A first in valley political arena | AspenTimes.com

A first in valley political arena

A fledgling citizens’ group that supports construction of rail, preservation of open space and building of affordable housing has hired a part-time paid director to help promote its agenda.

Glenwood Springs resident Steve Smith is being paid from contributions members have made to the valleywide Citizens for a Livable Valley.

CLV may be elevating politics to a new level in the Roaring Fork Valley by becoming the first lobbying organization to have a standing director. Other organizations have hired workers for specific elections or causes, but not for an extended time.

“It’s definitely its own creature,” Smith said.

Rather than being driven by a specific issue or isolated debate of an issue, he said, the organization is concentrating on a “vision” for the valley.

CLV was created when a handful of people talking politics realized they shared a vision – one which they felt many residents from Aspen to Glenwood Springs supported. The core members started organizing late last year and hired Smith in February.

Smith’s credentials include 12 years of working in the Colorado offices of former Rep. David

Skaggs, D-Boulder. Smith said he specialized in environmental, transportation, agriculture and public lands issues for the congressman. `Visionary preachers’ Citizens for a Livable Valley will eventually play a role similar to the Roaring Crystal Alliance, a highly-effective downvalley citizens’ group that was resurrected last year and has weighed in heavily on land-use issues in Garfield County.

CLV will become a frequent contributor at the “testifying podium” at local government hearings, Smith said. It will serve as a lobbying group and as “visionary preachers” on transportation, affordable housing and open space, he said.

“The group will be working on each of those three with equal vigor,” said Smith. In fact, it sees them as connected.

“The group so far has been reluctant to engage in candidate-specific elections,” Smith said, noting it didn’t get involved in last week’s municipal election in Aspen. There will be no hesitancy, however, to enter the debate on ballot issues, he said.

Contributions to the organization aren’t tax deductible “because we intend to campaign and lobby hard to get results!” CLV literature states.

Core members have included several upper valley elected officials like outgoing Aspen Mayor John Bennett and incoming Mayor Rachel Richards, Aspen Councilman Jim Markalunas and Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland.

It has also attracted activists who don’t hold political office, such as Jim Curtis and Michael Kinsley in the upper valley and Bob Schultz in the midvalley.

Smith estimated that one-half of the 25 participants in CLV’s “pretty solid core group” come from the upper valley. Another quarter come from the midvalley and about an equal number from downvalley. Seeking broader audience So far, CLV has relied on word-of-mouth to recruit members. They will soon take their message to a broader audience and take on a more visible role.

Smith said he’s witnessed the popularity of the group among people who hear about it from existing members. It’s appealing, he speculated, because it offers people a chance to make a difference on some of their pet issues.

The appeal of CLV’s vision is one of the reasons he took the position as director. For now, it will remain on a “small-scale” with Smith working only part-time on the group’s issues.

At least one skeptic wonders if CLV will have staying power in local politics. Jeffrey Evans, best known as an anti-rail activist, said it is too early to tell if CLV represents something significant in the valley’s political landscape.

“If they’re still around in two or three years, ask me that question,” Evans said.

He said he considers the organization “a new front for the same old group.” He questions whether it’s going to have funds to mount political campaigns if it is paying a director.

Evans said the group might as well throw apple pie in with its support of seeing more affordable housing built in the valley and preservation of open space. What could be helpful in the debate, he said, is to see how CLV can support those two goals without having them cancel out one another.

“As far as the train, I don’t know that they’ll have a proposal to support,” Evans said.

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