Don’t let tourism sanitize your mountain town |

Don’t let tourism sanitize your mountain town

Ed Quillen

Many people may believe that life must be wonderful in a resort town, but there’s an unappealing aspect that doesn’t get much attention. I speak neither of low wages nor unaffordable housing, for those topics are often discussed. Instead I speak of the pressure toward bland conformity, lest potential visitors take offense and spend their vacation money somewhere else.

There was, for instance, the town board member in Estes Park who refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in 2004 on the grounds that the “under God” phrase amounted to an unconstitutional government establishment of religion. David Habecker was soon recalled from office, and certainly some of the pressure came from residents who were worried about threatened tourist boycotts after it became a national story.

Just how many people are there in this country who think, “There’s a town that tolerates someone whom I disagree with, and so I’ll go somewhere else on vacation”? After all, I’ve never avoided buying gas or a motel room in remote portions of Utah, even though I’m pretty sure the locals’ politics aren’t my politics.

But even so, this stuff keeps happening. The most recent example is Telluride. This week the town board approved on second reading an ordinance “Calling for the Impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney.” The ordinance passed, 5-2.

This isn’t something the town government thought up on its own. Under the municipal charter, any citizen can circulate petitions for an ordinance. If the number of valid signatures is at least 5 percent of the vote in the last election (this one needed 31 signatures and got more than 100), then the town board has two choices: Pass the ordinance, or refer it to the voters at the next municipal election.

On first reading, the Telluride board voted 6-1 in favor. One positive vote came from Bob Saunders, who told a local newspaper that he had “heard nothing but good comments thus far.”

“My feeling is that if this went to a vote in November,” Saunders said, “75 percent of our voters would vote the same way.” And so, “Why go through an election in November when you know what the results are going to be?”

Despite that effort to save time and aggravation, Telluride has been assailed by some right-thinkers, who have called for a boycott. A 175-member Florida ski group apparently canceled its Telluride plans, and any visit to the relevant wingnut portion of the Internet will display denunciations and calls for boycotts.

The electorate in resort towns can be surprisingly liberal. I have discussed this with newspaper editors in both Vail and Aspen. From appearances, Vail should be a Republican Valhalla: It’s about as funky as Wonder Bread, and it teems with golf courses and rich people. Yet it generally votes Democratic.

The Vail editor observed that “Most of the people who are registered voters inside the city limits are waiters and dishwashers and the like. The rich folks live outside town. So the voters in Vail proper tend to be liberal.”

And further, the Aspen editor explained, “If you’ve got a second or third home in Pitkin County, you’re probably not registered to vote here. If your legal residence is Colorado, then you have to pay state income tax. These richer-than-God folks keep their legal residence in Texas or Wyoming or some other state without an income tax, and so they can’t vote here.”

Just how much power there is in the local electorate is another matter, given how sensitive tourist towns must be about their images. There was some controversy here in Salida a while back because several shops had small anti-war signs in their windows. Some tourist wrote a letter to the local paper, saying he was never coming back to this hotbed of unpatriotic sentiment. And so there were calls for merchants to remove political messages from their premises so as not to offend tourists.

But what do we owe tourists, anyway? Service, but not servility.

We ought to make it clear that if people want to visit sanitized nonpolitical little towns, they ought to stay out of our mountains and go to Main Street U.S.A. in Anaheim, Calif., where there are no citizens with opinions on the issues of the day, but instead just Disney employees in costume.