June 2005

Negative thinking prevails in county

By Galen Larson

With the indulgence of the Free Press, I’m going to do some articles on my views about Montezuma County and the Four Corners area. My late wife and I chose this area by mutual agreement some 25 years ago, so I’m still a newcomer.

I was born and raised in a small farming community in northern Minnesota, much like Cortez. Willetta was born and raised in a small town in Kansas. Both of us left home after high school. I tramped the Lower 48 in a carefree manner; she had family obligations that kept her more tied down. Providence brought us together in Wyoming.

Close to returning there, we explored other areas in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, but nixed them because cold snow and age do not go well together. Then we settled on Montezuma County and purchased her “piece of heaven,” as she called it.

Our rude awakening to the politics of this area came with a headline in the local paper. Montezuma County was to get a minimum-security prison. I thought, how demeaning is that to this beautiful area! Surely we can do better.

A diverse group formed and we held the gargoyle at bay, much to the chagrin of a few leaders who were looking for what they thought would be a job pool. As we all know, good-paying jobs are not easy to acquire here. Our thought was, we may be a poor county but we are rich in quality of life.

To me this is typical of the thinking that predominates in our county. Look for economic development at any cost instead of being creative and trying to attract the kind of businesses and industries that are suited to our beautiful area.

Montezuma County is one of the lowest in the state in per-capita income. I would say we are first as far as the amenities we have to offer. But we have too many officials with limited vision for the future – elected by relatives, friends and soothsayers.

Here, it is not what you know but who you are related to that gets you into office. And leaders who do try to show some vision are laughed at over coffee by the same people who complain bitterly about their sorry state of affairs, people who can’t think past Tuesday and can’t remember Monday.

Resist any tax that might better the community, they say, if it doesn’t directly benefit me. They complain about the decaying roads, then vote down a tax increase on the ballot that would have improved them.

Child and spousal abuse are rampant here and meth labs seem to be mushrooming. But these people are more concerned about protecting their property rights than anything else. It’s fashionable to be antigovernment in Montezuma County, yet the largest employers are the branches of government.

Government is not our enemy, nor is it necessarily our friend. We have to watch it carefully and make sure our elected leaders are doing what they should – not just complain about everything while taking no steps to make matters better.

Negative thinking accomplishes nothing but the self-satisfaction of the thinker. Yet it seems to be a favorite pastime here. A sizable portion of the county has the “lobster-in-the-pot” mentality. You know, if a bunch of lobsters are in a pot together and one tries to climb out, the others will drag it back down. If someone tries something new or different, others cry: “Oh, that won’t work here! It would take too much effort. It’s too different. It’s not right for us." Get back in the pot is their real message.

This cuts across all cultures. There are even some minorities who accuse those among them who become excellent students or accomplished leaders of “acting white.” People with no vision don’t like to see others with vision succeed. They don’t care about future generations, only themselves.

Montezuma County is one of the jewels of Colorado, a diamond in the rough. But too often, people who work to preserve the area and make it economically viable in sustainable ways are ridiculed, just as people who support any environmental efforts are viewed as criminals.

Our county and its three small municipalities are lucky to be surrounded by public lands. They are a blessing, not a curse. The beauty of our deserts, canyons and forests is unsurpassed. Yet we are constantly at war over how to manage those lands. Campers, hikers and bikers, cattlemen and sheep ranchers need to work together for the common good. Any of those activities, if done to excess, can create problems. No one is pure. But lack of understanding on all sides has created controversy.

Wars were fought over sheep and cattle grazing in the same area. They now know that the wars were unnecessary, that both can grave together and actually benefit the soil. Likewise, recreational users and old-time ranchers can coexist if we will just work together for the betterment of the land, not our own selfish benefit.

Progressive thinking is needed, not negative. Leaders are needed, not people who look to the past and try to keep everything as it was 50 years ago. People of good will are needed who will work for the overall good, not just for the fattening of their pocketbooks.

Galen Larson owns 360 acres near Cortez.