Summit County Commissioners, District 2: Thomas Davidson seeks third term
September 22, 2016
Editor's note: This is the third installment in a five-part series on candidates entered in two Summit County commissioner races. Look for additional installments in each of the next two Friday editions of the Summit Daily.
Thomas Davidson has been in elected Summit County office for a decade, but says he hasn't forgotten where he comes from, or what it takes to navigate the numerous challenges of the mountain region.
More than 30 years ago, Davidson finished his political science degree at the University of Kansas and was contemplating law school. Following an introduction to skiing, though, he decided against a future as an attorney and landed a lift operator job at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in the winter of 1985. At just 22, it was a notable adjustment from life growing up on the family farm in eastern Kansas, but a decision he never thought about twice once he arrived, even if he was only making $3.35 an hour.
"There was no chance that I would ever end up in law school after I got here," Davidson said through swigs of black coffee. "By my second winter I was skiing everyday and getting paid for it. I might not have had much in the way of money, but I was incredibly happy."
Not long after he was promoted to a supervisor position, he moved his way up through the precursor companies of Vail Resorts, falling for the mountains more every year. By the tail end of his 20-plus years in the ski business, he was the director of development for Vail Resorts, guiding on-mountain expansion of both Keystone and Breckenridge resorts. Davidson left the position in December 2006 when he was appointed to the District 2 commissioner position he's held ever since, and it's that journey he considers often.
"I remember just what I had to go through in order to make it here," said the 54-year-old, "and that bar has only gotten higher for young working families and people in Summit County. So it's not theoretical for me. I know what you're going through. For me, it's all very real because I lived it."
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It's why he says he's made increasing housing options for the local workforce, securing funding for childcare services and supporting additional resources for the Summit Community Care Clinic to provide health care access to the community the priorities of his time in office. An emphasis on maintaining the environmental beauty — a key ingredient for why he and countless others have moved to Summit through the years — remains his other area of focus.
But in order to make the county's gears work, it takes multi-jurisdictional partnerships, collaboration with nonprofits and a will to grind through obstructions when they get in the way of progress. Davidson called this a strength of his and the other commissioners: Karn Stiegelmeier — also up for re-election in District 3 this year — and Dan Gibbs.
"That's just sort of a way of doing business that everybody carries with them in Summit County," said Davidson. "That is very different than a lot of places in Colorado, or the world for that matter. There's a very long list of things that we've chosen to do in partnership together. So we not only do it a lot, we're good at it."
Among them is the alliance between county government, the school district, the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) and nonprofit group Early Childhood Options to preserve and expand the Early Head Start and Head Start preschool and childcare programs for low-income and under-served populations in the county. Davidson has taken a leading role with these initiatives in county, serving on the Early Childhood Option board since 2000, in addition to being appointed by the governor to the state's Early Childhood Leadership Commission in 2013.
The ongoing $23 million CDOT Iron Springs realignment construction project to increase Highway 9 to four lanes is another Davidson project. Any number of pitfalls nearly sabotaged the venture, and it took bringing together agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, Continental Divide Land Trust, Vail Resorts and the town of Breckenridge — along with creative problem-solving to satisfy all stakeholders — to finally get shovels in the ground. The undertaking is expected to finish by the end of 2017.
Davidson is also particularly proud of leading the charge to have Summit become only the second county in the state, after Denver, to modify health care and human resource policies to provide services for transgender employees and their dependents in 2015. Davidson doesn't view that as related to his status as the first openly gay commissioner in county history, but rather, "just what a health plan and HR policies will look like in the 21st century."
"Here in Summit County, nobody cares that you're gay," he said. "Are you doing a good job as a commissioner or not? That's all that really matters. I am proud and happy I can be who I am and serve the people of Summit County, and when the opportunity is right advocate for equality for the LGBTQ community without being heavy handed about it."
As the November election draws near, and Davidson faces off against his predecessor in Bill Wallace, as well as independent challenger Jonathan Lerner, he can't help but harken back to memories of what brought him to Summit County in the first place. It was as a liftie at the bottom of the Exhibition Lift (now the Black Mountain Express) at A-Basin some three decades ago, staring up at the natural splendor that he hopes to safeguard for one final term, for the next generation of ski bums whenever and from wherever they come.
"I would stand there," Davidson recalled, "and I would look up at the Continental Divide, and go, 'Oh, my gosh. This place is wonderful, and it's beautiful.' You fell in love with the environment. That's something that's incredibly important to so many people in Summit County and I share that passion."
To learn more about Thomas Davidson, visit his campaign website at http://www.davidsonforcommissioner.com.
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