“This is About Helping Real People with Real Problems”
When Keith Baker ran for and won the Chaffee District 1 seat to serve on the Board of County Commissioners in 2016, he says he made a point of telling people where he’s from, and what working hard means to him. He’s running for reelection to the seat and says, “This is my last job. I think I’ve worked hard enough and I would be honored with people’s votes to serve you four more years. I have no higher ambitions; to me being a county commissioner in a small, growing rural western county is the pinnacle of elected office.”
Asked why, his answer was immediate.
“This commissioner role is real – it’s about dealing with real people and real problems and you can make things happen. It could be making CR 300 to Ruby Mountain safer. Or the huge CR 306 project with CDOT (Colorado Dept. of Transportation) and the federal government. You can go out on the ground and help somebody solve a neighbor dispute, deal with an irrigation ditch, or help someone who’s homeless obtain shelter when it’s going to be bitterly cold. These are real things. As far as I’m concerned, this is as high as you can go – anything else and you’re headed back downhill.”
Baker’s career Navy experience includes work at the Pentagon, as Desk Officer for the new countries being spilled out of the former Soviet bloc. That real-life responsibility was followed with a move westward in 2000, a move he and his wife Evelyn purposely engineered to be closer to the mountains and nature.
“I was always out in the woods – in nature somewhere — growing up in the rural south and Colorado was where we decided we wanted to be,” says Baker. After he left the military, Baker trained in outfitting with Grand West Outfitters, then bought The Trailhead in Buena Vista and got involved in the community. He sold The Trailhead just before deciding to run for county commissioner.
Baker completed two terms as a Buena Vista Trustee; elected in 2008, and reelected in 2012. He was asked to run earlier but said he wanted to finish his term on the Visitor’s Bureau. “ I know how off-putting it is to have somebody show up and act like they know everything or can fix everything. I wanted to earn the job.”
His community work has been wide-ranging. He led the last few years of the effort that saw Browns Canyon achieve National Monument status. As a Chaffee Commissioner, he’s been deeply involved in the affordable housing effort, functioned as the liaison to the State of Colorado on the county’s transportation needs (including the push for multi-modal transportation, as well as lead commissioner working with the Planning Commission to develop the new Chaffee Comprehensive Plan; the first in 20 years.
“I’m from modest means. My mother’s father was a sharecropper. I went to work in the cotton mill in my hometown on my 16th birthday. My sister had severe birth defects and my mom stayed home with her, but she just wasn’t strong enough and died when I was 10. Then my mother went back to school to become an LPN,” says Baker quietly. “My dad went to school on the GI bill. My family worked hard and we believed in an honest day’s work.
Baker says he finished finals at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia on a Friday, and reported to Naval Aviation school the following Monday. “When my left eye didn’t meet the sight standards for flying, I shifted gears and became a surface naval officer, serving in cruisers and destroyers. My military service training and experience is a huge part of who I am.”
He went to foreign service school, filling a career spot that was supposed to be reserved for a PhD, learned to speak Russian, and at the Pentagon, became the Eastern European and Central Asian desk officer. In that role, he helped design the processes supporting brand new countries trying to become democracies after the fall of the Soviet Union. In case after case, Baker says there’s a common thread; people count on him to get the job done and he doesn’t let people down.
Repeatedly, during his current term of office, Baker has been the glue for effort, from the effort behind the formation of a Multi-jurisdictional Housing Authority to the push to revamp the county’s strategic plan and efforts to ensure the wildfire protection plan becomes a county-wide goal. Often his work is behlind the scenes, lining up spport, making sure the right things are in place to ensure success.
“I’m the guy, if you have to get a base hit to get the guy on third home, that’s me. If they had to get three yards on the football field, I got the ball. I was the guy. I get things done. That’s been my MO.”