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Clark ponders her path 

Between the Lines

Sallie Clark doesn't usually have this much time to talk, given her nonstop life. She's always in high gear but without losing control, whether it's being a county commissioner, keeping up with city and state officials on various issues, helping her husband run their bed-and-breakfast business, leading Scott McInnis' local campaign for governor or, as was the case last weekend, spending two quick days in San Antonio at a national conference dealing with recidivism and other justice-related topics.

But when we finally connect by phone, Clark has an hour to burn, since she's waiting for a flight back to Colorado. And if you want to talk about politics and what lies ahead, Clark relishes that.

She knows the first item on this agenda: What's the deal, really, about Clark possibly joining McInnis on the Republicans' state ticket? Fact, fiction or just uncertain? And if that doesn't happen, since she's never seemed unsure of her future, what might be her next political step, even with three more years remaining in her final term as county commissioner?

Mayor of Colorado Springs, for instance? After all, she cared enough to run in 2003, when Lionel Rivera was first elected. With so much turmoil engulfing city government these days, Clark has been mentioned on some wish lists of potential candidates for mayor in 2011. Many feel she would be capable of stepping in and rebuilding trust in the city.

But it won't happen. In fact, let's push that off the plate first.

"I love the city, and I love the county, but being mayor is not on my radar screen," Clark says. "We need leadership now, because the city is in awfully bad shape. There are others out there who can make things better." But she isn't giving names.

As our focus moves to the state level, though, Clark's enthusiasm quickly rises. Sure, being lieutenant governor would mean a pay cut from $87,300 as a county commissioner to $68,500, or a total of nearly $40,000 less than she could make in her present office in 2011 and 2012. Then again, there's the prestige factor, and Clark clearly feels a strong loyalty to McInnis.

"I'm waiting to see what happens," she says. "I'm very involved in Scott's campaign, and I have a lot of faith that he'll be the next governor. As for being lieutenant governor, frankly, he's the one who started that rumor, among several other potential running mates. We have not had that personal discussion, and I'm not sure what I'd say.

"It would be a big change, and there are still things I want to do here in the community. We've joked about the rumors, but that's as far as it's gotten. I need to know more about what the job entails, and what the responsibilities might be."

The fact that they already communicate makes you wonder if McInnis is taking a hard look at Clark. As she puts it, "I couldn't imagine being the same way with others. I don't think [former governor] Bill Owens would have ever called to say, 'Sallie, what do you think of this?'"

McInnis is doing that, which sounds like a political alliance in the making.

"Whatever Scott decides, we'll go from there, but I've never worked for a candidate where we get along so well," Clark says. "He's just a regular guy who happens to have served 22 years in the state House and Congress combined. And when I researched his voting record, I realized, 'My gosh, he's a lot like me.' ... I guess I'm dancing around the subject right now. But we just don't know."

Clark also sounds like a state campaigner in rehearsal, taking shots at Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the top Democratic candidate for governor. She doubts his legislative knowledge and, she adds, "Denver has huge problems with human services. Huge. So I don't know whether he can make the case."

Obviously, Clark is immersing herself in the state race while maintaining her local focus. She's helping other Republican candidates and watching efforts to save community centers, work regionally on parks and develop possible ballot issues to address financial shortcomings.

But even though she has "three years to figure out what I might do next, I suspect something else might draw me. But I don't have to decide yet. My time clock isn't ticking. Wherever the road takes me ..."

Colorado Springs will be watching.

routon@csindy.com

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