to let everyone know what a dumb idea that was. Tolls are a regressive tax that put a heavy burden on the users; tolls restrict commerce and never solve the problem.

At about the same time the citizens of the State of Colorado approved a tax for bonding road projects. Most of that money went to pay for TREX along I-25 in Denver. When I asked where the road money was being used in the mountain counties I was told that it was used to make improvements on Highway 50 near Montrose. Of course our CDOT Commissioner at the time (and still is) was from Grand Junction. It was his own little bit of Pork Barrel spending.

I know that the majority of drivers stuck in our abysmal transportation system were bogged down along I-25 for five days a week. What they (CDOT) failed to recognize was that the same people were stuck in traffic along I-70 three days a week as they tried to get from Denver to the high country and back.

So the entire State of Colorado paid for road improvements for a few miles of I-25 and now the State of Colorado wants the weekend drivers to pay for improvements on I-70 with a toll.

I was on the CIFGA (Colorado Interstate Fixed Guideway Authority) Board for a while. That was the board established to look at a monorail or some sort of high speed train along I-70. Lots of studies and lots of money spent and all for naught. The fixed guideway was put to a statewide vote similar to TREX and only a few counties supported the idea.

I am sure that Senator Chris Romer is well intentioned in keeping the “Let’s Toll I-70” idea afloat. I wonder if he knows that this is not a good idea. I wonder if he knows that it is an idea that has been proposed by CDOT for the past thirteen years.

So if the voters refuse to fund a high speed railroad could they be persuaded to fund major highway improvements (widening) along the same way that TREX was funded?

I woke up very early last Thursday morning with this quote from John Donne on my mind. I suppose it could apply to improving I-70 and recognizing that tolls are a bad idea and that the entire State of Colorado should pay for the improvements and not just those who might pay a toll. I have paraphrased it to highlight my point.

No mountain area is an Island, entire of itself; every mountain area is a part of the State of Colorado, a part of the whole state; if a clod be washed away by the sea, the mountain area is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's bad road diminishes me, because I am involved in all of the roads; And therefore never send to know for whom the road tolls; It tolls for thee.
John Donne (1572 - 1631), Meditation XVII (as amended 2008)

Monday, March 17, 2008

March 17, 2008 If you do the crime you have to do the time

Last week I read a headline that said, “Senate Committee Approves Death Penalty for Sex Assaults on Kids.” The senate committee said in effect that anyone who sexually assaults a child under the age of 12 should be executed. I think that the committee that passed that bill needs to rethink what they did.

I was a police officer for most of the time from 1964 to 1995. I will assure the committee and anyone else that the seriousness of the sentence has little or no impact on whether or not a criminal will commit a crime. They just never think about it. If it were true then there would be very few crimes committed.

I worked in the Fifth Judicial District Office of the District Attorney in 1976, 1977 and 1978. Even the District Attorney at the time did not know what the sentence was for any particular crime. The DA, his deputies, the complaint clerk and I as Chief Investigator did not know the penalty was for any crime. We always had to look it up. I am sure that the judges do the same thing. I doubt if any criminal ever looks up the penalty for his or her crime before he or she commits the crime.

Yet there are some people who delude themselves into believing that criminals are deterred by a severe punishment for doing a crime.

Colorado does remain as one of 36 states with the death penalty. That is also a major waste of time and money. I am sure that in the remaining 14 states without the death penalty that their murder rates are not necessarily higher.

I have interviewed several criminals who had been convicted of murder and I will assure you that none of them ever considered the degree of the punishment when they committed the crime of murder. None of them ever thought that they could or would be executed for murder.

Colorado today only has one person on death row. Nathan Dunlap killed several people in a pizza restaurant many years ago and his case remains under appeal.

Another issue of course is that the appeal process takes 15 to 20 years. Fifteen to twenty years of very expensive legal process eating up valuable resources. Fifteen to twenty years of housing the convicted criminal at considerable expense on death row.

A major issue for government is always the costs associated with running a prison system. Right now the annual bill for our prisons in Colorado is $743,815,793 and is the 5th largest expenditure in Colorado State Government. Corrections has the second largest number of employees just after Higher Education. 12% of our State Employees work for Corrections. Just who is being punished? It looks like the taxpayer to me.

There is no data to support putting a lot of people in prison and a reduction in the crime rate. Most recently they have been able to correlate the sale of crack cocaine and the supply of crack cocaine to crime rates. Not how many people we are warehousing in our prisons but the availability of some types of drugs.

I am a strong advocate for the punishment of criminals but the death penalty does not work and prison does not always work.

In the past twenty years a new monster has emerged in sentencing. It is a mandatory/minimum sentence that can be imposed for certain crimes. Judges cannot reduce the sentence in these instances and must sentence the offender to the mandatory minimum stated it the law.

This has created some other problems where first offenders must go to prison in certain cases. Recently sentence reform groups have recognized that some drug cases should not have received prison sentences and now some jails and prisons are releasing first time offenders if possible.

In the case of the sick degenerate men and women who molest children under the age of 12 the correct response is to incarcerate them. Not in prison but in a mental health facility. They are the sickest of the sick people in this world and need to be removed from society but they will never change their behavior in prison. Prison will probably only make their behavior worse.

Criminals seriously do not believe they will ever get caught so therefore they never consider the punishment for their crime. However they do know that if they get caught doing the crime they will have to do the time.

Monday, March 10, 2008

March 10, 2008—The Good Elected Official

Every two years I am asked to endorse the candidacy of people running for office. Most of the time it is a no brainer and easy. Some of the time it is a real stretch to endorse some for office because I might just know too much about them or too much about being an elected official.

