SkiCo CEO: Schwartz is about the future, Tipton the past
We have a policy here at Aspen Skiing Co. around elections: We don’t endorse candidates; we only weigh in on specific issues. This year I am breaking that self-imposed rule, because the stakes in our region are too high. In the race for the third congressional district, I am supporting former state Sen. Gail Schwartz.
I like Schwartz’s opponent, incumbent Congressman Scott Tipton. Over the years, my business has developed a good relationship with his office. Tipton is polite and respectful, willing to listen even though he disagrees with us on many issues. His Western Slope staffer, Brian Meinhart, is smart and thoughtful.
Tipton has done good things on issues we care about: for example, streamlining regulations around small hydroelectricity. And he clearly agrees with us that more of the tax money generated by our national forests ought to return to those same forests. It’s great that we have this mutual respect and common ground. But it’s not enough.
The reality is that I have fundamental differences with Tipton on issues vital to the future of our state, our business and this economy. Most prominent in the news cycle is Tipton’s support for transferring federal lands ownership to the state or privatizing those lands. This movement is deeply misguided. Today, the process for making improvements on forest service lands, including to ski areas, is hampered by lack of staff. States have even less money than the feds for this oversight. Worse, this lack of money would likely push the states to sell off lands or their mineral rights just to survive, sterilizing the land from public use forever.
This isn’t the only issue on which we disagree. In winter, Aspen Skiing Co. employs 3,700 people. We’re part of a much larger economic engine in the state, snow sports, which employs 46,000 people and generates $4.8 billion in economic impact, including a full $2 billion in wages.
In contrast, there are 1,200 remaining coal miners in the state. These jobs pay well and can’t be replaced by solar installation work, which pays much less. It’s also true that coal has been a vital resource to our state and nation, fueling large parts our economic success in the last century.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the coal industry is in rapid global decline because it can’t compete with other fuel sources on cost and cleanliness. Tipton’s approach — to try to claw back this obsolete industry — doesn’t serve miners and is fundamentally disingenuous. These men and women need help finding new work, job training and expanded opportunities in the clean-energy sector and elsewhere, not a fairy tale that we can revive a glorious past. Yet through his politically motivated denial of the science behind climate change, Tipton has prioritized those dwindling jobs at the expense of tourism, recreation and Colorado’s unique mountain environment.
I disagree with Tipton on many other points. He voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have helped bridge the gender gap around wages. Aspen Skiing Co. increased pay last year and offers some of the most generous wages and parental leave policies in the state. We support protection of Thompson Divide, outside of Carbondale. Tipton backs the gas industry’s efforts to drill, turning that area from a multiple-use economic engine into a one-trick pony.
Tipton continues to endorse Donald Trump, who has routinely disparaged Mexican immigrants. Our business embraces and respects our hard-working Latino employees, without whom we could not operate. Even Paul Ryan has disavowed Trump after his recent comments about women.
We need a representative who understands that government can play a positive role in society, giving people and communities the tools they need to succeed. Tipton’s opponent, Gail Schwartz, understands this. She has been a longtime climate hawk, an education booster, an opponent of federal lands sell-offs, and an advocate for the people of rural western Colorado.
In the Colorado Senate, she pushed $1.25 billion to school construction. She helped create an incentive to capture coal mine methane, a path to new jobs and cleaner energy generation. And she’s long been an advocate for rural Colorado, supporting quality education and health care, economic development, broadband and the infrastructure needed to thrive.
This will be a tough race. Tipton may well win. If he does, we’ll work with him with the same respect we’ve always shown to move forward on common concerns. But at this critical time in Colorado’s history, I’m obligated to take an uncomfortable stand. Gail Schwartz gives us an opportunity to move into a prosperous future, not cling to the past.
Mike Kaplan is president and CEO of Aspen Skiing Co., which employs 3,700 people in the Third Congressional District.