From Joe Biden to Jim and Chris: Politics of the head and heart

The political refrain that “All politics is local” is no more true than in a small mountain town like Crested Butte. The success of any politician, local or national, is tied to a representative’s understanding and ability to address issues that impact his or her constituents.

That phrase was a favorite of Tip O’Neill, one of the most productive legislators in this country’s history. He was a mentor to former vice president Joe Biden who Diane and I had the opportunity to be charmed by recently. At a gathering in Denver a couple weeks ago, Biden said it is more accurate that, “All politics is personal.”

Joe is a pro. He is smart and emotional. He can politic with head and heart. Watching him work a crowd is political art. He’s been in the business for decades and is pretty good at what he does. On his book tour, he is conveying a message that the idea of character and trust in politics really matters and he is optimistic and hopeful about the future of this country despite a, shall we say, different type of politician occupying the Oval Office. His messages, centered on character and optimism, are important.

Anyway, that is a way to tie Joe into Crested Butte politics. There are two men currently running for mayor of Crested Butte in the first run-off ever in the community. Jim Schmidt and Chris Ladoulis emerged with the most votes from a four-person race in November and one of them will be elected mayor December 19. Both have character and both are optimistic about their community.

Crested Butte voters can count themselves fortunate that they have two good choices. Both understand the town and want to make its future bright. The primary difference might be summed up in how their politics are personal to the place: One is considered based primarily in heart and the other is more focused in the head.

Jim is one of those who represent the heart of the place. His long-term service to the community stretches back to the 1970s and includes every decade since. He knows from where Crested Butte evolved and has personally helped get it here. He mentions and was influential with things that most people take for granted but that have helped make this place special: the wood-burning stove ban, the Deli and Lupine trails, the Town Ranch. He points out correctly that the current Town Council reps and even the senior members of the town staff are relatively fresh and his “institutional knowledge” would be an asset to the town. He has remained involved beyond Town Council and was instrumental with things like the Public Policy Forum and the recent memorial to miners killed in the old Jokerville mine disaster. Jim has made his living in the valley’s tourist industry as a bus driver and bartender and resides in one of the town’s affordable housing projects. He is always willing to listen to people.

Chris is more analytical and represents the head. He is a strategist, a planner and a thinker. It sure feels sometimes like Crested Butte is standing on the beach looking at an approaching tsunami of overwhelmingness heading our way and Ladoulis is not afraid to try new things to slow the wave.He will make decisions based on where he sees the town going, as opposed to where it has been. He likes the idea of developing a new, central strategic plan. He has recently upped his game and hopped into a leadership role on Town Council over several issues, including Brush Creek. Chris has also taken difficult positions on things like paid parking, which he favors because his research indicates it can actually make the town more pedestrian-oriented, or something like a Crested Butte Rec Center, which he questions because of long-term cost and the environmental impacts. Chris has tried many ways to make a living in this place and currently owns an Elk Avenue restaurant with his wife, while also starting a restaurant software company that can bring in money from outside the community. He has used opportunities to make a living outside the valley in lean times while his family anchored here. He can relate to many of the newer people coming here. He has been out actively listening to people in this campaign.

The bottom line is that the voters were correct a month ago in determining that either Chris or Jim can handle the job of mayor. Neither will be perfect but no small-town politician is supposed to be. Both Chris and Jim believe you can’t just turn off the faucet of growth and its ramifications but both are willing to try to shape the coming change. Jim looks to the past for guidance in decision making while Chris wants a plan to guide the future. One will rely primarily on heart and the other mostly on head to address changes. It is up to voters (probably the 100 people who voted for someone else a month ago) to decide which candidate is best for this moment in time.

Neither is a political pro like Joe Biden, who can embrace both the head and the heart equally as a politician. But both fit under Biden’s mantra that “all politics is personal” in that both have a very strong personal connection and love for the place they call home and want to represent as mayor. And like Joe, I believe both rightfully have an optimistic view of the town’s future. For that, the voting citizens are fortunate.

—Mark Reaman

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