Presidential wannabes in ski towns

Aspen is fertile ground for national political candidates, as witnessed by the fact that every cycle they go there to pass the hat. Photo/Allen Best

Aspen is fertile ground for national political candidates, as witnessed by the fact that every cycle they go there to pass the hat. Photo/Allen Best

Presidential wannabes press flesh, pass the hat in ski towns

Aspen, Jackson Hole, but why not the Vail Valley?

by Allen Best

JACKSON, Wyo. – Presidential hopefuls stopped by ski towns of the West this summer, shaking the local money trees.

In Jackson, Republican aspirant Ted Cruz stopped by the library for a free public talk and then pressed the flesh at a fundraiser where the going rate for a 30-minute session hosted by a Texas oilman was $2,700. Cruz, a senator from Texas, called for transfer of public lands to states. “There’s no reason for the federal government to own the vast majority of land in the West,” he said.

Ben Carson, the retired pediatric neurosurgeon, also was in Jackson, where he raised more than $75,000. This was part of a swing that included a stop in Durango. There, after taking a flight over the Gold King Mine portal, he railed against the Environmental Protection Agency as a “bunch of bureaucrats who don’t know a bunch of anything,” and that the purpose of the agency is “not to make businesses miserable.”

He also said that if he were president, marijuana would be illegal across the country, including Colorado. (Actually it is illegal under federal law in Colorado and every other state; the law just is not enforced). He said as a neurosurgeon, he knows all too well the “deleterious effects on the developing brain.”

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has also been to both Park City and Aspen this summer to pass the hat.

And, of course, you can read the magazine stories about the deep pockets behind this candidate and that, and you can see mountain ski town names in almost every case.

But where are Vail and Beaver Creek, the supposed favorites of Wall Street, in all this? Nowhere to be seen.

The last time a presidential candidate stopped by Vail to panhandle was in 2008.

Political candidates have been known to stop by Beaver Creek, as when the Koch brothers held a gathering there several years ago, but it's not a common place for either Democratic or Republican candidates to pass the hat. Photo/Allen Best

Political candidates have been known to stop by Beaver Creek, as when the Koch brothers held a gathering there several years ago, but it’s not a common place for either Democratic or Republican candidates to pass the hat. Photo/Allen Bestpreisd

That’s when John McCain held a fund-raiser that generated $1.25 million, according to Kaye Ferry, who chairs the Eagle County Republican Party.

Ferry admits frustration at the unwillingness of the well-heeled residents of Vail and Beaver Creek to get out their wallets. “I can’t answer it. I just know that it’s really a pulling-of-teeth to get any kind of involvement whatsoever. To even get people to meetings is next to impossible,” she says.

It’s not that Vail hasn’t had presidential connections. Jerry Ford famously vacationed there as vice president and then as president, later living part-time in Beaver Creek. Bill Clinton, in 1993, took his first presidential vacation to Vail, getting out his saxophone to charm the crowd.

But the next year the Clintons went to Aspen and soon enough were off to Jackson Hole.

Michelle Obama also seems to have shopped in Vail before settling on Aspen.

In Jackson Hole, economist Jonathan Schechter identifies two reason why that mountain town garners the prez-wannabes and Vail doesn’t. First, it has a concentration of wealth among ski towns and mountain valleys rivaled only by that of Aspen and Pitkin County. And second, says Schechter, it has the national parks, Teton and Yellowstone.

Former World Bank president Jim Wolfensohn, according to Schecter, says that “nobody has ever refused my invitation to come to Jackson Hole.”

But Schecter also suspects that Jackson, primarily for conservative candidates, and Aspen, for liberal ones, have inherent networking opportunities that allow additional access to wealth. It sounds like a built-in bundler system.

“Not only is there immediate financial opportunity (for visiting presidential candidates), but also networking opportunities.” So it’s not just the money at these fund-raisers, but money that may be donated where the donors have other homes, too.

That may be the case in Vail, too, but the fact remains that presidential candidates rarely touch down at the Eagle County Regional airport.

Ferry, the local Republican chairwoman, says it’s not that people there aren’t generous. But those with big money tend to be more apolitical.

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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