The first day in the rest of Dan Gibbs’ life
DENVER Two hours before state Representative-Elect Dan Gibbs is set to be sworn in to his first elective office, he’s on the phone thanking his influential predecessor, Gary Lindstrom.”You’ve been such a great resource for me,” Gibbs says eagerly, and appreciatively. “I feel like I can pick up the phone and call to talk any time, so thanks.”It’s clear the young Gibbs has already learned and adopted a valuable political credo: Have an open mind – and ears – for the folks who entrusted you to be their representative in Denver … qualities exemplified by the outgoing Lindstrom.”I’m going to put the district first,” Gibbs said Wednesday from Room 223 of the state Capitol, a building dripping with history in every nook and cranny of its labyrinthine, ornate system of passageways. Gibbs shares an evolving, wood-trimmed office with sprawling views of the western mountains with two other members of the state House.
“Ever since the election, I’ve been working!” he enthusiastically adds.While Gibbs is clearly anxious to roll up his sleeves and get to work (for six years, he was an aide to U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, before being elected himself to represent Summit, Lake and Eagle counties in the state House), Wednesday was obviously more a day of celebration. Gibbs, along with the other members of the Colorado House and Senate, took an oath to faithfully serve his constituency in the 66th Colorado General Assembly among family, friends and colleagues jam-packed into the historic Capitol chambers.And it’s a notable group, mostly for their youth, which Gibbs exudes. Of the 100 lawmakers, 28 are rookies – making for the second-largest freshman class since statehood.Gibbs himself is an interesting contrast. He is young (the Rocky Mountain News called him a potential “heartthrob”) but he projects experience as well. He wears a lawyerly blue suit, but he also sports a large belt buckle and cowboy boots – a nod for sure to the more rural mountain communities he is charged with representing.
“(A challenge) for me is to take those issues that are important to our mountain communities and make them relevant to people down here,” Gibbs admitted.Wednesday, however, work seemingly played second fiddle to the anticipatory festivities of swearing in a new group of lawmakers – a group made up mostly of Democrats who swept to power in the state House, Senate and governor’s mansion, the first time that’s happened since 1962.The House chamber was abuzz with activity Wednesday. It was standing-room-only in the gallery, and the normally sedate House floor looked more like a nursery at times, as friends and family crowded the chamber to all corners. Lawmakers shook countless hands, many balancing young children in their arms as they extended greetings to one another.Gibbs wore a broad smile all day, posing for picture after picture with those close to him who came to share his big day. His father, Ron, happily roamed the gallery, while Gibbs’ mother, Susan Tillotson, sat positively alongside her son at the desk where he will undoubtedly cast important votes over the next 120 days of the session.
Issues, though, are never far from Gibbs’ attention, and in between the glad-handing and celebration, he talked about his immediate priorities.Gibbs landed an influential post as vice-chair of the House Transportation and Energy Committee, and he’s anxious to see progress in reshaping the vital, increasingly congested I-70 artery. Gibbs has been active in the multi-municipality I-70 Coalition, which he sees as an essential group moving forward. He also expressed optimism for a renewed focus on the interstate corridor with the election of Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter, who has personally pledged to Gibbs to make I-70 more of a priority during his term.Gibbs also wasted no time in moving the needle on the issue of the expanding pine beetle infestation. He, along with Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, is forwarding the Forest Restoration Act, a bill that would make more state and local grants available to communities starting bark beetle mitigation projects.Other legislation he hopes to craft in the session include a noxious weeds bill that would control the invasive tamarisk, and a Habitat Stewardship Act that would compel oil and gas developers to consider wildlife and sporting areas before drilling new rigs.
Wednesday, though, it was impossible not to dwell on the historic impact of the new Legislature, and to recognize the important personal milestone for Gibbs.”It’s a new beginning for me, in many ways,” Gibbs said, unable to contain the infectious smile of a man taking the first steps of an ambitious career as a public servant and lawmaker.Duffy Hayes can be reached at (970) 668-4621, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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