by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel

With the departure of Club 20’s executive director, and the search for a new one, several observers openly wonder whether the organization can still accomplish what it became famous for, uniting the Western Slope to speak with one voice on important issues.

Two weeks ago we discussed why that still matters, but also had to admit that the region is very different than when Club 20 was founded, different even than when I worked there (1989-1999). The communities in the 20 counties West of the Continental Divide are much more diverse than ever, and their voters see many issues differently. Fortunately, the organization is structurally nonpartisan, an unbending and indispensable aspect of its Articles of Incorporation, bylaws, culture and history.

That does not mean those 20 counties, 75 towns, and thousands of local businesses cannot stick together for the common good, even when they don’t all have precisely the same interest. Instances of their success in doing so are too numerous to count; a few examples illustrate the point.

In the mid-90s, the rapid growth of the Internet was the major economic trend. The ability for many people to “telecommute,” now called working from home, was quickly changing the culture of much of the country — but not all of it. There was no Internet access in most of the rural West. So, while national leaders boasted of the “information superhighway,” Club 20 published a widely read report on the disparity, called “The Information Dirt Road.” Calling for fiberoptic access in every county, the report was unanimously embraced by the board, even though at least 10 counties already had fiberoptic connections. They did not object to using Club 20 resources to help the smaller counties, because they understood the need for a united voice to solve the problem. Access in every county became a successful initiative of Gov. Bill Owens, elected in 1998, at least partly because of the Western Slope’s capacity to stick together.