In the thick of a busy nomination calendar for Colorado candidates, state Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call and state Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio joined The Colorado Statesman for a wide-ranging discussion about the upcoming election and the possible fortunes of candidates in a state both agree is up for grabs in the November election.

Call and Palacio, both mid-way through their second two-year terms as chairs, are looking at a different political landscape in Colorado than was evident in November 2012, when they last sat for an extended interview with The Statesman and Democrats had romped at the polls. Since then, two Democratic state senators lost their seats in unprecedented recall elections and a third stepped down rather than face her own recall. Last fall, voters clobbered a ballot measure that would have hiked taxes to pay for education and public opinion, at least as measured by surveys, has turned decisively against President Barack Obama, who carried the state by nearly 6 points in the last election.

Republicans see tremendous opportunity at the ballot box and are rallying behind U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, the Yuma Republican who announced just over a month ago that he was giving up his safe House seat and would instead challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall. In swift succession, the three leading Republican Senate candidates — Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, state Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs — dropped from the race and threw their support to Gardner. (Buck, who lost a close U.S. Senate race in 2010, announced he was seeking the Republican nomination to run for Gardner’s 4th Congressional District seat and will likely face a primary.)

Palacio says Gardner might look like an attractive candidate until voters get better acquainted with his record and positions on issues, which the Democrat calls “essentially the same” as Buck’s. Call counters that the familiar Democratic cry that a Republican candidate is too extreme “smacks of desperation” and predicts that voters will reject Udall, finding his positions “well outside the mainstream.”

At the root of a potential 2014 Republican revival — as former GOP chair Dick Wadhams likes to point out, only four Republicans have won gubernatorial or U.S. Senate elections in Colorado in the last 40 years and haven’t won any of those elections since 2002 — is widespread public dissatisfaction with the Affordable Care Act, the Democrats’ signature health care reform legislation, known as Obamacare. The two party chairs, predictably, have starkly different takes on the law and who’s to blame for problems as the program takes effect.

Likewise, the two party chairs disagree vehemently over whether Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper exhibits a consensus-building style of leadership, as Palacio contends, or displays “an unprecedented lack of leadership,” as Call charges.

State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call and State Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio pose in front of the political button collection at the office of The Colorado Statesman on March 26 for a joint InnerView with the newspaper staff.

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Call, an attorney with Denver-based Hale Westfall, chaired the Denver County Republicans and was the state party’s legal counsel before winning election as chairman in 2011. He lives in Arapahoe County with his wife and their four children.

Palacio, a sixth-generation Coloradan, served as an aide to House Democrats, fell two votes short of winning the nomination for Pueblo County clerk and recorder in 2006 and worked for U.S. Rep. John Salazar before taking a job then-Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in Washington. In 2011, the year he was elected party chair, he was named to Advocate Magazine’s list of Forty Under 40 influential LGBT leaders. He lives in Denver.

Palacio and Call joined Statesman editor and publisher Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning for an hour-long discussion in the newspaper’s Capitol Hill offices on March 26. It was the fourth time the two have sat for a joint interview as part of the newspaper’s InnerView series of in-depth conversations with the state’s political figures.

The Statesman regularly conducts interviews with the state’s prominent political figures, including Palacio and Call’s predecessors, former three-term Democratic state chair Pat Waak and former two-term GOP state chair Dick Wadhams. Find transcripts of The Statesman’s interviews with dozens of Colorado politicos archived online at www.coloradostatesman.com/innerview.

Below is the transcript of The Statesman’s conversation with Call and Palacio. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Colorado Statesman:Well, here we are in the midst of an election year again. Has it been crazy for you gentlemen?

Ryan Call: Well, as Rick and I were talking a little bit earlier this afternoon, both of us are in the midst of getting all the moving parts together for our upcoming state assemblies and helping all of our county party organizations run their county meetings and district assemblies and all of the operational procedural steps the party committees have to manage with respect to getting candidates on the ballot, so it is a busy time.

CS: Is that any different this year than in previous years? The calendar has changed.

Call: The calendar is a lot more compressed. You know, at least on the Republican side, two years ago we were able to move back the date of our caucus to buy ourselves an extra month.

Palacio: Yeah.

Call: But we don’t have that luxury this year, so we’re working under a pretty compressed timeline with caucuses on March 4 and then county assemblies and district assemblies throughout the month of March and then both political parties have our state conventions on April 12.

CS: Do you like the compressed calendar?

Call: Well, we have been operating under the compressed calendar since 2012. We didn’t move our caucuses.

Palacio: It makes it a lot more time-consuming or — it stretches the bandwidth for our county parties. I think, from our perspective, they’ve got the data that they need to put in regardless of what the time period is. But when you’ve got volunteers out in the counties that have a compressed calendar it makes things a little bit more difficult for them. We went through it in 2012. We learned from what you (Republicans) did four weeks before us just to kind of test the system because it hadn’t been that way in the past — and I think at this point our counties are ready to go. We have our final county assembly, I think, on Sunday.

Call: And so far, the Republicans are very well organized. Already over half of our counties have submitted their delegate lists. Everything seems to be running pretty smoothly, and I’ll tell you, our county party volunteers have just done yeoman’s work. They’ve done a fantastic job and folks are engaged and energized and enthusiastic, but it is a lot of work, a lot of time. A lot of folks don’t fully appreciate the amount of volunteer time and effort that goes into keeping the wheels moving in a major party organization.

CS: But, on the other hand, you have more races to work with.

Call: Which makes it much more exciting for Republicans this year. It is an exciting time.

CS: There’s a lot more at stake. You have two incumbent Democrats running and I would be surprised if there were a primary, but, are you surprised? A year ago there was nobody running against Sen. (Mark) Udall. It was always — not a joke — but it was like, who’s going to run against him? And then all of a sudden a bunch of them popped up.

Call: You bet.

CS: Are you surprised that there are so many candidates?

Call: I’m encouraged by it, frankly. I think that folks are looking at the record of both Senator Udall, as well as (Gov.) John Hickenlooper, and recognize that there is an opportunity there for Republicans that might not have been there a year ago. The folks are really looking at their records and determining that we need different leadership, and so a lot of people have raised their hands. And for a Republican party who is wanting to and always making the effort to represent the will of the people, it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to be able to provide some good alternatives. It does make it challenging to kind of sort through some of those contingents sometimes, and certainly crowded primary fields. But for me I see it as evidence of strength and enthusiasm.

CS: What’s your take on it, Rick?

Palacio: Well, I think it’s interesting to watch the other side, because we haven’t had a contested primary, as long as I’ve been chair, at this level. In 2012, we had an incumbent president, so there was not the racing of sides to try to fill any gap. We’ve been there with our candidates, sort of side-by-side working with them, so it’s interesting to watch what’s happening on the Republican side. Of course I have to differ with Chairman Call’s assessment of the situation as to why there are so many people interested. I mean, I think you pointed a year ago that there were virtually no Republicans that were running against John Hickenlooper — or Mark Udall. There had only been a conversation — and I attribute at this point the reason that people have jumped in because this is Colorado. This is a swing state. This is not a solid red state. It’s not a solid blue state. It’s very competitive. Every statewide election that we have is competitive. And I think that as we move closer to Election Day, the polls are going to tighten. No doubt this is going to be a very close election. But at the end of the day, I think the people of Colorado understand that both John Hickenlooper and Mark Udall have been solid, moderate leaders for our state and they’re going to back them.

Call: And, obviously, I would beg to disagree. I think that if you look at the way that Gov. Hickenlooper, in particular, conducted himself, and especially in this last legislative session, was anything but moderate in terms of the way that he governed and managed the state. I think that of the legislation that Mark Udall has supported during his time in the Congress, it’s very much out of step with the needs and the priorities of the people of Colorado, and it’s starting to cause a lot of real pain, especially with respect to his support for Obamacare and the mandates on individuals and businesses and families. And as that pain is starting to hit home, families are finding out that they can’t keep their doctor or their health plan, or moms are finding out that their pediatrician is no longer in the new network. That starts hitting closer to home and they start looking around at who is responsible. And very clearly, Mark Udall is responsible and, very clearly, the lack of leadership that we have not seen from the governor is on display.

I think that’s the nature of Colorado, though. I would agree with Rick, this is a very competitive, independent-minded state and our voters are pretty demanding with respect to wanting to hold their elected officials accountable, and I think both parties have both the responsibility and a great opportunity to draw a contrast and offer a different path and a different vision.

CS: We started up with several candidates for the U.S. Senate on the Republican side that got surprisingly whittled down. Could you shed a little light on how that occurred, from your perspective, with Cory Gardner suddenly coming in as the candidate?

Call: Sure. I think as this race really got underway, and as we’re looking at the issues that are important to the people of Colorado, Congressman Gardner has a great solid record of service both in the state Legislature and in the Congress, and he was assessing those — the political landscape and those political ends — and determined that Colorado desperately needed leadership with the Senate. But the decision to run was his, and I admire the ability that he had to reach out to some of the other folks in the field and let them know of his interest. And the fact that so many of the candidates currently in the field were willing to recognize that Cory was by far the stronger candidate is evidence of an increasingly united Republican Party that we’ve sometimes struggled with, admittedly.

Still, we do have a number of other Republican candidates in the field and we want to honor and give the opportunity for our delegates at the state assembly or the primary election, as the case might be, to ultimately choose who their candidate is. I know the Democratic Party has worked out an art of backing people into the corner and eliminating primaries, but our side operates a little bit more transparent method and a little bit messier, perhaps, but at the same time I think it’s more in line with the ability of allowing our voters to ultimately have that choice.

CS: How did you manage to get (state) Sen. Owen Hill to – [Ed. note: Hill withdrew from the U.S. Senate race in March after blasting Gardner weeks earlier for attempting to pressure him to drop out.]

Call: You know I don’t take any credit for that whatsoever. That was Sen. Hill’s decision.

CS: Right.

Call: And I think that Sen. Hill, to his great credit, as with (Weld County District Attorney) Ken Buck and (state Rep.) Amy Stephens, they recognize that a united Republican front is much more likely to defeat Mark Udall than a divided one.

CS: Which was a little bit of a change from what (Hill) initially said about some backroom politics and –

Call: That was Sen. Hill’s position with respect to his support of recognizing that a united Republican party is much more likely — and a much stronger position to defeat an entrenched incumbent, who has a lot of inherent advantages — especially his fundraising ability and ties to the environmentalists movement in the state and nationally. We understand that elections in Colorado can be very competitive and, as a result, the more unified we can be earlier on, the better position we’re going to be in come November.

CS: Do you miss, Rick, all this intra-party kind of activity, or are you satisfied that you’ve just got your nominees?

Palacio: Well I’m happy that we have our nominees. I mean, I don’t think that anyone wants to have intra-party fighting or disagreements. But it happens on our side as well. There are folks on our side that disagree with or agree with our elected officials all the time, (but) we don’t have it, I think, to the depth of the Republican Party, so I’m thankful for that. But I think the Owen Hill and Cory Gardner dynamic — for that matter, the Amy Stephens piece as well — the damage has been done. I mean, the Tea Party folks that we hear about and hear from are very unhappy with the way that the backroom deal was struck that put Congressman Gardner up front.

Listen, there’s no doubt that Congressman Gardner is a stronger candidate than the others that were in the race, but Congressman Gardner is only stronger because people don’t know his record. And we have, I think, been very aggressive about ensuring that people understand what that record is, and are certain that people are going to understand that it’s essentially the same record, or at least the same position, as Ken Buck had in 2010, although this time he actually took votes instead of just voicing his opinion on his stances on certain issues. Cory Gardner — great guy, I actually, I like him. I enjoy sitting down having a beer with the guy and having a conversation with him, but he’s absolutely wrong for our state, and I think that the same way that people rejected Ken Buck in 2010 is the same thing that’s going to happen to Cory Gardner in 2014. People are going to understand that his record is too extreme for middle-class Coloradans, and they’re going to put their support behind Mark Udall because he’s been a strong voice for our state.

Call: And this kind of campaign line or rhetoric or spin really, to me, smacks of desperation. The reality is, if you look at Cory Gardner’s record, both his deep roots in Colorado — I mean, he’s part of a family that’s had a farm implement business out of Yuma for generations. A likeable, personable fellow who has worked very hard to represent the interests and needs of Colorado, the citizens, both when he was in the state Legislature as well as in the Congress. I think as people really do examine the record, the extremist will be Mark Udall in terms of his positions, well outside the mainstream on issues of the Keystone pipeline, as the deciding vote for Obamacare. Those are decisions that are costing real jobs. They’re hurting families in our state, and they’re causing real pain for the individuals and the families and the businesses of Colorado. And so I welcome that conversation with respect to an examination of the record, because I think it will show that Cory Gardner is much better suited to representing the citizens of Colorado moving forward. I think that this tired old line is just not going to stick to a guy that’s as personable or that really does have the record of service that Cory Gardner does, and it’ll ring hollow because it’s just quite, you know, honestly, dishonest.

Palacio: Well, Cory Gardner represented a district very different from the entire electorate of the state. Very rural, eastern part of the state, very conservative, solidly Republican. And Cory Gardner, I think, arguably, has not really had much of a campaign that he’s put up in his entire service in the Legislature and in the Congress. So people have not had an opportunity to really delve down into the subject matter that is actually there and so I think it is fair argument to make, that we’re highlighting the stances and the voting positions he has taken. And they clearly lie outside of the mainstream of Colorado voters. The arguments that we have been making lately — in relation to personhood and in relation to issues of a woman’s right to choose — I think are valid arguments, while the Republican party thinks that it’s politics. It is important to Coloradans to know that Cory Gardner has struck a position, a very clear position on personhood, and on Friday decided that he had more information on the subject and that’s changed his mind, same thing that Ken Buck did in 2010.

Call: And certainly we can point to lots of examples of Democrats who have changed their position on issues –

Palacio: Changing of issues typically, there is some sort of a path, a glide towards something. You don’t typically see some drop off from a year ago sponsoring — co-sponsoring legislation in the U.S. House that essentially defined — well, not essentially — literally defined life (as beginning) at conception, like he did in 2013, to, on Friday, saying that he didn’t realize that he was defining life at conception. I mean it’s political opportunism. The guy’s running for statewide office and clearly, twice already, Coloradans have rejected that line of thinking, and he figured that he’s got to do something to change his record. It’s not the only issue. Cory Gardner has a lot of things that lie outside of the mainstream of Colorado voters, and we’re going to make sure that we highlight those as the year goes on.

CS: How does that differ from Mark Udall’s evolution on, say, same-sex unions?

Palacio: Sure, so Mark Udall, several years ago decided — he came out — in favor of marriage equality, whereas prior he had been opposed to marriage equality.

CS: Right.

Palacio: But the year before his support he was not signing on to legislation banning – or enshrining marriage between one man and one woman in the Constitution, which is what Cory has done. You know, he did not go out on the campaign trail talking about how he was gathering signatures in his church, you know, two or three years before that. And Cory Gardner has been very much out front on the personhood issue and very much out front on his opposition to a woman’s right to choose, whereas Mark Udall didn’t go from solidly opposed to — it was a state’s rights — now to coming out to say that he supports full marriage equality. I think they’re very different situations.

Call: And I guess that’s just it. I mean, the only political party that seems to be fixated on this issue are the Democrats. There are Republicans focused on the issues that are really much more important to the people of the state of Colorado. That’s the jobs –

Palacio: Women’s issues are very important to the people of Colorado; and women of Colorado have been very clear on that, and they’re not going to be just clear in 2014, but 2012 and the presidential election; in 2010 in the U.S. Senate election, 2008. I mean, the women of Colorado, women in Colorado make up more than half of the electorate, and I think that women need to be respected; their right to choose and make their own health care decisions need to be respected, and Mark Udall has been —

Call: And with that I completely agree. I mean, that’s the whole point is that we’re about allowing people to have the opportunity with respect to their own health care decisions, which is precisely the reason why Mark Udall’s position — and unapologetic stance in support of — Obamacare is going to be well outside what the people of the state of Colorado really care about.

Palacio: I think that the difference now again, if we want to talk about health care, is that when you have something that — health care, 17 percent of the GDP in the country on an unsustainable path that families could not afford, the Democrats, including Sen. Mark Udall, decided that we needed to do something about that and create a system in which people could — and families could — afford to cover themselves and their children. They went out of their way, they passed legislation — while imperfect, they passed legislation — and that is quite different from what the Republican Party has done. So now 51 or 52 times the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to completely do away with Obamacare instead of putting something in its place, instead of offering something, options for the American people, they’re just trying to gut a system that is attempting to rein in the cost of health care, and to make things more manageable for the American people.

Call: And Rick, that’s just not true. Republicans have offered many different alternatives to this –

Palacio: Tort reform is not “many.” That is one –

Call: — deeply flawed —

Palacio: — and that is basically the only thing that we’ve heard now for a decade.

Call: — deeply flawed bill. Republicans have offered many solutions, whether that’s health savings accounts, whether that’s the ability to purchase plans across state lines, whether it’s limiting and diminishing the mandates on different plans to give people more choice and opportunity. Whether there’s many, many, different approaches with respect to making more consumer-oriented, empowering-individual choice rather than mandates that have increased the cost of premiums, reduced the options with respect to care and are driving physicians from the business. Your tort reform is part of it but there’s many, many other plans the Republicans have been offering that have just been blocked by Harry Reid and Democrats in the Senate.

Palacio: Well —

Call: So this is the kinds of opportunity that we have. I mean, if Mark Udall really cared about giving folks more opportunity, then he’d be, you know, at the first of the line to allow for votes on some of the bills and legislation that Republicans have offered coming come out of the Congress.

Palacio: The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. The Supreme Court has said it’s the law of the land. It’s been upheld. And instead of working with the Democrats to make sure that it is implemented correctly, to make sure that it works correctly for small businesses and families, Republicans have chosen to stand aside — but not just stand aside, to try to actually throw hurdles into place of making the implementation actually roll out in a smooth fashion.

Call: It’s a deeply flawed law from the very beginning and it’s not working —

Palacio: It is the law of the land —

Call: If it was working —

Palacio: — and instead of offering some sort of solutions —

Call: — why does the President —

Palacio: — instead of more hurdles.

Call: — continue to delay the mandates? If he was so excited about it, why not push forward?

Palacio: Why — why do Republicans —

Call: Because it doesn’t work.

Palacio: — not choose to work with Democrats? Well, first of all, now, to make sure that implementation takes place in a thoughtful, effective way and prior to the actual passage of the Affordable Care Act to work with them to — to pass something? Republicans — I worked in the Congress at the time. There was not a single Republican at the table willing to even have a conversation about health care reform beyond tort reforms.

Call: And I believe that’s an inaccurate reflection of the reality. But at the end of the day, I think folks are going to have the opportunity to measure it up, the voting records of the respective candidates and determine whether the path that Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Mark Udall have this country on is the right path. And if they disagree with it, Republicans are offering a very different path and a very different approach.

Palacio: I think the people of Colorado —

Call: And it’s —

Palacio: — are going to understand the path that Republicans offer is the anti-Democratic path and there is really no plan of their own.

Call: And I would disagree wholeheartedly. I think Republicans are advancing legislation to create opportunity, to simplify the tax code, to reduce mandates on small business, to provide more choice and opportunity in terms of policy rather than the heavy handed federal, one-size-fits-all program that just does not work. If it was working, why does the President have to continue to delay implementation? Why — as soon as people start realizing what the law will actually do in terms of the cost of premiums or the cancellation of plans, you know, he creates a politically expedient way to delay the implementation so it doesn’t cost Democrats their political votes. That is not what the people of Colorado expect from their leaders, and I think in November they’ll have the opportunity to change that direction.

CS: Great. Now that we have a consensus here on Obamacare and our two Senate candidates, can we switch over to the governor’s race? And Gov. Hickenlooper, of course, won last time with a good, solid vote. How do you see the race this year? He has a record to defend, so it’s a little bit different than him going in as an outsider. Could you talk a little bit about —

Call: Well, he’s very much on the defense. I mean, the reality is he campaigned as if he were a pro-business moderate. He promised that he would be a backstop for business, that he would work to defend the businesses and the families of the people of Colorado. He said he was going to rein in the extremes, on even his own party. And yet throughout the course of this last legislative session he vetoed exactly zero bills. I mean, if you look at that record compared to what Bill Owens did when he was governor — he vetoed all sorts of bills and earned the ire from some of the folks on the far right, but he stood up to those elements because he was doing what he felt was important for the people of the state of Colorado and providing leadership that people in our state demand. I mean, heck, even Gov. Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown in California vetoed something like 10 percent of the bills coming out of the California state legislature. Here in Colorado not a single bill was vetoed.

Great profound disappointment I think with respect to his decision on the Nathan Dunlap decision. [Ed. note: Last May, Hickenlooper placed an indefinite, “temporary reprieve” on the execution of Dunlap, a death row inmate whose execution was scheduled for last summer. Dunlap was convicted of the 1996 murder of four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant.] He campaigned promising that he would be able to execute convicted murderers once the appeals process had worked through. He pledged to uphold the decision of the juries and the appellate courts. And when push came to shove, he couldn’t make any decision. It was certainly his prerogative to grant clemency or carry out the just sentence. But he couldn’t bring himself to make that kind of decision.

It is really an unprecedented lack of leadership that we’ve seen from this governor over these last couple of years. These first two years of his term he was fortunate because we had Republicans and majorities in one chamber of the Legislature and Democrats and majorities in the other, so he never had to take a position. A lot of the more controversial issues essentially ended up getting decided for him. But, candidly, that’s something that I think a lot of voters in Colorado are disappointed by. They want to see a governor who leads and doesn’t sit back and waits for someone else to provide a path for leadership. The frustration got to the point that we had literally counties in our state talking about secession. That is really evidence of lack of leadership, a lack of listening and a lack of providing the kind of clear vision for the future of the state that I think Colorado voters demand from their governor.

