Salena Zito

LEADVILLE, Colo. – A handful of days after the opening of Independence Pass, the dramatic highway separating this old mining town from Aspen, 15-foot snowdrifts still line the narrow roadway even as the temperature climbs to 60 degrees.

Below the 13,000-foot peaks ringing the pass, a large home-made sign grabs a traveler’s attention. “Vote Obama? Embarrassed Yet?” dominates the front-yard of a home on the edge of town.

Welcome to “fly-over” country, that nation’s midsection which Washington only views from the air and never really experiences on the ground.

President Obama may parachute in sporadically for invite-only town-hall meetings to promote “Recovery Summer,” but that doesn’t count as real anywhere in fly-over country.

As the administration kicks off a six-week push to reinvigorate its stimulus narrative, it will showcase jobs accompanying stimulus-funded projects to improve highways, parks and other public works. Yet stimulus dollars never hit the ground here, either.

Rush Limbaugh

“We didn't receive any of the stimulus money,” said Leadville Mayor Bud Elliot. “We weren't eligible because we are considered too poor of a community.”

Elliott, a Democrat, says the American Recovery Act was “designed to help large cities, not small-town America.”

Leadville once thrived as a mining town; its Old West charm remains remarkably intact. Described proudly by locals as “a hard-drinking town where most people own at least 3 guns,” its economy now rests on tourism.

Aspen transplant Chad Rose, 28, is puzzled that such a well-polished political campaign in 2008 that promised so much has failed to connect so spectacularly: “I know that we weren't voting for this much spending. In fact, we were voting against it.”

An Orlando, Fla., native, who began his career in finance on Wall Street, Rose wonders where the stimulus money really went.

“You had to be shovel-ready. We are small town, (so) we weren't,” Elliott said after attending a three-day seminar to see if his area could reap new jobs from stimulus-funded projects.

“The stimulus program had very little stimulus,” says Carnegie Mellon University political economy professor Allan Meltzer. Its largest item was a transfer to pay for state budget deficits, he explains, and “Transferring the deficit from the state to the federal budget doesn't do much.”

The relief for states was temporary; this year, as many as 300,000 teachers may be terminated for lack of funding.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.