InnerView with Hank Brown - Colorado Politics

InnerView with Hank Brown

Author: - May 8, 2009 - Updated: May 8, 2009

By Jody Hope Strogoff

Hank Brown — former United States senator, president of two of the state’s flagship universities and former president of the Daniels Fund — received the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Award for community service this week.

“Colorado is home to some of the country’s most accomplished and talented individuals, and the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Awards recognize the Centennial State’s very best,” said Dorothy Horrell, president of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation. “We’re honored to recognize Hank Brown for his service to Colorado as a legislator, educator, philanthropist and statesman.”

Brown, who received a cash award of $35,000 as part of the honor, will donate the money to university scholarships.

For more than 30 years, Brown has served Colorado as a leader in government, education, business and philanthropy. He became known as a champion of government accountability, transparency, integrity and fiscal conservatism, and as a protector of Colorado’s water and land.

Most recently, Brown served as president of the University of Colorado during a time of controversy and discord. Under his guidance, the university regained its reputation for excellence in academics.

Brown also served as president of the University of Northern Colorado, as a Colorado state senator, five terms as the 4th Congressional District’s congressman, one term as Colorado’s U.S. senator, and as an executive with Monfort of Colorado and the Daniels Fund.

Upon graduation from the University of Colorado in 1965, he served a tour of duty as a naval aviator in Vietnam, and returned to receive his law degree in 1969 from CU.

“Hank Brown has dedicated his life to public service and has earned the trust, confidence and respect of people from all walks of life in our state,” said Linda Childears, president and CEO of the Daniels Fund. “He is devoted to his family, considers everyone to be his friend, and is a model for the kind of community service that makes Colorado such a great place to live.”

In 2008, Brown was named Citizen of the West by the National Western Stock Show.

“Hank has it all,” said former Senator Alan Simpson, of Wyoming, who was the 1990 Citizen of the West. “He’s the epitome of the old phrase, ‘If you have integrity, nothing else matters. And if you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.’”

Brown was interviewed by Colorado Statesman Editor Jody Hope Strogoff at the Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck law firm in Denver, where he serves as senior legal counsel. He also teaches in the political science department at the University of Colorado and chairs the board of the Daniels Fund.

The interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Colorado Statesman (CS): Congratulations on getting the Bonfils Stanton award. You’ve certainly done a lot in this community to earn that.

Hank Brown (HB): I don’t know about that, but I’ve had a lot of fun. Particularly these last few jobs have all been kind of interesting. The University of Colorado was really a nice challenge. It’s such a great institution. It was fun to get things settled down, back on track.

CS: You came in at a tough time.

HB: We came in at a tough time. But the reality was, it’s always been a great institution. But universities, by their very nature, aren’t very open institutions — none of them are. The chancellor doesn’t want the board to know too much about the details of the campus, and the deans don’t want the chancellor to know too much about how they coordinate expenses within the college. The department heads don’t want people to know how they handle their budgets.

And the university had a whole series of issues at one time and faced criticism. Instead of opening up and dealing with them, (the administration) did a very human thing — they closed up. When the press would call, they’d be calling about something embarrassing. Then they decided to quit talking to the press.

CS: Not always the best move.

HB: It’s a great formula for disaster. The irony was, it’s a great institution. So once we opened up and began to deal with things, it came back to order very quickly.

CS: Were you surprised by the Ward Churchill decision?

HB: I was. There was no question in my mind that the reason for his dismissal was his plagiarism and falsification (of his resumé). Throughout the process, which took two years, he was the only one who ever brought up 9/11. No one at the university even mentioned it.

And you know faculty committees. They would be the least likely of any human beings on the face of the Earth to discipline somebody for (expressing) what they thought. There simply isn’t anybody on any of the committees that thinks that way.

So, yeah, I was surprised and disappointed.

CS: It wasn’t a total victory either way.

HB: I think the fact it was just an award for $1 shows that the jury had some concerns, too. And it’s still too early to tell whether they’ll force him to come back. I think it’s very much up in the air.

CS: Was there much difference between presiding over CU and the University of Northern Colorado?

HB: Huge difference.

Compensation at CU is roughly double what it is in UNC. That’s partly because the disciplines are different. (At CU, there’s) more hard science, more advanced math, and so on, which tend to pay a little better. Out-of-state students are an absolute salvation for CU. It’s what makes it possible to have a high quality university in this state. Basically, Colorado doesn’t pay for it.

CS: What do you see for the future of higher ed here

in Colorado?

HB: Colorado has adopted a very strange attitude towards higher ed — much different than any other state in the nation. It was really a product of the previous administration, but it’s something that (Ritter appointee and Colorado Commission of Higher Education president) David Skaggs has not changed.

We fund K through 12 at almost the national average — it’s within 1 percent of the national average. We fund community colleges at 80 percent of the national average. We fund state colleges at about 60 to 70 percent of the national average. We fund Colorado State University and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs at 35 percent of the national average. We fund CU Boulder at 29 percent, and we fund the CU medical school at 21 percent.

No one funds it that way.

If you’re a good student in Colorado, you get less help, and, if you’re not, you get more help. The state is very hostile to excellence in education.

CS: Doesn’t Colorado rank low in funding among other states? Isn’t the state way down — like 49th — in terms of funding per student?

HB: That statistic, I think, is misleading. I know everybody uses that, but I think they discredit themselves by doing it. It doesn’t mean we’re well funded, but that’s a calculation of all the students and all the state money.

Well, you don’t give any money to institutions with out-of-state students. The state money only goes to in-state students. So to divide the state money by the total number of students gives you a totally misleading number.

