One of the first effects of sequestration to become visible locally is U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton's decision to close his local office.
When Tipton went to Congress, the opening of his "home" office, in the historic Stone Block building on the central intersection of Cortez's downtown, was delayed by renovation and design considerations. A year ago, he relocated upstairs in the same building to save on rent. Now his field representative will see local constituents in a "mobile office."
No longer maintaining office space in Cortez will help him save some of the $98,000 in budget cuts brought on by sequestration - automatic cuts totaling $85 billion in this year's federal budget, part of a failed plan designed to force legislators to counter with reasoned budgetary decisions. The Obama administration has claimed the cuts would be disastrous; Republicans countered that they would barely be felt and certainly wouldn't hamper the operations of the federal government.
Tipton's office closure demonstrates that the truth is somewhere in between.
If a physical office is unimportant, politicians' concern with flooring and drapes and "presence" is misplaced and the money spent on a Cortez office during Tipton's first term could have been better spent from the very beginning.
If having a physical office in Cortez ever mattered, it matters now, and the cuts will hurt.
The third possibility, and the most accurate, is the idea that budgetary decisions should be made not automatically but through careful deliberation, because all of them matter, but the consequences of some are tolerable while others are disastrous.
The decision to eliminate Tipton's Cortez office space certainly falls on the tolerable end of the spectrum, but it's not entirely inconsequential. Although Cortez is far from the center of gravity of the 3rd Congressional District, Tipton once considered it his home base, and shutting a "home office" ought to cause some qualms. Where does he belong now? Durango? Washington?
Those concerns are perceptual, however. In concrete terms, a "mobile office" is a fine idea, as is holding office hours in a borrowed office or coffee shop. Email has made communicating with one's congressional representative much easier, and the phone and regular mail still work as well. We suspect that Tipton's staff found that they had fewer face-to-face meetings with constituents here than they had expected. Keeping space that's used for only a few hours every week is neither sensible nor fiscally sound.
We applaud him for quickly making the cuts. We'd point out that $98,400 out of a $1.2 million budget allotment is 8 percent.
And we ask Scott Tipton for a renewed commitment to constituent contact back home - where he grew up, where he owned a small business, where his daughters went to school, and where, he has said repeatedly, he learned the lessons and developed the values he has taken with him to Washington.
Cortez is not entirely like Durango; neither is it like Grand Junction or Pueblo, and it's nothing like Washington. The rural West Slope is unique, and we hope our congressman remembers that. We hope, too, that if his staff finds the mobile office plan isn't working for local constituents, they find another way to keep in touch. Without that contact, "representative" is just a word.