Senate President Brandon Shaffer says he doesn’t expect ideological differences — or his own congressional campaign — to get in the way of the Legislature’s ability to have a productive session this year. Amid calls for bipartisanship and agreement that jobs and the economy are the Legislature’s top priorities this session, Shaffer says the session has a “good tone and a good collaborative feel going,” and that he’s already working with Senate Republicans to advance legislation.
During a wide-ranging discussion with The Colorado Statesman, Shaffer talked about the upcoming session, his congressional campaign, the benefits of having his wife serve as his scheduler, and whether he Tebows (he’s happy to, “any time,” he said).
Shaffer announced last summer that he was running against U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, for the 4th Congressional District seat that Gardner won in 2010 when he was a member of the Colorado House. Unlike state Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, who stepped down as House minority leader late last year in anticipation of his own run for Congress, Shaffer says he plans to stay on as Senate president while campaigning.
Shaffer’s congressional campaign said this week that it raised $112,000 during the most recent quarter, ending Dec. 31, on top of roughly $180,000 raised in the third quarter, after he launched his campaign on July 4. (Gardner reported just over $1 million raised through the third quarter but hadn’t released fourth-quarter totals by press time.)
Asked by The Statesman whether he had considered switching his campaign from the 4th District to the more competitive 6th District — the rumor was first reported a month ago by the conservative political blog Colorado Peak Politics, about which Shaffer said, “especially when they were talking about me, the stories that they were writing were pure fabrication” — Shaffer answered, “You know, just focus on the 4th.” Three days after Shaffer sat for the Statesman interview, The Denver Post reported that Shaffer was polling in the 6th District and weighing a run there against U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora.
First elected to the state Senate in 2006, the Longmont Democrat won reelection in 2008 and took over as Senate president following the resignation of then-Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, who took a job with the Obama administration. Before being elected to run the Senate, Shaffer chaired the chamber’s Judiciary Committee and was a member of the Health and Human Services and the Finance committees.
Shaffer grew up in Denver, where he attended East High School. He went to Stanford University on an ROTC scholarship and then served four years in the Navy, stationed for much of that time in Japan, and later got a law degree from the University of Colorado. He practices law at a small Longmont firm.
Three days after the 2012 session got under way last week, Shaffer joined Colorado Statesman editor and publisher Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning for an hour-long interview in The Statesman offices, on the afternoon of Jan. 14. Shaffer stopped in for the interview while he was on his way from a campaign stop in Castle Rock — part of the newly drawn 4th District — back home to Longmont, where he planned to watch the Broncos game against New England.
The Statesman regularly conducts in-depth interviews with prominent political figures, including talks with House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, in our last two issues. Look for a conversation with Shaffer’s Republican counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, in next week’s edition. Read transcript of The Statesman’s current interviews with legislative leadership — along with more than two dozen other conversations with Colorado politicos — archived online at www.coloradostatesman.com/innerview.
Below is the transcript of The Statesman’s conversation with Shaffer. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Colorado Statesman (CS): Where are you from originally?
Brandon Shaffer (BS): Denver.
CS: Oh, Denver? OK, OK.
BS: I went to high school just down the street here, so —
CS: So you’ve always been a Broncos fan?
BS: Yeah, pretty much (laughs).
CS: You didn’t split allegiances or anything?
BS: Yeah, I’ve been a Broncos fan for a long time.
CS: You were down in Castle Rock this morning, is that right?
BS: I was, I was.
CS: What was going on there?
BS: We just had a little house party, a little meet-and-greet type thing and it was good, it was good.
CS: That’s in the new part of your district, right?
BS: Yeah, yeah.
CS: Is it kind of strange being down there?
BS: Not really. I mean, you find similar themes and similar questions and, sort of like being a classroom teacher, where you have a new class but very similar personalities sometimes. So — yeah.
CS: Right. But Douglas County’s quite a bit different than some of the rural counties in the district, is it not?
BS: You know, it’s interesting, Longmont… You’ll remember, you’ve been around long enough to know that Longmont traditionally was kind of a conservative bastion in Boulder County. So that’s the type of territory I represent today in the statehouse. And the group that was convened today — good questions and a very receptive audience. It was good.
CS: Are you going to miss campaigning during the session as much as you did before? I imagine your time constraints are quite a bit different.
BS: Sure. I mean, we’ve got to balance it, but we’ll make it work.
CS: Did you ever consider giving up your leadership post?
BS: I’ve been asked that question a number of times in a number of different ways and, you know, I’m committed to being the very best president of the Senate as possible. I’ve thought about it, but I think that I’m able to do both.
CS: Do you draw some lessons — the last time the president of the Senate ran for that seat, did you draw some lessons from him?
BS: Are you talking about — ?
CS: Senator Matsunaka. [Ed. Note: Former Senate President Stan Matsunaka, D-Loveland, ran for the open 4th Congressional District seat in 2002 against Republican Marilyn Musgrave, who won the seat. He challenged Musgrave again in 2004, after he had been term-limited from the state Senate, but lost that race also. Musgrave was defeated in 2008 by Democrat Betsy Markey, who lost her bid for reelection in 2010 to former state Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.]
