Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Playing Water Politics a Hard Habit to Kick

The water war between Pueblo and Colorado Springs has for years been a reliable vote-getter for Democrats, so some of them actually seem a little disappointed that the hostilities might be coming to an end. While the two cities finally seem on the verge of working things out, on the Southern Delivery System pipeline project and related issues, certain politicians seem inclined to keep stirring the pot, perhaps for fear of losing an issue they've exploited for votes.

What has SDS to do with partisan politics? Could politicians really be so cynical and self-serving? Answering the first question requires a bit of context. The answer to the second question would seem self evident.

Here's the context.

Pueblo has a lot of registered Democrats, and a powerhouse little newspaper, The Chieftain, that's done everything in its power to delay and derail the pipeline, by portraying Colorado Springs as an 800-pound gorilla taking advantage of the rest of the Arkansas Valley. And because Colorado Springs and El Paso County are heavily Republican in their voting habits, Democrats -- from Ken Salazar to John Salazar to Mark Udall -- have learned that they have little to lose and much to gain (including the endorsement of The Pueblo Chieftain) by playing to Pueblo's sense of victimization.

Some readers may recall that it was former Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat -- and the current Secretary of Interior -- who first encouraged Pueblo County to use regulatory mechanisms (including so-called 1041 rules) to impede the pipeline. His brother, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, has incorporated Springs-bashing themes in the mailers he sends to Arkansas Valley constituents. And freshman Sen. Mark Udall also has played the issue for votes, by posing as the protector of Pueblo and the lower Ark against big, bad Colorado Springs.

All three men understood that they could secure the political support of The Chieftain, and gain whatever additional Pueblo votes that might bring, by playing one community off against the other. Instead of helping mend fences, they used their positions to help build them higher. And now, when a series of recent developments suggest that an end to the water war might be near, John Salazar and Mark Udall seem reluctant to embrace the good news and move ahead.

They don't call it "water politics" for nothing.

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