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Government is best when it’s close to the people it affects

Rep. Bob Rankin
Staff Photo |

How can I miss you when you won’t go away?

I think that’s the title of a country song, but it reminds me of the recent “shutdown” of the federal government. The shutdown was supposedly only 17 percent of the actual functions of government, but they seemed to want us to miss them by closing some of the most visible parts like parks and websites. Forget about whose fault it was. What did we learn? Maybe the national government is too big and controls too much. If Colorado has to pay the federal government to open public lands, maybe the state should manage those resources.

I’m reminded by the shutdown that government works best when it’s closest to the people who are affected. When I hear testimony in committee hearings, it’s always the county commissioners and clerks who have the most to contribute. City councils and school boards deal with real issues, not abstractions and legality. They know and care about the people that they see on the street every day. Sure we need statewide laws and even some national level regulation and control, but did the shutdown teach us that we should always advocate for the least government operating at the most local level? I write this column and talk at every opportunity to try and raise awareness of and involvement in state and local government.

There are plenty of issues to talk about in the debate over appropriate levels of government. The shutdown reminded me most of the battles we fight in Colorado to deal with public lands issues. The use of “public” lands hits us particularly hard in western Colorado. I’ve talked about this in another article, and I’m preparing a bill for the upcoming session to help deal with some aspects of the problem.

Bills have been introduced in Utah and Colorado that would have the federal government return all public lands to state control as was originally the intent when these lands were set aside. While those initiatives probably won’t ever come to fruition, less ambitious plans may work. Commissioner John Martin in Garfield County is working along with other counties to have the Forest Service return local roads to county control. He is also working to have some federal lands that evidently should have been set aside many years ago returned as state trust lands, creating a significant new source of public school funding.

It takes years to deal with environmental impact statements and lawsuits on almost every federal land issue. I don’t mean to disparage in any way the competency or professionalism of the federal land managers who are our friends and neighbors but perhaps decisions like the Thompson Divide, the Roan Plateau, environmental species protection, oil shale and grazing rights could be handled better if they were state issues.

Is the federal government too big? What about state government? What functions of government would we like to see more locally managed? I’ve been fascinated by my work on the house local government committee and visits with town and county managers. While I think government overall should be smaller and less intrusive in our lives, I also think we can work to make it better and fairer by moving it closer to the people.

“Under the Dome” appears on the second Tuesday of the month. State Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, is in his first term in the state Legislature representing House District 57, which includes Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.


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