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Who and What To Believe?

I spend a lot of time trying to keep myself informed about current political affairs, but it often seems to be a futile effort.  The same subject can be reported with wildly divergent information in competing publications.  What is the poor reader to do?  And how is the public to make any sense of this?

Articles in two of our local papers about Congressman Scott Tipton’s visit to Pitkin County on December 6 illustrate the problem.  I accompanied the Congressman to his meetings and heard what he had to say.  The meetings included breakfast with local Rotary members, a business roundtable on immigration with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, and an afternoon discussion with the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners.  It was the discussion with the Commissioners that was covered in the two papers.

Naturally, the first items that jumped out at me in the coverage were the headlines.  The one in The Aspen Times was strictly factual:  “Tipton Updates Commissioners.”  Certainly an accurate summary of what occurred.  In contrast, the Aspen Daily News led off with the following provocative title:  “Tipton Rebuffs Thompson Divide Legislation in Aspen.”  The verb “rebuff” is very strong.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “reject (someone or something) in an abrupt or ungracious manner.”  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary similarly defines the verb as “to refuse (something, such as an offer or suggestion) in a rude way” or “to reject or criticize sharply.” 

Had my ears mistaken what I had heard in the meeting with the Commissioners?  The subject of oil and gas drilling in the Thompson Divide area northwest of Aspen is a fraught one, involving environmentalists and others (the Thompson Divide Coalition) and oil and gas interests.  Congressman Tipton has not taken a position on proposed legislation on this issue introduced by Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, nor has he rejected the legislation.  It was clear in the meeting with the Commissioners that he was not about to take a position then and there.  Rather he explained that he wants to see the results of current negotiations between the oil and gas companies and the Thompson Divide Coalition.  According to the Aspen Times’ reporting of what was said by the Congressman: “We’re open to participate in those conversations and try and seek the best solution we can.” 

The Aspen Daily News reporter went on to write that “those opposed to drilling in Thompson Divide have questioned whether Tipton can be an effective umpire to the controversy in the area while accepting money from the oil and gas industry.”  The reporter then cites contributions that the Congressman has received from oil and gas companies this year to support the notion that the Congressman is biased, without noting that the energy industry is a major factor in Colorado’s economy and it would be normal for that industry to contribute to the Congressman.  The reporter also refers to donations since 2009 “tied to” SG Interests, one of the Thompson Divide gas leaseholders, but does not mention that the amount is a small fraction of the money raised by the Congressman from all sources during that period.

In addition to Thompson Divide, both articles refer to recent legislation Congressman Tipton introduced to counter the threatened revocation by the federal government of private water rights in connection with permit renewal on U.S. Forest Service land.  This is a problem that affects ski area operators as well as ranchers and other agricultural interests in the Congressman’s district.

Not willing to give the Congressman any quarter, even on legislation intended to have a positive impact locally, the Aspen Daily News article treats his bill harshly and cites “environmental groups” raising “concerns that the bill is overly broad.”  The article mentions in passing that the Congressman disagrees that the concerns in question would be affected by the bill.  On the other hand, the reporter for The Aspen Times quotes the Congressman:  “Tipton said the act works if people like the .... ability of Aspen Skiing Co. to be able to have the right to the water that it pays for and the rights it developed.”  Further, “When we’re talking about the Water Protection Act that I just put in with bipartisan support, Aspen ski mountain is going to rely on this ....”

So, what should the reader believe?  As one reporter describes it, our representative in Washington is anti-environment, motivated by political donations from oil and gas interests, and willing to override the concerns of the U.S. Forest Service when it comes to private water users.  The other reporter, covering the same meeting, paints a very different picture: a Congressman trying to balance the interests of all parties in the Thompson Divide matter and protect water rights essential to ski area operations and agricultural activities.   While I do not often have firsthand knowledge of who said what to whom about these subjects, having attended Scott Tipton’s meeting with the Commissioners, it’s clear to me which version of the facts is correct.


Frieda Wallison is Chair of the Pitkin County Republicans.

Credit Frieda Wallison
Frieda Wallison

A graduate of Smith College and Harvard Law School, she practiced law for more than 30 years in New York City and Washington, D.C. as a partner in major law firms, before retiring for the good life in the Roaring Fork Valley. Beyond serving as Chair of the Pitkin County Republicans, Wallison is Republican Chair of the Third Congressional District in Colorado and a member of the Colorado Republican Party Executive Committee. She is also the President of the Snowmass/Capitol Creek Caucus and a member of Aspen Rotary.  In her spare time, Wallison is a real estate developer in the mid-valley.  She is married to Peter Wallison, the Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and they are parents of three and grandparents of five.

You can contact her at fkwallison@me.com

Her personal Facebook page address is facebook.com/frieda.wallison

You can find out more about the Pitkin County Republicans: http://pitkinpolitics.org/

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