Palacio: Obviously, I disagree with Ryan. I think that the governor has shown his ability to lead and, oftentimes, you know, leadership doesn’t mean that you stand at a podium and deride what is happening on your side of the aisle and the other side of the aisle. Leadership doesn’t mean that you veto legislations coming out of the Legislature. His idea of leadership and his style of leadership is working within the Legislature and work with Republicans and Democrats as legislation is being formed to ensure that whatever the final outcome, it’s something that he could sign into law. And I think that is the reason that nothing has been vetoed is that he has a great working relationship with both Republicans and Democrats. [Ed. note: Two days after this interview was conducted, Hickenlooper vetoed two previously uncontroversial bills sponsored by Democrats.]

You talk about the business community — there is a very good reason why many, many, Republican business people within Colorado are solidly behind the re-election of John Hickenlooper. He has been again a moderate leader for our state. A pro-business leader for our state, and sometimes even to the detriment or to the disappointment of some folks on the far left and some folks within my own party are unhappy because they believe he cozies up to Republicans too much. We obviously disagree on this subject, but the idea of leadership and his style of leadership is one where he believes that people should sit around the table and figure out how to come to solutions before a piece of legislation actually is passed. And that’s think exactly what he’s done. I mean, you look at what is now happening on the other side, and there’s a reason that folks are clambering and stammering all over one another to try to be their candidate. Because there’s no — there is no frontrunner. There is no good candidate that even Republicans at this point agree can actually take on Gov. Hickenlooper at this point. Bob Beauprez, I think, believed that he was going to be some sort of a game-changer, and he is just one more of now five or six — I actually don’t even know how many candidates you’ve got on your side. But it is becoming somewhat akin to the Republicans primary for president 2011 leading into 2012. It’s a bit of a circus.

Call: Well, we have a process that we work through. The votes at the assembly, the collecting of petitions, for voters in our party to nominate candidates for the office. We’re going to let that process play itself out and I think that’s part of the reason we have a primary process is to allow the stronger, better-funded, better-organized, more compelling message that comes from one campaign or another to rise above that, and we need to give that process a little bit of time. As Rick mentioned, we have a new entry to the field that’s only been in the field for a couple of weeks. It does take some time to kind of show that momentum moving forward and I think we’re going to see that as the process sorts itself out.

I guess if Rick wants to have the governor rather than be viewed as a passive player and letting the process work about him, to own it, then, you know, the voters are going to look at whether the governor is responsible for raising the rural electricity rates for businesses and farmers in our rural communities. If he wants to own his decisions to sign into law patently unconstitutional laws that infringe upon our Second Amendment and are way out of step with where Colorado has been in defending and protecting that fundamental right to the extent that nearly — well, I can’t remember even how many it was, but almost every sheriff in the state joined in a lawsuit against him. I mean, if the governor wants to own that record, I think voters will look at that and say if that’s how he’s going to lead and that’s the direction he’s going, and if the result of legislation that he signed into law was because he worked to develop it, I think folks are going to really recognize that that’s not the kind of leadership that he offered on the campaign trail.

CS: Rick, do you think maybe the Democrats may have overreached a tad bit in the Legislature last year? How would you categorize the gun legislation and some of the other things that have been — was it an overreach, in your opinion?

Palacio: I think it was a reaction to the very real circumstances that we found ourselves in. The Aurora shootings hit very, very close to home — literally close to home for a lot of people in the Legislature. And I think the reaction to the Aurora tragedies and then previously Columbine and Newtown — our Democratic members of the House and the Senate felt they compelled them to act. And I think that anytime you have tragedy like that you should take some sort of action to try to do everything within your power to prevent it from happening again.

Call: But that doesn’t hold any water, Rick, because the governor himself acknowledged that those new laws probably would not have prevented those kinds of tragedies. You can have a knee-jerk reaction –

Palacio: I think the argument that –

Call: — to something but if it doesn’t fix the underlying problem or address the problem, then it’s simply that — a knee-jerk reaction not grounded in sound policy. That is not a demonstration of good leadership.

Palacio: I think doing nothing is not a choice. And what Democrats did is they chose to attempt to address these issues. They passed legislation related to mental health issues, in addition to the gun legislation that was passed. And a solid majority of Republicans and Democrats in Colorado and across the country agree that it is people going through background checks, mandatory background checks for gun purchases is common-sense legislation. And that was one of the steps that they took.

Call: But the problem, Rick, is it’s not common-sense legislation. I mean, the implementation of the law is enough that, you know, nearly 60 — I think it was 58 sheriffs — joined in a lawsuit against it and talking about its unconstitutionality. So it’s not common sense or — or even effective.

Palacio: Thousands of people have applied for gun ownership — they’ve gone to purchase guns, thousands and thousands of people have been allowed to buy guns and several hundred people have been prohibited from buying guns because they have outstanding restraining orders. They have been found guilty of committing crimes against children and spousal abuses and these laws save these people from having guns in their hands and you never know what’s going to happen when someone like that has a gun in their hands. If this legislation saved one life and — and saved a tragedy from happening in one family, I would bet that our Democrats would agree that it’s been well worth it.

Call: And I think there are certainly strong arguments to say that we have to operate within the constitutional framework in protecting our Second –

Palacio: And there can be accusations that these laws have been unconstitutional, but as of this time, there has been no challenge whatsoever. The courts have not found any of the laws that we have passed unconstitutional.

Call: Well, not yet, because the appeals are ongoing, Rick. I mean, it’s sort of disingenuous to say that the courts haven’t found them (unconstitutional), because the court cases are still pending.

Palacio: I think it’s also disingenuous to say that somehow this has been an attack on Second Amendment rights. Coloradans — Democrats in Colorado have been strongly on the side of Second Amendment rights.

Call: Until this last year, until they were given free reign with a compliant governor and majority control of both the chambers of Legislature.

Palacio: And to say a government has a responsibility to respond to tragedies like Aurora is somehow a misstep or an overreach, I mean, it’s offensive. We have taken steps to ensure or do what we can to prevent further tragedies from happening in the future.

Call: And that argument would have all sorts of water if the governor himself didn’t acknowledge that these laws would not have changed the outcome with respect to those particular issues.

Palacio: And, you know, I can’t speak to what the governor said, but I can say that the governor certainly doesn’t have some sort of a future-telling magic ball that he could look into to predict for certain whether or not these would prevent such tragedies in the future.

CS: Okay. Speaking of what we’ve just been talking about, legislators and gun proposals —

Palacio: By the way, there are things that we agree with. (Laughs)

Call: What, Rick and I do?

CS: I’m sure there are. But what are your predictions for the new Legislature next year? How confident are you that Democrats can retain control of the House and Senate? What are your thoughts on that and are you, Ryan, optimistic that you could perhaps make a change in the power structure over there?

Call: I think Republicans are pretty optimistic about the opportunity to win back majorities in one and possibly even both of the legislative chambers. I think the Democrats overreached in connection with the way that they’ve conducted themselves over the last few years, they have demonstrated that they can’t be trusted with unfettered power because they’ll exercise it in a way that’s out of touch with the needs and priorities of the people of our state. I think that one of Colorado’s strengths is its political balance in some ways, and we’ve gotten out of balance. And so an opportunity to restore some of that balance is, I think, what the voters are looking for come November. Republicans are fielding a great slate of candidates to run for many of these key legislative races. Obviously the districts are very competitive, and in many cases it may come down to every single vote matters. And every single vote matters all the time, but especially in connection with some of these very competitive seats. But I think Republicans have a great opportunity in the upcoming election to help restore some of that political balance that our state has lost under that control.

CS: And of course you’ve picked a couple from the recalls.

Call: That certainly helps but — I think that recalls in and of themselves are an unprecedented reaction to dramatic Democrats overreach. I mean, that’s part of the way voters sometimes react. Those are going to be challenging seats to hold, we understand, but we have a couple of terrific lawmakers who are doing a great job representing their communities, (state Sens.) Bernie Herpin and George Rivera in particular, two great senators who are working very hard to reflect their communities. The Republicans are offering a positive, optimistic vision that addresses the problems in pragmatic, realistic ways rather than knee-jerk ways that are ultimately counterproductive to the values and opportunities that our citizens demand.

CS: Do the recalls make you a little nervous for the upcoming elections?

Palacio: Sure. They tighten the field a little bit more, but I want to say Bernie Herpin who, by the way, said that in Aurora, people were lucky that the shooter had a 100-round magazine as opposed to something smaller, which I think is –

Call: Now that’s just not — not an honest reflection of the comment Rick, and I’m sure –

Palacio: It is. I mean, I can give the entire –

Call: — we can point to all sorts –

Palacio: — I can give the entire quote –

Call: And I’m sure we can point to all sorts of somewhat inartfully expressed comments from folks on the Democratic side with respect to –

Palacio: Contextually, (Herpin) said (accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes) was –

Call: — you know, popping off — popping off rounds at people –

Palacio: — he was perhaps better that he had 100 rounds because then it provided an opportunity for the magazine to jam, as opposed to having 15 rounds where it would have — he could have had a bag full of 15-round magazines. I mean, it just — it — this, I think, strikes at the heart of the Republicans’ argument for reacting to tragedies like this, which is reacting in a way that does absolutely nothing. So hoping that, somehow, the person who is committing these awful crimes, that their — their magazine jams, as opposed to taking the Republicans Party, if they would have been in charge, doing nothing whatsoever to address these horrible issues.

As to your recall question, sure, it tightens up the field. The Democrats in the Senate have a one-seat majority right now. That means that we have more seats to take back. That means we have to expend more resources in order to take them back and more seats to actually defend than we had before. The House, I am not so much worried about. [Ed. note: Democrats hold a 37-28 majority in the state House this session.] We have great lawmakers and candidates both in the House and the Senate, but because the numbers are slimmer in the Senate, I think that it makes things much more challenging to us. I think that there is a very real possibility that things could not go the Democrats’ way and that we could lose control of the chamber if we are not on our A-game come fall.

CS: You’ve got some primaries coming up in the Senate that could influence how things turn out there, Ryan. Are you confident that the right candidates are going to emerge or –

Call: You know, the right candidate is the one that our voters choose in terms of that primary. I think we have some candidates that are stronger than others in terms of that field, and I certainly hope that our Republican voters and those that participate in our upcoming assemblies take that into account as we field our slate of candidates. But I’m really optimistic. I really do think the Republicans are offering some tested and some solid leadership in many of those key swing districts, especially on the state Senate side. And our chances are looking increasingly good. The Republicans will be able to reclaim the majority in that chamber and again restore some political balance to the Colorado Legislature.

CS: Okay. Not a lot of primaries on the Democrats side. Are you happy to see plenty on the Republicans side, Rick?

Palacio: Well, you know, I think primaries are great. They’re healthy for democracy. I mean, anytime that we have a primary on our side or the other, it’s as Ryan mentioned, you want the will of the people to actually be carried out. We have very few primaries on our side. We had some potential primaries that have kind of shaken themselves out at the county assembly level, and I think we’ll maybe even have more primaries that shake themselves out at the House district and Senate district assemblies. But ultimately, at the end of the day, I think, the voice of our Democrats will be heard, regardless of who comes out. We’ve got some great candidates out there.

CS: Talk to us a little bit about the upcoming state assemblies. Anything different that you’re going to be doing, or what can we expect? Pretty much typical?

Call: Well, ours is probably going to last a lot longer than Rick’s will. We have a lot more candidates running that will be seeking access to the ballot that way. But I’m looking forward to that conversation. We have a much larger delegation than we’ve had before — just over 4,100 delegates and alternates coming up from the counties, an equal number of those, so we might have close to 6 or 7,000 people joining us at the Coors Event Center up in Boulder, the University of Boulder campus, my alma mater. It’s kind of nice to be able to go back and — and at least — to be able to shift the demographics of the People’s Republic, at least temporarily for a little while –

Palacio: You’re going to need a lot more than 5,000.

Call: Well, we’re going to try. We have, you know, threatened, maybe given the opportunity for people that will be driving in to issue them —

CS: Visas?

Call: Well, we thought about visas, but we figured that maybe the more effective route would (be to issue) bumper stickers in advance — “Free Tibet,” Che Guevara bumper stickers — to make sure that our Republicans could pass incognito and avoid any potential unpleasantness with respect to their cars being keyed in Boulder. But we have yet to determine the best way –

Palacio: Next to their “Don’t Tread on Me” bumper sticker?

Call: Well, we’d have to obviously put the Che Guevara sticker on top of the “Don’t Tread on Me” bumper stickers on the back to make sure that our folks can pass incognito through the People’s Republic, but — we’re just kidding of course. Boulder’s a great community and we’re very grateful the University of Colorado is playing host to us this year. We move that state assembly around, of course. We’ve held it in Denver and Fort Collins and Greeley and down to Colorado Springs a few years back. So we do try to move that around. But it’ll be a good event. The night before, just as the Democratic Party does, we do a big fundraiser, although I understand yours is on Saturday –

Palacio: Ours is on the same night (as the state assembly, on Saturday).

Call: — the same date. The night before, we are pleased to welcome Michael Reagan, the eldest son of the late President Ronald Reagan, to speak as part of a fundraiser the night before, so we should see a good crowd at that. But we’re looking forward to having folks from all around the state come and have their voice heard in connection with our primary process. I know that many other candidates are also seeking access to the Republican Party ballot by getting the signatures of good-faith Republicans out there, and we look forward to that robust debate that is our primary election process.

CS: As a candidate trying to go on by petition, will they be allowed to speak at the Republican assembly? I know a few years ago in 2010 that petition candidates were not allowed – (Republican Party) Chairman (Dick) Wadhams ruled that out — if they were petitioning, they couldn’t speak at the event.

Call: Our approach is that both routes to the Republicans party primary ballot are legal and permissible and legitimate under our rules. But if a candidate is not seeking the votes of the delegates at the assembly, then they’re not part of the formal business of the assembly.

CS: So will not be allowed to address –

Call: So will not be speaking with respect to whether they’re seeking the ballot access by the assembly. But again, whether it’s a vote cast by a delegate at a party assembly or a petition signed by a Republicans voter, we want to ultimately make sure that the candidates chosen by our party reflect the will of the broader Republican electorate in our primary. Some of these races, like the race for the U.S. Senate will probably be resolved at the state assembly. Many of the others might move on to the primary election ballot — and that’s our process. So we look forward to a very engaged and energetic crowd. It’ll be a big crowd — but one we’re looking forward to getting together with.

Palacio: We don’t have a whole lot difference this year than we’ve had in past years. We’ll have our assembly the morning of the 12th at the Colorado Convention Center. And the previous evening we’ll have various assemblies for congressional districts — and multi-county House and Senate districts, as well. But we will have a smaller crowd because we don’t have much contested. I think we have somewhere near 1,500 delegates and roughly 500 alternates, so it’ll be a smaller venue. It’ll be a smaller assembly than we’ve had in the past. And then that evening we have our Jefferson Jackson dinner, which will be at the Sheraton, which is where we almost always have it. We have Congressman Joaquin Castro from San Antonio who will be our guest speaker.

CS: You said you agree on some things. What do you agree on?

Call: Well I think there’s actually a lot more in common with Rick and I with respect to our position on — we were talking earlier about hydraulic fracturing and the economic –

Palacio: Thank you, Ryan. (Chuckles)

Call: Well come on, I’ve got to give you some grief.

CS: Is that a big issue coming up in Colorado?

Call: Well, it’s a huge issue. I mean, it’s a significant driver of economic growth and hundreds of thousands of jobs that were impacted by the gas industry in our state. It’s a huge driver of local tax revenue that benefits roads and bridges and local county and municipal governments. And so, yeah, it’s a big deal. I have no idea why Rick Palacio’s Jared Polis is so, you know, off the reservation when it comes to understanding the impact that sound and responsible energy exploration and development has and impacting people in Colorado.

Palacio: It is — it’s a huge economic driver. I mean, there are hundred-plus thousand jobs that are related to oil and gas in Colorado and many of them in rural communities that are struggling to survive, and I think is an important part of the energy future that the President has laid out as well as our Governor has laid out. But it’s also an issue that is very personal for a lot of people, especially people that live in those communities, where oil and gas drilling has happened either in their back yard or in the schoolyard or things like that. So anytime that you have what people feel is an encroachment in their back yard, their personal space, you’re going to have some sort of a reaction. And we’re going to work our way through what the results of that is or what the answers are. There has been rumor that there may be some ballot initiatives that deal with hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas development. I don’t know the details of them. I don’t know who is behind the drive on them, or ultimately even what’s going to end up on the ballot if anything does at all. But I think that we’ll have a lively debate about the benefits and the risks involved. Benefits economically and the risks to public health — and safety and people’s home values, their property values, the quality of water, air, et cetera, so I look forward to having a debate regardless of what the outcome is. I think it’s important that we talk about these issues.

Call: Well, in all fairness, Rick, we know who’s behind at least this particular issue and that’s your Democrat Congressman Jared Polis. I mean, it’s the same element that seems to — at least he’s at the head of the column charging forward. He may not be behind it but he certainly seems to be leading the charge.

Palacio: Well, he’s certainly been very vocal about this because this is personal to him. I think it’s been reported on numerous times the family farm that has been in his family for quite some time, in Weld County — one morning he drove up and there was a fracking well that was being constructed across the street from his family home. And he has a small toddler and I think any time that Coloradans are nearly overwhelmingly in support of oil and gas development. But when you ask them if they want it to happen in their back yard, then the conversation changes a little bit. And I think that’s the reaction that Congressman Polis has had to this is, that when you have a very loud, very bright, oil well that’s being constructed across the street from your home, you want to make sure that you do everything that you can to understand what’s actually happening and hopefully have some sort of an impact or an effect on how it’s happening.

CS: Do you think fracking, as an example, might be one of the resolutions that comes up before your state assemblies and do you anticipate that your parties will take a position on that issue?

Call: I expect so — in addition to the nomination of candidates to the ballot. Another important aspect of our party assemblies that happen every two years or every four years is the development of our party platform, or at least platform resolutions that deal with issues that are important to our voters and set out a vision with respect to what we believe in as a party and the policies we will be looking to advocate for. There isn’t always unanimity of opinion with respect to the party platform resolutions, or even among all of them, and so there is that recognition that not every point in the party platform is something every Republican is going to agree with. But I certainly see issues of energy development, education reform, health care reform, and, I know on the Republican party side, at least, there will be a lot of discussion about how we help create jobs, how we help empower the middle class, how we help create a path for the poor out of poverty, how we create educational options and choice for our people. A very positive, outlining vision of what we believe in as Republicans, and a good discussion about other issues that we might not necessarily agree about. That’s part of what a party platform is designed to elicit is that conversation.

CS: Is there anything you want to ask each other before we end?

Call: Just whether, you know, Rick wants to carpool with me as you and I have been traveling the state a lot, as we talked about the last time we got together. One of the great privileges and the thing that I enjoy most about this position is the opportunity to travel this great state and meet so many of our wonderful grassroots party leaders, volunteers and activists that are working so hard within their communities to make a difference for the better — local elected officials like county commissioners and sheriffs that give so much back to their community and for them it’s a privilege to serve and be elected. That’s, for me, one of the great highlights of this opportunity that we’ve each been kind of temporarily entrusted with. The temporary stewardship of the party of Lincoln, the temporary stewardship of the Democrats’ party, and the opportunity to create, you know, a strong path for the future. We were talking earlier about the history of, at least, the Republican Party here in Colorado and it goes back — this year, in fact, we celebrate our 150th anniversary. The record of the organization of the Republican Party predates statehood, and that’s something I think we take some great pride in, knowing that we have those deep roots and from our party’s beginning we have always stood for personal freedom and individual liberty and responsibility and opportunity for our people and for this country.

CS: Any question for your counterpart here?

Palacio: I think Ryan and I have a good relationship, a good working relationship on various issues. There are things that we disagree on and there are things that we agree on. I think that we’ve had conversations about campaign finance and how we believe that parties and party efforts have been hampered because of the current system that we’re under, and we’ve talked a little bit about how we might be able to tackle those issues, how we can potentially enfranchise more Republicans and more Democrats to become part of the presidential primary process. There’s a lot of agreement that the two of us have in addition to the disagreement that we obviously have on some policies as well.

Like Ryan, the best part of my job is having an ability to drive around the state and spend time with activists and various individuals, various elected officials, in places that we don’t often get to see. Just this last weekend I was at the Democrats dinner in Mesa County, spent the next morning in Mesa — in Delta, Wray and Montrose counties, and then Sunday spent the afternoon with the Gunnison County Democrats and back through Chaffee County, and back home again. And I think, unless you’re on a vacation, most people don’t get an opportunity to be on the road that much and spend time getting to know the wants and concerns of people across their own state like that. So it’s been an absolute privilege for the last three years, for myself, and I look forward to continuing to do that as this election moves forward.

—Jody@coloradostatesman.com

—Ernest@coloradostatesman.com



Colorado College political science professors Thomas Cronin and Robert Loevy are so confident that Colorado is a solidly “purple” state — decidedly up for grabs despite big wins by Democrats this year and by Republicans in the last election — that they went to the mat when it came time to design their most recent book’s cover. That’s why Colorado Politics and Policy: Governing a Purple State, published in October as part of the University of Nebraska Press Politics and Governments of the American States series, is wrapped in a vivid, deep purple, setting it apart from more somber academic tomes.

Drawing on their decades of experience studying and participating in Colorado politics — Cronin, a Democrat, ran for Congress in the 1980s and Loevy, a Republican, was a vocal member of the state’s contentious legislative reapportionment commission last year — the authors visited The Colorado Statesman this month for a wide-ranging discussion about the state’s unique political make-up. In a lengthy, free-ranging interview, the two discuss everything from the Republican Party’s loosened grasp on its traditional stalwarts to the damage they say term limits has wreaked on the legislature, a conclusion they say is widely shared by close observers.

“The major problem facing the Republican Party,” says Loevy, is “that the conservative social issues are forcing the old upscale, well educated Republicans out, and this is strongest with their children.”

Authors Bob Loevy, Republican, and Tom Cronin, Democrat, pose in front of a large wall of campaign buttons in The Statesman office during a recent InnerView about their new book, Colorado Politics and Policy: Governing a Purple State.

Photo by Ernest Luningf/The Colorado Statesman

While Colorado is no longer, in Cronin’s phrase, “default Republican,” Democrats can’t claim the solid allegiance of voters, either, the authors say. “Attractive, agile, adaptive Republicans who know how to moderate on some issues like immigration and same-sex marriage are quite winnable in the state,” Cronin notes, refuting suggestions that Coloradans have given up on the GOP. Not only was Colorado the fourth-closest state in the country in the last election, but its voters still sound more like Republicans than Democrats when they describe themselves.

