Buena Vista – Keith Baker is running for re-election to the Chaffee County Board of Commissioners, a position he calls the “crowning achievement of a career in public service.
“I can’t think of any better place to be than in a county commission in a small, rural Western county. And I do emphasize Western county, because county commissioners in the East – that’s a whole different job,” Baker said.
“This is the sweet spot. It’s where you get to work with the public, the people you know, on a daily basis. You get to solve real problems and you can actually have an impact on those problems.”
Baker’s life as a publicly elected official began in Buena Vista when, then owner of The Trailhead, he was elected to the town board of trustees in 2008. He served two terms in that role, then ran for county commissioner in 2016.
“I started observing county commissioners and what they do. Being engaged in a lot of things I was engaged in as a trustee, like going to CDOT meetings and going to other regional meeting on which county commissioners served and watching them and observing what they did and actually asking about their job and how they approached it,” Baker said. “It seemed like something I really wanted to be involved in.”
During his second term as a BV trustee, Baker was also executive director of Friends of Browns Canyon and was involved in the lobbying effort in Washington, D.C., to get the area declared a national monument.
That experience “really sealed the deal” for his interest in the county-level seat, he said.
Before moving to Buena Vista, Baker served 23 years as an officer in the U.S. Navy, retiring with the rank of commander. Baker also coordinated interagency policy on national security programs during a three-year assignment to the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
“It’s like a friend of mine said the other day, it’s in my DNA. Even my Naval career was service. Going back to high school, my other classmates would often appoint me to positions of leadership; it was just something that seemed to fall to me,” he said. “I won’t say I was a natural at it, because it is a craft. It’s something you have to work at. Work at constantly.”
Baker points to the county sales tax increase that has evolved into Chaffee County Common Ground, work to keep agricultural lands in production, the community wildfire protection plan and advancements in addressing affordable housing concerns by creating an Office of Housing as some of the most important work he’s done during his term on the board.
Looking forward, Baker said the board would have to complete an update of the county’s comprehensive plan, which has not been changed since 2000. The board will also oversee the Office of Housing’s transformation into a multi-jurisdictional housing authority.
“That group, being an authority, would have more opportunities to do things than our current Housing Policy Advisory Committee and director of housing services than we’re able to do with that. We’ll be able to get more grant funding and do several other things,” Baker said.
One of Baker’s most controversial positions came last year during discussion’s over whether the county would comply with the state’s Red Flag Law. Baker was one of the commissioners who spoke against the concept of Chaffee County declaring itself a sanctuary county against the law, which opponents said violated the Second Amendment by empowering judges to seize firearms from a person with mental health concerns.
The issue was not brought to a vote.
“One thing we have to look at, that can’t be avoided, is the movement that some people wanted, the sanctuary county resolution. We chose not to do that,” Baker said. “I think I explained my position clearly on that – it’s not the role of three county commissioners in a still-small rural county to determine what is constitutional or unconstitutional.
“We do have a Constitution and a separation of powers. The judicial branch is the branch that’s authorized and tasked with judicial review in determining whether a law is constitutional or unconstitutional, and that’s something I respect very deeply.”