Soap Box

Smith leads with honesty, integrity

To the editor,

We were affected, as most were, by the 416 Fire. It started about a mile from our home, and having just moved here from the Denver area in April, we were immediately concerned. We attended one of the first community information meetings held in Durango and were extremely impressed listening to Sheriff Smith address the crowd. He had control and command of a tense situation and seemed confident that everyone responsible for fighting this raging wildfire was doing their jobs without interference from other agencies.

We talked with Sean personally afterward, and since we’ve both been around law enforcement for many years (Wes was a Colorado State Trooper and coroner for Douglas County for 16 years), he impressed us with his knowledge of law enforcement and especially the La Plata County Sheriff’s office.

In addition, Julie has worked for over 15 years in Denver for a well-respected lobbyist who represents the county sheriffs of Colorado at our state Capitol. The lobbyist Peg Ackerman’s personal opinion of Sheriff Smith is that he’s smart, knowledgeable and manages his department honestly, with integrity and transparency and as a true leader. More recently we had a chat with officers of his department, and they are extremely supportive of him as a leader in a complicated profession.

We urge you to re-elect a proven leader.

– Julie and Wes Riber, Durango

An open letter to my GOP friends

To the editor,

I am speaking to those decent people who I don’t know, as well as some special folk, some of whom I’ve known my whole life. Yes, you friends, you know who you are. You are some of the finest people who call La Plata County home.

We have to talk. It won’t be an easy discussion. We need to talk about democracy, citizenship, responsibility, ethics and, most of all, about decency and morality. We all know too well the disagreements we’ve had over the years, some petty, some powerful, but our friendship was never about that, it was always about decency, morality and the golden rule.

We’ve spoken of politics and sometimes it divided us. Friends can disagree and still care for one another. But I think we can agree that it’s different this time. Yes, you are getting some things you’ve wanted for a long time, but at what cost? The Republican Party is led by a man no one could call decent or moral. I guess you can look past the “locker room talk,” the Playboy bunny, the porn star. I know you too well to believe that you didn’t cry when you saw children torn from their parents on the border of the greatest country the world has ever seen. Over 500 of these kids are still separated from their parents.

And then there are the wild places in Colorado, Arizona and Utah where I’ve seen you smile at the sunsets, the rivers, the mountain lakes. I’ve laughed and smiled with you in some of the most beautiful places on earth. I know you don’t believe they should be parceled and sold, polluted and defiled. We can reduce regulation without sullying our priceless mountains and deserts. Let’s work together.

So friends, my ask is a big one, help us to restore balance, decency and morality to our country. The heart of the American experiment is at risk; the ideals, the beauty, the freedom that used to comprise American exceptionalism. Vote Democrat this November.

– Patrick Owens, Durango

Vote to improve health care for all

To the editor,

We have a unique opportunity in La Plata County and in our state to educate ourselves about candidates who not only support, but are champions for, protecting our health and our wallets by fully endorsing an expanded Medicare for all type of health care systems. The 2017 Economist/YouGov.Poll found that 60 percent of Americans favor expanding Medicare to provide health insurance to every American. The Durango Herald’s online poll in March of 2018 captured 65 percent in favor. Virtually every other industrialized country has been able to create universal health coverage systems that are efficient while being cost and quality conscious. If Canada has been able to do this at half the cost we pay in the U.S. with better health outcomes for its citizens, why can’t the United States do it too? Can we agree on the shared value of health over profits and make the change?

I believe we can, and that is why I am supporting Guinn Unger for State Senate in District 6 because I have seen firsthand that he is a true champion for reducing costs and improving our health care system. I believe that it is the system of health care funding that needs to change. Take action and vote for candidates that will make these changes to benefit you and your family. To vote is to exist; let your voice be heard.

– Lauren Patterson, Durango

John McCain, a true American hero

To the editor,

John McCain was shot down over Vietnam in October 1967 after completing over 20 missions. He was a prisoner of war until 1973. While McCain fought in Vietnam, our fearless president got four college draft deferments. After graduating in 1968, Trump visited a doctor who provided him with a letter stating he had bone spurs in a heel that enabled him to get a medical deferment from the draft. He later said the bone spurs were “minor.”

