by E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow Greg Walcher
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, made a campaign appearance in Pueblo, Colorado. He was asked about western water issues — as national candidates invariably are when visiting the Centennial State — and his answer baffled the crowd. He was from Arizona, but had never really been much involved in water issues. He knew distribution of the Colorado River was a sore subject for his own constituents, so he relied on a line he had often used on the campaign trail back home. He said it was past time the outdated and unfair old Colorado River Compact should be renegotiated.
John McCain had no idea what a hornet’s nest he had stepped into in Pueblo, but several people immediately told him. National party leaders quickly explained to him that you can never say that in Colorado — a state whose history, economy, culture, and way of life are inexorably tied to the Colorado River, and whose leaders will never stand for “renegotiating” the delicate legal contract that allocates its waters. McCain’s campaign issued a correction, assuring Colorado voters that he would protect their water against thirsty downstream cities.
What if candidates like McCain had no reason to care about Colorado voters? What if the only votes in the West that mattered were those in California? Unfortunately, we may not have to wonder about such a hypothetical question — it could soon happen.