BS: I think things have changed enough. I mean I’m good friends with Sen. Matsunaka. He and I have visited in a variety of ways, more related to the statehouse than the congressional district. But everyone does it their own way. The thing — compared to being a junior officer in the Navy, whether it’s serving here at the statehouse or campaigning or doing both, still much less than what we ask our junior officers on ships to do these days (laughs).
CS: It’s manageable? You’re used to juggling a lot?
BS: Used to juggling a lot, and we’ll be just fine.
CS: How was the first week, would you say, of the session?
BS: I think we’ve done pretty good so far.
CS: You think the tone has been…?
BS: I think the tone is right, I thought the speaker’s remarks and the minority leader, Mark Ferrandino’s remarks, were very appropriate. I think we have a good tone and a good collaborative feel going in the Senate as well. And I thought the governor was excellent with the State of the State.
CS: He seemed to have gotten a lot of high marks for that.
BS: Yeah. So I’ve already had kind of a — Friday afternoon I had a debrief with (Senate Minority Leader) Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) and started going through actual legislation and seeing where we have opportunities to collaborate. And so it’s real positive so far.
CS: But that’s a new person you’re working with.
BS: It is — yes and no. I mean he was always the assistant — He was the assistant minority leader last year and (former Minority Leader) Mike Kopp (R-Littleton) had a lot of demands on his time the last go-around as well, so I’ve done a lot of work over the past couple of years with Bill Cadman, so… I think we have strong relationships between the members in the Senate and we’ve worked very hard to develop not just the professional relationship but the personal relationship as well.
CS: Do you like them as people?
BS: Yeah, and I think that’ll serve us well as we move forward, for sure.
CS: What kind of common ground are you finding?
BS: Well, to being with the over-arching theme for the session on both sides of the aisle is jobs and the economy. And so underneath that heading we have opportunities. I signed on to a bill that Sen. Cadman will bring forward asking for a task force reviewing the regulatory environment in the state. Can’t see anything partisan about that, that’s a good thing to do in general just to understand what the lay of the land is. I pitched to him a high-tech industries bill that I’m working on, and he took it home over the weekend to study it.
CS: OK, what does that amount to, the high-tech industries proposal?
BS: It’s basically a communications hub. So what we’re trying to do is help facilitate communications across high tech industries in the state and also tell the rest of the world wonderful things that are happening here in industries like aerospace, bioscience and clean tech, so that we become a central focus for industries and industry development here in the United States and worldwide. And he seemed to think that was a good idea, he just wanted to make sure that he had an opportunity to review that, so we’ll see where it goes.
I just came from my office, I didn’t really mean to do this, I was going to just take this home and review it — but here’s something that I think we’ll find a lot of common ground on. It’s a resolution that I’m planning to bring forward concerning the State of Colorado’s support for locating a patent office in Denver. There are these satellite offices that are being considered by Washington, D.C. One’s already been located in Detroit, and they have the authority to locate two additional offices. We’d love to get one of those additional offices.
CS: As part of the (Denver) Federal Center complex or just anywhere?
BS: Anywhere downtown here is really what we’re looking at, is having the satellite office here. And I think there’s great synergy there with all of the high-tech research and development and start-up companies that are happening along the Front Range here. So that’s a resolution that we hopefully pass through both chambers and send off as part of the application, the package that Denver is submitting for that office. So we’re working with the mayor’s office, we’re working with our federal delegation as well trying to get that done. So those are the types of things that when Bill and I sat down and said, “OK, we can work on — ” said, “here, take this, take this —” (laughs) “Look at these things and I’d love to involve you,” involve Sen. Cadman in any of those things.
CS: From the sound of things, the jobs agendas from the two different parties this session -— the Republicans are basically saying, “We’re going to work as hard as we can to get government out of the way.” Is that a fair characterization?
BS: I think so, I think that’s fair.
CS: And the Democrats are coming at it from a different perspective, which is to see what government can do to spur job creation? It sounds like from the interview I heard you did with Speaker McNulty on (Colorado Public Radio) yesterday, that you felt you could get behind some of their —
CS: — like, for instance, clearing outdated regulations or excessive red tape, that sort of thing —
BS: Sure, of course, of course.
CS: Maybe the timber bill [legislation sponsored by state Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Colbran, to allow the use of pine-beetle-killed timber in Colorado]. But it didn’t sound like (Republicans (are willing to reach across the aisle as much for things that they might say would put government in the middle of job creation. Is there common ground to be found?
