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Southern Colorado imitates Club 20

Article by Marcia Darnell

Action 22 – March 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

A WATERSHED EVENT in the history of rural Colorado politics may have begun January 13, with the formation of Action 22, a coalition of 22 southeastern Colorado counties.

Patterned after Club 20, the Western Slope bloc (which also includes Lake County), Action 22 aims to create “a single unified voice on issues of mutual concern to Southern Colorado Counties,” according to its brochure. In other words, 22 usually ignored counties are pooling clout to make one BIG voice in the state legislature.

The counties making up Action 22 include the San Luis Valley and Central Colorado (see map). They hold 800,000 people, 19.5 percent of the state population. Its land, however, is 35 percent of Colorado. The water wasn’t calculated, but you can bet it will be a big issue.

Jake Klein, Otero County commissioner, outlined the basis for Action 22 at the swank Pueblo Convention Center. The group began in October, at the Southern Colorado conference during the state fair. A planning team grew into an acting board, which consists of three mayors, six county commissioners and a city trustee.

This board will nurture Action 22 through its embryonic stage, before ceding to an elected board of one representative per county. Each member of that board will have one vote on issues, putting tiny Mineral County on a par with titanic Pueblo County.

The organization will not hire a professional lobbyist, Klein said, but will rely on the number of its members to influence legislation, lending an air of sincerity to an otherwise ugly process. Revenue for the group will come only from member dues. No grant or foundation money will be sought or accepted, making Action 22 beholden only to its members.

Dues are $100 for individuals and $150 for non-profit organizations. Business and corporate rates vary as to number of employees. Cities may join for 6 cents per capita, counties for 10 cents per capita. Maximum dues are $5,000, making them affordable for all counties and cities.

Action 22 will focus on a membership drive until April 15. Then on county caucuses until May 31. The caucuses will elect county representatives to serve as the board of directors, which will meet in June to begin formulating a legislative agenda, due in November.

Clarke Becker, Teller County commissioner and an acting board member, stressed that Action 22 will not endorse political candidates. The group will be strictly non-partisan, he said.

“We have no preconceived ideas regarding issues,” he said. Action 22┬ús committees and sub-committees will determine the issues for the board to consider. The four steering committees, as of now, address economic development, tourism, transportation, and agriculture/public lands.

As for board decisions, Becker cited the policy of Club 20, which requires board consensus on issues. If the board members can’t agree on something, the issue is tabled. Becker also said he doesn’t expect any competition over issues with Club 20.

“We expect more cooperation than conflict,” he said. The acting board got a lot of cooperation from those at the conference. Over $91,000 worth of cooperation, as mayors, commissioners and agency heads forked over membership checks.

Mike Hackett, city manager of Alamosa, handed over a check. The city council had voted to join Action 22 before the convention. Hackett said he hopes for “consideration of the interests that the city of Alamosa has.”

Specifically, Hackett hopes for help with expanding service at the city’s airport and with jobs and quality of life issues. He said that Alamosa’s top priority is coping with growth – and ensuring good revenue to maintain quality of life during growth. Hackett hopes to be actively involved with Action 22. “I would like to be involved in a committee,” he said, “probably the economic development committee.”

Dennis Murphy, mayor of Del Norte (pop. 1,800) also signed his town up as a member. “Southern Colorado has been forgotten when it came to campaign promises by past officials,” he said. “I think these alliances will lead to economic development in the San Luis Valley.”

Murphy says he doesn’t feel threatened, but hopeful, by an alliance with large cities.

“It seems Colorado Springs and Pueblo get contacts from small businesses looking to relocate,” he said. “Maybe there’ll be some spinoff from that here.”

He notes that tiny towns and big cities have a lot of the same problems, including a shortage of funds for infrastructure improvements.

Clint Driscoll, mayor of Buena Vista (and Colorado Central contributor), plans to recommend to his town board that Buena Vista become a member. The town’s top priority, he said, is “preserving free flow of the Arkansas.”

So it looks as if Action 22 is off the ground. Participation is crucial, however, to seeing it soar. Remember, individual membership is only $100. Until Action 22 gets its own office, you can send your check to Action 22, c/o City Manager’s Office, #1 City Hall Place, Pueblo 81003. For information by phone, call 719-561-1496. This could be the start of something big.

Marcia Darnell lives in Alamosa, and hopes that Action 22 results in a great deal of profitable work for free-lance writers.