A lot of the time the 80-20 rule applies. Eighty percent of the elected officials do absolutely nothing while the other twenty percent do all of the work. A lot of elected officials are there to collect their paycheck and benefits and to figure out how to get reelected. God bless term limits. I know that we lose some good elected officials every eight years but getting rid of the do nothing crowd is worth it in my way of thinking.

I think the real issue is leadership. Leadership means thinking out of the box. Leadership is pushing the envelope. Leadership is taking a thought or an idea that will help society and taking it from bill drafting to the desk of the Governor or President.

Leadership is not always just voting for good bills. Don’t get me wrong. Voting for good bills is a wonderful thing to do but we could train a monkey to push the aye button if that is all it takes.

I really like the old saying, “There is no success without risk.” That is so very true. You will never get anything done if you are not willing to stick your neck out. Yes, you might get your neck chopped off but you might also do something wonderful for society and mankind. You can’t be a good elected official if you are not willing to take chances.

I also enjoy watching the “wet finger in the air” method of being an elected official. Sit back and see which way the wind is blowing and then follow the wind. Very safe thing to do but it takes no courage to do that. It takes no backbone to just follow the crowd.

Right now I am being asked to endorse two candidates for Congress in Washington D.C. Both are nice people and very honest in my opinion but neither of them are worth the powder to blow them up. Neither has ever done anything other than follow the crowd and get reelected.

It is real easy to spot the congressmen or congresswomen who are working hard for us in Washington D.C. You can read their names in the paper everyday. You will see them on TV in the midst of some controversy. It really does not have anything to do with whether you agree or disagree with them. It has to do with a certain respect you can have for someone who works hard to further their political agenda. Most do not do that. Most spend their time in Washington doing absolutely nothing except collecting a paycheck and getting reelected.

I think we should look at candidates and their effectiveness before we decide to endorse them or vote for them. We should ask how many bills they were the prime sponsor of and how many of those bills ended up on the President’s or Governor’s desk. There is no dishonor in not having your bill signed. There is dishonor in never working hard to get a bill to that desk for signature.

I often hear the excuse that bills can’t get through the process because of the opposing party. Maybe if the opposing party does not like the bill it might just be a bad bill. A good legislator will work with the opposing party to move the bill forward either through amendments or through good persuasion.

We have seven people representing us in the House of Representatives. We have two Senators in the Senate. Our Representatives in Congress are Udall, Perlmutter, DeGette, Musgrave, Salazar, Lamborn and Tancredo. Our Senators are Allard and Salazar. Ask yourself that, without consideration of party, which representatives and which senators do you feel are working hard in Washington. Ask yourself what bills they have managed to pass as the prime sponsor that have reached the desk of the President. Ask yourself if they are working hard for your interests and are not just working hard to get reelected.

Monday, March 3, 2008

March 3, 2008 Vote your beliefs

Consider This for March 3, 2008—Vote your beliefs

I am seeing and hearing a very disturbing trend as our presidential election draws near. I am hearing women say that they will vote for Hillary Clinton because she is a woman. A person’s gender is not a qualification for anything. I am hearing others saying that they will vote for Barack Obama because he is an African American. A person’s race is not a qualification for anything. I am hearing that people will vote for John McCain because he was a prisoner of war and served as a naval aviator in Viet Nam. Neither of those qualifies him for anything.

You should vote for someone because of their beliefs. You should vote for someone because of their experience and leadership. You should vote for someone because their political party or lack of a political party most closely agrees with your politics.

I personally think that Clinton, Obama or McCain could be a good president. Our government is so huge and so hard to change that even the most ineffective and disliked president like George W. Bush could not destroy our government.

Each and every president has been an individual and has done things the way he wanted to do them. From the first day in office he is trying to get reelected to a second term. After he is elected to a second term he works trying to create his own legacy. Each president wants to go down in history so they try to do things historical.

All three candidates are United States Senators. None of them have any leadership background. As a former legislator I can tell you that there is no leadership experience to be had there. The last Senator to be elected president was John F. Kennedy. Leadership comes from being a Mayor, School Board President, County Commissioner or Governor. Each and all of these positions involve serious public policy and the management of large budgets and personnel. United States Senators do none of this.

In recent history Truman was in Congress as well as Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford but only Kennedy was in congress just prior to becoming president. Carter, Clinton, Reagan and Bush were all governors. Recent Presidents with a military background include Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, and Bush.

I am proud of what John McCain did for our country. I am even more proud of his stance in support of open immigration and campaign reform. Both of those are historical and he is widely criticized for both issues. The conservatives hate him for supporting the Bush plan for open immigration. The liberals hate him for his efforts to clean up campaign funding. One of the liberals who opposed him on campaign reform was Senator Hillary Clinton. She did not like McCain-Feingold. By the way Feingold is a liberal Democrat from Wisconsin. Being able to cross the aisle on important issues is an attribute for a good president.

Hillary Clinton puts her time as first lady as experience in the White House. I have always liked the old saying about church. Just because you go to church every Sunday does not make you a Christian any more than walking into a garage makes you a car. It has more to do with how you live your life and who you are. If being in the White House for eight years makes you some sort of presidential material then we should consider the chef or housekeeper who has been there for twenty or thirty years.

I do think that there were two women in our history who have had that kind of experience. Mrs. Woodrow Wilson was probably the acting President when Woodrow Wilson was infirmed during the end of his presidency. Others would point to Nancy Reagan and how close she was to Ronald Reagan as his Alzheimer’s began to affect him. We may never know how involved either woman was in running our country.

Please do not vote for anyone because of their race, gender or military service. Vote for someone because they have the strong qualifications to be president of the United States. Vote for someone because they represent what you believe in and that they will more closely represent you as an individual.