Outdoor Retailer show in Denver brings out the politics

Author: Joey Bunch - July 23, 2018 - Updated: July 24, 2018

Gardner BLMU.S. Cory Gardner, left, and Sen. Michael Bennet, at right, talk to a vendor at the Winter Outdoor Retailer market in Denver in January, (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

When the massive Outdoor Retailer market moved to Colorado from Utah last year in a fight over public lands, the die was cast to mold together the business and the politics of getting outside.

The ticketed summer show for retailers and vendors opened at the Colorado Convention Center Monday. At the top of the political list: The Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association released its first congressional scorecard to coincide with the show. The report derived the grades from blending together votes on bills and advocacy positions the trade group supports, including opposition to methane flaring on federal lands, oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and leasing plans by the Bureau of Land Management.

This year, because so many bills dealt with public lands, the results might appear skewed to the left, where Democrats have positioned themselves to protect national monuments and limit development.

Read the Outdoor Industry Association Scorecard here.

All of Colorado’s Democrats in Washington scored A’s. Republicans scored C’s, except for Rep. Ken Buck of Windsor, one of the most conservative members of Congress, who got a D. Unlike most advocacy groups that issue scorecards, the Outdoor Industry Association maintains that it is, on balance, bipartisan.

The scorecard will be updated routinely, so once Congress takes up more tax and trade issues favored by the association, Republicans should see their grade start to rise, said Alex Boian, OIA’s political director.

“Sen. (Cory) Gardner, yes, he gets a C on this, but that’s actually a good score for him,” Boian told Colorado Politics. “If you go through the Senate votes, he has voted against OIA’s recommendations in every single Senate vote that they’ve done there, so he wouldn’t get a good grade if we only did a voting record on environmental issues.

“But the fact of the matter is Sen. Gardner is a co-sponsor of the U.S. Outdoor Act, a tariff issue and a tax issue. He supports outdoor recreation, not red tape, and, possibly one of the most important things, he is a member of the Senate Outdoor Recreation Caucus. He’s clearly articulated support for the outdoors and our industry.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder is co-chair of the House Outdoor Recreation Caucus. Like all the other Colorado Democrats, he got an A on the scorecard unveiled Monday morning at the snow.

Monday afternoon, among other political events, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne is expected to give a speech.

The Outdoor Retailer show had made its home in Salt Lake City for two decades, but in early 2017 its organizers signaled they would be leaving Utah over a agreement with state officials over preserving public lands.

Some Republican leaders in Utah, including Gov. Gary Herbert, had backed proposals to transfer some of Utah’s extensive federally protected lands to the state. They also opposed creation of Utah’s sprawling Bears Ears National Monument; the Trump administration later scaled back the preserve.

Those stances drew ire from outdoor-recreation and tourism executives who make a good chunk of their living selling gear to hikers, campers, mountain bikers, hunters and anglers who use public lands.

Another advocacy effort called Rally for Rivers has events each day, including talks on climate change and water, plus bike tours of pubs and a discussion of craft brews.

“Rivers are the lifeblood for an important segment of the outdoor recreation industry, which is why we’re highlighting the Rally for Rivers this week,” Craig Mackey of the Business for Water Stewardship said in a statement. “You wouldn’t have a ski industry without mountains, and many Western states won’t have watersports industries without healthy rivers.”

Members of the coalition include the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, the Outdoor Industry Association, Business for Water Stewardship, American Rivers, American Whitewater, The Nature Conservancy, Something Independent and Western Resource Advocates.

“As we confront impacts from drought, climate change and demands from growth, it’s critical that we protect and preserve our rivers in Colorado and across the West,” stated Luis Benitez, director of the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. “There’s been tremendous growth in the watersports industry in recent years and we expect to see that growth continue.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office announced Friday that representatives from a dozen tribes from across the country will convene in Denver in a “first-of-its-kind meeting” during the trade show.

Tribal leaders are expected to discuss economic development, education and public health, as well as conservation and stewardship of land and cultural resources.

The governor’s office said the summit is being led locally by Ernest House, executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs; Len Necefer, founder of NativesOutdoor; and Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Outdoor Industry Recreation Office.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.