Capt. McCain’s passing brings back memories of my Naval service which culminated in June 1967, and I recall McCain was almost killed in July 1967.

On July 29, 1967, an electrical power surge occurred in a Phantom F-4B parked on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal operating off Vietnam. A Zuni rocket shot across the flight deck and struck an external fuel tank of an A-4 Skyhawk piloted by Lt. Cdr. White or McCain. McCain and the other pilots were able to escape from their planes as jet fuel spilled across the flight deck, ignited and triggered a chain-reaction of bomb explosions that killed 134 sailors and injured 161.

It was one of the worst Naval accidents since WWII.

– Donald Moskowitz, Londonderry, N.H.

Trump plan worth grousing about

To the editor,

A deal is a deal, but the Trump administration isn’t seeing it that way when it comes to hard-won plans to protect the greater sage grouse and its habitat in Western states.

As the Democratic nominee for Colorado’s Third Congressional District, I support our existing Colorado plan for the greater sage grouse. I will also hold the federal government responsible for upholding, not overturning, the reasonable deal we struck together over many years of local, regional and state partnerships.

In the 1990s, many stakeholders in my home county were increasingly concerned about greater sage grouse habitat and the possibility of the bird being listed under the Endangered Species Act. Stakeholder groups came together and included ranchers, biologists and bird specialists, local governments, local ag and conservation nonprofits, the Colorado State Division of Wildlife, and interested citizens.

This joint effort to restore habitat was successful, and the State of Colorado has since continued to bring people together for habitat conservation. We even have a shuttle ambassador to D.C. – John Swartout, a Republican – who has made groundbreaking and consistent progress. Then, in 2011, Colorado leaders and other Westerners engaged in an even larger-scale, cooperative approach to public policy by crafting state-level plans for protecting the greater sage grouse and its habitat. Ranchers, biologists, hunters, energy industry representatives, local governments, conservation groups and Western governors met for years with federal officials. They developed state-by-state plans that would protect the bird and its habitat and avoid an endangered species listing. These plans are great examples of public-private partnerships.

Now, rather than giving these bottom-up plans a chance to work and waiting for the built-in review in 2020, the Trump administration appears to be intent on halting these plans with a top-down approach as quickly as possible. Claims that this will give “more local control” make no sense. This is ideology masquerading as policy.

The BLM, which controls vast swaths of greater sage grouse habitat, is now revising each state’s plan and is issuing one-size-fits-all directives that erode their effectiveness and ignore protections for bird habitat. This latest BLM directive, which severely limits an innovative landswap provision that helps BLM work with private landowners to compensate for damages to sage grouse habitat, is opposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper and the governors of Utah, Nevada and Oregon.

On top of that, the agency is ignoring a key provision of the 2015 plan that requires it to back off from issuing oil and gas leases on priority greater sage grouse habitat. The BLM has already offered more than 1 million acres of key habitat in the West for oil and gas leases in 2018 alone, and now its revised plan for Colorado would lease an additional 224,200 acres of greater sage grouse habitat for development.

Simply put, the Trump administration is putting politics over science. The BLM’s draft revised plan cuts out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entirely and limits Colorado Parks and Wildlife to a consulting role only. If these latest changes are affirmed, the BLM will have no science-based constraints on allowing exceptions for drilling within greater sage grouse habitat. Truly, the fox is guarding the hen house.

This directive actually accelerates the risk to greater sage grouse and sagebrush habitat and will lead to what Westerners were initially trying to avoid: an endangered species listing. The Trump administration’s attacks are a betrayal of the honest, good faith compromise reached in 2015 by Western citizens, communities and industries and all the hard work at the local level from the 1990s - 2015.

As your congresswoman, I will stand firmly in support of the 2015 plans. I oppose the Trump administration’s policies that undermine the success of a local, bottom-up democratic process; substitute a bureaucratic, top-down, one-size-fits-all process; give unfair advantage to energy development on our public lands; and pose grave threats to both the greater sage grouse and to family ranches.

We need to stick with the existing plans, let them work, and remember that a deal is a deal.

– Diane Mitsch Busch, candidate, Colorado’s Third Congressional District