Groups battle for heart and soul of Aspen |

Groups battle for heart and soul of Aspen

Imagine the campaign for the November election as the political equivalent of a heavyweight boxing match.

In one corner is the wily veteran, Common Sense Alliance. It has a mixed record in past bouts, sometimes taking a beating and other times dishing it out. Its coach is Jeffrey Evans, who has more than 20 years of Pitkin County and Aspen politics under his belt.

In the other corner is an up-and-comer, Citizens for a Livable Valley. It has no track record but has earned the backing of some staunch supporters since its creation earlier this year. Its coach is Steve Smith, a part-time, paid director who served on former Colorado Congressman Dave Skaggs’ staff.

Instead of throwing punches in this match, the two citizens groups will fight for the hearts and souls of Aspen’s voters. The purse in this bout is the fate of rail – whether or not it will be among transit solutions for the Entrance to Aspen.

The strategies of the two citizens groups aren’t particularly complicated.

“Well, we convince people that rail doesn’t make any sense,” said Evans.

Most city voters have already formed an opinion on the issue, Evans speculated. CSA is banking on the assumption that the majority have decided rail is a bad option.

“We just have to encourage them to stick up for their beliefs,” said Evans.

There will be a lot of information thrown out during the campaign to try to persuade voters that rail somehow makes sense, he said. CSA aims to reinforce people’s instincts that it doesn’t make sense.

The alliance’s campaign theme is that rail is the wrong technology for this small valley. If rail doesn’t work in an urban environment, how will it work in the relatively small Roaring Fork Valley, Evans asked.

Citizens for a Livable Valley’s Smith also believes the campaign boils down to appealing to voters’ good judgment. His organization will stress that rail is an important component for preserving the open spaces and small-town quality of life that attracted many residents to the valley.

CLV will send the message that increased traffic and more asphalt lanes on a highway aren’t what the valley needs.

Like Evans, Smith believes his side has popular support.

“I still think there’s a majority of people who think rail is a component of a visionary transit system for the future,” Smith said.

CLV was formally created last spring. Its founders include former Aspen Mayor and rail proponent John Bennett.

The group’s “mission statement” centers around slow growth, preservation of open space and mass transit. Since the rail-funding question for the Entrance to Aspen has such huge implications, CLV believes it must dive into the political process now, Smith said.

The organization went on a general fund-raising drive earlier this summer. Soon it will embark on an effort to raise funds specifically for the rail campaign.

CLV will also rely on old-fashioned, door-to-door campaigning to get its message out. “A key [strategy] is just talking to a lot of people,” said Smith.

Common Sense Alliance’s Evans said his group is already building its war chest.

“You are always in a fund-raising mode,” he said.

When asked how much spending will be required to win the issue, Evans responded, “However much you can raise.”

CSA leaders intended to meet last night to plot campaign strategy. Smith said CLV’s electioneering will gear up in October.

The citizen-sponsored rail-funding question, the city’s busway-funding question and several other transit-related ballot issues, will be appear on the ballot in November.

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