“We’re a pro-liberty, anti-tax, anti-Washington state and that’s been consistent for the past 25 years,” Cronin says, pointing to extensive polling the pair commissioned when they wrote the book’s previous edition and conducted again this time.

Consistenly over two decades, Loevy says, Coloradans are more likely to call themselves conservative than liberal or moderate, and Democratic wins in elections haven’t done anything to change that. “You would think that if there was a real deep shift, some of those conservatives would be going to moderates, maybe some of the moderates going to Democrat, but that is not happening. So our final conclusion is either party can win here and it’s likely to stay that way for a while,” he says.

Cronin is the McHugh Professor of American Government and Leadership at Colorado College and is the author or editor of more than a dozen books on government, the presidency and leadership. Cronin has a first-hand grasp of politics at all levels, having served as a precinct committeeman to a member of the White House staff. In 1982, he was the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 5th Congressional District. This year, he is among nine Colorado members of the Electoral College casting a vote for President Barack Obama.

A member of the Colorado College faculty since 1968, Loevy is the author or co-author of a stack of books, including an account of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and an e-book offering an insider’s view of Colorado’s most recent legislative reapportionment process. Loevy has been observing politics up close since the 1960s, when he worked for Spiro Agnew’s gubernatorial campaign and was also a congressional aide. Draft chapters of Loevy and Cronin’s 1993 book examining Colorado politics were a direct inspiration for the state’s presidential primary, approved by voters in 1990.

Cronin and Loevy joined Statesman editor and publisher Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning for a 90-minute discussion in the newspaper’s Capitol Hill offices on Dec. 6, part of the newspaper’s InnerView series of in-depth conversations with the state’s prominent political figures.

The Statesman has regularly talked with the state’s party chairs, legislative leadership, federal candidates and others who hold sway in Colorado’s rich political scene. Find transcripts of The Statesman’s interviews with dozens of Colorado politicos archived online at www.coloradostatesman.com/innerview.

Below is the transcript of The Statesman’s conversation with Cronin and Loevy. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Colorado Statesman: The complexion of the state has changed tremendously…
Tom Cronin: A big thing about Reagan, people forget this, they always assume young people and women and Catholics are the Democratic Party. He won the Catholic vote, he won the youth vote, he won the women’s vote in 1984. But we forget that, we forget that, we assume that there’s a lock. So that’s why one of the themes that Bob and I are holding forth on currently, is that this state really is up for grabs — it is not a decidedly blue state. An attractive, adaptable Republican [can win] particularly non-presidential elections. And we forget, too, that of the 13 visible political offices, the Republicans control seven of them — three statewide officials under the governor and four of the House delegation members. And people all of a sudden, I think are all over the map, saying, “Well we’re going irredeemably blue,” or whatever. And Bob and I — it’s fun, because he’s a Republican, I’m a Democrat, although we’re just moderates — it’s fun because we kind of are able to —

Statesman: It’s not so clear cut?
Cronin: It’s a complicated state, it’s a fluid state.

Statesman: But it’s kind of a fun state.
Cronin: It is. Think of all the neighboring states — New Mexico is an odd exception, but think of the states around us. We are so different from Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas, Utah and Oklahoma. And yet we combine some elements of that. The anti-federal kind of —

Statesman: The Sagebrush Rebellion?
Cronin: We share that with our neighbors, but we’re also a different kind of state.

Statesman: Your book, which is decidedly purple, both in the title and the cover —
Cronin: It took a fight for me with the publishers to get
them to —

Statesman: They didn’t want to do it?
Cronin: Yeah, they said, “What is this?” And I said, “Because it’s one of the themes of our book.” (Laughs)

Statesman: It has to be purple.
Cronin: And Bob Drake, who you know, he’s been our pollster over the years and he’s, “Oh no, you don’t want to commit to something like that for the longer-term.” And Bob [Loevy] and I are fairly convinced — he’s been on the Reapportionment Commission, so he’s seen some of the data that some are not as familiar with — and we were pretty safe in thinking it’s purple for at least the near term.

Statesman: When did you deliver the manuscript?
Cronin: Probably a year ago.

Statesman: So before the most recent legislative session? In the month since the election, has your assessment changed at all? All the Republicans got reelected to Congress but it looks like a pretty Democratic turnout, and what some folks are saying might look like a kind of permanent realignment in the state. What’s your take on that?
Bob Loevy: Well, for one thing it was close in Colorado, as it was close nationally.
Cronin: We were the fourth-closest state.

Loevy: And as Tom already explained, the congressional delegation to the House of Representatives is 4-to-3 Republican. The lesser state offices went Republican in 2010. Perhaps the most significant thing is, as the voters have been turning more blue, the registration has not. Colorado has been very consistent in its voter registration, one third Republican, one third Independent, one third Democratic.

Cronin: And statistically right before the election Republicans were No. 1, Independents No. 2, Democrats No. 3. It’s all 34 to 32 (percent), but to reinforce what Bob has said, over the 20-year period, if you thought we were really trending Democrat or blue, you’d see some evidence of that, and the evidence hasn’t shown up.

Loevy: Not in the registration figures. It also doesn’t — we’ve been polling over 20 years and most Coloradans still describe themselves as conservatives. Forty percent call themselves conservatives. Liberals and moderates, yes, outnumber them, but those figures are not changing. You would think that if there was a real deep shift, some of those conservatives would be going to moderates, maybe some of the moderates going to Democrat, but that is not happening. So our final conclusion is either party can win here and it’s likely to stay that way for a while.

Cronin: And the Republican Party is going to do better in non-presidential election years. All of us here in the room know that Ken Buck would be the U.S. senator if he had just avoided a few paragraphs in his campaign. It was a Republican year, he should have won. Michael Bennett benefited from the other party losing, rather than his winning. So attractive, agile, adaptive Republicans who know how to moderate on some issues like immigration and same-sex marriage are quite winnable in the state. Not that they have to give up or become — nobody wants two parties sharing the same views, but here’s a point, too, that Bob and I share: both parties are tough to unify.

There are a lot of factions and a lot of people who are under the tent of both local parties. The Democrats had a hell of a hard time unifying their party in the 1970s during the McGovern years, before and after, and Republicans are having a real tough time in Colorado and in the nation doing that right now. But the fact is, both parties have management problems of managing their tents. It’s a given in the nature of our two-party system. And in Colorado — Bob and I agree on this — the Democrats have deliberately sought out more moderate state-wide candidates and I think [former Gov. Roy] Romer, [former Gov. Bill] Ritter, [Interior Secretary and former U.S. Sen. Ken] Salazar, [Gov. John] Hickenlooper — they’re not all the same, but some of them are what I call in the book, “chamber of commerce” Democrats. A chamber of commerce Democrat can win the state, just like a moderate Republican of the [former Gov.] John Love, [former Gov.] Bill Owens caliber can win in this state. And I think going forward that’s the same as the past but you have to manage — I don’t want to call them fringe groups, but people who are intense on the left and right in either party.

Statesman: Some of the factions in the party now, it seems to be straining at the tent a little more on the Republican side.
Cronin: We agree.

Statesman: What are the factions in the Republican tent now — the evangelicals, the small government folks and the chamber of commerce types?
Cronin: Well, the Tea Party and Libertarians.
Loevy: I have a very definite opinion on that. The main cause of the current shift from Republican to Democratic is because of social conservatism. The rise of social conservatism in the Republican Party, mainly anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage, anti-stem cell research —

Cronin: — and hard line on immigration.

Loevy: The backbone of the Republican Party for years was professionals — doctors, lawyers, downtown businessmen, people with good education. You would describe them in sociological terms as upscale and well educated. And the conservative social issues, which I just mentioned, are driving their votes out of the Republican Party.

Cronin: Not all, but —

Loevy: Not all, but enough to make a real difference.

Cronin: Enough that the state is in play.

Loevy: And where this happens is in — and this has become a very popular term with voting-behavior analysts — contiguous suburbs to major cities. Because those were the old Eisenhower suburbs. Eisenhower took the presidency back from Roosevelt and Truman in 1952 by sweeping the newly emerging World War II suburbs. But that’s why the manifestation of this is the shift — and the shift is very steady through the ‘90s — of Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, our two largest contiguous counties, from Republican or Democratic. So the view we take in the book is that is the major problem facing the Republican Party, that the conservative social issues are forcing the old upscale, well educated Republicans out, and this is strongest with their children. The parents, they vote Democratic for a while, but the children aren’t even joining the Republican Party.

Cronin: We met somebody today, earlier, who has a daughter who’s a very strong fiscal conservative but she’s non-religious, and she’s at odds with her family’s party. We saw this in the marijuana issue here in the state, we see it on immigration in the state. It was remarkable to see the Hispanic community turn out in greater numbers and move from about 66 percent in the last political cycle, presidential election cycle, to nearly 75 percent [Democratic]. A lot of that was micro-targeting, great base-getting —

Statesman: — really turning the vote out?
Cronin: Yeah, but the fact is the immigration issue was one which Romney, I presume — I don’t know him, but I presume — probably had a more moderate stand, like George W. Bush and John McCain did a few years ago. He was forced in the Republican primary season to take a hard line and to say things that telegraphed and allowed the organizers in the Hispanic community to turn out an overwhelming vote, and it may have — you can say it was just 13 percent of the vote nationally, or whatever it was, but the fact is it’s the fastest-growing minority in the country and it could well have made a difference. And there was a signal sent — the fact is, a lot of the Republicans Bob Loevy is talking about, upscale, educated, professional Republicans, fiscally conservative Republicans — want to be more open-minded and want to be more inclusive on that issue. One faction of the Republican Party has kind of forced people like Romney to take a position that doesn’t make sense in the long run and doesn’t appeal to moderates and that’s where elections are won.

Loevy: Furthermore, the Democrats know this and have proven very skillful at —

Statesman: I’m sure they didn’t mind that there was a primary.
Loevy: — exploiting it.

Statesman: When you say that Mitt Romney was forced to take on this position, it was a deliberate choice that he used to try to outflank Rick Perry in the primary, who he saw as his greatest rival, and didn’t move back to the center?
Cronin: Right. But if he could take back a half dozen statements — his immigration statement, his 47 percent, there are three or four things. The fact is, 400,000 votes in three or four states would have made him president in the Electoral College. You could track back several statements of his that if they had been more centrist on immigration or that stupid 47 percent thing, or the $10,000 bet thing —

Statesman: Self-deportation?
Cronin: Self-deportation. It’s like Ken Buck. Ken Buck could have been senator, save for about five paragraphs including his Meet the Press (appearance), right?

Statesman: And the thing with the women and high heels.
Cronin: If he could excise those things …

Statesman: But some folks would say, if they didn’t say those things who would they be? All the things you said of Mitt Romney, a lot of the popular perception is that that’s who the guy is, and he reinforced some of that after the election with his call to his fundraisers …
Cronin: That’s a sad loser. A graceless loser.

Statesman: Do the Republicans you’re describing who aren’t going to be drumming suburban, upscale voters out of the party with conservative, socially conservative issues exist anymore? Or have they already left the party?
Loevy: Well, I’m a Republican and I’m very concerned about the state of the Republican Party. For one thing, the party’s losing its intellectual heft because, as more upscale, well educated people leave, the pool of bright leaders goes down. I often put it in the form of a question: What is the Republican Party doing to get back the upscale, well educated voters that used to be its most important component? And the answer is, virtually nothing. The politicians who are coming up, in order to win the Republican primary, are all using social issues and are either unaware or are in such a safe Republican seat they don’t care. So not only is this group leaving the party, but it’s our observation that nothing is being done to lure them back.

Cronin: Paradoxically — I’m the Democrat and Bob is Republican — but let me point out there are people like Bill Owens who compromised on certain issues, on taxes for example, with his base — with his base. There are people like [Attorney General] John Suthers who hold a lot of these same views but know how to moderate these things. And take Tom Tancredo and Mike Rosen, two of the most prominent conservatives in the state. Tom Tancredo for years has said, “We should legalize marijuana,” for example, and he knew — it fit into his Libertarian notion. And Mike Rosen, we were on a show recently, has talked about you don’t have to stop believing in these issues but if you want to win, you have to be more inclusive and moderate. So these are three examples.

I think candidates like a John Suthers, or future people in that mold, can win statewide. Colorado is basically a conservative state on fiscal matters. We are the fourth lowest — we write about this in our book, Governing a Purple State — we’ve got the fourth lowest state tax rates in the nation, and we were the fourth-most competitive in terms of partisan election in the 2012 cycle, following just after Ohio, Virginia and Florida. We are a real purple state, we’re not decidedly blue nor are we any longer a Republican, conservative state.

Twenty years ago you could say the state legislature and presidential elections were predictably red. But people forget, a factoid we have in our book, that governorship of Colorado, since 1876, 58 percent of the time the governorship has been controlled by Republicans. So within this state, Democrats have been viable statewide. We’ve had Tim Wirth, Gary Hart and Ben Nighthorse Campbell in his original state — so we’ve had a number of Democrats do well in state-wide elections even over the past two generations. And right now, if you want another factoid, we were the only state, battleground state in the country to have two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor this year. There are 10 battleground states, no other one had (that configuration).

So Colorado can be a competitive state both ways — in 12 out of the last 16 presidential elections, Republicans won in this state, and one of those that they lost was Bill Clinton, who won because of Ross Perot. So this is one of the most fascinating states in the country, it’s one of the reasons why reporters around the country talk to people like you at The Colorado Statesman and call Bob and I a lot, because it’s unpredictableness, and we’re hard to figure out because we’re not — the Democratic Party has a lock on two coasts but we’re in the real Rocky Mountain West, and it makes it fascinating. It’s one of the reasons why Bob and I have loved writing this work on Colorado and it’s purpleness — I suspect if we were Oklahoma or Kansas or Illinois it would be far less fun to write the book.

Statesman: When you hear from folks from out of state, do they get what’s going on in Colorado or do they think that it’s going to come down on one side or the other and just hasn’t yet?

Loevy: When I make the argument I’ve made with you — that the key to this is the upscale, well educated voter — yes that’s very familiar to them. This is why New Jersey, which used to be a two-party state, is more or less solidly Democratic now. The state I grew up in, Maryland, was a two-party state; now it’s the second most Democratic state in the country. So the answer to your question is, they find the answers very familiar because they see it going on in their state as well.

I like to make the point that the Colorado Front Range is really a mini-corridor, like the Northeast corridor or the California corridor from San Diego to San Francisco, and that makes Colorado sort of a mini version of the entire country. Which is why I think we have moved from being a generally Republican state, or as Tom likes to say, a default Republican state, to being truly purple. There has definitely been a shift, but it’s been a shift from favoring the Republicans to being truly a two-party state.

Cronin: One fascinating factoid just to throw in here, is that something like 92 or 93 percent of the people live within shooting distance of either I-25 or I-70. And our friend Eric Sondermann likes to joke, “We live on I-25 and play on I-70.” But the fact is, there’s a population belt along I-70 as well and there’s really only about 7 percent of Coloradans who really live in a rural area. Ninety-five percent of Coloradans can see the mountains, which is another fascinating thing. But you go back to the question of what the East Coast people, reporters ask as about — most of them, when they visit Colorado, visit Denver or the ski counties and so they don’t understand that there are a lot of places — they haven’t been to Firstview and they haven’t been to Holly and they haven’t been to Meeker and they haven’t been to Creede.

Statesman: They go to Aspen, Boulder or Denver.
Cronin: That’s right. So it takes some explaining. Frankly, one of the things I did for this book is I drove to Meeker and I drove to Durango and I drove to little towns. I interviewed people at the Holly Café and I asked them what they think about Denver and you had to kind of put earplugs in because they — outside of Denver there’s a lot of animosity to the political capital and cultural capital of the state.

Statesman: And the water issue —
Cronin: Yeah. Only the Broncos become a unifying influence (laughs) and only in years like this where there’s some notable progress.

Statesman: How has some of that changed since the first edition of the book you wrote?
Cronin: Elway was king (laughs).

Statesman: How have some perceptions within the state changed since then?
Cronin: There’s more continuity than discontinuity. Ideologically and in terms of party registration, questions like, ‘Which would you give preference to, liberty or equality?’ We’re a pro-liberty, anti-tax, anti-Washington state and that’s been consistent for the past 25 years. And also, people liked term limits then and people like term limits now, even though anybody who knows about legislative government and Colorado government understands that term limits have been damaging, the fact is that the people still like term limits. We had an El Paso County ballot for county commissioners and people rolled back from three to two terms, just in this recent election.

I think on social issues is the one where you see the greatest difference, and that is, on marijuana, I think, and on lifestyle issues, Coloradans have attracted — we know we’re a very well educated state — there is a liberal tolerance I think even among Republicans and conservative moderates on those issues. I would say on one issue that has changed, and this is because of partisanship, more people identified themselves as environmentalists in 1990 than do today.

People will still embrace conservationist principles — if you know the distinction between conservationists and environmentalists — but we’re at two thirds of Coloradans, maybe even close to 70 percent of Coloradans viewed themselves as environmentalists back in 1990. Today you’ll find half of those who call themselves Republicans or conservatives will say, “I’m not an environmentalist,” and there’s a partisan divide. And the reason for that, I think, has been EPA and environmental regulations and the partisanship where we want to create jobs and regulations are getting — we see this in the fracking issue and all kinds of related issues — but the Republicans have waged war on regulations that seem to be anti-job. So you still have a large percentage of Democrats who’ll say, “I’m an environmentalist,” but Republicans, at best It’s 50/50, where that wasn’t the case. If you bring out Teddy Roosevelt and conservationist kind of ideology, they’ll say, “Yes, we need to have clean water and clean air,” but in terms of the nitty-gritty of some bill that’s before the legislature, it’s interesting. Bob, you probably want to clarify, add to that.

Loevy: Well, the thing that’s changed the most between the first book in 1993 and this book coming out in 2012 is the polarization of the two parties, and the polarization is strongest on the social issues that we’ve been discussing here. If you’re just looking at Arapahoe and Jefferson, Adams and Broomfield counties, yeah, it looks very balanced. But once you get away from those contiguous Denver suburbs, Colorado is highly polarized. The red areas are very red and the blue areas are getting bluer, but it’s most noticeable on the social issues. Most Republicans are pro-life, most Democrats are pro-choice.

Statesman: And that wasn’t the case so much 20 years ago?
Loevy: These issues were just emerging 20 years ago.

Cronin: Another way to put it is, Boulder is more liberal and Douglas and Elbert Counties are more red, if you were to do it geographically.

Loevy: So the polarization that has characterized the two parties nationally is very definitely here in Colorado, and our polling shows it.

Cronin: And we see that in the state legislature on the issues like civil unions and stuff.

Statesman: When I first started covering politics, it seemed like the rural areas the voters weren’t so much partisan as, it was almost like the person mattered more than the party. Then there’s been such a decrease in the representation of some of those rural areas because of all the growth of the suburbs. It’s changed quite a bit, it seems. The suburbs control the state legislature, whereas 30 years ago it was some of these outlying counties.

Loevy: I think most Coloradans do not realize the extent to which the Denver metropolitan area and the Front Range dominate the population of Colorado, and thus dominate the politics. Eighty-two percent of Coloradans live on the Front Range, from Pueblo to Greeley and Fort Collins. Within that Front Range, 60 percent of Coloradans live in the Denver metropolitan area and those numbers are not dropping, they are actually growing. So I think not only are the people outside the Front Range losing influence, but, to me, the most interesting aspect is the way they are splitting between the ski counties and the farmer, ranching counties. And once you get a ski town going in a county, it changes very immediately from Republican to Democratic, so that’s an important new development as well. I have an expression for this: The further you get from the 16th Street Mall in Colorado, the more Republican it gets, unless you’re going skiing or down to southern Colorado.

Cronin: We say in El Paso County, by the way, a variation of Bob Loevy’s aphorism on that, is that the further away you are from Old Colorado City, the more conservative El Paso County is, and you know the geography there. But the 16th Street Mall notion generally works with the exception of ski counties. Ski counties are a very small population, so you’re talking about San Miguel, Pitkin County, 9,000, 10,000. But it’s fascinating, we know there are a lot of wealthy homes there that are third and fourth homes, but the people who are attracted to work and young people who want to take a couple of years off to live there, environmentalists or whoever, it’s fascinating how consistently. And the same is true in Jackson Hole. The whole state of Wyoming is conservative, except Jackson Hole, which goes for Obama. So it’s not just us.

Statesman: Park City in Utah, too?
Cronin: Same thing, yeah.

Loevy: But the trend toward the Democrats in the ski counties — there are enough Democrats in those counties that you get legislators, Democratic legislators out of the ski counties. Which is something we didn’t used to have in Colorado.

Statesman: Before we move on from changes over the last couple of decades, a lot of folks will say that it’s been just consistent in-migration from California, Illinois, places like that that have turned the state a little bit more liberal. And it seems to me that you’re disagreeing with that, that the parties have shifted on their foundations enough or have hardened their positions on some things enough that — are the parties working with basically the same kind of population and just getting slightly different results, or has the population started to change some too?

Loevy: Well, I would not short-change the idea that the increase in minorities moving into Colorado and, as Tom pointed out, their shift toward the Democratic Party. But minorities have consistently voted for the Democratic Party, so I see that as a factor but not the determining factor. As I’ve already said, the real change, where you’ve got former Republicans voting Democratic, is with our upscale Republican voters.

One reason minorities don’t count for as much as they might in Colorado is we have this in-migration of non-minority voters and It’s hard to tell exactly what they are doing. My view is they are probably splitting the way the existing non-minority population has. But people forget, yeah, that a minority population can grow if you have large numbers of non-minorities moving in as well, that reduces the impact somewhat.

