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Politics, wildfires and Mitt Romney

The Republican National Convention is over, and Mitt Romney has officially been declared the Republican nominee for president. Over the next couple of months, both he and President Obama are going to be making the rounds trying to appeal to voters from all corners of the country.

Something that I hope they try to touch on are a host of local issues which can be the deciding factor in the way in which a voter chooses a candidate to back. A local issue that is important to Colorado is wildfires.

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This summer was a particularly bad time for wildfires, with twelve different fires burning simultaneously in Colorado.  The worst of these were the High Park Fire here in Fort Collins and the Waldo Canyon Fire down in Colorado Springs.  Combined, these two fires burned more than 164 square miles of land, destroyed 605 homes and killed three people.

I was in Colorado Springs when the Waldo Canyon Fire was at its worst, the point at which the fire was starting to roar down out of the foothills and toward the city. My family and I were largely out of harm’s way on the east side of the city, but it was a long and scary night as we watched enormous billowing columns of smoke erupting out of the mountains as the fire marched relentlessly toward us.

It is, perhaps, because of this that the politics of firefighters and other emergency responders is very near and dear to me. People that choose to throw themselves into that kind of hell to protect other people are hero’s in every sense of the word. They, more than anyone, deserve as much support as the public can give them. And it is why I feel that anyone that says otherwise deserves harsh criticism.

This is also probably the reason why I am hesitant to consider voting for Mitt Romney in November.

In response to remarks made by President Barack Obama in June, Governor Romney stated that “he [President Obama] wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers.  He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.  Did he not get the message of [the gubernatorial recall in] Wisconsin?  The American people did.  It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

This is the kind of statement that is guaranteed to make someone like me angry.  We “don’t” need any more policemen, teachers or firefighters, Mr. Romney?  Which planet are you from exactly?  By cutting those kinds of public sector jobs specifically you are not going to be helping the American people at all, in fact you are probably going to be making situations like ours worse by doing so.

What kind of situation would Colorado be in exactly if we had fewer firefighters? I can guarantee that massive fires like Waldo Canyon and High Park would have done a lot more damage if we had fewer people out there fighting them and keeping them at bay.

Though, to be fair, the possibility of destructive wildfires every summer is probably not something that Mr. Romney has to deal with, or really think about that much. It is unfair and probably unrealistic to assume that a presidential candidate has the same perspective on the subject as I do.

That grim reality is something that I have to live with, but it is not something that I should expect someone else to have, even if it seems like they should take circumstances like mine into account.

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That being said, it is something that I am going to remember when I go to vote in November.  Regardless of whether or not it is fair of me to  judge Mr. Romney’s campaign based off of this position, it is something that is going to be weighing on my mind when I enter the voting booth, because this is an issue that matters to me.

The ability of public sector workers, particularly firefighters, to do their jobs is very dependent on how many of them there are. Saying that the American public would be better served by fewer of them is something that makes me incredibly nervous, and I am going to be very interested to see if Mr. Romney’s position on this changes as it gets closer to November.

Caleb Hendrich is a senior Political Science and Journalism double major.  His columns appear Wednesdays in the Collegian.  Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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