During my last couple of years of active duty service in the Air Force, while serving on the faculty of the Air Force Academy, I trained to be a military cop in my off-duty hours. I’d always been interested in police work, and the USAF Academy Security Forces (as AF cops are called) had a program to help augment the relatively small number of cops. I enrolled in that program and kind of went over the top, and ended up getting fully certified for patrol, DUI testing, and other cop stuff. I taught during the week and was a patrolman nights and weekends. I ended up with over 2,000 hours of patrol, made felony arrests, performed CPR, and wrote lots of tickets (hint: if you don’t want a speeding ticket, don’t speed).
And so, on one winter’s day, with a major blizzard hitting the Academy, I was out on patrol. We ended up closing several roads by placing traffic cones across them at key intersections, to direct everyone on the main roads for safety, as those main roads were being plowed. Therefore, I was rather surprised when I saw a Subaru drive around the cones and head down a snow covered and closed road. I pulled the car over and asked the driver, a Canadian Air Force officer, if he had seen the cones. He said that he had, but to quote him exactly, “I didn’t think you were serious about them.” You see, when back home in the frozen north we call Canada (it’s actually lovely, but the winters are rough) a foot of snow wouldn’t be any reason not to drive on a road. Therefore, he assumed that the cone zone didn’t apply to him.
Which, of course, brings me to San Juan County.
A recent Colorado Politics story tells the tale of the sheriff of that lovely county and his battle against outsiders. It seems that dozens of cars tried to drive into Silverton and the greater county area, only to be turned back by Sheriff Bruce Conrad and his team. Conrad reported that last Saturday he turned away 62 cars that were trying to enter town and that several of the drivers were abusive.
Now I get it, we all would like to be outdoors more. This is, after all, Colorado. But given the current situation, we need to think of others. With a population of only 600, Silverton has had only one confirmed COVID-19 case, and they want to keep it that way. Conrad also mentioned that no less than four separate groups of wannabe-campers deliberately moved cones and signs off closed roads so that they could get in to enjoy the great outdoors. I’ve never really understood people like that, who seem quite convinced that they are special and the rules don’t apply to them. At least one of the groups tossed the cones and signs into the bushes along the road and another didn’t even bother to move the cones but just drove over them. Those poor cones, just trying to do their job.
The vast majority of Coloradans are good, kind, and well-meaning folks who follow the rules and contribute to our communities, states, and our nation. But for folks like Sheriff Conrad, it is that small percentage that think they are somehow above the law and that rules don’t apply to them that cause most of the problems. Conrad was doing his job, as an elected official, and I commend him for it. Doing your government job is often dreary but it remains important. Not too much of governance is flashy but it needs to get done.
Which, of course, brings me to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.
I’m really hoping my former boss will forgive me for that implication that he’s not “flashy,” but, well, he’s not. He is, however, a hard-working and dedicated public servant who willingly stepped away from a lucrative private sector career to serve the people of Colorado. A recent letter sent by Bennet to Vice President Pence is an excellent example of Bennet as a work horse, not a show horse, when it comes to his Senate duties. It didn’t get much attention, but it shows what behind-the-scenes government service often looks like.
Back in April, Pence made a commitment to Colorado to supply our state with quite a bit of personal protective equipment, especially important due to the JBS meat packing facility in Greeley’s high positive test rate. Bennet, it appears, kept track of whether we got the promised PPE or not. His simple letter to the VP reminds him of his commitment and asks for an update on, well, where is our PPE?
Look, putting down cones and following up on Pence are not really exciting or sexy, but they both need to be done. Sheriff Conrad and Senator Bennet, one local and the other more national, are doing their jobs on important, if ostensibly tedious issues of governance. This is what public servants are supposed to do and supposed to look like, and I commend them and all the other folks doing the real work. And please don’t drive over cones; they mean you no harm.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.