BS: I think so, certainly. You know, the political dialogue here at the Capitol doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, it doesn’t have to involve winners and losers. I’m looking forward to creating an environment where 1+1=3, as opposed to 1, and I think we can do that. We just have to be willing to get through that, put the political rhetoric aside and kind of check the politics at the door and go in there, roll up our sleeves and say, “OK, how do we make these things work?” As opposed to going in and saying, “Well how do I criticize this piece of legislation?” I mean, if that’s all you’re going to do, any piece of legislation that’s brought forward, you can always poke holes in it and come up with ways to talk — describe it as a negative piece of legislation. That’s not what I’m about, I’m about trying to solve problems and figure out how to make things work. And so that’s my focus.
CS: This year the employment situation in Colorado is, by most measures, better than it was last year.
CS: And yet last session, at the beginning of the session everyone was also saying, “Jobs, jobs, jobs,” and yet not a lot got done on that front. What makes this year different when again, by some measures, the need is not as pressing as it was? And it’s an election year —
BS: Well, I don’t want to be disagreeable, but…
CS: Please —
BS: But one thing that — two things that I think we did that were very significant towards stabilizing the economy and economic development. First was to reduce the size of cuts to K-12 education. That was the focus of my opening day remarks when the session started out this time last year, and it was all about making sure that we’re investing in our education system, because it’s good for the kids, but it’s also good for the economy.
CS: In attracting new jobs here.
CS: Teachers have jobs too?
BS: And if you look at what happened throughout the course of the session, that became a bipartisan mantra as well, and we did save over $130 million towards education funding by working together. So that was a huge success of that last session.
The second one was the Healthcare Exchange Bill, which is something that the business community backed in a significant way. We think it will provide more affordable access to health care for small businesses and middle-size businesses in our state and ultimately help decrease overhead costs for the cost of doing business and hiring workers in the state.
So I think in those two areas in particular we made some significant progress last session, and I think that we have opportunities to continue to build on that as we go into this session.
CS: (State Rep.) Marsha Looper (R-Calhan) has introduced a bill to undo the health benefits exchange. There may be a little bit of politics in her decision to do that, because of the primary that she’s in, and the fact that (House Majority Leader) Amy Stephens (R-Monument) was a main protagonist of that. [Ed. note: Looper and Stephens are vying in a GOP primary after being drawn into the same House district, and Looper is assailing Stephens for having been a key author of the health benefits exchange legislation last session.] But what are the chances that that could — how do you view that?
BS: You know, I honestly — I hesitate to weigh in because I haven’t seen the legislation. I will say I’m a strong supporter of — I was a strong supporter of the Healthcare Exchange Bill last year and I think that it’s a good piece of legislation. Something that the Legislature came together and worked on in a bipartisan way and should be proud of passing. And, you know, personally would not favor a piece of legislation that would undermine the progress that we made last year.
CS: One of the things — we were talking about the governor’s State of the speech. But you’ve been on record in a story about his leadership style, saying that perhaps there are some areas he might be a little bit more forceful in. You had made some remarks about his leadership style and I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit.
BS: Well, I think what I said is what do you — the question was, what do you expect in the next year? And my response was, now that he’s gone through one session, there may be an expectation that he’d be a bit more proactive with an agenda. And I think he was — in State of the State I think that he fulfilled that expectation, I think that his strong endorsement of the civil unions legislation was bold, and I hope we get that passed. I think it’ll help significantly that he endorsed it, that we actually get that through the entire legislative process to his desk this year. So, I believe the governor’s doing a very good job, and I look forward to working with him.
CS: Do you think some of that is him just getting his legs under himself at the statehouse? Because the point’s been made that he was certainly a strong, out-front leader when he was mayor of Denver and has been getting used to how things work over at the Capitol.
BS: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. The transition from being mayor to governor, I think, you know, it’s the type of thing that’s a little bit like trying to explain the rules of football to somebody who’s never actually watched a game. You can write them all out on paper and say, “Here, read this, this is how it works,” but until you actually get on the field you don’t really know. So I think that first year is just trying to figure out how things work at the Statehouse and I think he’s done a very good job of kind of stabilizing the environment so there isn’t as much conflict at times. And I think that that has permeated the economic situation in the state as well, where the business community senses stability and predictability in the economy, and that’s part of why the economy’s turned around. Just his stabilizing effect has had a very beneficial impact on our economic development in the state.
CS: It’s paying some dividends — ?
CS: You’ve served under another Democratic governor [Gov. Bill Ritter, who declined to seek a second term in 2010]. Can you contrast their leadership styles?
BS: Everyone approaches things differently. I’m not sure that I can really contrast them. I think the main difference is the times — are the times during which — the context for their leadership, you know, with an economy doing what it’s doing today, the type of very measured, prudent governing that Gov. Hickenlooper is bringing forward, I think, is very appropriate, and it is creating that stabilizing effect, which ultimately has a long-range benefit for the economy and investment in our state. So I think he’s doing exactly what needs to be done.
CS: Some have said that Gov. Hickenlooper benefits by having Democrats in control of one chamber and Republicans of the other. That he doesn’t face some of the choices that Gov. Ritter did with, let’s say, the most furthest left Democratic legislation winding up on his desk, that there’s a tempering effect with the split chambers. Do you think that’s happening or, again, is it a difference in the times?