Cronin: Two other reflections on the same topic is that we did some controlling for how long you’ve lived in the state, what your ideologies are and interesting enough, it didn’t seem to, there didn’t seem to be a statistical correlation if you’d lived here less than 10 years versus if you are an old timer, you’re a native. I thought we’d pick up seeing there might be more liberal progressive, and that didn’t hold. And we do know we attract a lot of people with education degrees who come to Colorado for a variety of reasons, and that’s probably one of the reasons we get away with not funding our public higher education. But the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be progressive on social issues, and this is where it fits into what Bob was saying. There was a book written by a professor at Columbia a few years ago, Andrew Gelman called Rich State Poor State, [the book’s full title is Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do, published by the Princeton University Press] and one interesting thing he says is rich states vote blue, poor states vote red, but that rich people across the country vote red. One thing we found in our book that was somewhat surprising — this also correlates with what Bob Loevy was saying — is that there is no statistical correlation in the state of Colorado on income related to partisanship.

In other words, the Republican Party, which once upon a time was the party of rich people nationally — when I was growing up, it was suburbs and golf club people — in Colorado right now the Republican Party draws equally from every income group, and that’s not true nationally. So Colorado is a little bit different and maybe a wave of the nation, so that’s one little surprise.

The other — this is a little off-topic, but the other piece of information we’ve found in two statewide polls is that even though Coloradans are liberal on a lot of social issues — we saw this in the marijuana vote — the plurality of Coloradans believe in Creationism. We actually asked, with the help of Bob Drake and his survey people, twice the question of Creationism versus Evolutionism — the evolutionary theories of creation — and 43 percent of Coloradans believe that the world was created by God within the last 10,000 years. Forty-three percent. So there is not only an evangelical and rural kind of philosophy on this, but a lot of Catholics and others of other diverse faith and probably some non-religious people who believe in the theories. We had a three-part answer and the one that took, if you will, the biology department’s view of strict evolution over millions of years and God wasn’t involved only got something like 18 to 20 percent. And so in that sense we’re anti-tax and anti-federal government, but Colorado, maybe a larger picture of this, Colorado is less religious as a state than the South or the Missouri’s or the Oklahoma’s of the world in terms of religiosity. That is to say, larger numbers in Colorado similar to people in the Northwest and Alaska say, “I don’t go to church, I don’t pray very regularly,” but still there are some orthodox religious kind of beliefs that we tapped into. We asked it more than once just to tap into that, and it was a little bit surprising.

Loevy: As you might expect of two political scientists, we have a number of recommendations for Colorado. Our first is that we need to get rid of term limits in Colorado, particularly in the state legislature. It’s our judgment that the state legislature is now filled with rookies and novices, that just about the time they start to know what’s going on and are able to do good things, they have to leave. And we found considerable distress among observers of the state legislature that periodically exceptional people come along, do a really good job leading their party and, for no other reason than eight years have gone by, have to leave. And even one of our leading conservative lobbyists, Steve Durham, said he agreed that this was a problem.

Cronin: And (former Senate Minority Leader) Josh Penry and Bill Owens, who championed it, now tells us when we interview him, it was a mistake. Josh Penry’s for 12 (years), Bill Owens is actually for getting rid of it.

But the reality, though, Bob, is that we don’t find public support for this. So elites, namely reporters, legislators, activists in the Republican and Democratic Party, political scientists — [CSU professor] John Straayer, a good friend of ours, for example — are agreed that term limits has caused more difficulties and caused damage to a healthy, robust system but the public likes things like term limits.

Statesman: The public has been convinced to lift term limits in some situations where that kind of accumulation of expertise, for example a number of county coroners no longer face term limits.

Cronin: That’s a logical thing (laughs).

Statesman: Do you think it would make a difference in some of the executive offices in the state — governor or treasurer, for instance?

Cronin: Bob and I have a slight difference in this. I’m a strong believer in the Twenty-second Amendment for presidents and a two-term limit for people like governors. I think executive power is more subject to abuse. When you’re part of a group of a hundred people in the legislature, I think there are enough checks and balances. And right now Bob and I agree that by forcing people out after essentially seven years or so, you effectively are transferring power to lobbyists, the executive branch and bureaucrats and so on. But one other recommendation we make in the book — nobody writes about this very much — but we believe it’s long since due, to raise the salaries of state legislators and the governor. The governor gets paid $90,000 —

Statesman: Much less than a lot of his employees.

Cronin: Right, and legislators get paid $35,000, or whatever it is, and some per diem. But we now have the well-paid lobbyists get paid five times as much as a state legislator. Once upon a time the legislature was a real part-time job. I think a lot of the more thoughtful leaders in both of the parties, it has become a full-time job, and there’s something wrong about business executives and lobbyists being paid five, 10, 30 times more. And the governor of Colorado — we’ve had several wealthy people like Roy Romer and Hickenlooper be governor, that’s all fine, they don’t need the money — but it should be paid a couple of hundred thousand dollars at the least. Look at the football coaches that we’re talking about, millions and millions of dollars, whether it’s NFL or our fine state universities. There’s something wrong when we pay the Colorado State University football coach or basketball coach so much more money than the governor. It says something about what our values are.

And we also think that age limits for Supreme Court justices — when they wrote it in the 1960s, reformed it to the Missouri Plan, they built in 72. I think there was a concession because some people worried it would be too long, but the average age life expectancy now has increased by four or five years since that time, and think of all the Supreme Court justices like Hugo Black or Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who have served this country very well. It seems to me that raising it just a few years from 72 to 77, that’s a small change. In our book we have about a dozen things that we think should be considered. None of them is a silver bullet — we think on citizen initiatives the signature level should be raised to 60 percent. That’s not a big reform.

Loevy: Now the vote, we feel the vote to pass —

Cronin: — for a constitutional amendment —

Loevy: An initiated constitutional amendment should require a 60 percent majority.

Cronin: But we also would raise the level of signature requirements too.

Loevy: Absolutely.

Cronin: We favor the initiative process, but the fact is that we have the third longest constitution in the country, 10 times longer than the United States Constitution. We de-vitalize our Legislature and our constitutional republican processes by encouraging people left and right just to rewrite the constitution rather than try to work in the legislative process. And I think Coloradans of both political parties should come to their senses and say, “Yes, we should have this as a safety valve,” but it should not be the regular route to rewrite the tax laws. And we now have so many things in the constitution that essentially have made the legislature a backseat operator compared to being what a legislature should be, and that’s one of the themes in our book.

Statesman: The challenge to TABOR, the constitutional challenge you write about, though it’s gotten further into the courts then when you wrote about it —

Cronin: It’s just been postponed recently, David Skaggs told me. [Ed. note: Skaggs, a former Democratic congressman, is one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights amendment to the Colorado Constitution.]

The big issue is what the Guarantee Clause of the Constitution — I wrote this in a book in 1989 on direct democracy [Direct Democracy: The Politics of Initiative, Referendum, and Recall, published by the Harvard University Press] — the big debate over it is, the Constitution in essence guarantees to each state a republican form of government. And court cases thus far, in the distant past, have generally decided that the initiative and referendum process are fine and states can do that. The question in this case, whether TABOR and some of these other amendments, Amendment 23 and Gallagher have constituted such a de-vitalization, if that’s a proper word, of the legislature that we really have moved away from a republic — that’s the question.

David Skaggs as a pro bono lawyer and some others are challenging TABOR on those grounds. My hunch is the state and national courts will probably not strike down things like TABOR, they’ll say — my hunch, and it’s really a hunch, it’s not a constitutional lawyers viewpoint really, is that the court will say, “Well, if people put something into the Constitution they can take it out the next cycle.” Just like the legislature, one quarter of the time, one quarter of the legislation that passes in any given year gets amended or rewritten or maybe even thrown out two, four, six years later. That’s part of legislative life. And if I were a Supreme Court justice, my thinking would be along those lines. Tim Tymkovich [a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit], for example, who was a student of ours, is likely to argue something like that. In that sense the public at large, it’s like a legislative body, they can repair their mistakes.

Loevy: I think the important thing here is, it’s so difficult to change the constitution. The legislature can meet and very quickly pass a bill and send it to the governor and correct a mistake. Our concern is this, that the initiative process — and this is a word we use, “initiative demagogues” — and of course the model of the initiative demagogue is the most influential Colorado politician of the 1990s, who was Douglas Bruce. TABOR affected everybody and every part of the state and we actually use these words in the book. The problem is Douglas Bruce and his imitators.

You see that those who are making out in Colorado are those who get their particular pet project in the constitution and financed in the constitution. And this has become a money process. The marijuana amendment was a characteristic example of this. A lot of the money comes from out-of-state. You can now pay people to gather signatures. So if you have a couple of hundred thousand or a million dollars you don’t know what to do with — and there are people who do — you can pay the signature gatherers, you can then — I’ve heard estimates between $3 and $8 million to get a ballot issue passed statewide, and then everybody has to live with it.

One of my favorite quotes in the book comes from state Sen. John Morse, now our senate president, who said to us words to the effect — you can look up the exact words in the quote — but he said, “When the public passes an amendment, no matter how ridiculous, the state legislature has to enforce it.” And that symbolizes what Tom is saying, people can sock this into the constitution.

I like to use this example of the imbalances, because it’s in the constitution that all the lottery funds will go for open space. We have these fabulous open-space programs throughout the state, Jefferson County, El Paso County. Because it’s not specified what will go for highways, I like to make the statement, “Yeah, we have the greatest open-space but pretty soon you won’t be able to drive to it because the highways will be so deteriorated.”

Cronin: We interviewed a large number of lobbyists and it’s fun that our friends from Wade Buchanan to Steve Durham all agree now that their work in the legislature is less important than initiatives. The power has transferred from your neighborhood here in The Colorado Statesman, your precinct, if you will, to people who can figure out how to get things on the ballot. And 20 years ago this was happening too, because TABOR and term limits past 20 years ago. But we’re one of those three or four states — the only thing that makes Colorado different — we’re one of those three or four states in which this ballot democracy and populism, if you will, ballot populism, is very vital.

I guess if we could rewrite these things, I think there’d be a lot of support in both political parties to try and make it much harder to change the constitution and try to get these people to make these things statutory so that the legislature, after a time — four years, six years, whatever, and you could put the term-limit kind of language in it — could repair, amend. And they’re up for reelection so if they do something that really is offensive to the public… But to put it in the constitution, as Bob says, our constitution is what, 75,000 words long? It’s the third longest (state) constitution. The marijuana thing, I think, is several pages, isn’t it?

Statesman: Yeah, that’ll add to it.
Cronin: I think we’ve got a ways to go to get it to Alabama or — there’s one or two states that have constitutions that are 9,000 words.

Loevy: I just want to say, in my view it’s not populism what’s going on with the ballot. Because of the amounts of money required to gather the signatures and get it passed, it’s easily manipulated. It’s also further manipulated because these people, these initiative demagogues, as we call them, will put five or six pages of language in the constitution and sell it with a slogan.

Statesman: People don’t read the whole thing.
Loevy: Well, the classic example is TABOR was sold on “a vote on all tax increases.” Not a word was ever said about what’s been equally damaging, and that is all the revenue limitations that are in there. Furthermore, it’s hard to find people who are going to make both the personal effort and the financial effort to get bad stuff out of the constitution. There seem to be plenty of people who have money and political interest to put their pet idea in the constitution. You really have to strain — about the only time we’ve really seen a response was when Doug Bruce brought in his Terrible Three, I think, “Ugly Three”? Then the business community, realizing what those would do to the state, they raised the money to defeat those. But that was just to maintain the status quo, that didn’t make things better or get rid of the very bad things, in our view, that TABOR is doing to state finances in Colorado.

Cronin: And I want to quote [former Denver Post assistant editorial-page editor] Bob Ewegen, he makes the point too, that particularly Common Cause issues and term-limit kinds of issues, a lot of Coloradans think ill of people in public life and of politics in the State Capitol, when in fact we’ve got one of the most honest state legislatures and cleanest governments. But term limits passed and Common Cause — which I’m a supporter of a member of Common Cause — passed things like you can’t have even a drink with the legislature, which makes no — it’s as if these people are really evil. We have, with very few exceptions, people who are enormously dedicated, and they’re making huge sacrifices, and to prohibit people having a dinner together or stay there just for seven years is unfair to people who are willing to contribute to public life. And these came about because of the initiative process. It’s very hard to say, “Well, we’re going to stand up for politicians.” But fortunately there are some groups like your newspaper who tell those stories and, I think, try to share that to the general public.

Statesman: As far as fixing some of that, the Single Subject Rule makes it difficult. TABOR can’t be unwound all at once, which is perhaps a problem with the Supreme Court, saying, “Send it back, the voters can fix it if they want to.” It’s very difficult to do.
Cronin: Good point.

Statesman: Is it time for a constitutional convention in Colorado?
Loevy: No, I don’t feel it’s time for a constitutional convention. I think it will have to go this way — we say in the book, and I think it’s true, the most important job of the governor at this time is not to lead the legislature. We used to think of the governor as leading the legislature. In this age where ballot issues are so important, the most important job of the governor now is to lead ballot campaigns to accomplish good for the state and, above all, to make a major effort to resist ballot campaigns that the governor feels are going to hurt the state.

I think with the marijuana issue, I think public officials publicly tried to stop marijuana, they held press conferences, the governor said he was against it. But anyone who knows how the ballot initiative works in Colorado knows, who are you kidding? You’ve got to go out, you’ve got to form a committee with some of the biggest political names in the state, you’ve got to raise three to $8 million if you want to stop something like that. The one example we have is Bill Owens and Ref C. [Ed. note: Near the end of his second term, Republican Gov. Bill Owens was among the prominent officials who championed the successful 2005 ballot measure Referendum C, which lifted TABOR’s spending limits for five years.]

Statesman: He’s still paying the price for that.
Loevy: He’s still paying the price, but if you’re going to be an effective governor and accomplish things for the state, you have to do that. Notice also that one of the other things for which Owens is praised, the T-REX Project [Ed. note: short for the Transportation Expansion Project, a $1.67 billion infrastructure upgrade along Interstate 25 in the Denver metro area] and all the other projects around the state. He went to the voters with that proposal and sold it. So we wish, we recommend, we call for the governor to realize that his job or her job has changed. More importantly, their job now is to stop bad initiatives and come up with initiatives of their own that fix the state. This can only happen in the second term, incidentally.

Cronin: I wouldn’t go so far as Bob saying they are relieved of being a leader of the legislature. They have to do that too.

Loevy: Well, no, I went a little far there.

Cronin: We ask a lot of the governor, and one of the fun chapters in the book is the one on the governors and we have little case studies on our governors. We’ve had an amazing number of good governors in the state, going back to Steve McNichols. If you look at the governors and their accomplishments, Colorado should be proud. It’s very exciting that the Ralph Carr [Colorado Judicial] Center will be opened up in a few weeks. John Suthers tells me they’re going to move in in January, in fact, to his offices over there. He was another famous, legendary governor. But very few states could point — there are a lot of states that could point to two or three governors who’ve gone to jail. Illinois…

Statesman: Oh yeah, Illinois, two in a row. We’ve got one here. [Ed. note: Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is serving a 14-year sentence on corruption charges at a federal prison in the southwest metro area.]
Cronin: Oh yeah, Gov. Blagojevich (laughs). But if you look at Illinois, Maryland, Louisiana, I mean it’s — we did have one Colorado governor go to jail, his name is Clarence Morley, and he was the Ku Klux Klan governor in the 1920s. But he did it — he was caught in some felony in Indiana several years after he had left Colorado (laughs), that this is another point, is that Coloradans have had a lot of good governors and a lot of good legislatures by and large. There are always some exceptions, but compare that to the political culture of so many states.

Statesman: Is that just luck or is that something about the makeup of politics in Colorado and the electorate that’s produced that?
Cronin: That’s a good question. I’m not sure. I think we have a lot of good government groups, like the League of Women Voters, and Common Cause deserves credit here too, and this is a civic culture community. I think the business community in Colorado, which is largely located here in Denver — I’m thinking of people like the Dan Ritchies and the Gail Klappers and people of that order, and the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News deserve some credit on this too, and people like the Fred Browns and the Bob Ewegens over the years, who have been good on these issues. So a healthy media and a healthy business community that understands — you probably know much more about the Colorado Forum and some of these groups than I do. I’ve occasionally gone to their meetings and I know Gail well [Ed. note: Klapper is director of the Colorado Forum, a bipartisan organization of business executives and professionals and Ritchie is a philanthropist and the chancellor emeritus of the University of Denver], but behind the scenes the Dan Ritchies and the Gail Klappers — and I’m using them just as two examples — there are usually several dozen people who have a stake in Colorado, who care about issues, who care not only about pro-growth and pro-business, but pro-quality of life, and who have done remarkable things. We live in El Paso County and there’s a little less visibility of that but the El Pomar Foundation deserves credit, and there are several foundations here in Denver who care about that. You know Bob, I don’t know…

Statesman: So it all traces back to the silver industry and endowing these folks with a sense of stewardship?
Cronin: Spencer Penrose and the Boettchers (laughs).

It’s an interesting thing to explore. It would be fun to have your readers kick in on that. The average Coloradan doesn’t take notice of this because they don’t look at the longer picture, but Colorado… Bob Ewegen is right, that we complain as people in other states do too, and we ridicule and roast our politicians, which is healthy up to a point, but this state by and large has not had machines. And one thing Bob Loevy and I talked about in the book also is, there’s no political epicenter, there’s no political establishment in Colorado, there’s no one faction or group. And we quote (former Democratic Gov.) Dick Lamm on this, if you want to lead the state you need to put together a whole group of people — not just Denver people but outside Denver. I think you’re probably aware of this more than we are, but leadership in the state can’t be done from the public sector alone, and it can’t be done from the private sector alone. There really do have to be, as our old friend John Parr, who’s a great hero of mine, used to say, you need public/private partnerships and you need to be willing to be in there for the long haul and to get the business community and the electoral think tank people and civic groups and you need to get the Wade Buchanans and the Steve Durhams to come to the table, if you will. Does that make sense?

Statesman: But the notion that there aren’t any political machines, I think the Stryker/Gill folks might disagree. [Ed. note: The so-called Gang of Four, led by wealthy Democrats Pat Stryker and Tim Gill, transformed politics in the state starting with the 2004 election, when they organized a suc-cessful effort to win majorities in both chambers of the legislature and put in place a political infrastructure that endures to the present.] That seems to be a recent development in Colorado and is serving as kind of a model elsewhere.
Cronin: Well, Bob can hold forth more on this and he’s more strident on this issue. My view is the Democrats learned from the Republicans and all the attention to, as if this is all of a sudden new and nobody’s done it before. The fact is the Democrats, and particularly teachers unions, they didn’t have this kind of wealth 30 or 40 years ago, but a lot of Republican interests did have wealth. So Democrats learned the game strategy and Bob has an interesting viewpoint on this.

Loevy: My view is that the many attempts, mainly backed by liberals and Democrats to reform campaign finance in Colorado have failed completely. We do go into this in the book. The result has not been to limit campaign financing at all, the result has been to take the money away from the candidates and give it to the special interests who have been left free to operate through these famous 527s and other instruments that allow them to spend even more money without any public viewing at all.

The end result, of course, is that yes, the Gang of Four, four Democrats with lots of money to spend have poured that money into state legislative races and other kinds of races. The Democrats simply have been more adept about this than Republicans. My personal view is that Democrats are likely to care more about public issues and, therefore, wealthy Democrats are more likely than wealthy Republicans to put their money into this kind of thing.

Cronin: But there was Sheldon Adelson this year, Bob (laughs). [Ed. note: Conservative casino mogul Adelson spent some $100 million backing first Newt Gingrich and then Mitt Romney in this year’s campaigns.]

Statesman: Right.
Loevy: No, no, this takes place on both sides, but there appears to be a very definite imbalance in Colorado at the legislative level. The worst part is, as we point out in the book, is you can’t tell anymore. But control of campaigns has been taken away from candidates and campaign managers.

Cronin: And from parties.

Loevy: And from parties.

Statesman: And the political parties in the state.
Loevy: And given to these 527s. Now, I think another thing that’s happened ties in to the Republican Party’s problems, and that is, as upscale and well educated people have left the Republican Party, that has given the Democrats opportunities to raise money from people who weren’t available to them before. We know this is going on because, out of the clear blue sky, the Democrats have started holding fundraisers in the Broadmoor. Now, the Broadmoor, the area around the hotel was always considered the wealthiest, most Republican area of El Paso County. It was very significant when Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate and U.S. president began holding fundraisers there. So this shift of the well-to-do out of the Republican Party has had financial effects as well.

Statesman: Since you wrote the book, you also wrote an e-book about your experience on the Reapportionment Commission. [Ed. note: Loevy, who was a member of the state Reapportionment Commission in 2011, published a short electronic book called “Confessions of a Reapportionment Commissioner,” freely available online, about his experiences on the body.] I’m wondering what your —
Loevy: Actually, that was in the middle of this book. (Laughs)

Statesman: Okay. Whether down the road reapportionment is something that needs to be tackled too? Should that be fixed?
Loevy: Well, very definitely, and my book talked about fixing it. I want to answer your question this way: The press seems to have picked up the idea that the 2011 Reapportionment Commission favored the Democrats. My view is, they did not, because the person who really took control was Mario Carrera, the unaffiliated chairman of the commission. He pressed for more swing seats, competitive seats, which I was very strongly behind him on that. The fact that the Democrats picked up seats in this election, you can argue, didn’t come from the gerrymandering being Democratic, it came from creating swing seats in what turned out to be a Democratic year with the president at the top of the ticket.

Cronin: When the (Democrats’) base game and the targeting was better.

Loevy: That’s exactly what you want swing seats to do, go Democratic in a Democratic year, go Republican in a Republican year.

No, it’s a very difficult situation. My recommendation was that, No. 1, we have to face the fact that the Reapportionment Commission, which is really a redistricting commission, is not doing the job it was designed to do. Whoever has six of the 11 votes gerrymanders just as badly as the legislature did. I think our only hope is to institutionalize what happened this year through the clear intentions of the governor and the chief justice, require that three of the reapportionment commissioners be unaffiliated and hope that the unaffiliateds will swing the balance of power between the two parties and that, hopefully, as I feel it did this time, will produce a more competitive rather than a biased redistricting.

