During our return to the San Luis Valley in August, we start at the Alamosa Boys and Girls Club where an organization called KaBOOM has rallied locals to build a new playground. Members of the local university’s football team, county commissioners, parents, and volunteers gather in what was once an empty lot to assemble a place of community gathering. Kids paint a map of the world on the basketball court with a star on Southeastern Colorado that reads “home.” It’s hot outside (90 degrees to be exact), but everyone is cheerful under the late-summer San Luis sun.

Down the road, the sounds of community gathering fade as we pull into the Alamosa County Jail, where Sheriff Jackson has graciously agreed to give us a tour. In the jail, 92% of inmates are opioid users, and the county lacks drug treatment opportunities for the insurgency of drug users in the area. The prison is at 200% capacity; women, who were barely incarcerated a few years ago now makeup a third of the prison population, because opioid addiction doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender; rooms that sleep two are now home to twelve. It’s dire, and the county lacks the resources to provide treatment options, in the jail or otherwise. Instead, arrivals–including addicts–are admitted into a 5×5 orange cinderblock room with a singular drain in the middle. People out in these stretches of rural America where the prisons are crowded with opioid users and treatment is two hours away are used to be ignored. For them, the only politics that matter are whether you show up to listen to them, whether you care about addressing their issues, and whether you can deliver results. It’s not about party or partisanship, it’s about a genuine need for public servants and advocates who take their concerns to heart.

On Alamosa’s Main Street, community leaders and locals gather for a roundtable on the Future of the San Luis Valley. Most strikingly, the majority of attendees say a future is hard to discuss in the face of their present crisis — specifically, the opioid epidemic. John, a career educator in the Valley, recounts a story about one of his former student’s heroin overdose: “I will never forget the pain in [a] father’s eyes as he told me about walking into his son’s bedroom and seeing the needle hanging out of his arm. His son ended up passing away. Stories like that are more common in the San Luis Valley than they should be,” John shares. They are. And to ensure a future for the San Luis Valley, we need to treat this epidemic with urgency and empathy. Similarly, there is a call for empathy towards immigrants, who are valuable workers on farms and an important part of the local economy.

That night, we sleep at Secretary Ken Salazar’s ranch under a sky so dark you can see the cloud of the Milky Way spiraling above. Secretary Salazar rises early and, in a stunning show of hospitality, makes the campaign team a hot breakfast filled with potatoes from his farm, his favorite local red chili, pancakes, and bacon. After we finish breakfast, he takes us down a dirt road in his pickup truck to the cemetery where his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents are buried. We traipse through dew-covered grass, and he tells us about the generations of Salazars that have lived, farmed, and died in the San Luis Valley.

Secretary Salazar tells us about the church that once stood near the cemetery, lost to time and the elements, and how fifty years after looters had stolen the church’s organ, an Anglo-Saxon Mormon found the organ and returned it to the Catholic, Hispanic Salazars. This is a poignant example of how local communities can reach across generational ethnic divides in a stretch of Southeastern Colorado that is at once remarkably beautiful and often overlooked by the rest of our state. The values here are those of family and history; of public service and graciousness; of the land and its power. Coloradans can and should look to the San Luis Valley and its extraordinary residents for an example of our state — of humanity — at its very best.

A few days later, we start our morning with a meeting on the Southern Ute Tribe’s reservation. Phil meets with members of the Tribal Council to talk about the complex relationship between the Southern Utes and Colorado’s government, including the Attorney General. The Ute Tribe is a sovereign nation, responsible for their own land and laws, but still maintain a relationship with the wider state of Colorado as a co-equal sovereign. The laws of the Tribal Reservation and the State of Colorado are different; take, marijuana, for example, which is not legal on the reservation, presenting complicated regulatory and enforcement challenges. At the same time, there is ample opportunity for collaboration in areas where the State of Colorado can work with the Tribe, such as in addressing the opioid epidemic, which has ravaged the Tribal population as it has ravaged the state at large. It is clear from the conversation that Phil recognizes the long and complex history of the Native American Tribes, understands their sovereignty, and is committed to working with them.

On our final day on the road, we stop in Gunnison for a meeting with members of the Upper Gunnison River Water Compact. A single issue that consistently emerges for the future Attorney General is water, and John — the General Counsel for the water district — tells us just how important the AG is in helping negotiate complex water management compacts both between Colorado’s regions and outside states. Understanding water, its nuances, and the importance of fostering collaborative relationship with surrounding states will all be key areas for our next Attorney General.

This trip is the last of our summer road trips, and as Phil and the campaign team rolls back into Denver that night, I reflect on the forty counties we visited this summer, and what we’ve learned from each. Across Colorado, people talk about things that we take for granted on the Front Range: access to reliable broadband, affordable healthcare, and a good education; opioid treatment, water rights, and empathy towards immigrants.

This summer, Phil showed up for them. As Attorney General, I am confident that he will continue to do so.