BS: I think there’s some truth to that. I don’t think — the analysis doesn’t go very deep — you can see that on the surface and you can see that in both the types of bills that are reaching the governor, and the quantity. You know, that said, nothing’s easy, even when both chambers are controlled by the same party and the process is really a magnificent process. If I’ve learned one thing over the course of the last seven years, it’s that the process works. It’s not always pretty, but it is a very thorough process for vetting legislation. And, with very few exceptions, when a bill finally makes it to the governor, it is in good shape.
CS: What’s your prediction, if you had to look forward to after the November elections — and excluding your own race — but, in terms of the Legislature, do you think it’s going to stay pretty much with Democratic control in the Senate and Republicans in the House, or do you see the possibility of much change?
BS: You know, I don’t have a crystal ball, so I’m going to respectfully decline to make a prediction for the outcome of the 2012 elections in the statehouse. I do think you will see some changes, but, you know, time will tell.
CS: There’s the potential for some real dramatic changes, aren’t there? There’s lots of folks going out both because of term limits and reapportionment this time.
BS: Sure. One of the things that I pointed out in my opening day remarks is that the 18 that were sworn in my first day in the Senate, there are only six who remain. And I didn’t go through the journals to count the number of people who actually resigned and stepped out before completing their terms, but there are a lot of people. You go back to a Dan Grossman, early on, who — Jennifer Veiga, Paula Sandoval, and that’s just on the Democratic side, of course.
The institutional memory that goes with them is very difficult to lose. You add that with term limits, and I think, ultimately, it really handicaps the ability of the Legislature to create that continuity and leadership for the state that we need. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve decided that I’m going to stay in and do my job, what people expect of me. I think it’s important for the process across the street.
CS: Do you think it’s time for Colorado to reconsider term limits?
BS: You know, whether it is or not, I think term limits are very popular, and I think they’re here to stay. So, I mean, we can ponder the what ifs…
CS: Lots of municipalities have extended them, though, or they’ve lifted them for coroners, for instance, or added — bumped them up to 12 years. Do you think the eight years works in the Legislature?
BS: I think it works. You know, I can see the up side and the down side. I think, you know, sometimes we get some of our best talent coming in because there are more opportunities for people to run for office. So you get some really young, dynamic people who run for office and come down here when — if you didn’t have term limits, you’d never have the opportunity for them to govern.
CS: You mentioned reapportionment. Would it be all right if I asked you your feelings about the redistricting maps? I don’t want to put words in your mouth but were you disappointed that the district — What are your feelings about the redistricting maps? [Ed. note: Democratic-drawn congressional redistricting maps turned Shaffer’s 4th CD into a district more dominated by Republican voters than it under its current configuration, making a congressional run by Shaffer more difficult.]
BS: (Laughs) I’m not sure, I don’t remember mentioning reapportionment, but — (laughs).
CS: You just mentioned it in the general thing, that —
BS: OK. You know, the process is the process and we’ve got what we have. So —
CS: Were you disappointed in the maps?
BS: You know, I’m agnostic at this point. As a candidate, my job is to go out there and make my case in whatever district I’m running in, and I’m running in the 4th, so I’m planning to do that.
CS: Did you at any point consider running in the 6th, like the chatter on the blogs said?
BS: You know, I’ve seen a lot of chatter on a lot of blogs, so I don’t —
CS: A lot of it is just chatter, but I haven’t heard anyone ask you. Did you consider moving to the 6th when the maps were finalized, and the 4th looked so difficult, and the 6th looked like a real good swing district?
BS: You know, just focus on the 4th. [Ed. note: Three days after Shaffer’s interview, The Denver Post broke the story that Shaffer was polling in the 6th District and considering whether to jump into the race there.]
CS: OK. Do you see much of the incumbent, Congressman Gardner?
BS: I don’t. You know, ironically I think he’s having a town hall meeting tomorrow in Longmont, so —
CS: In your backyard?
BS: What surprises me as I campaign is that very few people know who he is, and I think that speaks volumes.
CS: How do you see your name ID and your placement within the district? Do you feel like you’ve got a good base of people who know you?
BS: I do. I was at a class at the University of Colorado (at Boulder) — doing a talk with a U.S. government class — and I asked the audience how many of them had ever heard of me. And I was surprised that three fourths of the room raised their hand. And so sometimes I don’t assume that people — I don’t think that people should know who I am, and sometimes when I see that type of response it’s very humbling to know that my name is out there.
CS: Do you get recognized in a grocery store?
BS: Sometimes I do. I mean, you know, in Longmont I certainly do. You know, that’s easy. I was at the airport at DIA picking up my mother-in-law last weekend, and a couple came up to me and said, “Hey, Brandon, you don’t know us, but good luck!” So it’s certainly out there.
CS: How is fundraising going for your campaign?
