Bruell column: Electing the leaders we need

Debbie Bruell

Our elected officials are elected to serve us — to protect our health, safety and welfare; to seek solutions to the challenges our communities face; and to seize opportunities for our future. Of course, that doesn’t happen unless we elect great leaders.

With President’s Day around the corner and midterm elections next fall, now is a good time to reflect on what makes a great leader — and to start doing everything we can to ensure that in November we elect people who are truly worthy of serving in those positions.

One hallmark of a leader is that they are forward-thinking. For local leaders, that includes paying close attention to national and global economic trends to ensure our local economy is on stable footing for years to come. Counties like ours, which have relied on the boom and bust cycle of the extractive oil and gas industry for years, should be planning for a very different future. We need leaders who will acknowledge the structural decline of the fossil fuel industry and work hard to diversify our economic base, focusing on the unique assets and strengths of our county.

Second, a true leader is innovative. With the complexity of the challenges we’re facing today, we need leaders who are willing to think outside the box and take a creative approach to problem-solving. A good example is the $79 million in grant funds Colorado will soon receive to create good-paying, union jobs cleaning up orphaned oil and gas wells. Part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, this program will address multiple issues at once — creating jobs while also protecting our waterways from toxic contamination, restoring wildlife habitat, and reducing the release of the methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into our atmosphere.

Of course, great leaders also get to the root of the problems we face. Cleaning up orphaned wells is not enough — we need leaders who are bold enough to take on the system that allows corporations to abandon their oil and gas wells in the first place. Senator Michael Bennet is working on this with his bonding reform bill, which would increase the bonding requirements for fossil fuel corporations so that the cost of cleaning up wells after corporations have made their profit does not land in the laps of local governments and taxpayers.

Great leaders also stand up for what they know is right — even when that position is not popular or risks the loss of major campaign donations. By following Senator Bennet’s lead on bonding reform, legislators could miss out on huge donations from the oil and gas industry, one of the biggest lobbying sectors in the nation.

In the 2020 election cycle, the oil and gas industry contributed over $139 million to political candidates, parties and interest groups, including about $64 million to Republican candidates and $12 million to Democrats (see If we want leaders who will place people above corporate profits, then we as voters need to keep a close eye on where politicians’ money is coming from and how that is impacting their actions and decisions.

Finally, real leaders focus on what unites people, rather than fanning the flames of fear, anger and division. It’s easy to get people riled up and blaming each other for the challenges we face. Inspiring people to join together to work through those challenges is much harder — and is the only real solution since the biggest challenges we face impact us all. People living in low income neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted by the health risks of oil and gas development, but once fracking chemicals reach our groundwater they affect us all. COVID infection and death rates have been significantly higher in Black and Latino communities, compared to Anglo communities, but none of us are immune.

A thriving democracy not only requires that voters educate themselves and vote for the best candidates — we also need qualified community members to step up and run for office. At the time of this writing, no one has filed to run for the critical position of Garfield County Clerk. With Jean Alberico retiring this year, we should all be thinking about who we know (maybe it’s you?) that we could encourage to run for this crucial and well-compensated position — someone who shares Jean’s steadfast commitment to fair elections. Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who was barred from overseeing the 2021 elections, has made it all too clear how urgent it is that we elect a stable, principled, fair-minded person for this position.

As voters, it’s our responsibility to ensure that we put the best leaders possible in positions of power. Let’s start working now to make sure we elect leaders — from the city to the county to the national level — who have the qualities and capabilities that it takes to truly serve us all.

Debbie Bruell of Carbondale is a former Roaring Fork School District Board of Education member and currently chairs the Garfield County Democrats.

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