Gary Hart is a household name nationwide, but he’s a Colorado guy first and foremost. And his affinity for his home state doesn’t stop at the Front Range, as evidenced by his latest novel, Durango.
“I’ve always loved that town. I can’t articulate why, but when I started campaigning in ’73, it seemed like a magic place and just had a good feeling about it,” Hart said by phone from his home in Kittredge. “After I got elected (to the U.S. Senate), I came back a lot. And what I learned quickly in those years was that there’s only one issue people care about and that’s A-LP.”
A-LP is, of course, the nearly completed Animas-La Plata water project that dominated local politics from the 1970s until water started flowing into Lake Nighthorse two years ago. Hart was in the thick of the debate for his 12 years in the Senate, and his firsthand knowledge of the project carries the story of Durango. The book is peppered with real-life characters whose names have been changed, slightly, to emphasize that the book is a work of fiction. (A review of the book can be read at http://durangoherald.com/article/20120727/ARTS05/707279969/0/SEARCH/Water-project-becomes-fiction)
Hart will speak and hold an informal question-and-answer session Monday at the Durango Arts Center. While it will be hard to ignore that one big question that derailed his Presidential campaign in 1987, that’s only one small and unfortunately overblown chapter in his storied career of public service. His post-Senatorial career has taken him from Asia to the Far East to Latin America and Europe as chairman of the Threat Reduction Advisory Council for the Department of Defense.
The group is tasked with the elimination of decades worth of Cold War-era weapons of mass destruction in the U.S., Russia and other countries.
He also went back to school and earned a Ph.D. in his 60s and assists American businesses with doing business globally through his firm Hart International, Ltd.
One of the most interesting – and timely – stories the audience may hear Monday is that of Hart’s time as a member of the U.S. Commission on National Security at the end of the Clinton presidency and beginning of the George W. Bush administration.
On Sept. 6, 2001, Hart met with Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice at the White House and warned her that a terrorist attack by al-Qaida was “imminent.”
“That was 11 years ago today,” Hart said Thursday.
Five days later, the World Trade Center was a pile of rubble.
“The Bush administration paid no attention to what we had been telling them for months. I wanted to tear my hair out,” Hart said.
Monday’s visit will give the audience one of the best opportunities to gain a comprehensive understanding of A-LP. For newcomers, it will be an eye-opener into what a real, drawn-out political debate looked like in Durango. Plastic bags pale by comparison. And for those who lived it, Hart’s talk should serve as a trip down memory lane. It will be for him, anyway, as he’ll have a chance to meet old acquaintances like Fort Lewis College Professor Duane Smith, attorney Tom Shipps and even some members of the fourth estate at the Herald. All play significant roles in Durango, though Shipps was more of a consultant for Hart; Shipps was the law partner of the late Southern Ute Tribal attorney Sam Maynes, who appears in the book as Sam Maynard.
“I said to Tom, ‘I hope I haven’t overplayed the confrontation,’” Hart said. “He said, ‘If anything, you’ve understated it.’”
On Monday, Hart will give a short speech before taking questions from the audience in the DAC Theatre, then he’ll sign copies of Durango in the Barbara Conrad Gallery. Maria’s Bookshop will provide copies of the novel for sale.