Cronin: But no system will take the politics out of redistricting in any state. Just like water off the top of the mountain…

Statesman: How many times campaign finance has been reformed over the last 40 years and each time someone gets around it?
Cronin: And the only remedy right now is better disclosure laws.

Loevy: We don’t mince it at all — we say flat out, campaign finance reform has failed in Colorado, and failed in a way that actually makes it worse. At least with the old PAC system, you knew who was giving the money, you knew who it was going to and the candidate and the campaign manager ran the campaign. Under what we have now with campaign finance reform, you don’t know the source of the money, you don’t know the people who are running the campaign, and the manager and the candidate are kind of watching…

Cronin: And the parties are less important.

Loevy: And that’s what created the opportunity for the Democrats to legally create what appears to be a form of the committee system, which actually does coordinate the candidate’s campaign with all of this 527 money.

Statesman: The House Majority Project and the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund, yeah.
Loevy: Which is why, and we talk about in the book, we subscribe to the hydraulic theory of money in politics, which I’m sure you’ve heard, that money is like water, it will find its way in politics around any obstacle you put in front of it and get into the campaign. So it’s just another example of the truth of the hydraulic theory that these elaborate campaign finance laws in Colorado have failed totally.

Statesman: Have you been doing a lot of traveling? It sounds like you’re on some radio shows and making appearances?
Cronin: Well, we did the Mike Rosen Show this morning for an hour, which was fun. It’s interesting how moderate he has become in many ways (chuckles). And we gave a seminar for the lawyers who work at the State Capitol, the Office of Legislative Services, we gave a seminar for them. We’ve done a few things like that and some book signings. We have a piece coming out in the Denver Post on Sunday which is just a generic piece about how Colorado has become purple. But this is a specialized book, it’s like your newspaper, it’s a niche audience, and most of our neighbors are not interested in this stuff.

This is a book for people who want to understand the history of Colorado and the complicated nature of our constitutional system here in Colorado. We’re hoping that high school teachers will read it and your audience will read it and that people who want to become activists in politics or in civic life would learn from this larger perspective. The nature of our collaboration, it’s a bipartisan book. The interesting thing is, Bob and I are activists and lifelong Democrats and Republicans but we disagree about virtually nothing. And I think you probably have seen in your coverage that veteran members of the legislature wind up with much more agreement than disagreement. They’ll vote occasionally on some issue that they have to be loyal to their party, but after working together for six or 10 years they understand the big picture. And I think Bob and I, we’ve been on commissions — he was on the Planning Commission, I was a candidate for Congress.

Statesman: How long have you known each other?
Cronin: I’m a Presidential Elector this year. On December 17 I’ll be convening at the State Capitol. … Every state is different, every party is different and there’s nothing in the state constitution or the U.S. Constitution about this, really. Except in the U.S. Constitution, it’s that every state can come up with their own formula, which is why Nebraska and Maine have slightly alternative systems. But the Denver Post had a strange editorial a week ago defending the Electoral College, did you see that?

Statesman: Oh right, yeah. I did see that.
Cronin: It was weird and so far as I could tell it was mostly that, hey, Colorado benefits because of the system. And it’s true.

Statesman: It gives us more power.
Cronin: But you know, it’s such a flawed institution. I’ll be faithful, but I’m not a loyalist to the Electoral College (laughs).

Statesman: Twenty years from now we’re going to have another edition of your book, or are we going to see something sooner?
Cronin: I don’t know, but one thing that’s valuable about this book that we’re pleased to offer to future people who work on it is that we’ve conducted three statewide surveys and we’ve taken advantage of some Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and some Talmey-Drake polls and others, so we have all that trend data in the chapters on political opinions that have a nice 20-year sweep to them. So it’ll be fun for scholars 10, 20 years from now to continue the work we’ve done and some of the other surveys. There’s a fair amount of archival kind of stuff. We don’t overdo polling data in this book but there’s one chapter called Coloradans and their Political Beliefs and it’s fun to — it has trend data and some of it’s continuity, surprisingly more continuity than you’d expect, and some of it’s different, like on environmentalism. We didn’t ask about Creationism the first time we did polling, but we’ve asked that a couple of times now. So we’re trying to get a portrait of Colorado.

We also tried very much to interview all the former governors. We interviewed a whole bunch of justices, like Rebecca Love Kourlis and Jean Dubofsky and Greg Hobbs. It’s a sufficiently small state that everybody is welcoming. There’s no lobbyist or no legislator who says, “Oh, I don’t want to talk to people.” You find this in your work, Coloradans like to talk about Colorado, and they like to ask you questions even as you’re asking them questions.

People like Roy Romer and Dick Lamm, Bill Owens would talk for hours and hours about what they did. I spent a weekend with Dick Lamm this summer, and he’s just as young as he was when he was governor. We did the Vail Valley Institute together. They love talking about issues, they love regaling stories and they’re willing to admit mistakes, every one of them. Roy will say, “The biggest affliction any one of us has is we become arrogant sometimes.” And he’ll say, as any good veteran politician will, “My biggest advice to those in public life is learn to listen, learn to listen.”

We conclude on the note in the book that Colorado has many, many virtues and assets but one of those assets is that people love living here, it’s a beautiful state and people care about problem solving. At least two thirds of (those surveyed) in politics and among the general public are non-ideological. They care about problem solving, they want clean air and they want good schools and they’re embarrassed that their higher education system is not being funded in a sensible way. They want oil and gas exploration but they also want safeguards, they want the water system to be good. And so one of our biggest assets is that a lot of good people, and most people are problem-solving, like a Hickenlooper and like a Roy Romer and like a Bill Owens.

The best of our politicians know that you have to occasionally take issue with your base, and you have to say no to your friends. We talked about that in our chapters on governorship. Virtually every governor, if they were sitting around our seminar table here would say, one of the first laws of politics is, if you’re going to be a leader you have to be able to say no to even your biggest donor occasionally, when it comes to serving the cause. And that’s, I guess one of my fondest memories of this book, not only working with a staunch Republican, but meeting so many people who care about the state, care about quality and who are willing to serve either as volunteers or to serve a stint in public life or serve as a judge.

Loevy: We do have a chapter on state and local government and we were fascinated by the rise of metropolitan-wide special districts for solving local government problems. The prime example, of course, is the Regional Transportation District in Denver. But Denver really has pioneered the idea of solving problems and financing those problems through the special district process. You have your special district for science and museums [the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District], and we’ve already mentioned the special district for transportation. That’s now spread down to Colorado Springs, we now have our Rural Transportation Authority. We had to use the rural law because when the legislature provided for that, they called them rural rather than regional transportation districts. Now all of the cities in El Paso County and Colorado Springs have combined a good bit of their roads program into a single regional roads program called the PPRTA. So we think regional authorities are going to be the wave of the future for local government solving problems in Colorado.

Cronin: And Coloradans, in terms of public opinion, overwhelmingly favor local government over state government and state government over the feds. I’ll never forget a fellow I interviewed in Crawford, Colorado, on the rocking chair of the general store, in Crawford, Colorado, and he said, “I like local government. Those state government officials, they waste a lot of money but those federal people, they really know how to waste money.” This is your proverbial rural general store, small-town Coloradan who has summed up, I think the attitude a lot of Coloradans even from Denver who prefer things to be done by the private sector, if not by local government but not by the state. And the attitude towards the federal government is not unsimilar to all our neighborhood states like Wyoming. The Sagebrush Rebellion towards the feds. The irony of that is that Colorado is hugely dependent on the federal government.

Statesman: Exactly.
Cronin: If the federal government pulled out of Colorado Springs, for example — all the military bases and the aerospace contracts — if they pulled out of Golden to Boulder, to Fort Collins, the national research centers, we’ve got seven very distinguished research centers. If we privatized the BLM lands and the National Forests, people would be moving away in droves and we’d be rolling up the sidewalks. And yet we have this paradoxical view, we’re hugely dependent on federal government largesse and federal government investment and infrastructure — DIA being another example — and we don’t have an attitude of gratitude towards the feds, we have a view of —

Statesman: Stay away.
Cronin: Yeah, maybe it’s a little bit like — I mentioned this one time — maybe it’s a little bit like teenagers with parents. They’re very grateful to their parents, but they don’t want the parents involved in their life when they’re 16. Think of the federal impact on Colorado. It’s our biggest employer, 100,000 people or more. But just think of the aerospace industry, as you well know. The second biggest aerospace contracts in the country, NASA has huge investments in Colorado, Space Command. Bob and I point out, particularly in some historical work in the book, the federal government was here from the beginning. You know, the feds authorized the funds for the Sand Creek Massacre and they were protecting the miners at Ludlow or wherever. Coloradans like to believe that the federal government has just recently come in, and they’re an annoyance, but Bob could hold forth on this.

Loevy: We have an entire chapter on the role of the U.S. government in Colorado, that’s how big it is. It’s an entire chapter.

Statesman: Which is not true in a lot of states, right?
Cronin: Well, 37 percent of the land is owned by the feds, for one thing, so it makes it — (laughs)

Loevy: The further west you go, the larger the U.S. government role. And remember, we were not one of the 13 original colonies. Statehood was devolved on us by Washington so we don’t have the sort of, “hey Washington, you got all of your power from us” — only the 13 original colonies can make that argument. No, the significant thing, I think, is people don’t realize the extent to which Colorado has been made the place it is by the U.S. government. Things like water supply, air travel has been very important for making Colorado important, it’s made it easier to get to, and that’s heavily subsidized by the U.S. government.
Cronin: The interstate highway system.

Loevy: And most of the skiing industry takes place on National Forest land. When you start looking at just what has the national government paid for in Colorado, it is really extensive.

Statesman: We so appreciate you coming up here.
Cronin: Thank you so much.

Loevy: Thank you.

— Jody@coloradostatesman.com
— Ernest@coloradostatesman.com



Three weeks after President Barack Obama won Colorado and Democrats took back control of the state House by a wide margin, state Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio and state Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call joined The Colorado Statesman for a wide-ranging discussion about the election and the future of both parties in a state both say they expect to remain up for grabs.

Palacio and Call are Colorado natives nearing the end of their first terms leading their parties, and both told The Statesman they are leaning toward seeking another two-year term at statewide reorganizations early next year.

In the wake of a vigorous campaign season that saw unprecedented competition for Colorado’s nine electoral votes — according to the latest statewide tally, Obama defeated Republican nominee Mitt Romney by nearly 6 points — the state chairs were both surprised on election night, though Palacio says he was pleasantly surprised at how early things wrapped up.

State GOP Chairman Ryan Call, left, and Democratic counterpart Rick Palacio, right, shake hands after their InnerView about the 2012 elections at The Colorado Statesman office on Nov. 27.

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Time to hire some new pollsters,” Call concludes, conceding that the state GOP failed to detect how well Democrats were turning out voters.

Although he contends that the public sided with Republicans and on most major issues, Call credits Democrats with establishing a stronger emotional connection with voters and suggests that Republican candidates have to do a better job establishing that bond. He also pointed to a lengthy, divisive primary season that left Republicans having to build a unified organization in short order, an obstacle Democrats didn’t face.

“Our challenge is being willing to invest the time and effort and infrastructure over a period of time to help rebuild that party’s not just brand but also engaged activists,” he says.

Palacio counters that Romney lost the trust of voters by shifting his stance again and again, first in an effort to win the primaries, and then in a sharp lurch toward the center once the General Election was under way.

“People just never felt as though they had a connection with him and that they could trust him,” Palacio says. “He created his own narrative in a sense that he changed positions on every major issue.”

Terming the Republican Party’s performance with women and Hispanic voters “deeply troubling,” Call argues that the GOP has “to make room within our party for honest disagreements in terms of policy.” He points specifically to fostering a range of opinions on gay marriage, abortion and immigration questions “while still maintaining a core ideology and core principles of limited government and personal responsibility and a commitment to freedom and creating opportunity.”

Looking ahead, Call cautions that solid Democratic majorities in the General Assembly will give Gov. John Hickenlooper plenty of occasion to veto bills produced by his own party but also says he hopes minority Republicans can temper legislation before it makes its way to the governor’s desk. Palacio says he isn’t worried that Democrats will get carried away and instead says he hopes Republicans will take the opportunity to grow their own party by getting on board with the Democrats on key issues.

Both predict spirited statewide races in 2014 for Hickenlooper’s office and for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Mark Udall.

While the state chairs agree that the just-ended presidential campaign was “crazy” and often exhausting, they also relish the attention the swing-state status brought to Colorado and predict that the 2016 race will be no different. Call suggests that the state should consider moving toward a primary for the next presidential cycle, though Palacio says he’s happy with the caucus system.

Palacio hails from Pueblo — he ran for county clerk in 2006 — by way of Washington, D.C., where he worked most recently for then-Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s second-in-command.

Call, an attorney with Denver-based Hale Westfall, chaired the Denver County GOP and was the state party’s legal counsel before running for chairman two years ago. He lives in Arapahoe County.

Palacio and Call joined Statesman editor and publisher Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning for an hour-long discussion in the newspaper’s Capitol Hill offices on Nov. 27. It was the third time the two have sat for a joint interview as part of the newspaper’s InnerView series of in-depth conversations with the state’s prominent political figures.

The Statesman conducted regular interviews with Palacio and Call’s predecessors, former three-term Democratic state chair Pat Waak and former two-term GOP state chair Dick Wadhams, and at the beginning of this past year’s legislative session, the newspaper held in-depth discussions with legislative leaders. Find transcripts of The Statesman’s interviews with dozens of Colorado politicos archived online at www.coloradostatesman.com/innerview.

Below is the transcript of The Statesman’s conversation with Palacio and Call. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

COLORADO STATESMAN: Thank you both for coming. Are you getting any rest at all?
RICK PALACIO: Yes, actually, great rest. Spent five days at home, with family in Pueblo, just got back late last night and am doing my post-election non-shaving.
RYAN CALL: No shave. (Laughs) Well, it’s almost December now, so …
PALACIO: It’s almost December. It’s my winter — growing in a winter beard.
CALL: That’s right.

STATESMAN: And Ryan, you — ?
CALL: I’m shaving, yes I am. (Laughs)

STATESMAN: You have been busy with — ?
CALL: Yeah, there’s been a few close elections and some recounts, potential recounts that we’ve been trying to assist with in Jefferson County and in a couple of other places, and then there’s always an opportunity to evaluate and re-evaluate the results of an election. A lot of people to reach out to and listen to their perspectives and understand where we need to improve upon.

STATESMAN:I imagine that maybe there’s more re-assessing on your part than Rick’s part, in terms of what happened?
CALL: I’d say every election you learn from, but I do think you often learn more lessons, and sometimes tougher lessons when there’s a loss, especially one that was very, honestly, somewhat unexpected, especially on some of our state legislative races where we had expected to be a lot closer than we were.

STATESMAN: What happened, do you think?
CALL: Time to hire some new pollsters, I think, on our side. I think part of that was we were relying on some national and even local pollsters that weren’t detecting the kind of turnout modeling that the Democratic Party was apparently very successful at turning out. Most folks were anticipating a maybe D+3 kind of electorate and I think overall it was about a D+6 or D+7, and a different kind of world than folks we were expecting to show up on Election Day.

STATESMAN: What were your polls showing, Rick? Were you surprised at the strength of your party?
PALACIO: I was surprised that the night ended as early as it did. I expected it to —

STATESMAN: It was early.
PALACIO: It was. I expected it to go on a bit longer than it did, but I was not surprised at the wins. Our polling, our internals showed us consistently, especially in the presidential. The state legislative races were — I thought they’d be tighter than they were, some of them, especially some of the Jeffco races. But I was not surprised at the result of the presidential election. A couple of — one surprising piece that I had was the race in the 3rd (Congressional District). I thought that (Democratic nominee) Sal (Pace) would do better than he did, and Republicans certainly out-performed us in that district. And then, of course, in the 6th (Congressional District) we had Joe Miklosi and came very close, but just not close enough. So you know, it was not — while at the top of the ticket we won, it was not a night without loss on our part by any means.

STATESMAN: Right. Can we talk about the legislative races first? When we talked five months ago, Ryan, you were talking about the success recruiting candidates and that it seemed to be a very strong field. But the Democrats, or at least their opponents found some things to attack some of the candidates on, like Rick Enstrom and Brian Watson, who were probably — they’re the kind of moderate Republicans that everyone says they wish would return to the Legislature — what happened?
CALL: Right. Some of the caliber of candidates — whether that was Rick Enstrom or Amy Attwood, Dave Kerber, Lang Sias, Brian Watson — the field I think that Republicans put on the field of candidates was among the best that we’ve seen certainly in recent years. And the caliber of candidate, if you really honestly match them up against their Democratic opponent, there were some — a clear advantage, I think, on the GOP side. What we failed at in many ways was to be quite as aggressive or negative early in the cycle as our opponents did.

It was a model that (Obama campaign manager) Jim Messina employed in the presidential campaign to go out very heavy, very early and try to define the Republicans broadly and Mitt Romney specifically in ways that (I) would argue are certainly very unfair and not representative of who he was as a candidate. Similarly, as it related to many of our state legislative races, where we had a very aggressive and very negative campaign that painted a pretty unfair picture of people like Rick Enstrom and Brian Watson and Lang Sias and others. That’s a lesson for Republicans, that we can’t allow the opposition to define us. We have to be much more in control of who we are and what we stand for.

I think the opposition side also did a masterful job of tying Republicans here in the state, whether at the presidential level or even locally, to misstatements and Republicans in other parts of the country. I mean, to hold Mitt Romney or Republicans responsible for a Todd Akin or a Richard Mourdock is patently unfair. [Ed. note: Akin and Mourdock were the Republican Senate nominees in Missouri and Indiana, respectively, and got plenty of attention for remarks they made about rape. Both lost their races in states that Romney carried comfortably.] I mean Republicans, don’t go around comparing every single Democrat on the ballot to some of the more extreme examples, of the (California Democrat) Maxine Waters of the world, or, you know … but that’s the tactic that worked in this election cycle in many ways. I think overall Democrats were masterful at divide and conquer strategy of dividing up the electorate and then specifically targeting messaging to that particular division of the electorate that was looking for that kind of message.

STATESMAN: Okay, can I ask, though, gay marriage and abortion have been two kind of wedge issues used by the Democrats this year but famously, for a long time, those have been wedge issues used by the Republicans. Is it a good for the goose, good for the gander situation then or what’s — ?
CALL: Well, I think we are seeing a shift in societal attitudes on some of those issues and Republicans have been slow to offer constructive alternatives or a proactive solution to address that issue. I think it is unfair to say the Republicans want to turn women’s rights back 50 years. I mean, Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land for nearly 40 years, and yet Democrats have utilized that with great effect to paint Republicans as out of touch or uncaring about the concerns that are often on the minds of voters.

STATESMAN: Rick, are Democrats using an effective tool there or is it an — ?
PALACIO: Well, I think a couple of pieces, and one, going to the chairman’s earlier statement, he’s sort of painting with a broad stroke here. Republicans did it, I think, masterfully in 2010. When you look at all the various U.S. House races that were lost, a lot of those races, most probably every race that Democrats lost across the country, they were aligned, whether they were candidates or whether they were incumbents, aligned with Nancy Pelosi and, you know, any time you have sort of a whipping post at the top of the ticket you’re going to try to align various candidates or incumbents with that whipping post. And I think, fairly or unfairly in this election cycle, I think it was about the same in 2010, you had a person at the top of the ticket, former speaker of the House, that people were aligned with across the country and she was demonized.

STATESMAN: Nancy Pelosi?
PALACIO: Nancy Pelosi was demonized. So, I think it’s part of this process, is trying to define your opponents before they have an opportunity to define you. In our case, with the presidential election, Mitt Romney gave us plenty of opportunity to define him early. He was not masterful at maintaining his positions over the course of time. I think the country saw that he was capable of changing positions with the direction of the wind, I think, which is unfortunate to have with a candidate like that. So there was a lot of distrust that he garnered from the American people from the very beginning. I think that you have examples across the state where many of the candidates that we saw, that we were running against had flaws, and it’s the job of any campaign to make sure that those flaws are highlighted, and the benefits to highlight those in your own candidates. So I think, over all, the Democrats came out on the winning side. But, certainly, I don’t feel like gloating. We had our own disappointments as well.

CALL: Well, I have to give a hand to my counterpart and to the Democratic Party for executing on a strategy. Had they got that strategy wrong, had the Republican Party or the Romney campaign been able to get out from under that picture that was being painted of Republicans, they probably would not have had the resources to create a new narrative. They also invested very heavily early in the cycle and over a period of time. There’s an inherent significant advantage of being the incumbent. Republicans enjoyed that in 2004 with President Bush’s re-election, where we got out early and defined John Kerry as sort of an out of touch waffler and vaguely French and all sorts of other ways we used to sort of undermine his credibility for the electorate.

So there’s a lot of advantages being the incumbent. The infrastructure that the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party here in Colorado has been able to work on developing over the last, really, six years, was difficult to match after a divisive and difficult primary on the Republican side where we had to build the campaign operation up within about six months. And that is — some inherent disadvantages to that.

I think this election cycle we saw more energy and enthusiasm along our electorate than I had seen for a long, long time. And a lot more unity. It took a while for our side to come together — probably too long for our side to come together — but once we did we were pretty united in our support of Mitt Romney and our Republican field. But it comes a bit too late. And our challenge is being willing to invest the time and effort and infrastructure over a period of time to help rebuild that party’s not just brand but also engaged activists.

STATESMAN: In terms of vetting candidates, especially legislative candidates, you had a good candidate or a great candidate, but maybe something in his background 20 or 25 years ago, with Rick Enstrom and the flap about his stores — how far back do you go? [Ed. note: Democrats hammered Enstrom relentlessly for a ticket he received in the 1980s for selling drug paraphernalia at a record store he owned in Grand Junction.] Is there a perfect candidate who has nothing in their skeleton closet? Is that the kind of candidate you need?
CALL: Well, Romney came just about as close as anybody that I can think of in modern history of a presidential candidate with pretty few skeletons in his closet. No extramarital affairs, no drinking problems, no DUIs and a business record that even Bill Clinton called sterling. So you’ve got a candidate who was pretty darn impressive, had to navigate a very difficult primary election field that forced that candidate or, by choice, that candidate chose to take positions that were too far to one side or another or use language that was a bit awkward and could be taken advantage of. That’s the nature of these campaigns, and I think that, given the history and the approach of campaigns, I honestly don’t envision a time where anything is going to be off limits, and our opposition has shown that when you don’t have something you make something up. So that’s going to be part of the game, unfortunately, moving forward.

