Dan Gibbs: Newsmaker of the year
SUMMIT COUNTY – If you hadn’t heard of Dan Gibbs before last year, chances are you know his name now.Gibbs, a 31-year-old Democrat from Silverthorne, made headlines repeatedly in 2007 for his work as a freshman legislator at the state capitol.After winning a seat in the House of Representatives last November, Gibbs hit the ground running when the legislative session began in January by introducing a controversial bill to increase the penalties associated with the state’s chain law.After the state’s truckers association balked at the bill, Gibbs wouldn’t settle until a compromise was struck and eventually secured $2.475 million from the Colorado Department of Transportation to address truckers’ safety concerns along the I-70 corridor.A revised version of the bill was signed into law, and Gibbs walked away with a letter of support from the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which he plans to frame, a symbol of his motto to bring diverse groups together and never give up.
It was the chain bill and his forest health legislation, in particular, that Gibbs felt a sense of urgency with.”I felt like the communities I represent just expected me just to go to bat for them and not back down, put some good sweat into it,” Gibbs said.With the forest health bill, Gibbs secured $1 million in grant money – $176,000 of which ended up in Summit County – for projects that protect critical watersheds, the first-ever state funds dedicated to a pine beetle related issue.He still carries around the blue-stained wood pen made from bark beetle kill that Gov. Bill Ritter used to sign the bill into a law and that Gibbs used as a prop while drumming up support from fellow legislators for his bill.”It was a real conversation piece when I would talk to folks, from the Front Range especially, about the challenges with the bark beetle problem and potential threat of wildfires as a result. Half the time folks wouldn’t know what I was talking about,” Gibbs said. In case there’s any confusion, he also carries a vial with three dead pine beetles in it that he can show people who think the beetle epidemic refers to a popular 1960s band from Liverpool.
Another high point in Gibbs’ year was an invite to testify at a congressional hearing in Washington D.C. on his bill that holds the oil and gas industry responsible for taking steps to minimize the adverse impacts of drilling on the environment. Gibbs was lauded for gaining support on the legslation from 50 sportsmen organizations as well as both the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Colorado Petroleum Association.Gibbs’ noteworthy year didn’t end when the curtain closed on the legislative session. In June, he finished his training to become a certified wildland firefighter, and four months later, found himself on the front lines of the nation’s biggest fires in Southern California. He joined 2,000 other firefighters, including two from Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, putting out spot fires and protecting homes during the Santiago Fire near Irvine, Calif.The experience taught him important lessons about how large-scale incidents are managed.”I feel confident that I can step in a role now, whatever it may be, wherever I’m needed in the state of Colorado or in other states and I can help,” said Gibbs, who plans to continue his wildland firefighting career next summer.The day after Gibbs returned to Summit County from the fire lines, the wheels set in motion for the next chapter of his political career: Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald announced her plans to resign to focus on her run for U.S. Congress.
Gibbs was a shoo-in to replace Fitz-Gerald, and was officially sworn in as a Colorado senator on Dec. 11 for Senate District 16 representing Summit, Clear Creek, Grand, Gilpin and parts of Boulder and Jefferson counties.With a larger district and an election to retain his Senate seat in November, he’s got his work cut out for him. On a recent morning, he left his house in Wildernest at 4:30 a.m. to be at a 7 a.m. meeting in Boulder County, followed by a Gilpin County Commission meeting at 11 a.m. He ended the day at 7:30 p.m. after an event to collect donated coats and cans of food for the Family & Intercultural Resource Center and Dillon Community Church.That sort of day has become typical for Gibbs, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I have a lot of people to meet, but I enjoy it. I like waking up early … I have a lot of energy,” he said.
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