Campbell, McInnis speak to Club 20
GSPI Managing Editor
GRAND JUNCTION ” Stepping down from office has its perks, as U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis were reminded Saturday.
An admiring crowd at the annual spring meeting of Club 20, the 20-county political group that represents western Colorado, gave both men repeated standing ovations for their 22 years of service in state and federal office.
“It’s sure been a ride for me,” said Campbell, the Ignacio Republican who was elected to the state Legislature in 1982, the same year as McInnis and Bill Owens, now Colorado’s governor.
“I’ve appreciated the opportunity to serve in a place I would never have guessed I would have been,” Campbell said. He contrasted his humble upbringing “on the wrong side of the tracks” with the prestige of serving in the U.S. House and Senate, where he has worked with four presidents and traveled extensively on diplomatic missions.
“I wouldn’t trade our form of government for any other form, bar none,” he said, drawing another round of applause from the audience.
Campbell said during his years in Washington, D.C., first as the 3rd District congressman and for two terms as senator, the U.S. government has made the world a safer place to live.
Ousting dictators Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Slobodan Milosevich in Bosnia, and with wars in Afghanistan and Kosovo and incursions in Haiti and Somalia, he said the United States and its allies have “rid the world of some of the most dangerous people in the world.”
The war on terrorism is a defense against the jihad of Islamic extremists, which is a growing threat, Campbell warned.
“This jihad is based on a warped idea of religious fundamentalism, where women are relegated to the status of second-class citizens, living behind the veil and hoping they don’t get beaten before the day is over,” he said.
“That’s the attitude of these people, and we have to stand up to it every day of our lives,” he said.
Campbell also confessed that his years in public office meant he missed out on important parts of family life.
He noted that while he and his wife, Linda, have been married 38 years, she spent 22 years as a single mother while he served in office in Denver and Washington, D.C.
Serving “is a difficult thing your whole family has to be involved in. I was not a good dad. It’s something I cheated my kids out of, and that’s time I’ll never get back,” he said.
Now Campbell said he is ready to come back to Colorado, where he can lay in a field of clover and look up at the stars. But as a senior statesman, he also plans to stay involved in his community and state.
McInnis followed Campbell at the podium to reflect on his years of service with Campbell.
Like Campbell, he pointed out many friends and allies in the Club 20 audience. And he noted that some led the way in inspiring him to make a successful transition from public office to private life, including former Garfield County Commissioners Larry Velasquez and Marian Smith.
“Some people were disappointed that we decided not to go on to the U.S. Senate. But I can tell you that Lori and I are completely confident about the future, and we are looking forward to coming back to Colorado on a full-time basis,” he said.
He praised Campbell for his work to designate and expand the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and bragged a bit on his own work to convert San Dunes National Monument into another national park, which included a major expansion.
Both McInnis and Campbell said in spite of the reputation for political wheeling and dealing, public office is a higher calling with extreme demands and rewards.
“It’s a high calling,” McInnis said, “but the highest calling is the call to arms.”
Americans can enjoy their lives in safety “because we have a lot of brave 18- and 19-year-old men and women taking combat fire right now,” he said.
Choking up on his final words, McInnis said, “My highest privilege is to serve the American soldier. I wouldn’t trade it for all the world.”
Contact Heather McGregor: 945-8515, ext 517
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