BS: Fundraising is going well, better than expected. It’s amazing to me that there are that many people who engaged in the elections financially, and it’s really the only way a guy like me can compete. I don’t have personal wealth I can draw upon and I can’t compete with Washington D.C. PAC money. So it is a grass roots effort and, $25 at a time, we’re building a war chest.
CS: We’re starting to see the fallout of Citizen United decision behind some of the Republican primaries with more money being spent by these Super PACs than by the candidates themselves. That is, I guess, what it is, but what’s your take on that in your congressional race? Do you expect there to be quite a bit of outside money?
BS: I mean there already is. You look at Rep. Gardner’s last finance reports, and he’s reporting $300,000 a quarter. And that’s not coming from individual donations — a lot of that’s coming both from out of the district, out of the state, and then a lot of that is PAC money.
CS: Sure — as will happen with most incumbents, though, of both parties?
BS: Sure. To be fair, I guess that’s right.
CS: Although he is a particularly good fundraiser, as far as that goes.
BS: So I don’t know — I can’t explain — I don’t know why his numbers come in above a (U.S. Rep.) Scott Tipton’s (R-Cortez), that sort of thing. That said, ultimately the goal is to communicate with voters, and you can either spend big bucks to do that on television, or you can earn it through sweat equity and knocking on a bunch of doors. So, whatever combination it takes, that’s what we’re going to do.
CS: Are you putting a lot of miles on?
BS: We are (laughs) — just about to go over 200,000 miles on my car so I hope it doesn’t break down before the campaign.
CS: This is one of the more sprawling districts in the country?
CS: You’ve got a long way to go between outposts on the plains! Have you been to every county in the district?
BS: Not yet.
CS: Which ones are you still waiting for?
BS: You know, now that the new map, I need to get down to Las Animas, I need to do some of the other things. But, you know, over the years, I’ve had occasion to do a lot of traveling around the eastern plains as well, with my state legislative hat on, and we’ll keep at it.
CS: Do you sense that there’s a lot of difference between what some of the constituents down in the smaller counties, down south, versus the more urban areas in the district — ? Do you think there’s a lot of difference in what people are looking for in a congressman?
BS: That’s an interesting question. I think the answer’s no, there isn’t a lot of difference, and the reason is this: I think people, whether you’re in an urban area or a rural setting, people are just looking for a congressman who’ll shoot straight and stop spinning the truth. And I think that there’s a general consensus that you only get half the story when you listen to a politician who’s talking on a stump in Washington, D.C. They don’t want to tell you everything that’s going on, they don’t want to give you the information that you need to really understand the issue — rather, they want only to give you the information that supports their view of the issue. And I think there are a lot of people who are just so disillusioned by the process in Washington, D.C., and very upset about what’s happening to our country right now, that they’re ready to look at different people who are candidates for Congress.
CS: Do you find people mentioning that — besides the polls? A “throw the bums out” mentality?
BS: Yeah. What happens, where I get the feedback and where I get the real sense of what’s going on — People don’t always know exactly what’s wrong. They can’t always articulate it, they can’t say, “I am angry because…” and then fill in the blank. They can’t finish the sentence the whole time. But they can feel it. They know that there’s something wrong and they know that the system is failing America, and they know that it has to change.
So I’ll knock on a door, talk to somebody in an affluent neighborhood who describes themselves as right of center, and they’ll be angry, and they’ll say, “Here are all the things I see and somebody has to fix them.” I’ll knock on a door in a middle-class neighborhood, and somebody describes themselves as left of center, and they’ll say the same exact thing.
I think if Americans really understood how similar our views really are, we wouldn’t try to define ourselves as Democrats or Republicans, Independents, we’d just call ourselves Coloradans, or we’d call ourselves Americans. And that’s exactly what I’m seeing when I talk to people in the 4th Congressional District. And I think that’s why it’s reflected now in the national polls, when you are referring to — it was 9 percent, or 11 percent, whatever the percentage is. [Ed. note: Polls show an increasingly small approval rating for Congress and the job it’s doing.]
People may not be able to put their finger on it, but they know something’s not working the way it’s supposed to work. I think it’s also — a question I get sometimes is about the Occupy movement and then the Tea Party movement. And what’s fascinating to me is, I think that the movements are very similar and expressing very similar ideas, they just express it differently. And what you see is this very disillusioned attitude about how the United States government is working, or not working, whichever the case may be. So, I’m not sure that the Tea party guys are ready to describe themselves as Occupiers, and vice versa, but I think the impulse for the movements is very similar.
CS: Is their common ground just that they’re dissatisfied with things or do they share specifics — the concentration of wealth, the role of money in politics, that kind of thing?