PALACIO: I don’t think people are looking for perfection in a candidate. I think people are looking for a candidate that they can trust and that they believe is on their side. I think that, in spite of Mitt Romney’s perfection and his lack of imperfections, people just never felt as though they had a connection with him and that they could trust him. He created his own narrative in a sense that he changed positions on every major issue. I think that had he stayed far to the right the way that he did in the Republican primaries, that perhaps even those who disagreed with those positions may have felt as though they could trust him enough with their vote. But you saw the first debate, here in Denver, much of the things that he ran on the previous year he was shying away from. And then you saw the foreign policy debate where Mitt Romney was nearly emulating the policies of President Obama. And I think especially just in that last, that final two months, his pivot towards the center really made people — it validated people’s fears about who this man was. Essentially someone that they were not able to trust.

CALL: I think that Chairman Palacio’s observation about having candidates that can appreciate, or that the voters feel like care about them, was the emotional connection that the Republicans have had a hard time connecting with voters on. We saw exit polling, and, again, there’s a temptation to rush to a judgment and sort of point to one or two magic bullets and saying, this is the reason we lost — it was our databases, it was our candidate, we weren’t conservative enough, we were too moderate. There’s always those dangers, so I think we have to take some time to really evaluate all this. But a few broad trends are coming through pretty loud and clear, at least that I’m learning.

When you look at the polling, and they asked, which of the candidates, and by extension which political party, has the right views or the right approaches on issues like spending and the debt, Republicans are winning handily. When they asked, in terms of some of the exit polling, which candidate and which, by extension, political party, is showing the kind of strong leadership that we’re looking for, Mitt Romney was coming out ahead. Which candidate shares my values? Mitt Romney comes out ahead. But on the question of which candidate, and by extension which political party, cares about people like me — you saw that poll from the exit polling — 81 percent said Barack Obama, 18 percent said Mitt Romney.

So you can be right on all the issues, you can have the right positions and the right policy solutions to confront the challenges of high unemployment and a stagnant economy and trying to foster the kind of policies that Americans and Coloradans want, but unless you make that emotional connection so that they know that you care about them and their family, you’re going to fall short. And that’s what I think we saw very prominently. The Obama campaign was making strongly emotional appeals, appealing to people’s security. Republicans were talking about jobs and the economy more in the abstract and didn’t connect it down to the individual in a way that was persuasive.

STATESMAN: When did you realize that we’re going to lose this thing? Did you know a month out, two weeks out, the day — ?
CALL: Sure. Well, it was closer than I thought it ought to have been when we were looking at the returns in terms of early voting and absentee ballots. Driving around the city, driving around the state, quite frankly, the visuals in terms of the yard signs and the bumper stickers and the enthusiasm and the number of people in the campaign offices — Republicans were really surging, especially after the second debate. There was a sense of optimism, there was a sense of energy and, again, that sense of unity. When we started looking at the returns in terms of early voting and absentee balloting, I thought Republicans should be further ahead than the numbers were. We were still marginally ahead. But it really wasn’t until the returns started coming in from Jeffco and Arapahoe County and some of the early posting returns, where it became apparent that unaffiliated voters in particular had broken heavily against Republicans in a variety of races across the ticket.

STATESMAN: And you, Rick, were you pretty confident?
PALACIO: I had early confidence. I think I, like every other supporter of the president, was disappointed in his first debate performance, and I think morale suffered a little after that. It was shortly after the first debate, three days after the first debate, that I did a tour of roughly 30 counties and 1,500 miles, and my fear became even a little bit — became even more fearful, because the yard sign war was actually being won by Mitt Romney, especially in a lot of the counties outside of the metro area. The Western Slope, southern Colorado, mountain areas — 4 x 8 Romney yard signs were everywhere, very few Obama yard signs. You hear people worried about that. You have hundreds of volunteers sitting in offices making phone calls and knocking on doors — the numbers look good, yet they’re fearful that the yard signs aren’t there. So you have this conversation, where you try to convince people that yard signs don’t vote. But, still, they want to know that there are other teammates out there.

So there was about a two week period of time that I was a little worried that things were not going in our direction. And then it felt like the momentum began to build again. I woke up on Election Day actually feeling very, very optimistic. We knew fairly early based on the Arapahoe and Jeffco county returns that we were going to win. But there was a couple of weeks period of time that I was a little worried.

STATESMAN: After the election Mitt Romney famously, in a call to fundraisers, blamed his loss on the “gifts” that the Obama administration had bestowed on constituencies, and a number of prominent Republicans, including several who campaigned for Mitt Romney in the state here, quickly disavowed and distanced themselves from that and said, Newt Gingrich said that it was an “insulting” and wrongheaded take on the election and on how the Republicans need to connect with the voters, like you’re talking about. What’s your take on that?
CALL: Well, it’s a given that we’ll never outbid the Democrats in terms of government spending or government programs and all of that, I’m prepared to concede that. I think that the policies that back that are flawed, deeply flawed. Eventually, as was famously observed, you run out of other people’s money. And the challenge, of course, in policy-making is developing policies that accomplish what we want. And that’s economic growth, it’s job creation, and it’s also taking care of the neediest among us while also ensuring that those that are able to work don’t become so dependent upon government programs they lose part of what makes America great, that spirit of entrepreneurship and self sufficiency that has always driven our success. And we see the result of out-of-control spending and debt in California, and we see it in Greece and in European nations, and so we know that that’s the path or where the path that our Democratic counterparts will take us. And I for one don’t think that California or Greece are a model that we should seek to emulate.

But I do think that we have to learn, as Republicans, to talk to people’s concerns in a way that is more personal and address those concerns in a way that’s meaningful and not just simply fall back on trite ideology when we’re talking about people and their families and their careers and their livelihoods. And a recognition that people are hurting and have been hurting especially over the last few years. I think that we are going to see some economic recovery, I think in many ways it’s going to be in spite of the president’s policies and not because of them, but I do think that — I hope for the best. I want America to succeed, I want our state to be strong, so I don’t wish the president or the Democratic majorities in the State Legislature ill will. I want them to be successful because I want our state to be successful.

STATESMAN: Would you say that after looking at themselves, that Colorado is a blue state or is it still a swing state?
PALACIO: Yeah, I think we’re a swing state. We have a very evenly divided electorate. By no means was this an easy victory on election night. We have a great candidate in our president, we have great candidates in the Legislature. We were running against, in my opinion, quite a flawed, out-of-touch candidate in Mitt Romney and flawed candidates in the Legislature. This is going to be a lot of work to maintain Democratic majorities in State Legislature and I think four years from now whoever our nominee is it’s not going to be an easy run for us.

But I think that Coloradans, and I’ve said this for a while, I think Coloradans are Democrat-leaning independents. Those that are not registered as Democrats themselves, I think they’re Democrat-leaning independents. You have a very rapidly growing Latino population that, certainly the Republican Party has not done much to ingratiate themselves to. You have a very strong female constituency that the Republican Party has not done a great job of building trust with there as well. So I think that we have a very good opportunity and very good chance of maintaining our blue status, but it’s not going to be an easy one.

I want to go back to the previous question, where Mitt Romney’s statement a few days (after the election) to donors, talked about “gifts.” This was not new, and Mitt Romney did this in his 47-percent comment to donors behind closed doors earlier this summer. It’s part of what fed this narrative that he was out of touch and didn’t represent the entirety of the country. For those people who were not voting for President Obama but voting against Mitt Romney, it validated their feelings post-election.

So I think the Republican Party has a job to do. There’s a tremendous amount of good will that could be built with Latinos, especially, and with women. I believe in a two-party system. I think that we are better off as a nation, we’re better off over all as a people when you have some sort of a balance of power. That balance of power is going to be difficult to attain when you are creating enemies of some of the largest growing constituencies that we have in the state.

CALL: I would absolutely agree with Chairman Palacio. The Republican Party does have opportunities to reach out to Latinos, to women voters, and needs to in ways that are meaningful. I also agree with him that that back-and-forth between the liberal party and the conservative party makes for better policy as we’re trying to find that right balance between those ideologies. And I think that there is a bright future for the conservative party in Colorado, even though we have some temporary setbacks. I think Democrats are at great risk of overreach. That happened the last time Democrats were in the majorities in both chambers with a Democratic governor, and it cost them. I suspect that we may see much of the same in this upcoming legislative session as well, creating the opportunity for Republicans to paint a contrast — a contrasting vision in terms of policy, but also in terms of vision for the state and its direction.

STATESMAN: Ryan, you mentioned before Rick arrived that you’d gotten a lot of feedback from people. Everyone has their ideas of Monday — or Wednesday morning quarterbacking. What are you hearing from people? Is it a wide array of analysis or questions?
CALL: It’s a good question. There are certainly some trends, I mean our performance among women, among Hispanic voters is deeply troubling — minority communities as a whole, African Americans, Asians — because the Republican Party that I believe in is, frankly, the party of the up-and-comer, the party of the immigrant, the party of the person, the entrepreneur who wants to make a better life for himself or herself and their families and to build institutions of community. So that’s troubling, deeply troubling.

It was interesting to reflect upon the recent film about Abraham Lincoln. Our party’s roots began in this fight to recognize the dignity of the individual and free people from not just slavery as it related to the institution, but also the shackles of economic disadvantage. And that we believe that policies that empower that individual and make them self-sufficient is the right path for not only establishing the dignity of the individual but it’s the right policy path for continued success. There are those messages that are certainly resonating a lot.

There are some voices that say that our candidate wasn’t conservative enough, there’s others that’ll say the candidate was too conservative and we need to go more centrist. Those are discussions that I’m sure will play themselves out time and time again in primary elections moving forward. That’s part of the process, and we’re better for it.

STATESMAN: Do you subscribe to the theory that the party should be more embracing of some of these groups, or perhaps stick with its more conservative principles?
CALL: Well, Congressman Cory Gardner made a good observation after the election. He said that we, as Republicans talk about a big tent but it’s no good if there aren’t any chairs in the tent, so we need to make room within our party for honest disagreements in terms of policy. A good example of that, frankly, might be issues of gay marriage, and we talked about that. I think there are a lot of good Republicans of good will who recognize that there’s a role for the state to define a civil union or a domestic partnership while still maintaining traditional definitions of marriage. There’s issues pro-life versus pro-choice. I think many good Republicans of good will could recognize I can be pro-choice and agree with my pro-life friends in saying taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund that kind of activity, or we should provide for rights of conscience for individuals and businesses and certainly religious organizations to not be compelled by the government to provide those kinds of services that are in such contravention to their deeply held religious belief.

So I think that there are ways that we can find accommodation within differences of opinion on policy matters while still maintaining a core ideology and core principles of limited government and personal responsibility and a commitment to freedom and creating opportunity, rather than greater government and greater government dependence.

STATESMAN: The Republicans this year will have the opportunity to demonstrate where they stand on some of those issues. Civil unions were supported by a hefty share of the delegates to the Republican state assembly in a party platform vote and even by some sitting legislators last year —
CALL: Um-hmm.

STATESMAN: Would it be wise for Republicans to get on board with that this year?
CALL: You know, it’s a good question. It is not my place as a state party’s chairman to tell lawmakers how to vote on specific policy bills or legislation. Certainly I can have conversations with them about the merits of the policy and perhaps the political ramifications of votes, but in our system of representative government, the people elect those representatives and they have to use their best judgment in supporting or opposing policies that they feel like either help or hurt the state and its citizens’ interests. I think as a party our party will maintain a core commitment to those traditional values that have built families and communities for generations, and I don’t think you’ll see a weakening of that. But I think you may see folks who recognize that there’s a proper role for the individual and the church versus the state, and we may see that dynamic play out. But that’ll be up to our lawmakers.

STATESMAN: ASSET legislation too, we’re likely to see come back before the Legislature. Is that something where Republicans —
CALL: Sure.

STATESMAN: The business wing of the (Republican) party is heartily in favor of that?
CALL: Sure. As well as other Republicans who recognize that the best path for self sufficiency rather than increasing government reliance is in education. And, again, as a party who believes very deeply in the worth and dignity of every individual, we as a party have to do a better job of supporting policies that help empower the individual — while also maintaining our strong position in defense of the rule of law. And many times the most difficult decisions that I think our lawmakers and average citizens have to do is when they have two competing principles. We believe in the rule of law, and yet we also believe in dignity of the individual, how you reconcile those? And that’s where the policy makers have to, and the legislators, have to strike that balance and it’s not always an easy one.

STATESMAN: When Republicans did have a majority in one of the chambers, though, they came down on different sides of those issues than the Democrats and kept those pieces of legislation from coming to full votes or being enacted. Is that one reason that Democrats have been able to portray Republicans as out of touch when it comes to those issues?
CALL: It’s a good question, and it’s one that I’m sure that a lot of lawmakers are thoughtfully considering. I think we look at our party’s platform, we look at some of the votes, for example of the delegates at the state convention, and you are seeing some interesting changes in attitude on some of those particular questions. We saw resounding support, for example, at the state convention for Republicans in Colorado, for a guest worker permit program, and significant support for educational opportunities even at the national platform. For the first time in our party’s history, in the platform, we have strong support for a guest worker program and immigration reform. So I think that some of those issues are ones that will obviously be an important part of the dialogue moving forward. But I think Republicans need to maintain and look back to those core principles that define us and a departure for them, I think, would be a mistake.

STATESMAN: Rick, what’s your take on the legislative session coming up and what Chairman Call has brought up?
PALACIO: We have an evolving society. Not just here but around the world. We have moved from the positions that we had 50 years ago, even 10 years ago — civil unions probably would not have received the amount of support that it has right now. And I would guess that in this legislative session that you’re going to see some Republicans that take bold steps to support things like ASSET and civil unions. And I challenge more of them to do the same because I think that it’s the right thing to do. While they’ll happen under a Democratic — they’ll pass regardless of whether we have Republican support, I think ASSET and civil unions will both pass with Democratic votes and I’m confident that the governor will support them as well — I think it would still be nice to see a nice swathe of bipartisanship on some of the pieces of legislation that traditionally have been supported only by Democrats.

And it’s a myriad of other things as well, I think that the Republican Party can do to show that they’re on the side of some of these growing constituencies and that the movement within our society, like a move towards a marriage equality. I think there’s still room under both tents to have very opposite views.

I think it’s a great analogy that Congressman Gardner used, having a big tent but not enough chairs, and my challenge would be make more, build more. What I see as the problem is not so much the chairs, but that the tent seems to be shrinking and that’s not good for any party. I don’t think that either party should be an exclusive group for people who look and speak exactly the same. They should be quite welcoming.

I look forward to the legislative session, we have quite a diverse group of individuals. We have quite a few women and we have a record number of African-American lawmakers, a record number of Hispanic lawmakers that are coming into this class, so I look forward to seeing the various work that they entertain, because I believe that the Democratic majorities that we have in the state House and the Senate are quite representative of the people of Colorado.

STATESMAN: Do you think there’s a danger that the Democrats can overreach?

PALACIO: There’s always the danger. I think that we have very pragmatic leaders in both chambers and I don’t — I think the work that they’re going to undertake is the work that the people of Colorado would like for them to do.

CALL: I think there is a significant risk. And I do hope that our lawmakers from both political parties will listen to the opposition. For example in the civil unions legislation we expect to see I certainly hope that we can have supportive Democrats in supporting conscience exemptions for religious organizations and private individuals, or a number of other policies where that give-and-take between the political parties can make better legislation as opposed to one particular view dominating entirely.

And when the Democrats do overreach — because they will — Republicans will be there to say higher taxes, greater regulation is not the path to success. Putting a damper on energy development in the state and job creation is not the recipe for the progress that we hope for. And so you’re going to see us talking about that in a very articulate voice. I’ve got a lot of confidence in our Republican leadership in the state House and in the state Senate. Sen. (Bill) Cadman is the Republican leader in the Senate and (House Minority Leader) Rep. Mark Waller, I think, will do a fine job in standing firm on their principles and working to make bad legislation better where possible.

STATESMAN: Do you feel anxious with Gov. Hickenlooper as a Democrat and both chambers being — ?
CALL: He’s a Democrat? Sometimes people tend to forget that.

STATESMAN: Well, that’s what I was going to ask you. What are your feelings about the fact that the governor, it’s one-party governance at the state House? Does that make you a little bit nervous, Rick, that perhaps the governor will be put in a position of having to veto some legislation, or how closely do you think the leadership will work with the governor’s office?
PALACIO: It actually makes me very hopeful. I think that we have a real opportunity to move Colorado forward and get things done. Our Senate and our House leaders have very strong relationships with our governor, and I think that they’re going to work very collaboratively to actually produce legislation that’s going to help the people of Colorado. So I think we have some great things that are in the works here: ASSET, civil unions, some work on some energy legislation, job-creation legislation, as well. So I’m looking forward to an exciting session.

STATESMAN: Ryan, I don’t know if you were joking about Gov. Hickenlooper?
CALL: He’s always presented himself as very much a pro-business and he’s had that opportunity. With divided control in the State Legislature he has not had to take any firm or clear positions on potentially controversial policies because they didn’t make it out of the Republican-controlled House or, similarly, out of the Democratic-controlled Senate. I think that Coloradans deserve more than just TBD from their governor. [Ed. note: Hickenlooper launched a public review of long-term state policy dubbed “TBD,” short for “To Be Determined,” which earlier this month delivered a preview of its report, set to be unveiled on Dec. 3.] I think they need to have a clear vision of where he’s going, and I think that there is a significant risk that with one-sided control in terms of the legislative chambers, that the only backstop for the worst policies will be that governor. And I hope he makes the right decision because, again, I wish Colorado success in that and so I don’t hope for policies that will hurt the energy industry or job creators or the entrepreneurs of our state. But I do hope that he makes some clear (decisions) and does veto the kind of legislation that would run counter to his stated position of being pro-business.

STATESMAN: What do the parties do in the next year? Is it too early to start looking at 2014 or is there a period of rest and relaxation or how do you refocus?
CALL: No rest for the wicked, as the old adage says.

PALACIO: It’s never too early.

CALL: Exactly.

PALACIO: It’s never too early. I think we started looking at 2014 in 2011. It’s always about planning for the future. We’ve already begun talking to candidates for the Legislature and for the various U.S. House seats that we have up, and we’ve begun meeting with the governor and his campaign team and Sen. Udall and his campaign team as well. So it’s never too early to plan. 2011 was all about our year of planning, 2012 was our year of execution and it’s going to be the same for 2013, ’14. ’13 is planning and ’14 is execution.

CALL: Same is true for Republicans. We’ve got, I think, a very good prospective field of candidates for both the statewide offices — attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, obviously — we expect good candidates there and for the U.S. Senate and for the governor’s race. I think Republicans have a much broader field than some people give us credit for. Our effort is also strongly directed towards helping to recruit and support candidates for state legislative seats, especially in competitive suburban and other districts around the state. That effort at candidate recruitment and development is certainly a top priority for the Republican Party.

STATESMAN: Do you expect the same legislative seats in the House to be in play next time?
CALL: More or less. Certainly the field is better for us in the state Senate based on the seats that are up in the cycle, and I think Republicans have a great shot at and a pathway to the majority in the state Senate. The House seats I think will remain very competitive, especially with incumbents, having Democrat incumbents there — and a pretty young freshman class. There’s a lot of turnover at the State Legislature, and so I think lawmakers from both political parties kind of find their sea legs up there and we expect to see a lot of work. The state party, for the Republican Party’s part at least, is going to be very actively engaged in helping recruit and support those candidates doing the kind of fundraising and volunteer and activist training and recruitment that’s necessary to build a strong campaign operation for, especially, the two big statewide campaigns we expect to see.

STATESMAN: Do you think we’ll see any rematches in the legislative races?
CALL: You might. Again, we have a very, I think, good field of candidates and as folks start to see what the voting record is on some of these lawmakers they may recognize that that’s not who they thought they were getting. And so that creates, certainly, an opportunity for Republicans.

STATESMAN: Do you see either Sen. Mark Udall or Gov. Hickenlooper — how vulnerable do you think they are, if at all?
CALL: Sure. I think every incumbent running for re-election is going to be held accountable to the people for their record and the contrasting vision that Republicans will offer both in terms of the national campaign — and the U.S. Senate will indeed be a national race, control of the United States Senate is going to have implications far beyond Colorado’s borders, and so it will probably attract a lot of attention. In terms of leadership within the state, I think a lot of people will be watching to see how Gov. Hickenlooper responds to a Democratically-controlled Legislature and the kind of legislation he’s either going to be pushing for or supporting or hopefully, in many cases, vetoing. And based on that record I think you’ll see a better gauge of how vulnerable the two candidates are.

STATESMAN: Rick, do you think those are both going to be full-spirited races?
PALACIO: Yeah, absolutely. But you know, I think both Sen. Udall and Gov. Hickenlooper have long histories of working across party lines to get things done. They’re very popular amongst Coloradans because they represent the majority of the people of Colorado on business issues, on energy issues, on environment issues. Whether it be immigration reform or health care, there are a myriad of things that both men represent the majority of the people of Colorado on. Listen, two years is a lifetime away, a lot can happen. A lot could happen not just here in the state but nationally, but I think right now both men are sitting in great positions for re-election in 2014.

STATESMAN: Um-hmm. What do the Republicans need to do to nominate a Senate candidate who can win in Colorado? It’s been a long time since Wayne Allard won a seat here. [Ed. note: Allard’s successful reelection bid in 2002 was the last time a Republican Senate candidate won the state.]
CALL: I’m encouraged by the prospective field and maybe even some names and faces that might be a surprise to some but yet could provide a very compelling candidacy. I think that our process of caucuses and assemblies is a good one. I’m glad that we did move up the date of the primary election, and there may be some opportunities, especially as we’re looking forward to perhaps 2016 and beyond to re-evaluate the role of a presidential primary election earlier in the state’s cycle. Colorado, I think, is going to continue to be a swing state from the national perspective as well as in the state, and that creates some opportunities, I think, to have Colorado’s voice heart on a broader scale moving forward.

