Gazette turns SDS into candidate litmus test


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In the dear dead days beyond recall, when media moguls ruled the land and Freedom Communications was a prosperous, family-owned newspaper chain unburdened by debt, bankruptcy, or infidelity to the principles of founder Raymond Hoiles, the Gazette declined to endorse candidates. Why, I don’t know — perhaps because libertarianism required that all candidates for office be regarded with equal suspicion.

But times have changed.

On Sunday, the “G” wasted three-quarters of a page of perfectly good newsprint to trumpet the choices of its editorial board. Welcome to the wonderful world of city-election endorsements, guys! You’re a little late to the party, and despite your choices, your methodology was slightly dubious.

The Gazette’s touchstone issue appears to be the Southern Delivery System. The paper called Doug Bruce’s reform slate “a travesty” which, if elected, would be a “decades-long setback for Colorado Springs.” Only candidates who are “strongly in favor of the Southern Delivery System exactly as it was designed by Colorado Springs Utilities” merited the paper’s endorsement. The rest were consigned to the dustbin of history.

In endorsing Steve Bach for mayor, the editorial board noted that Richard Skorman was almost equally impressive. But in an unusual display of Reaganitis (a common political ailment affecting only conservatives, characterized by deep, irrational yearnings for the Second Coming of the beloved president) they went for Bach.

While there are many good reasons to support ol’ Steve, the board noted that he not only “commands the attention of the room” but also “delivers a grandfatherly stability that’s reminiscent of Reagan.”

They made Skorman their second choice, and not only because he’s less Reaganesque. One thing weighed against him: He has actual experience in city government!

“Skorman has served on City Council, and has been part of a system which is gravely in need of repair, which did not weigh in his favor with some members of the board…”

The board consisted of Gazette publisher Steve Pope, editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen, systems editor Pula Davis, and longtime business reporter Wayne Heilman.

Pope and Laugesen, the big dogs at the table, have each lived in Colorado Springs for less than three years. They may not realize that SDS only exists thanks to the political skills and tenacity of Colorado Springs elected officials.

So here’s a brief history lesson:

Since the early 1980s, Colorado Springs has attempted to develop water rights on the Arkansas.. The city first attempted to do so with the Homestake II project, which would have diverted water directly from the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. That scheme, which met with fierce opposition from Western Slope environmentalists and recreational business interests, was torpedoed when the Eagle County commissioners refused to grant the necessary permits.

Unwilling to believe that a bunch of tree-huggers and ski bums could prevail in the courts, the city spent close to a million bucks (real money in those days!) appealing the decision, only to lose ignominiously.
CSU, supported by then-Mayor Bob Isaac and his coterie (who had no use for “enviros”!), embarked on an equally pig-headed scheme to dam the main stem of the Arkansas at Elephant Rock, a few miles north of Buena Vista. Predictably, this proposal went nowhere, opposed by the rafting industry, landowners in the valley, and every elected official in Chaffee County.

That left SDS as the only option.

Ridiculed for years by Isaac and Utilities’ managers as too expensive to build and operate, as well as putting Colorado Springs at the mercy of Pueblo politicians, SDS had never been given serious consideration by the policy-making “water buffaloes” of the city.

It was up to a new generation of water managers and elected officials to put the deal together, beginning in the mid-1990s. That they succeeded in doing so, after 20 years of failed projects, is close to miraculous. SDS was solidly conceived and perfectly executed, particularly by all those dysfunctional elected officials in the system that is now in such need of repair.

As in Homestake or Elephant Rock, the obstacles weren’t technical, but political. SDS proponents had to overcome generations of hostility and suspicion between Colorado Springs and Pueblo, and create regional partnerships from the ground up. For many years city elected officials, particularly Sallie Clark, Larry Small, Margaret Radford, Richard Skorman and Lionel Rivera, worked to build trust and cooperation.
Their persistence, humility, and patience, backed up by a superb Utilities staff, was rewarded when the Pueblo County commissioners unanimously approved the project.

The city and CSU had learned from history and abandoned the haughty bullying of past years. Thanks to the shared vision that animated elected officials in Pueblo and Colorado Springs alike, SDS promises to be a regional boon, bringing growth and prosperity to both cities.

Now all we have to do, as the Gazette admirably points out, is not to screw up a done deal. If the voters reject the Dougster’s gang of five, we’re fine … and if not, expect some grandfatherly recollections from yours truly about the Gazette and the Dougster.

Like Dr. Frankenstein, they created the monster … and now the monster won’t do their bidding! Begone, foul beast — I command you!! No, no, no — don’t take our water away!!!


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