You're not really that stupid, are you?

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Vail Valley Partnership advocates for the ideas and issues that help build a vibrant economy in Eagle County. We work on behalf of the business community at the local, regional & state levels. In addition to our role as a policy advocate, we are a community partner and the source for creating broad-based coalitions around issues we all care about; from transportation to housing to workforce development.

We are proud to fill this role, because the issues facing our business community don’t have a home in one political party or the other. Taking leadership positions and advocating for solutions to business issues occasionally puts us on the front line and makes us easy targets for criticism.

Because of that, a thick skin is a pre-requisite and is part of the job; as they say, you can’t please all the people all the time. I am extremely proud to represent the public positions that our board of governors have endorsed or opposed, as I know the positions taken are well thought out, well researched, and designed to help businesses succeed in an increasingly challenging environment. Not everyone will agree with our positions, and that is just fine – life would be boring otherwise. We welcome this discussion and believe a healthy dialogue helps improve things for the community.

Less acceptable and tolerable is a small percentage of the community who cannot seem to have a rational disagreement about issues; consider a recent presentation on behalf of ballot issue 1A (workforce housing), when an attendee suggested to me that “you’re not really that stupid, are you?”.

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Upon reflection, I have to agree that I just might be, in fact, “that stupid”. Ignoring the fact that my 9-year-old can make a more rational, nuanced argument than calling someone she disagrees with “stupid”…..if “stupid” is any of the following, it’s a badge I am proud to wear. Consider:

  1. I am part of the 95% of people who recognize affordable workforce housing as a major community issue (source: Eagle County phone survey).
  2. I am aligned with the 69% of businesses who believe that the lack of affordable and accessible workforce housing negatively impacts the ability to retain & attract talent (source: Eagle County Workforce Study).
  3. I believe that we have over 1,000 unfilled jobs that can’t be filled due to a lack of affordable and accessible housing (source: Eagle County Needs Assessment).
  4. I believe that Colorado & Eagle County are going to continue to see population growth, and that our aging population will create huge stress on our business community as the current workforce retires and ages in place, removing “hot beds” that are currently utilized for workforce (source: Colorado Demographers Office).
  5. I believe business owners, managers, and employees who – across industry sector – tell me that housing is their biggest obstacle to growth (source: hundreds of people throughout the valley).

Can we disagree on data points and projections? Of course! Can we argue methodology? Yes! Can we come to different conclusions on the best ways to address community issues? I certainly hope so. After all, reasonable people often disagree on issues; but there is zero need to make it personal. Frankly, you lose every time when you resort to calling people stupid (or any other names). Our local schools have anti-bullying classes to teach our kids that this is not an acceptable way to resolve differences; maybe they should expand the program to include the community at large.

At the end of the day, political discourse is to be expected. Advocate for your positions – passionately! But make a point to respect your neighbors, respect differences of opinion, and avoid name calling. Frankly, it is embarrassing and I believe we are better than that (and don’t get me started on the online comments and animosity that exists when protected behind a screen).

Pollyanna-ish? Maybe. One could even argue that such naiveté sufficiently qualifies me as stupid.

Are you planning to vote this year? Many Americans sat out of the 2014 elections, even in Colorado. While there’s a lot to be cynical of this election, the stakes are high. Beyond the presidential race, the U.S. House and Senate are at stake, in addition to county issues around housing, schools, and open space and too many state issues to list here.

Regardless of your viewpoint on any single issue or candidate – please vote. You deserve to have a say in the direction we take as a community in the years ahead. We need you to be part of the process, and to have your voice heard. Sitting it out would be stupid unfortunate.

Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, recently named “Chamber of the Year” by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.