STATESMAN: Okay. Is that something you would support, moving toward a presidential primary in Colorado, to bring the state some prominence early on?
PALACIO: You know, it’s interesting you brought that up, and I was just thinking, I like our caucus system. I think that it really helps to show the depth of the grassroots organizations across the state, so I’m perfectly fine with leaving things with the way that they are right now.

STATESMAN: Plans for the future. I’ll ask you both, are you running again for state chair?
PALACIO: I believe so, but I have not made a final decision.

STATESMAN: Okay. Ryan?
CALL: In much the same boat. Spending a lot of time talking with our county party leaders, elected officials, and coming to a decision within the next probably week or two.

STATESMAN: Okay, and you’ll let us know?
CALL: I will let you know, you bet.

STATESMAN: This is what, now, nearing the end of your terms? Looking back over the last nearly two years, what’s the job been like? Is it like you expected?
CALL: For me it’s been incredibly rewarding, being able to see the diversity of our state, to understand and get to know — some of the best people you’re going to come across are our activists and volunteers and local party leadership. The sacrifices that they make in support of Republican principles, the work that they do in their communities is just astounding. So for me the most rewarding thing is getting a chance to spend time with and get to know and recognize that the good people that live in San Miguel County have a very different world view than the good people who live in Mesa or in Arapahoe County and others, and eastern plains of Colorado have some of the hardest working people we’ve come across. So for me that’s been very rewarding.

It’s been great and to look at the accomplishments of the state Republican Party in terms of turning around our finances, our organizational capacity, being able to run caucuses and assemblies, really without a hitch — through a pretty difficult environment of some very strong opinions about candidates — and to build a unified party moving forward in support of those candidates. We have seen a great success at the state party in turning around fundraising and engagement and volunteer recruitment and such, as well as candidate development. And I expect and would like to continue that trend.

STATESMAN: You both took office after state party chairs who served at least two terms. Do you feel like you’ve put your stamp on the state party?
CALL: I really do feel like that — and this is very much a team sport. The staff that we have working, the state party’s executive director and political director, communications, a great Victory program operation — we’re all in this fight together. So much of the credit that I’ve received, it definitely is due to the staff and to the many hundreds of contributors that help fund what we do, whether they’re major donors or that great lady that sends in her check for $12.95 once a quarter. Every little contribution, every willingness to give and support and volunteer time makes this job worth it.

STATESMAN: What about you, Rick?
PALACIO: I would agree with the chairman, it is a team sport. I feel like my team, the team that I have the honor of leading here, has certainly made its stamp, but it is about the thousands of volunteers that helped with the re-election of President Obama. It’s about all 64 of our county chairs and various activists at many levels, whether they be people that have been around cycle after cycle for 30 or 40 years or whether they’re people that just showed up a couple of months ago because they believed in the vision that the party’s representing and the leadership of our president.

It’s all about doing this in a collaborative way. That’s the only reason that we had the successes that we had on election night, is because we have developed a model whereby we all work very well together. And it’s not just metro-centric, it’s also relying on folks that are living in some of our out-counties as well. We had 65 field offices open across the state, which I think was a record, so part of this success was about each of those 65 field offices as well, whether or not those field offices in those counties actually were able to achieve a 50-plus-one percent or whether they achieved 30 percent. Each and every vote for our side was because of the hard work that they put forth. So I feel good about the last two years, and if I decide to run, I think the next two years will be just as exciting.

STATESMAN: A month before the election or thereabouts when both candidates, the president and the governor were coming in and out of the state, did it occur to you like, oh my goodness, Colorado, this is crazy? What were your thoughts?
PALACIO: It was crazy. (Laughs)

STATESMAN: Okay.
CALL: (Laughs) I thought it was terrific. I mean, the fact that both candidates were here so frequently and their representatives. We had Michelle Obama, the first lady, we had Ann Romney and Paul Ryan here frequently as well as many, many other representatives from the campaigns and surrogates. It was, I think, a good place for Colorado to be in contention. I think it allowed the presidential campaign to focus on the issues that are important to Colorado voters, it gave our voters the chance to really see up close and personal the candidates and their message. It created that personal connection with the candidate that’s so important. I’m afraid at some level that Colorado voters, especially Colorado Republicans, will get used to that level of attention and expect it, like the good people that live in Iowa or New Hampshire or Ohio where you’re running into a presidential candidate every other day at the local coffee shop. I don’t know if it’ll get to that point, but I think it was good for Colorado and certainly great for our party.

PALACIO: I agree, it was definitely good for our state. You know, I look forward to four years from now or three years from now in the primaries when people look back and say that Colorado was the tipping point, that we end up in a situation where all of our primary candidates on both sides are making frequent trips to coffee shops in Arapahoe County and in Jefferson County. Then I think it’ll truly prove that Colorado is a swing state and Colorado does matter.

But it was very exciting. A month before the election the president came through and you were thinking, this is my last chance to see the president, and then he was here three days later and two days after that and a week after that. It was exhausting, but at the same time no one can deliver a candidate’s message better than the candidate can himself, and I think the proof is in the pudding. We believed going into this that President Obama deserved a second term and that the majority of people of Colorado agreed that that was the case. We worked hard — collectively, collaboratively we worked hard — to make sure that the people actually got a chance to have their voices heard and on election night the president was re-elected because of Colorado. So we think all of it was certainly worth it, regardless of how exhausting it was.

STATESMAN: Last question: do you have any questions for each other?
CALL: Just congratulations and I’ll look forward to the next fight.

PALACIO: Yeah, congratulations to you as well. You had some victories. As I said, we had some disappointments but, over all, it was a good night. I think there were good things to take away for both of us. You certainly put up a good fight and I congratulate you for all of the work that you did because I know it wasn’t easy and herding your elephants certainly could not have been easy the last two years, and the next two years I’m hoping that you have a better time of it, just not too good of a time.

CALL: Thanks, Rick.

STATESMAN: Thank you both again for coming by.

— Jody@coloradostatesman.com
— Ernest@coloradostatesman.com



State Democratic Party chairman Rick Palacio and his Republican counterpart Ryan Call have a lot in common. Both are Colorado natives with lengthy political resumés, and both worked their way up through the party structure with relative speed. Palacio, who emerged from a crowded contest to helm the Democrats last year at age 36, was the youngest state party chair in memory. He lost that distinction a few weeks later when Call, who is a few months younger, managed the same feat on the Republican side.

Just over a year into their two-year terms heading Colorado’s two predominant political parties, Palacio and Call sat for a wide-ranging discussion with The Colorado Statesman. The spirited conversation covered the upcoming campaign season, the just-finished legislative session, and prospects for both parties in a state many believe could hold the key to November’s presidential election.

Palacio grew up in Pueblo, where he made a bid for county clerk in 2006. He worked at the Capitol for the House Democrats, had jobs with U.S. Rep. John Salazar and, most recently, worked for then-Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who was second in command to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she ran things in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Colorado’s Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call and Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio stand in front of a historic flag at the offices of The Colorado Statesman on May 30 in Denver.

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Call grew up in the Denver area, led campus Republican organizations, chaired the Denver County Republican Party, and served as legal counsel to the state GOP for several years before running for the top job. He is an attorney with the Denver firm Hale Westfall.

Palacio and Call joined Statesman editor and publisher Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning for an interview that lasted over an hour in the newspaper’s Capitol Hill offices on May 30. Palacio was accompanied by the state Democrats’ communications director, Matt Inzeo.

The Statesman regularly conducts in-depth interviews with prominent political figures, including a conversation with both Palacio and Call just over a year ago, right after they had taken office. The Statesman also conducted regular interviews with Palacio and Call’s predecessors, former three-term Democratic state chair Pat Waak and former two-term GOP state chair Dick Wadhams, and at the beginning of this year’s legislative session, the newspaper held separate interviews with legislative leaders. Find transcripts of The Statesman’s interviews with dozens of Colorado politicos archived online at www.coloradostatesman.com/innerview.

Below is the transcript of The Statesman’s conversation with Palacio and Call. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Colorado Statesman (CS): It’s been a little over a year since we all sat down together, after you both just took office. That’s another way to say, you’re a little over half way through your (two-year) terms?

Rick Palacio (RP): That’s right. That’s true.

CS: Are you where you thought you’d be, half way through?

Ryan Call (RC): You know, it’s an exciting kind of dynamic challenge. Obviously there’s been, on the Republican side, an interesting contest in the presidential election and lots of efforts with local candidate recruitment as well. I feel pretty good about where we stand.

RP: Well first, congratulations on picking your nominee, that’s very exciting. [Ed. note: The night before, Mitt Romney secured enough delegates in the Texas primary to be assured of the Republican nomination for president.]

RC: It is, he’s a good one, he’s a good fit for Colorado.

RP: ­Obviously, it feels good to have that all behind you. Looking back at the course of the last year — I guess it’s probably been a little bit over a year — I think I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but it has been an incredibly exciting year. It’s a lot of time on the road, a lot of time talking to Democrats and other people throughout the state. The presidential campaign, on both sides, has been a whirlwind. I don’t think that I would have expected the president to have made this many visits to Colorado in just over the course of a year, but, from my book, he’s always welcome back. So that’s probably the most exciting piece, is just having so much attention on Colorado.

CS: Could that be a sign that the president is going to have a tougher time this year than four years ago, and that’s why he’s coming back, or do you think there are other reasons?

RP: I think that it’s because the campaign understands and the president understands that Colorado is definitely in play this time around. I think there was certainly confidence going into the 2008 election, but there were also other states that were at play in 2008 that are not at play in 2012.

CS: Like Indiana, for instance?

RP: Like well, North Carolina, perhaps, and Virginia, perhaps, that were more in play in 2008 than that are in play now. So it makes Colorado all the more important.

CS: And likewise, we’ve had Gov. Romney in the state.

RC: Yeah, twice in just the last month or two.

CS: As recently as yesterday. [Ed. note: Romney gave a speech in Craig the day before the interview.] Probably four or five times since early February?

RC: We expect to see him come back quite a bit as well, recognizing that Colorado is going to be, in my opinion, one of just a handful of states at the end of the day that decide the outcome of the contest. And you can go through the electoral college math but I think everybody knows it, you put Indiana and you put Virginia and North Carolina in the Republican camp, and then you’re looking at Ohio and Florida, and then after that, I mean that gets you to 266 [electoral votes], it’s not quite there…

CS: Is that the 3-2-1 scenario [Ed. note: a path to 270 electoral votes described by Republican strategist Karl Rove]?

RC: That’s the 3-2-1 scenario that I think is probably the most likely. Obviously, when you have states like Wisconsin that are now potentially a unique pick-up opportunity for Republicans, that tends to broaden out the map a bit, and that’s an exciting place to be as well, when you’re talking about the issues. It’s gratifying to see Gov. Romney come out, in particular in talking about some of the issues that are important to Colorado voters —not just the Denver metro area but a lot of rural Colorado and other parts of the state too.

CS: Does it strike you as a little bit, not so much strange but different, that the governor has gone to places like Fort Lupton or Craig — obviously intentionally?

RC: Oh, sure. I don’t think it’s strange at all, in fact I think it’s very much in line with a very thoughtful strategy and a real sincere effort to connect with folks not just in the Denver metro area. And sometimes those smaller communities allow the message to get through, and, for example, doing the event in Fort Lupton really helped drive home the message of energy and natural gas development. Having it in a small town like Craig showed the effect of the president’s policies on smaller towns in America and in Colorado, as well as giving the governor the opportunity to talk about coal and other aspects of energy development that sometimes might get lost if you were just kind of in an urban or a suburban setting.

CS: Right. How confident are each of you that President Obama and Gov. Romney will be able to carry the state? Can either of you say you feel confident about that?

RP: I have confidence. I think that, regardless of which way you cut it, it’s going to be a tough fight but I have certain — certainly, when you have a president I think who has shown bold leadership and you have things moving in the right direction, I think it certainly cuts in our favor but, regardless, it’s going to be a tough fight.

RC: I’m cautiously optimistic, but I also understand that it’s going to be a hard-fought campaign and could very well come down to a handful of votes and the efforts of the respective party committees in terms of our turnout operation and our ability to make this campaign largely a referendum on Barack Obama’s record. And I think that, by doing that and by keeping the focus on the economy and job creation and the issues that are really important to most Colorado voters, that’s where and how Republicans will carry the day.

After joining The Colorado Statesman for an in-depth interview state GOP chair Ryan Call and his Democratic counterpart Rick Palacio pause in front of the newspaper’s wall of campaign memorabilia on May 30 in Denver.

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

CS: Chairman Call, you’ve said before that that’s a Republican strategy, the Republican intent, to make sure that the voters aren’t distracted by “divisive issues that are not important.” It’s something you said in another interview, talking about “divisive social issues.” Does that seem to be the playing ground the opponents want to play on or is that something that people are genuinely interested in? How does that work?

RC: That’s a great question. It’s interesting to kind of, to really largely contrast the tone and approach that Barack Obama is taking in this particular election. And I think what it underscores is the fact that, No. 1, his record isn’t something he’s pointing to, he’s trying to make it about something other than his own record, but the other aspect of it is that we’ve lost that optimistic unifying force, that hopeful force, that was his campaign, that a lot of Colorado voters responded to. Instead, we’ve been left disappointed and largely disillusioned by the way that he has governed, not from the center like he promised, not in a unifying way like he promised, and not in a way that would help inspire those great things about America. He’s adapting instead, a very negative, divisive attack and approach of pitting one class of Americans or one group of Americans against one another. That’s not the sort of hopeful, optimistic, unifying force that folks were promised in the last campaign. And I think it’s that aspect of we were promised one thing and we got something else that causes voters to say, “Look, I don’t want four more years of the same, I want to say, kind of head in a different direction.”

And that’s why I’m excited about the campaign, because the upcoming campaign can be about big issues — the direction of the federal government in terms of regulation and overreach, that proper balance between the federal government and the states, and the spending — the fact that we’re borrowing 42 cents out of every dollar the federal government spends — those are big challenges that this president has not been willing to tackle and a lot of promises left unfulfilled. And I think folks are going to look at that and they’re going to say, “You know, we know what we’re going to get with Barack Obama, we don’t like the direction that we’re going, we have an opportunity to change course and change direction with Mitt Romney and a more thoughtful and prudent approach to the challenges of the day.”

RP: Well, I just think it’s interesting, the rhetoric that’s used from the Republican Party, and your question was about divisive social issues. The divisive social issues have not been topics that the Democratic Party has brought up. The social issues have come up as a result of Republican attacks on women’s rights to choose. You look at the [GOP House Speaker John] Boehner-led House of Representatives and how many votes Republicans have had and Boehner’s just put on the floor related to elimination of federal funding for Planned Parenthood or numerous other sorts of attacks on women’s issues, things that certainly people care about, whether it be elimination of the Medicare system as we know it.

The reaction that you see, the social issues that you see coming up, are simply a result of Republicans bringing them up. If Mitt Romney and Republicans don’t want to talk about social issues then I think they need to have a conversation with John Boehner and make sure that his Tea Party folks are not bringing them up. But it’s a direct result of those efforts in the Congress. And talking about the tone of this election and the tone of the campaign, it’s, I think, this incredible attempt by the Republican Party and Mitt Romney to distract voters from what the real record of Barack Obama and his leadership actually has shown. Mitt Romney was in Craig yesterday talking about how terrible things were. In reality, people in Craig actually think things are going quite well. He was talking about how there’s some sort of an attack on the coal mining industry when Colorado is producing more coal than it’s produced in a number of years. So it’s a complete distortion of the record of the president, and that seems to be the only thing that Mitt Romney and his friends are even capable of talking about right now.

RC: I guess I’ll respectfully disagree with my friend Rick Palacio and, you know, we look forward to certainly a robust campaign and these are going to be important issues we will get a chance to talk about. I think he’s mischaracterizing many of the issues, especially this notion of attacks on women or trying to reform Medicaid. The reality is, some of these, many of these programs like Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security are going bankrupt, and we can’t continue to sustain this trajectory of trillion-dollar deficits year after year without significant risk of devaluing the dollar and eliminating much of the wealth of America.

We talk about those trillion-dollar deficits but we also have tremendous, 32 to 38 trillion (dollars), depending on how the calculation is done, of unfunded liabilities, with many of these programs, especially like Medicare and Social Security projected to go bankrupt within my generation, within the next 15 to 20 years. We have some very tough, difficult and hard choices to make, and the president seems unwilling to tackle many of those pressing issues.

RP: Actually, the president has been willing to tackle them and Republicans have refused to even play along. You want to talk about deficits and the future of Medicaid and Medicare and other programs like that, then you need to talk about the tax code and restructuring the tax code.

RC: Well let’s see what the proposal is. The Republicans put forth five different versions of the budget to the Senate —

RP: — and President Obama has proposed eliminating $4 billion in tax subsidies to the largest oil companies and eliminating also the Bush tax cuts —

RC: It’s been three years since the Senate has even adopted a budget. How are we supposed to plan and how is business and government supposed to operate if it goes three years

RP: If you want to talk about future revenues and having the ability to fund the programs that we have in place, and having the ability to fund Medicare for seniors, then you have to be able to — everyone has to pay their fair share —

RC: Well then what’s the plan, Rick? I mean that’s the problem, is the Democrats who’ve had majorities in the Senate —

RP: You can’t say, “We cannot afford these, but we’re going to continue to give $4 billion in tax cuts to the oil companies and the richest Americans.”

RC: — Democrats have had majorities in the Senate for the last three years and they have yet to pass a single budget. Every time the president puts forward a budget, his own party rejects his budget time after time —

RP: You want to talk about class warfare? Class warfare is what goes down when you talk about giving tax credits to the ultra-wealthy and making sure that the middle class and elderly are paying more. That’s fundamentally what the issue is, when you talk about class warfare, is that Democrats are fighting for middle class, for small businesses, for senior citizens and for school children, and the Republican Party of 2012 seems to be fighting for the ultra-wealthy and biggest oil companies. It’s about priorities.

RC: This is exactly what we’re talking about, this pitting of certain classes and groups of Americans against one another while the president —

RP: You can’t take things off the table and say that they’re not fair game. If you want to talk about deficits and if you want to talk about the future of Medicare, then you have to be able to talk about what is creating the — what could help us pay for all of the things that Republicans claim to want to save.

RC: The only proposals that are being put forth are coming from Republicans. Democrats have had majorities in the Senate for the last three years, have failed to even pass the budget proposed —

RP: What about eliminating tax cuts for oil companies?

RC: We can deal on specific issues, but we’re talking about the bigger issues.

RP: I mean, it’s $4 billion. That’s a huge issue. What about allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire?

RC: Why has the president’s party failed to pass — why has the president’s party, in control of the Senate for the last three years, failed to even propose or pass a budget?

RP: I mean, this is the —

RC: You’ve had filibuster-proof majorities for the first two years.

RP: — distraction sort of politics that are so easy to play. A budget — I mean we’re talking about why the Senate has not passed a budget, and we can’t actually have a conversation about the policy items that matter to people. You want to change the structure of Medicare because you claim that you can’t pay for it. If that’s the problem then end subsidies for oil companies and make rich people who make $1 million or more a year start paying their fair share. There may be more money —

RC: What’s their fair share, 50 percent of what they make, 40 percent of what they make?

RP: How about prior to —

RC: When you’ve got —

RP: How about the same rate that they were paying prior to the Bush tax cuts?

RC: Okay, well we can argue and fight over these policy differences but —

RP: Would you be willing to say that the wealthiest Americans should pay 1 percent more? Or half of a percent more?

RC: What you’re saying is in terms of some — you’re seeing Republicans put forth thoughtful, reform-minded plans like Paul Ryan’s budget that has been talked about in the House and passed the House —

RP: That changes Medicare, which is the most popular program —

RC: It has to change or go bankrupt.

RP: Well then I easily could say draw the line and say, “We have to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires or we’re going to go bankrupt.” It’s the same argument, it’s drawing lines in the sand. I mean, if Republicans really wanted to work with the president then they would march on down or be willing to sit around the table with the president and their Democratic colleagues in the Senate, and sit down and actually get things done. And instead, you see the policies that they’re putting forward. It’s absolutely a ridiculous argument to say that a party who is dead set on saying no and obstructing absolutely everything is a party that should be in charge.

RC: And this is exactly the false narrative talking about. The party that is in charge, the party that is in charge and has majorities in the Senate, is failing to govern, failing to follow through on some of their principle responsibilities in terms of even enacting a budget or even pulling it up for a vote. And that’s the kinds of things we’re talking about. The House is governing, they’ve adopted over 32 bills, the vast majority of which had significant bipartisan support, and they’re sitting and languishing in [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid’s inbox. Let’s put those up for a vote, let’s put up some of the different job creation and reforms that the Republicans have passed in the House.

RP: Sure. So let’s talk then about the Wind Energy Tax Credit that actually has real jobs in Colorado attached to it, I think there are over 1,000 jobs in Pueblo that are attached to it. So why not put the Energy Tax Credit to a vote?

RC: That’s a great question, why not put the Keystone Energy Pipeline up for a vote? Why not —

RP: There has been a vote.

RC: There has been a vote, that’s correct, and lots of Democrats voted for it and the president continues to try to block it.

RP: But there has been a vote on the Keystone Pipeline. There has not been a vote on an extension of the Wind Energy Tax Credit and those are jobs — those are real jobs.

RC: We could go through all sorts of specific bills that he’s going to put forward or I’m going to say Democrats and Republicans are dropping, you know, and —

RP: Right, but instead, what Republicans are doing is they’re putting bills forward that eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.

RC: That’s right, it’s not the taxpayers that are funding those jobs.

RP: Those are not jobs. I mean, you want to talk about jobs, Republicans, Mitt Romney wants to talk about jobs, but we’re not talking about jobs under Republican-controlled Congress, we’re talking about women’s health.

RC: We have to start making some very difficult decisions about what the proper role of government is. And if folks want to have abortions —

RP: I thought we were talking about jobs.

RC: We’re talking about that as well too. You’re talking about bringing up those issues as well.

