Despite being located in the farthest reaches of the Western Slope -- the state's political equivalent of a red-headed stepchild -- Moffat County has managed to stay on the political radar screen in Denver thanks in small part to an annual grassroots lobbying effort by the Craig Chamber of Commerce.
Each year, the chamber's board of directors hop on a bus to the state capitol to rub elbows with state lawmakers and remind them that northwest corner of the state has some unique problems and considerations.
"If we don't speak up for area, who will?" said Director Cathy Vanatta.
The primary agenda for the trip, scheduled for Feb. 26-27, is to present issues on the minds of chamber members, Vanatta said. One of the biggest this year is pushing legislation that will give small-business owners access to more reasonable health insurance. The rising cost of providing health benefits for employees is making profit margins dangerously thin for business owners in Moffat County with fewer than 50 employees, she said.
Gail Severson, owner of Severson Supply Co., a mining construction supply business, says health insurance is her No. 1 priority, although it doesn't threaten her profitability.
"I issue and provide it for the employees because they certainly deserve it," she said. "But the costs have gotten out of hand. There seems to be an automatic increase every year and if you don't like it, you get dropped."
Severson said she pays $4,754 a month to provide health coverage for seven employees.
"Financially we can handle it, but it's kind of discouraging," she said. "That's in addition to workman's comp, liability and all the other insurance we have to carry."
But it's not just the interests of business owners the chamber will be representing. They want to hear from anyone who wants to carry a message to lawmakers in Denver, whether it's about oil and gas exploration in wilderness areas or improving the way the state oversees accountability testing for schools.
Anyone who would prefer to meet a state representative or senator in person can join the group -- provided they can pay their own way.
"What we're providing is access to decision-makers," Vanatta said.
Past trips have proven to be worthwhile -- not only in terms of affecting political discourse, but making important contacts and networking, Vanatta said. Many of the lawmakers and policy makers the group meets in Denver will come to Moffat County in the spring to participate in TRW Legislative Golf Tournament in conjunction with the state's coal conference.
Last year, the chamber group lobbied legislators to take Colorado from a "no-fault" auto insurance state to an "at-fault" state based on feedback from the community. That measure eventually passed.
The Craig Chamber of Commerce travels to Denver with the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce. They meet with lawmakers on the House and Senate floor and the heads of some state agencies.
If you'd like to share your views about pending legislation, call Vanatta at 824-5689 before Feb. 20.