Campbell makes right move in pulling out
Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Colorado’s senior U.S. senator, surprised the state last Tuesday when he announced that he would not, after all, seek re-election.
Just a month ago, the flamboyant senator made the rounds of Colorado communities, stopping in Glenwood Springs to underscore his intent to seek a third term.
But he didn’t show up Feb. 28 for the Garfield County Republicans’ annual Lincoln Day Dinner. Days earlier, he suffered a bout of heartburn that put him in a Washington, D.C., hospital overnight.
And a week earlier, his top aide, Ginny Kontnik, resigned after being linked to an alleged payroll kickback scandal.
Political observers around Colorado wondered how badly the health and scandal combination would weaken Campbell’s position, and the buzz about other candidates had already started when he announced he would pull out.
It was the right move at the right time.
The doubts would have dogged his campaign, and while he probably still would have won, his reputation would have been tarnished and his leadership compromised. And a loss would have been a bad way to end a winning political career.
Campbell’s decision to seek an independent investigation of the kickback allegation and to pull out of the race allows him to depart gracefully.
During his years in the Senate, Campbell was not an activist.
He did serve as a voice for the country’s largely disenfranchised Native Americans, he was an unwavering champion for the Animas La Plata water project, and he made the nation’s stuffy capital a more colorful place with his bolo ties, ponytail and Harley Davidson motorcycle.
He also worked hard to expose corruption in and clean up the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Campbell’s most enduring legacy will be his success in upgrading the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument to a national park and expanding the park to include the spectacular Gunnison Gorge.
With another 10 months to serve, his position on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will provide him with the most important work he has left to do for Garfield County. The national Energy Bill is still pending, and Campbell has an opportunity to make sure landowners and public lands are treated fairly as gas drilling continues to boom in the region.
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