Adios Ms. Schwartz, it was fun watching you work for sensible water policy in the legislature over the years. Thanks for reading Coyote Gulch. Here’s a report from Curtis Wackerle writing for the Aspen Daily News. Here’s an excerpt:
Gail Schwartz, who for eight years represented Senate District 5, which includes Pitkin County, in the state capitol, looked on Wednesday as her successor was sworn in. Democrat Kerry Donovan of Vail won a narrow election in November over Don Suppes, the Republican mayor of Orchard City, thanks largely to Donovan’s nearly 40-point margin of victory in Pitkin County.
Schwartz, also a Democrat, won two close elections in 2006 and 2010 for her two terms in the Senate, both with strong Pitkin County support.
Senate District 5 now includes parts of Gunnison and Delta counties, and the entire counties of Pitkin, Lake, Eagle, Chaffee and Hinsdale. Before a reapportionment process following the 2010 Census, it encompassed Pitkin, Gunnison, Chaffee, Hinsdale, Mineral and a portion of Delta, plus the five counties of the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado.
Schwartz on Tuesday said she is proud of her work establishing the Building Excellent Schools Today program, which came about in 2008 and provides competitive grants that support new school construction in rural areas. Other highlights include renewable energy and water conservation efforts she championed in the legislature.
“It’s been an extraordinary time,” Schwartz said. “We’ve gotten a lot done, not just for Senate District 5, but for rural Colorado and the state as a whole.
“ … The bottom line is that I have been so blessed and so honored to serve.”
The now former senator, who at one point was being recruited to challenge Rep. Scott Tipton for his U.S. Congress seat representing the Western Slope, said she does not yet know her next occupation. Schwartz said she has “several balls up in the air.”
“I’m not looking to go lie on a beach someplace,” she said.
While she does not want to jump into anything too quickly, Schwartz said she sees opportunities to work on policy development, possibly in education or renewable energy, perhaps with a consulting organization, in a political office or state agency, or with a nonprofit group.
“I’m tilling the soil to see where the opportunities might be,” she said.
She said she has no plans to become a lobbyist.
“I don’t have the genetic makeup,” she said.
Schwartz also serves on the board of the Aspen Community Foundation and on the High Country Regional Council of the El Pomar Foundation…
The Colorado Constitution limits state senators to no more than two consecutive four-year terms. That seems a little counterintuitive to Schwartz, who said she is still running at full speed. Those term limits lead to a loss of a great deal of institutional knowledge, she said, and she has seen plenty of legislators she looked up to walk out the doors of the capitol, perhaps before their time.
When that is the case, “the question is what happens to that institutional knowledge?” she said. “Who will take the reins? Who will new legislators look to for guidance?”
Schwartz said that there are more pressing issues that might call for amendments to the state constitution, namely untangling contradictory state revenue and expenditure mandates. But if the term limits question were ever to come up, Schwartz said she would support revisiting the issue. State-level politicians are more accountable to their constituents than on the national level, she said.
“I believe we already have term limits — they’re called elections,” she said.
Advice for new a legislator
Schwartz said she has met extensively with Donovan, whom she endorsed and describes as smart and hard working.
“She’s quite the student, and she will take the time to study the issues,” Schwartz said of Donovan.
Schwartz said she and Donovan went through all the files in Schwartz’s office, with Schwartz setting aside those she thought were particularly important. She also passed along to Donovan “about 20 bill ideas I thought would be beneficial to the region.”
“She heard some of those. I’m extremely grateful that we do have a strong working relationship,” she said. “I believe we share many of the same priorities.
“ … I certainly respect her independence and being able to do things her way.”
In general, Schwartz said she would pass along the same advice to Donovan that she was given when she began her tenure in the Senate.
“I think you want to stay in your seat and listen and learn, and not be too quick to jump on things or provide your opinion until you really understand the issue,” she said.
The other important piece is to always be cognizant that, as legislator, the only thing you have is your vote, she said. Always be slow to commit it, and don’t promise it to a lobbyist or fellow legislator until you are absolutely sure, and have gone through a thorough process that includes citizen input.
“Your word is everything,” Schwartz said. “Be slow to commit that vote.”