He was a point man, adviser and confidant to Colorado’s U.S. senators in Washington, a consummate Beltway insider for the GOP. That’s certainly how us folks in the news biz viewed Sean Conway many years ago, especially when he was right-hand man to then-U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard.
Yet, it wasn’t until Conway came home to Weld County and won a seat on the county commission — eventually to be entangled in a cage fight that has gone on for a couple of years now — that he really learned why “all politics is local.” It was as if he were baptized into politics all over again. From the frying pan into the fire — or make that, into the blast furnace.
In today’s Q&A, Conway talks about local politics that can get downright personal.
Colorado Politics: You defied the old truism that says you can’t go home again, returning to Weld County after decades in state and national politics. Yet it’s not as if you left politics behind back in Washington. Your tenure on the Weld County Commission — you’re now in your third terms as a commissioner — has been anything but a retirement. Especially the last couple of years, the commission has been riven by tension and turmoil. What made you come back to your old stomping grounds — and run for public office? Any regrets?
Sean Conway: No regrets at all. The last 10 years have been very rewarding serving as a Weld County commissioner. Despite the last two years, many things have been accomplished: the completion of Weld County Road 49 in 2018, the largest construction project in the 157-year history of the county; a 33-mile, four-lane highway completed on time and under budget with no debt or tolls to our taxpayers. A new County Administration Building in 2011; a new dispatch center in 2013; and currently the construction of a new wing of the county jail, all done with no new taxes or debt to the residents of Weld County.
CP: Another truism is that all politics is local; perhaps the reputed author of that observation, Tip O’Neill, should have added that local politics is often brutal. You and some fellow commissioners have been at odds over a host of issues. They’ve been blocking you from leadership posts; you at one point threatened to sue. The saga has been covered at length by the media. Has your experience on the commission exposed you to dynamics you didn’t encounter even as a powerful chief of staff in the U.S. Senate?
Conway: Nothing during my two decades in D.C. could have prepared me for the personal attacks some of my fellow commissioners have directed at me. The last two years has reinforced that all politics is local. The contention that has existed has been over me not betraying my principles.
The division on the Weld County commissioners centers around issues of unethical behavior and using their position to benefit themselves.
It is why I believe Weld County voters have re-elected me twice with the highest vote totals for any candidate running for office in Weld County history.
CP: A few years back, you and some fellow commissioners were united on another issue: an initiative you championed to join with some other northeastern Colorado counties and secede from the rest of the state. It was a response to what you contended is the liberal drift of the state government and its Democratic chief exec. Though it hasn’t happened yet, are conditions still ripe for secession, in your view? Is there a growing rift between rural, agricultural Colorado and the Front Range’s metropolitan areas? Where is it all headed?
Conway: The 51st State initiative was born out of people feeling they had been disenfranchised by the Democratic/urban-dominated General Assembly.
They felt the governor and those in charge of the state Legislature were not listening. I believe the seeds of secession are still there, and if a blue wave this election returns us to the days of 2013, where a new liberal Democratic governor and General Assembly try to enact new extremist policies on rural Colorado, the movement could be revived.