BS: You know, I haven’t gone down and said, “OK, here’s what Occupy is and here’s what…”
CS: Those seem to be some kind of sentiments in common that you hear from the movements …
BS: There may be some crossover there, for sure. You know, sometimes at the statehouse, when we get into a great big debate over an issue that breaks around party lines, I take a step back. I’ll call my mom, and I’ll ask my mom, I’ll say, “How does this look to you, what do you think’s going on?” She can’t tell me what we’re debating, she can’t tell me the details of the debate, anything of that sort. What she can tell me is that Democrats and Republicans aren’t getting along, and that makes her angry. That — “Knock it off! Just start compromising, work together to get things done.” That’s all she wants to see. And I think that’s what’s happening nationwide right now. They don’t always even know that the specifics are, they just know that Democrats and Republicans are not getting along, so things aren’t getting done and that’s not OK, because we have to continue to move forward as a nation.
CS: Are you optimistic that here in Colorado and in Washington, strides can be made towards more cooperation from both parties, or is it just so disintegrating that it’s going to be forever before you can come together and work as a body?
BS: I absolutely believe that we can come together and move forward in a very collaborative way. The will is the only thing that is lacking in today’s Washington, D.C., and the way you change that will, the way you change that dynamic is by sending different people to D.C.
CS: When was the last time you were in D.C.?
BS: Two months ago maybe? I went back there to try to do some fundraising and that sort of thing.
CS: Do you like the city — is it exciting for you?
BS: Yeah, it’s an exciting city, yeah.
CS: Have you thought, when you’re just daydreaming, what sort of committees you might want to serve on?
CS: Or is that a little bit too far off in the distance?
BS: That’s a little bit off in the distance, but, you know, it’s something that I’ve thought of. I tell, you my passion has always been education and early childhood education, in particular, here at the statehouse. I very much enjoyed working on the health committees in the Legislature — the Health and Human Services Committee. I enjoyed working on the Judiciary Committee, I was a chair of the Judiciary Committee for three years.
Something that I would be very interested in doing on a national level is looking at transportation-infrastructure, serving on a transportation committee. You know, up in Longmont, FastTracks is a big deal, and people who live in Longmont who are in the RTD district have been paying the tax for FastTracks for a long time, and the most recent analysis suggests that they may not complete that line or may go in a different direction. So it’s something that I know is very important to folks up in Longmont, in particular, but it’s important for the economy as it extends to the northern part of the metro area. You know, I-70 has always been a huge issue that needs to be addressed. And, so I think there are a lot of opportunities. I enjoy learning new things and I enjoy the policy aspect of what we do.
CS: One thing you didn’t mention was agriculture and that’s a big part of the district. Do you feel you’re well — How much do you feel like you know about agriculture and how important is it, do you think, in the district to perhaps have someone serving on the Ag Committee?
BS: I think that’s critical as well, and I think that I do have the foundation and agricultural education, to allow me to serve well on the Eastern Plains and represent farmers and ranchers of Colorado not just adequately but well. My chief of staff at the Capitol is John Cevette, as you may or may not know, was the executive director of the Colorado Corn Growers Association for several years before he joined my staff here at the Capitol. So, I think I’ve got a background in many different ways that will help me represent the Eastern Plans of Colorado.
CS: The Legislature’s a part-time job. What do you do the rest of the time? You’re campaigning, probably, also full-time now, but up to this point what else have you done?
BS: (Laughs) You know, I’m with a law firm up in Longmont, Grant, Grant & Goiran is the name of the firm.
CS: What kind of law do you practice?
BS: Mostly real estate law, but small business development type work. If you wanted to set up an LLC or get advice on tax issues, that sort of thing, you can come into our office and I could help you with those things. The last couple of years I have been very focused on my duties as president of the Senate, and so I have been coming down to the Capitol most days to manage the Senate and focus on policy initiatives that we’ve implemented over the last couple of years. So it’s been a balancing act in the last seven years since I’ve been in the Legislature. Of course my wife is my scheduler, so that she schedules time for the family as well and just keep all the different dynamics in the air.
CS: Is it hard sometimes?
BS: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. But one of the things, literally dating back to the first year in the Legislature, Jessica said and expressed an interest in managing the calendar, and that’s how we’ve done it for the last seven years. So it’s kind of interesting sometimes when people call to set up an appointment to visit, they call my house, and sometimes they don’t realize that Jessica is my wife when they’re talking to schedule an event. And so it’s a good way of screening people too (laughs), because if they’re not polite with my wife, it tells me a whole heck of a lot.
CS: Oh, sure!
BS: So and she’s very good at letting me know.
CS: Has she been doing that since you — ?
BS: Yeah. So in that way I don’t forget parent/teacher conferences and I don’t miss baseball games and so it’s always been a balancing act and in that regard it hasn’t changed.
CS: And it would be more so if you go to Washington. Have you thought about whether you’re going to be living there or coming back and forth, or what are your feelings?
BS: I’ve thought a little bit about it, but, really, my focus is on the election and I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I really want to just focus on talking to voters and making the case that we need a change in Washington, D.C., and that I’m the right guy for the job.
CS: Do you like campaigning?
BS: I do. I really do.
CS: Because some people don’t — they like governing or they like the policy part of it, certain aspects of it. But you seem to be someone who really throws yourself into a campaign.
