Saccone leaves news biz for Attorney General's Office

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Another Colorado political reporter is leaving the industry, and this time the evacuee is the go-to source for Western Slope legislative news.

Mike Saccone, political reporter for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and writer of the Sentinel’s well-read “Political Notebook” blog, has accepted a job as communications director for the Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, ending a three-year stint at the Western Slope’s largest daily newspaper.

Saccone replaces Nate Strauch, who recently accepted a position as flak for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Saccone, who covered the Supreme Court for Cox News Service in Washington, D.C., before arriving in Grand Junction in 2006, is the latest in a long line of political reporters in Colorado who either were laid off or who voluntarily abandoned the news industry.

“The position at the Attorney General’s Office is a great opportunity to me. Plain and simple,” Saccone told The Colorado Statesman. “I look forward to continuing to serve and inform the people of the state of Colorado from my new perch.”

Saccone broke many statewide political stories in 2008, including the revelation that — while working for Denver-based Aspect Energy — Bob Schaffer, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, had lobbied to secure oil production contracts in Iraq. The U.S. State Department had deemed those contracts, “problematic for Iraq and its attempts to establish a national oil policy.”

Saccone’s coverage of the Legislature — and particularly of legislation affecting the Western Slope — put him in the front ranks among Colorado political reporters.

Saccone said policies regulating the use of water, oil and gas, and public lands are the most important issues facing Western Slope communities today, and that thorough coverage of those topics is essential.

Sentinel managing editor Laurena Davis said the newspaper hasn’t yet decided whether to replace Saccone.

“We don’t know at this point (if we will replace him), but we haven’t made any decisions to curtail our coverage,” Davis told the Statesman. “For a long time — and hopefully for a long time in the future — we have been the voice on the Western Slope, and we take that role seriously.

“Our readers expect us to pay attention to what is happening in Denver, and we expect to deliver that news to them,” she said. “Mike is a great reporter, and this is a good opportunity for him. You always hate to lose a great reporter, but it’s a gain for the state as a whole, and we’re happy for him.”

A decade ago, more than a dozen news services embedded reporters in the state Capitol during the legislative session. Today, however, only eight do. That number is likely to drop to six next year, considering the uncertain future of the Rocky Mountain News and the probable departure of Charles Ashby, the Denver bureau chief for the Pueblo Chieftain, who was informed last month that his job will be eliminated at the end of this legislative session.

Reporters from The Denver Post, the Associated Press, the Colorado Springs Gazette, Law Week, the Durango Herald and the Denver Business Journal are expected to continue to staff the Capitol.

Jason@coloradostatesman.com