Vistas Valleys & Voters: A Campaign Staffer Reflects on the Trail with Phil
A Family Road Trip to the Roaring Fork Valley

The front range dissolves into granite and pine as the altimeter counts up. The minivan, packed with yard-signs and literature and cameras, rumbles through the Eisenhower tunnel, the gentle tap tap tapping of keyboards ticking through the miles. Paola, ever-cheerful, drives, Phil working in the front seat. Jono, the photographer, snaps photos of the byways. Sammy, Phil’s 10-year-old son, occasionally leans forward to ask us for help on iPad word games. It’s a family road trip, with a purpose.

In Edwards, we talk to Gerry, who’s soft-spoken and articulate. We sit on a fountain outside an ice cream shop just off the highway, discussing Eagle’s marijuana tax that funds mental health resources, and what an Attorney General can do to ensure that the revenue goes to the right places. Ice cream melts in the early-evening heat, and a group of curious people stop to share their first political memory, ask questions, tell stories, and have a conversation about what an Attorney General can do for Eagle county. I suddenly grasp what it means for Phil to come here and listen to these stories.

The next day, our morning in Garfield starts at the Bluebird Cafe. Matt greets us with coffee and the kind of easy-going laugh that only comes from living in the mountains. We get to talking about the Opioid crisis in this area. “When somebody has any other kind of disease we don’t throw them in jail,” he points out. “We throw them in a hospital.”

These days, people think politics is all lies and spite, all campaigns and mysterious donations that come from somewhere else. At the coffee shop in Garfield county, it’s about the people who show up, tell stories, and listen. We can see the midterms — and elections in general — as a fight. But elections also offer people a chance to talk about the things that go unnoticed in the day-to-day of news cycles and Twitter exchanges. And stops like this give Phil an opportunity to listen and learn from people around the state. On this day, in Garfield county, I witnessed real empathy in politics.

Down the road in Carbondale, we don’t see the fires, but we can smell them, a faint haze of smoke clinging to the county like a sinister reminder of a threat barely kept at bay. Mount Sopris, nearly 13,000 feet into the sky, looms over us. Here, we talk about immigration, and there’s fear in every story; fear of the end of DACA, fear of a government in D.C., and fear of being separated from one’s families. Maria, an immigrant worker, tells me “we are looking for the right person who can fight for our rights…we are here to work and to do something good for our children, and we only want an opportunity to show them that we are looking for a safer place to live.”

That evening, driving out of the mountains and back to the front-range, I can see the Sawtooth of Mount Evans silhouetted against the deepening blue of twilight. Last time I drove this road, it was to scale that mountain; this time, it’s for an equally big climb, but one that finds us with more than a view at the end.

On the trip, we learned about opioids and immigration, taxes and the power of empathy in politics–and the importance of a good team. The line that runs through my head all night on the way back to Denver is from The West Wing: “Decisions are made by those who show up.” Thank you to the people who showed up for us in the Roaring Fork Valley.