BS: My favorite part of it is going door to door. That’s where I thrive. You know, if — I’m not the strongest guy on the stump, there are plenty of guys out there who can give a better stump speech than me. But where I connect with voters is at the front door, and the more time I spend knocking on doors, the better I’ll do.
CS: What about raising money? Is it hard?
BS: Raising money is hard, yes. (Laughs).
CS: Is it hard for you to ask somebody?
BS: Absolutely, absolutely.
CS: I mean it’s hard for most people to ask —
BS: That’s the hardest part of the whole thing, and unfortunately it’s a necessary evil. I am proud that the vast majority of the money that I have brought in is individual donations and individuals donations from Coloradans. And we’ll just keep at that, just have to be persistent and be the best you can.
CS: Are your finance people always on you to do more call time, or are you pretty good at that?
BS: I’m pretty good at it. We set aside time — clearly separating my legislative time with my campaign time — we set aside time to do it. You do what you’ve got to do.
CS: Any surprises so far in the Legislature? Anything a little different than what you had expected going in, even at this early stage?
BS: Not yet. I mean, every year has different twists and turns, but the process is the same each year. And I have deep and profound respect for all the members that I serve with, I feel very honored and humbled to be the President of the Senate because we have such a remarkable group of people in the Colorado Senate — that’s both Democrats and Republicans. And to be able to say that I’m the leader of that group is really a humbling thing to say.
CS: Do you pay much attention to the political blogs?
BS: I try not to (laughs).
CS: There’s one in particular, a very conservative one, has kind of been on your case — the Colorado Peak Politics blog — can you ignore that kind of stuff?
BS: I try very hard to ignore it.
CS: Do you read it, though? Does your staff bring that stuff to your attention now and then?
BS: No. You know, I read it for a while. What I’ve found is there’s nothing — I have not seen anything that’s true. Sometimes you read Colorado Pols and, I mean, whatever the spin is on it, there’s a foundation of truth in what they’re saying. You look at the blog, The Spot (The Denver Post’s politics blog), there’s a true thing —
CS: There are reporters writing that —
BS: I read, I was following Peak Politics for a while, but what I’d find is, especially when they were talking about me, the stories that they were writing were pure fabrication. And I got to a point where I decided that there’s no value there. So instead of getting sucked into that and letting that increase my blood pressure, it’d be healthier just to ignore it. People are going to say what they’re going to say. For me, I know as long as I’m being honest with myself and honest with people that I deal with, that’s the very best I can do.
CS: Is it hard when people are critical?
BS: Yeah, yeah. I mean, look, I’ve been successful in school, I’ve been successful in the Navy, I was a successful lawyer, I think I’m a very successful legislator And it’s difficult when people, for other reasons, try to tarnish the track record.
CS: The blogs and social media and so forth really are part of the campaign landscape in a way that they weren’t, even, for instance, when first ran for office. Is that something that you need to keep aware of so that you can respond to, or do you have a campaign staffer checking Peak Politics now and then just in case there’s something to rebut?
BS: The first question is, is it something you need to be aware of? The answer is yes. I think the second question is —
CS: — should you just ignore it?
BS: Should you allow that media — that medium to dictate to you your behavior actions? And I think the answer is no. You know, I think that at the end of the day the personal interaction will be much more influential to the outcome of the race. And, as long as I’m knocking on doors and meeting people, that’s the very most important thing that the campaign can do.
CS: But on like social media, you know not just one blog that seems to have it out for you —
CS: — but everything else too — are you an avid Twitter user? Is that a way to keep in touch with folks?
BS: Yeah, I tweet. Ever since the new year, I’ve kind of slowed down a little bit.
CS: Do you like it, do you like that medium?
BS: I do, and I — I do to a certain degree.
CS: Do you find it to be an interactive medium? You’re not just broadcasting, but do you engage with folks and get messages too?
BS: I do, I get messages, I get — You know, to be real honest I’ve got like five e-mail addresses, so it’s a little bit frustrating, a little bit difficult to track all the different stuff that’s coming at you. I’d rather have it kind of all come through one portal but, yeah, you do the best you can.
CS: Are you ever up there tweeting on the rostrum?
BS: I haven’t (laughs), I haven’t done that.
CS: Is that allowed under the Senate rules?
BS: Yeah, I think it is.
CS: Sen. (Greg) Brophy (R-Wray) was tweeting during the State of the State — he’s prolific with that.
BS: What we’re not allowed to do is during the third reading votes, you’re not supposed to be communicating with anyone outside of the chamber. We do that. The rule originally was designed to prevent lobbyists from influencing legislators when they’re taking their final votes. So we’ve tried to extend that to the electronic medium, so you’re supposed to shut your computer down, you’re supposed to focus on just voting. I think we’ve had limited success with enforcing that rule, but we’ll keep trying.
CS: Is there anything we haven’t asked you about the upcoming session that you want to stress, that you haven’t touched on in either your opening remarks or here today?
