It’s one of the oldest clichés in journalism: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”
It’s a line I often repeat to young reporters and editors. And it’s the same advice I’m giving myself after publishing a column over the weekend on the Vail Daily’s website that didn’t run in Monday’s paper, as planned, after I pulled it off the site late Sunday afternoon. The decision to take down the column authored by local Seth Levy arose from concerns voiced by candidates and party officials about a planned debate on Aug. 18.
If you were one of the few hundred readers who happened to see the column before it got taken down, then you know that a new local political group called Moving Mountains has recently formed that is seeking to find common ground with voters who are tired of party politics as usual.
Levy, a Gypsum resident who works as an independent consultant and frequently chimes in on local forums, wrote a column introducing the group and explaining how it came into existence.
The small donor group was created with the stated purpose of “supporting campaigns of candidates running against extremists, regardless of party affiliation, and highlighting campaigns where all candidates are acceptable.”
Among other things, Levy explained that Eagle County has regularly bucked the trend of supporting extreme candidates and that the county’s largest voting block is nearly 52% unaffiliated — a strong sign that most local voters aren’t into strongly mixed Kool-Aid, whether red or blue.
“However, that does not mean we are immune to extremism as I would call the coup within the Eagle County GOP orchestrated by election-denying conspiracy theorists to be quite extreme,” he wrote. “Still, most people who live here want to have a more civil discourse and rational discussion over the issues that confront us from the town level all the way to the top.”
About that coup. Kaye Ferry, the longtime GOP chair who’d held the position since 2007, was voted out on June 23 by local party membership.
To hear it from the new party leadership, Ferry was removed in part for not maintaining “pre-primary neutrality” — a claim she disputes — and for not getting enough Republicans on the ballot to contend for local offices.
Ferry, for her part, said her ouster allowed her to pursue more centrist politics — the offshoot of which is her involvement with Moving Mountains.
She’s a member of the newly formed group’s board, along with Democrat Jon Stavney — a former Eagle County commissioner and Eagle Town Council member. Levy, in helping get the group registered with the office of the secretary of state, has a non-voting role on the board.
None of that is up for debate. The issue that deserved more scrutiny — from me — is Levy’s claim in the column that five of six local candidates in the races for county commissioner, Senate District 8, and House District 26 had agreed to participate in an Aug. 18 debate hosted by Moving Mountains.
The local chair of the Eagle County Democrats, Jennifer Filipowski, reached out Sunday to say that local Democrats were certainly aware of the new group, the debate, and were open to attending and participating, but hadn’t agreed to blanket participation until they had more information about the group’s intentions and the format. Savannah Wolfson, a Republican running for House District 26, reached out as well saying that the claim “that she hadn’t responded either way to an invitation” lacked necessary context.
Wolfson said she was initially hesitant when Ferry texted her about a debate, since Ferry had made it clear to her, in previous interactions, that Ferry preferred Glenn Lowe III of Eagle — Wolfson’s Republican challenger in the primary. Wolfson’s claim echoes what local Republicans had voiced about Ferry and a lack of neutrality as party chair.
Wolfson also said she didn’t know Levy well, or his involvement with the debate, and was surprised to find herself on an email Sunday night in which Levy tried to get everyone in the same room to hash out the issues.
If this all sounds highly political for a group that’s trying to avoid politics as usual, well, there’s some real truth to the notion that being above party politics is akin to trying to move mountains.
That’s not to say that the idea of a local group that bucks the fringe factor for rational, common-sense candidates — regardless of party affiliation — lacks merit. Ditto for holding a community debate to help inform voters.
I, for one, agree with Levy, and Ferry, and anyone else who thinks party purity tests are lame. That said, anyone running for office at any level isn’t going to enter into a debate without agreeing to the terms of the format. It’s frequently said that politics is a blood sport, but it’s not a backyard brawl. Just like boxing, or MMA, entrants and their handlers hash out and agree to the rules before anyone enters the arena.
Also, in my line of work, incomplete information is essentially the same thing as incorrect information, and that’s what we’re talking about here. If there’s any real culprit, it’s a game of telephone in which messages get garbled, lines of communication get crossed and agendas get questioned.
After numerous conversations Monday, it sounds like all parties involved are still open to the idea of a debate Aug. 18. Although Scott Schlosser — a local realtor who is unaffiliated and was the other voting member of the Moving Mountains board — had responded to Levy’s group email by saying that he was withdrawing from his board seat.
“I was initially interested in being on this committee in the hopes of bringing a bit of unity, kindness, peace and love during these very divisive political times but sadly that seems unrealistic.”
That may be the case. Or, maybe that’s not true in Eagle County. We shall see.
As for the decision to pull the column, you can draw your own conclusions, but as I always tell candidates or readers, I sincerely don’t care about the politics — just the facts.
As a journalist, every single claim deserves a healthy dose of skepticism, even if it’s your mom telling you she loves you.
Nate Peterson is the editor of the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.