Now, if you do it the way I think is correct, and divide the state money by the number of in-state students, then we’re around 40th.

CS: It’s still not great.

HB: We’re not great. We’re still well below the median. But we’re not 49th.

CS: So what’s the answer?

HB: I was a backer of TABOR. I thought it was reasonable to say if you’re going to increase taxes above the rate of inflation and above the rate of growth of population it’s not unreasonable to ask the voters (to approve the increase).

But TABOR was never meant to say you would never have tax increases. It merely was to say the voters have an opportunity to vote on them.

I always thought if we put together a package that guaranteed superior performance, it would ultimately get approval.

But it can’t be a half-hearted thing. It can’t be an attempt to fool the voters. It has to be based (on the results of) comprehensive exams that prove students have learned something.

I think Coloradans will support higher education, but they want to make sure they’re getting their money’s worth.

CS: Accountability.

HB: Yes. You have to show that the students are learning and your faculty is productive.

CS: Do you think voter sentiment would support that kind of funding proposal?

HB: I think so, if it’s a genuine, realistic package.

For example, the referendum Denver passed (in 2005 to increase property taxes and use the money to reward teachers who boost student achievement) is basically a fraud. It was sold on the fact that they’d have incentive pay for performance, and they’ve never quite gotten the performance part of the package put together. It has to be done in a way so you’re not trying to fool the voters. I guess that’s what I’m saying.

CS: What do you think of this year’s legislative session?

HB: It’s so sad for the state. They simply haven’t addressed the problems.

For example, PERA (Public Employees’ Retirement Association). It’s tragic that they sit there while PERA slips under the water. They literally have state employees working away with the promise they’re going to get retirement that’s not going to be there.

CS: Do you think they can justify it by saying they’ll deal with the problem in the future?

HB: I think they’re hiding from the problems. They know what a terrible position it’s in.

And I don’t mean to suggest there’s an easy answer. There’s not. But the answer today is a lot easier than it’s going to be (later).

It’s clear (PERA needs) to do some things — require people to work longer, adjust the benefits. (Such changes will be) unpopular or not fun. But that’s lots better than doing nothing.

CS: What do you think of Governor Ritter?

HB: Very nice guy.

CS: Do you think he’s been a strong leader?

HB: I think he’s been a very nice guy.

CS: Is there anyone in particular you would like to see run against him?

HB: You’ve got a couple of people that are talking about it now. Scott McInnis and Josh Penry are talking about it. I assume there are some others, but I don’t know.

CS: There’s no one that you are behind at this point?

HB: No. I’m impressed with both of those candidates. I’m sure there are others, and I’ll take a look at them.

CS: What about you? Your name always comes up for everything.

HB: That’s one I’m sure of. I’m not running.

CS: Not interested?

HB: What’s that (Bible) passage? “There’s a time for all things?” My time for running for office has passed.

CS: And you don’t think you could be convinced or drafted?

HB: No. It’s not a possibility.

CS: Since you’re a former U.S. senator, do you have a favorite for the Senate race in 2010?

HB: You know, I haven’t heard who all is interested. There’s a city councilman from Aurora…

CS: Ryan Frazier.

HB: I hear rumors that Bob Beauprez may be thinking about it.

CS: Right.

HB: I’m not sure who else is looking at it.

CS: Do you think Sen. (Michael) Bennet might be vulnerable?

HB: Well, you know, the retention rate for senators is always less than for House members. And anyone who’s appointed in Colorado would be facing that.

CS: Have you met him?

HB: Um-hmm.

CS: Are you impressed?

HB: He’s very intelligent. I’m not impressed with what they’re doing in Washington. I think they’re planting the seeds for financial disaster for our country.

CS: Do you miss being in the Senate?

HB: I loved doing it, but I never thought it was a lifetime job.

CS: You served only one term.

HB: Six years in the Senate … 10 years in the House. I thought if I stayed another term, I’d be pretty well committing to a lifetime career. Or at least I felt that way at the time.

CS: Which of your positions have you enjoyed the most?

HB: The U.S. Senate was enormous fun. It was very productive. And things like the NATO expansion and the work we did on the Wild and Scenic Rivers (Act) and the wilderness areas were great fun. The Accounting Standards Bill that we got through at the end was a lot of work. That took all 16 years I was there. But, you know, that was great fun.

But CU was great … I mean it just was a labor of love. I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve ever had, including waiting tables, which I did a lot of.

CS: Have you ever met President Obama?

HB: I have not.

CS: Do you have any feelings about the job he’s doing?

HB: It strikes me (that) he’s been able to come to grips with our financial problems, and we’re going to test whether or not there are any consequences of wrongly spending.

Obviously, some people like me are worried about him. Others are not. We’ll find out.

CS: Were you surprised Colorado shifted to a blue state?

HB: No, I really wasn’t, partly because, first of all, Obama’s a very appealing candidate. And, secondly, (he ran) the best organized campaign I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. I’ve never seen anything at any level that was even close to it.

CS: Have you mastered any of the new technologies? Do you send your own e-mails? Use a BlackBerry? Text? Anything like that?

HB: I do a little of that.

To teach at Boulder, you almost have to, because you have to submit your grades electronically, and you have to file your activities for the year electronically. You have to answer e-mails from your students.

We’re doing a fun thing. In the course that we’re doing, I’ve been trying to eliminate the need for the kids to buy textbooks — (to base assignments on texts) that are available over the Internet. And I’m not quite there, but we’ve been able to reduce the number of textbooks by quite a bit.

Particularly if you’re dealing with something like one of the courses I teach, “The Art of the U.S. Capitol,” a lot of the good sources are available because a number of libraries had put textbooks whose copyrights have run out on their Web sites.

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