BS: I don’t think so. I mean, I’ll leave with you our latest version of the Colorado Works Jobs package.
CS: Updated from when it was released a couple of weeks ago?/
BS: Updated and revised a little bit.
BS: — not much, most of it’s still the same. That’s our focus, is making sure that the dialogue that takes place at the Statehouse this year is or pertains to economic development and job creation. That’s a starting point for the conversation, but we’ll let the conversation go wherever it needs to, whether it’s an agenda that’s coming over from the House of Representatives or whether it’s ideas that my colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle in the Senate come up with. So but that’s what we want to talk about.
CS: Since this is your last session — we’ve asked a couple of legislators we talked to the same question, is there anything on your bucket list that you’d really like to be a part of when it passes or see pass this year?
BS: Civil unions. Civil unions is really important.
CS: And do you feel optimistic about it?
BS: I do. I do. We need to pass that.
CS: It certainly came out with a strong majority out of the Senate last year. Do you foresee getting more Republican support in the Senate this year? [Ed. note: In 2011 civil unions legislation was supported by three Republicans in the state Senate — state Sens. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, Jean White, R-Hayden, and Ellen Roberts, R-Durango — along with all the Democrats. The bill died in the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote. It has been reintroduced this year with state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, as the Senate sponsor but doesn’t have a House sponsor yet; supporters have said they are hoping to find a House Republican to sponsor it in that chamber.]
BS: I think there’s a possibility. I haven’t spoken with each Republican so I don’t know exactly where the votes are on the Republican side. I think we’ll have at least the same Republican support that we had last session, I think there were three Republicans who voted for it out of the Senate. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had more Republicans who supported it this year in the Senate.
CS: Last question: how do you feel running with President Obama at the top of the ticket? Do you think that’s helpful in Colorado this time, or a little bit more difficult?
BS: I think it’s too early to tell. I mean, I think that that presidential race has a long way to go in terms of shaping up, and so we’ll have to wait and see.
CS: What do you hear about that when you’re out knocking on doors? People — are they talking about the presidential race at all, do they say that Obama’s got to go or do they say — ?
BS: You know, when I introduce myself as a candidate for Congress, they slide straight into Congress and just a lot of frustration is expressed.
CS: Colorado, by most accounts, is going to be one of the pivotal states in the country. If President Obama is doing well, does that bode better for you? If he’s not, is that a winnable district?
BS: Well, I think the answer to your first question is, clearly, yes.
CS: You think he’s got some coattails?
BS: If folks are trending towards Obama that’s going to be good for Democratic congressional campaigns, whether it’s in the 4th or whether it’s in the 6th or whether it’s in the 3rd. That’s a positive development, and, so we’ll just see how it plays out.
CS: You had your kids up here the first day? Your son —
BS: My son and my daughter were both here, yeah.
CS: Do they like it?
BS: They do. Dylan was two years old when I was first elected, Madison was six months old when I was first elected. So it’s pretty much all they’ve known. And Madison now says she’s going to be the first woman president of the United States.
CS: She thinks it’s going to take that long (laughs)?
BS: (Laughs) Yeah, right, exactly. Well, that’s what she says, so we’ll see what happens. You know, the best part of how we have managed our family, our lives, with Jessica, my wife, doing the scheduling and everything else, is that we have kept things as normal as possible for our kids at home throughout all of the ups and downs of serving in the statehouse and being leadership in the state Senate. Jessica teaches 5th grade at the same elementary school where the kids are, and so we’re a pretty tight family unit. My mother-in-law, Jessica’s mom, lives up in Longmont with us, and my mom lives down here in Denver.
CS: OK, so you’ve got a lot of family —
BS: A lot of family around us and a great support system and so it’s worked out well and I think the kids are well adjusted because of it.
CS: When you get home do you try to shut off politics or the Legislature?
BS: I try to (laughs). Sometimes I’m successful, other times I’m not. You know, this afternoon as soon as I get home, it’s all about the Denver Broncos, that’s that.
CS: Right. You having a watch party?
BS: We invited some friends over and something came up at the last minute so they won’t be able — it’ll just be the four of us.
CS: (State Rep.) Sal Pace (D-Pueblo) has made some news on Friday by extending an offer to Tim Tebow to come and lead the prayer (in the House). What are your feelings about him doing that in the Senate?
BS: I’d love to have him, you know? Who wouldn’t — it’d be great. I’d love to get his autograph for my kids. That’d be great.
CS: Have you met him?
BS: I haven’t, no, no.
CS: Are you someone who Tebows?
BS: I am happy to Tebow any time (laughs). So, you know, whatever works for our Broncos. I’m all about a winning team.
CS: I think it’s something probably everybody, regardless of party can pretty much agree on.
We are very appreciative of you agreeing to do this and coming down, and we’ve been looking forward to it for a while.
BS: Sure, yeah — great!
CS: Thank you so much for sharing your views with our readers.
BS: You’re very welcome, of course.