CS: It sounds like there might be a difference of opinion on this issue —

RP: But there are some things I’m sure we could agree on.

CS: Absolutely, and in Colorado, Republicans and Democrats did agree on the budget here.

RP: Um-hmm.

RC: That’s a great example of where Republicans and Democrats did work together to pass that.

CS: By historic margins.

RC: You bet. And it helps that we’re required to adopt a budget, but so is the federal government.

CS: Right, but they were able to do that —

RC: But that’s just it. And that’s why I think Republicans are going to continue to push for a balanced budget amendment at the federal level and get us on the track towards that. Is it something that can be enacted immediately? Probably not because of the way we currently have our funding structure, it’s going to take some time to get back to an appropriate balance of revenue and appropriate reforms to the tax policy. But I think that Republicans and Democrats have demonstrated a willingness to put aside those partisanship issues and do what’s right for the people of Colorado in many instances.

CS: But on the other hand, the session ended and we had a special session — it wasn’t all love and friendship at the very end. How would you assess this past session? Is there a person or party to blame, or what happened?

RC: I don’t think you can judge an entire legislative session on a particular bill that failed. You look at a lot of the bills that did pass and a lot of the bills that were modified or amended or in some cases killed in both chambers by the Democrats or by the Republicans, and yet a lot of good legislation was able to work through with the appropriate bipartisan compromise and meaningful things were able to be accomplished. So, you don’t want to boil it down to just a particular bill because there’s always going to be some differences of opinion.

CS: May I ask you to boil it down, though, to a particular grade, if you had to grade the Legislature, looking at what was promised at the beginning when it was “jobs, jobs, jobs,” and where we wound up? How did the Legislature do, overall? What grade would you give?

RC: Hard to assign kind of a letter grade. I think overall, I think a good B-minus.

RP: I would say a B. I think that they did a great job of working together to get things done on behalf of the people of Colorado. We have a very long history of working together. We’re constitutionally required to. I mean if you have a two-party, you have to have members of both parties to pass things like a budget, so we’ve respected that for the most part in the years past. There’s certainly instances where that did not happen this year and previous years as well, but I think that the Legislature, I think did a very good job in governing the session.

RC: Yeah, you really do have to applaud the leadership of, I think, both parties, in the House and in the Senate in being able to shepherd through especially some of the big issues, like the budget, in ways that were able to get good support.

CS: There are other constitutional requirements for the Legislature, including redistricting, which hasn’t happened in decades in the Legislature —

RC: Not without the courts.

CS: — that the Legislature passed a redistricting plan.

RC: I think that was a real failure on the part of the Legislature. I do think that Republicans went into it with honest intentions, and Democrats wanted to put Boulder in with Grand Junction. They’re not reasonable plans to put forward. I’d like to see a model perhaps that like Ohio does where you get a little bit more of a non-partisan staff that looks at more objective criteria than some of the partisan interests first, and I think that that would in the long run probably serve Colorado citizens much better.

RP: I think the process could have played out a little bit better. I’m not going to put partisan blame on the way the process played out, I think that while the Legislature as a whole I would give a B, there are certain issues where I think that there was an inability or an unwillingness of Republicans to meet Democrats at the table and try to produce something. And redistricting was absolutely one of them. I think we acted in good faith to bring proposals forward and, instead, it was slapped down as being a partisan attempt.

There are, regardless of who is in charge, you’re always going to have a partisan bent. If the Democrats are in charge, the Democrats are going to want things to prevail on the Democratic side, Republicans on the Republican side. So we’re never going to have an instance where everyone is being 100 percent fair, but you have to at least have an ability to sit down and have conversations about things.

CS: Would you support the creation of some sort of different method to do redistricting, like is done in Iowa?

RC: I think for congressional redistricting.

CS: Congressional?

RC: Retaining that as part of the legislative function is an important check and balance on the process. I think the process — I was thinking of, more about the legislative reapportionment, where you’re really drilling down into local neighborhoods a little more and local communities and making sure that those communities of interests kind of do play themselves out. I was looking at a map just the other day, and I’m trying to remember which district it was that includes Sheridan, Superior and Black Hawk, and wondering how those communities have much in common. But that’s part of the nature when you’re trying to get a population together and drawing these district lines and nothing’s going to be entirely perfect. But I do think that from a perspective of the role of government, that is an important check and balance on the process, to maintain a degree of accountability by having elected officials being responsible for drawing the congressional lines.

RP: I think that there’s an important accountability and transparency piece to this when the Legislature is actually in charge of this. If you punt it to some sort of a commission, there’s always going to be questions as to the bent of individual commissioner and how they ended up as commissioners. So, while it’s disappointing that the courts ended up deciding the congressional redistricting case, ultimately, the process played itself out.

RC: And this was the first year they did these really, what I thought were great hearings all around the state. That was the first time they did that, to really get a lot of input and shine a lot more transparency on that process. And I thought that was a great thing that both party leadership agreed to do and that was something I hope to see the next time too.

CS: When we talked for the first interview [in March 2011] you both voiced optimism about your crop of candidates for the Legislature, and you both talked about the importance of recruitment and you felt good about your people that you had recruited. Can you talk a little bit about the legislative races in general, and in particular, and whether you feel confident that either your party will prevail or there may be a change in leadership in the Senate or the House?

RP: I think we have a great crop of candidates in the state legislative races. I think, looking back a year ago, there were certainly some people that I never would have thought of that weren’t on the radar that have popped up. One of the more competitive state senate districts is the new state Senate District 35 in the San Luis Valley. It’s actually 16 counties — incredibly rural and we have a primary on the Democratic side, and I think that it’s going to be a very healthy primary. Both the candidates on our side of the aisle have incredible resumés. As a mostly rural senate district, you have a Costilla County Commissioner, Crestina Martinez, who’s absolutely been dynamic, she’s a rising star. Her family have been farmers and ranchers in the valley for many, many generations. You have Armando Valdez — Armando is a farmer and rancher himself, he’s a professor of business at Adam State University. So I think that representing the rural values of those 16 counties, regardless of which one we choose in the primary, I think we’re going to get that in one of these two candidates.

Generally, we have some very good candidates around the state and from what I’ve seen they’re all raising money and they’re all working incredibly hard. They’re out knocking on doors and getting to know their neighbors, if they don’t already. We are certainly poised to make some gains in the state House, and I think that we will hold our own in the state Senate. I think what’s going to happen in November, or actually January of 2013, is we’re going to have Democratic majorities in both the chambers.

RC: I think that’s unlikely, but I appreciate the optimism of my friend. The redistricting has created a lot more competitive districts and I am really encouraged by, again, the caliber of candidates that we have running in some of these districts. You mentioned the race down in southwestern Colorado [in Senate District 35]. Larry Crowder is the Republican candidate running unopposed [for the nomination], and so he’s working really hard and has very good, deep roots in that community as well.

Some of the candidates we’ve recruited and that are running in some of the key races, especially for the state House and state Legislature are some of the best I’ve seen in many years, especially in some of these swing districts. You’ve got folks like Rick Enstrom or Amy Attwood running out in Jeffco. You’ve got a candidate like Brian Watson, which brings a lot to the table and an exceptional talent running against Dan Kagan in that district in Englewood and Greenwood Village. Great candidates for the state Senate — Lang Sias and Dave Kerber and Larry Crowder and a number of others.

And Republicans this year have recruited and are running candidates for the state Legislature and the state House and the state Senate in every single district, we’re giving the voters a real choice. The Democratic Party has been unable to field candidates in a number of races, and I think that creates a competitive advantage for the Republicans, as we’re competing for those votes in every single district and in every single neighborhood with a caliber of candidate that I haven’t seen for a lot of years. They’re also doing a great job at raising money, they’re out there walking their districts and connecting with individual voters and talking about the issues that are important to those local communities. So I’m encouraged, I think Republicans are going to not only retain the majority in the state House but expand it, and we’ve got a very good shot and a great pathway to the majority in Senate as well.

CS: Can you talk a little bit on the congressional races? You’ve got a primary in the 5th, a Republican against a Republican. And also in the 2nd — and in the 1st.

RC: And in the 1st! You can’t forget about Danny Stroud and our truck-driving friend [Stroud’s primary opponent Richard Murphy].

CS: That’s right. But there’s also, partly because of the new districts, but there’s more seats that are kind of up for grabs than there have been in previous years.

RC: You bet they are.

CS: There’s probably two on the Republican side as well as two on the Democratic side.

RC: The Democratic Party I think probably thought they were pulling a fast one in terms of redistricting by taking it to the courts. But in reality, I think it actually created more opportunities for Republicans to expand our representation. The district that Ed Perlmutter has been representing has shifted significantly. It’s lost a lot of, some of the Democrat leaning territory out in Aurora, and has picked up more Republican friendly territory in Jeffco and a couple of other areas. And so with a candidate like Joe Coors with his business background and deep roots of philanthropy and engagement in the local community, he’s an exceptional candidate to be running in the 7th Congressional District as it’s newly configured.

Mike Coffman, while again there’s been lots of talk by [Democratic candidate Joe] Miklosi and the Democrats that they think they’re going to take him out, this newly configured district, now that it includes Buckley [Air Force Base] and all of the city of Aurora, actually plays to a lot of Mike Coffman’s strengths. He grew up in Aurora, he went to high school there. And the fact that his leadership positions and his great leadership that he’s exhibited on many of the subcommittees and the Armed Forces Committees in the Congress make him a great fit to be able to represent the 6th Congressional District that now includes Buckley.

And then for us in the 3rd Congressional District, with Scott Tipton, not a lot of change in terms of the map, I think Lake County ended up moving back, it’s been kind of hunted back and forth with the last few cycles.

RP: Yeah, and it lost Las Animas County —

RC: That’s right, but I was up in Lake County and Leadville for their Lincoln Day Dinner just about a week and a half ago, and they were pretty excited about being able to be represented by Scott Tipton.

CS: But on the other hand you have a candidate, Tisha Casida [an independent supporter of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul running in the 3rd CD] —

RC: Oh, sure. Well, we may end up having —

CS: — who may siphon some votes off, or do you —?

RC: I think that that’s unlikely. Most voters, I really think, understand that it’s between two competing visions and that a vote for anyone other than Scott Tipton is a vote for Sal Pace and a vote for anybody other than Mitt Romney is a vote for Barack Obama, whether you’re looking at top of the ticket all the way down. Voters understand, and I think they’re pretty sophisticated about understanding the value of their vote and wanting to make sure that it counts. We have two very clearly competing visions for the role of government and tackling many of these issues between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party and I think that’s what this upcoming campaign is largely going to be about. Those two competing visions for the direction of America and for our own state.

CS: Rick, can I ask you about the congressional map?

RP: I think Chairman Call’s absolutely right, you have two competing visions. You have Ed Perlmutter and Joe Coors in the 7th Congressional District, you have Ed Perlmutter who is absolutely the hardest working member of Congress that we have probably out of the 435 members that are in the country.

RC: Mike Coffman works pretty hard too, though.

RP: We’ll get to Mike Coffman. But, you know, Joe Coors, I think, was probably, is being celebrated on the Republican side because he’s a self-funding candidate, and the Republican Party I think is going to have — they have a lot of competitive districts not just in Colorado but across the country, and they’re going to have to use their resources wisely. When you have subpar candidates running for the U.S. House, not just here in Colorado but everywhere — you have a presidential candidate who is subpar — you have to expend your resources wisely. Joe Coors is —

RC: Now see, those kinds of personal attacks are unnecessary, Rick.

RP: It is absolutely —

RC: To characterize a candidate like Mitt Romney or Joe Coors as subpar is wholly off base.

RP: There’s nothing personal about it. You have a guy like Ed Perlmutter, who’s the hardest working member of Congress that you have there, that is in his neighborhood and in his grocery stores every single weekend ensuring that he’s fighting for the middle class families and for small businesses, and you have the president of a country club, who is for extending the Bush tax cuts and again, making sure that the richest people in the country have it a little bit better off than the working people.

RC: See, I think that’s a mischaracterization. I think you need to look at Joe Coors as a guy who’s been an incredibly successful and hardworking businessman who understands what it takes to create jobs and make a payroll and balance a budget. You see a fellow who’s been incredibly engaged in very generous philanthropy, in giving back to the —

RP: Who, just like Mitt Romney, is incredibly out of touch with the rest of the country.

RC: Absolutely not.

RP: And then you go on to the 3rd Congressional District, and you have Tipton, who has voted for the same things that we talked about earlier, numerous times, which is ensuring that Medicare is not a continued program for future generations, ensuring that Pell grants are reduced for students trying to go to college. An incredibly out-of-touch individual, who oftentimes can’t even be found in the 3rd Congressional District. You talk about the 6th Congressional District, which is thankfully much more competitive because I don’t think that the people of the 6th Congressional District realize that they actually had a birther on their hand until a couple of weeks ago.

RC: Now see, you’re mischaracter — again, I —

RP: “Mischaracterizing” would be Mike Coffman questioning the intent and the heart of the president of the United States. I think that’s a mischaracterization and I think that again —

RC: And he quickly, he apologized for misspeaking and —

RP: He apologized and then on [the KHOW radio show] Caplis & Silverman said he apologized because it was essentially the political thing for him to do. I mean, (he), completely unaided by the audience, questioned the intent and the heart of the president of the United States. I just don’t think that the people of the 6th Congressional District really can have faith in someone who is an extreme candidate like Mike Coffman. Mike Coffman up to this point…

RC: If you’re going to try to characterize Mike Coffman’s record of service, both in the military, the Marines, and the state Legislature —

RP: I think it’s interesting that people actually try to boil it down to Mike Coffman’s record in the military —

RC: And try to boil it down to one —

RP: And Mike Coffman did the same thing when he tried to go back to his record in the military. And, unfortunately, I think that it’s a complete and total distraction from the real issue. Mike Coffman, while he is a veteran and a hero to the country for his service, and I think his service absolutely should be acknowledged, and he should be thanked for his service, his record of service should not detract people from the fact that he is a birther, he is an extreme candidate for Colorado, not just for the 6th District.

RC: And that’s a mischaracterization of Coffman’s position. He apologized for misspeaking, we all sometimes say things in ways that are inartful or that are not representative, and he apologized for the way that he misspoke. And for you to try to characterize his entire career both in public service and in military service, and try to make it about one comment that he quickly apologized for —

RP: I actually didn’t try to characterize his record of military service, nor his public service. I said that currently, as of two weeks ago, he said that he was questioning the intent of the President of the United States, saying that in his heart he is not American, he is not sure whether he was even born in the United States of America. And that was completely unaided from the audience, it’s not as though someone asked him a question about where he believed that the president was from.

RC: I have every confidence —

RP: Mike Coffman walked out to Elbert County thinking that he was in friendly territory, and it turns out just like everywhere else in this state and everywhere else across the country, if you’re a congressional candidate, you should be aware that that stuff is being recorded. It seems to me that he was speaking from the heart, and on Caplis & Silverman admitted he only apologized because it was the political thing in which to do. I’m not trying to characterize his military service. I’ve not said that. I said that I thank him for his military service to our country and he absolutely should be applauded for that, but you cannot hide behind your uniform when you say things like he said about the President of the United States.

RC: And I’m not suggesting — I’m talking about not only his military service but a tremendous record of public service in the state Legislature, in the State Treasurer’s Office, in the Secretary of State and in the Congress. And the voters —

RP: Yes, he has for the most part flown under the radar.

RC: — and the voters in Aurora will judge him —

RP: He has played himself to be a moderate Republican. And what happened two weeks ago is he proved to people that he is not a moderate Republican, he is an extreme right wing birther Republican just like so many Tea Partiers are across the country.

RC: And this is going to be the Democratic Party’s attack. They’re going to try to make every single Republican, whether it’s Mike Coffman or whether it’s Mitt Romney, into this crazy right wing birther extremist. This is the same tactic the Democratic Party has used for countless years. They said it about Ronald Reagan, they said it about a number of other Republican candidates. It seems like every cycle they just recycle that same old line in saying, “Candidate So-and-So,” it doesn’t matter, insert whoever —

RP: Coloradans don’t vote for extreme candidates.

RC: And so your attempt to try to characterize every single Republican as a quote-unquote extreme candidate is a cynical political tactic that the voters in the upcoming election are going to reject. They’re going to judge them on their record —

RP: Well then perhaps the Republican Party should choose some candidates that are not so extreme. I mean, what happened to the moderate wing of the Republican Party? What happened to Republicans who actually believe in things like comprehensive immigration reform the way that John McCain did before he was against it, the way Mitt Romney did before he was against it? I mean, what happened to those guys? What happened to the Republican Party that believed in actually sitting down and working with people? I mean, you take a step to our neighbors to the west. You know, you had [former Utah Republican] Senator [Bob] Bennett, who was primaried, you have [incumbent Republican Sen.] Orrin Hatch, who’s being primaried, by candidates who are much further to the right than they are. And in their entire history in the United States Senate, no one would have ever said that they were moderate Republicans. It’s this constant shift and shift and shift and shift to the right. In my opinion, and I think from the people that I’ve talked to across the state, those are candidates that Coloradans don’t choose.

RC: Well, and respectfully, I would disagree with how you’re characterizing many of our candidates, especially candidates like Mike Coffman and Mitt Romney and some of these candidates we have running for the Colorado State Legislature this year around. They’re thoughtful, prudent, balanced candidates who understand that if you’re going to address the issues that are facing Colorado and the nation it requires a balanced and in many case a bipartisan approach. But I do also say that there are some very clear differences in terms of approach and that’s what this upcoming election’s going to be about.

CS: You were asked about Mike Coffman. Let me ask you about [6th CD Democratic candidate] Joe Miklosi. How do you think he is as a candidate and how confident are you that he’ll do well in his race?

RP: I think Joe is a great candidate. He has a tremendous record of public service himself. He has always chosen the side of Colorado’s middle class families and small businesses, he has voted that way, his public record has shown that. He is working very hard to ensure that he has the necessary resources in place to defeat Mike Coffman in November.

CS: Yet as recently as a couple of months ago there were Democrats still looking for another candidate. Do you feel like Democrats have coalesced around —

RP:I’m not sure which Democrats were looking for another candidate but —

CS: The DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] was making calls in December and trying to encourage some people to enter the race. That was also when Perry Haney jumped in. [Ed. note: Haney was a Democratic candidate for the 6th CD but dropped out before precinct caucuses.]

RP: Yeah, I mean Perry — sort of an anomaly. I mean you’re always going to wonder, and I think this was actually pre-redistricting. I think once the maps were finalized I think there was no question that we had the right candidate in Joe Miklosi but prior to —

CS: That was for the weeks following that, in early December —

RP: Well, I’m not sure what D-trip [Ed. note: shorthand for the “D-triple-C”]

CS: — until [former state House Speaker] Andrew Romanoff pulled himself from contention —

RP: You know, there are always going to be people that try to float their names out there for candidacy of one type or another, be it for Congress or president or for governor, for that matter, but I think that Joe Miklosi is a very strong candidate, I think that he is a very good fit for the people of the 6th Congressional District, and I think that he is positioning himself well to defeat Mike Coffman in November.

CS: Chances of getting some upsets, some incumbents voted out of office in Congress this year?

RC: I think the chances (are good) of upsetting Ed Perlmutter when you look at his voting record. He likes to style himself as a moderate, pro-business for the Democrat when he’s here in the district. When he goes back to Washington his voting record speaks volumes to the contrary, and so I think what voters are looking for this time is a change on that and I think that they’re also looking for a change from the current incumbent in the White House, and I think we’re going to see a change there as well.

CS: Think there are any Republicans that are at risk?

RP: You know, I think every time you’ve got some shifting around for some of these state House and state Senate districts, I think that’s always a potential. The candidates that we have running this year are very, very strong and we feel pretty optimistic about them.

CS: You think any good pick-up opportunities?

RP: Sure, I think that Coffman and Tipton are both incredible pick-up opportunities for Democrats. You know, looking at the maps, looking at the candidates that we have and looking at the incumbents that our candidates are running against makes them, while not easy, I think with the right resources and a lot of hard work, I think it’s certainly achievable.

CS: You mentioned, and I don’t want to bring this focus entirely on the Civil Unions Bill, but can you talk a little bit about the process? And you’ve already been asked this but do you feel okay about how it ended with special session being called because — I mean, there’s two different — well, more than two, but different interpret —

RC: There’s a lot of different views or interpretations on it.

CS: How —?

RC: Now, Jody, my job is fairly simple. I mean, we elect Republicans — that’s the job of the State Republican Party Chairman. It’s not to second-guess our elected officials. We elect them, and I think Speaker McNulty has demonstrated great leadership on a lot of important issues. And in this issue my job is pretty clear, it’s to give him a bigger majority the next go around.

CS: Do you think that what happened could potentially hurt Republicans running for the Legislature?

RC: I think voters in the upcoming election are going to be much more concerned about the current status of the economy and job creation, and they’re going to be looking at the failed record of Barack Obama and other Democrats and saying, “We’ve got to change direction,” and be willing to confront some pretty serious challenges that we face as a nation and we can’t continue down the same path as we’ve been going because we’ve seen where that leads. We’ve seen it play out on the pages of the newspaper right now in terms of Greece and other failed states, and I don’t think that that’s really where we need to go.

CS: The House Majority Project [an organization that works to elect Democratic state House members] has been voicing a little more confidence and optimism since the end of the session — perhaps they have a rallying point because of what happened to the Civil Unions bill. Can you comment on that?

RP: Well you know, I think that, myself, I think the majority of people in Colorado actually believe that the legislative process should be allowed to play out in the way that it was designed to play out. What happened to civil unions, I think, was absolutely failed leadership on the part of Speaker McNulty. You had a piece of legislation that moved through the Democratic-controlled Senate with Republican votes; you had it move through three committees in the Republican-controlled House with Republican votes; and you had a piece of legislation that was absolutely poised to pass with a lot of Republican votes in the full House, the full chamber of the House. And what happened is essentially unfair — you had Speaker McNulty and his friends on the far right that decided that they would hijack the process 24 hours before the end of the legislative session to kill one piece of legislation that had passed every single test that it needed to pass to get to where it was going. And they should have given it an up-or-down vote, and they failed to do so.

I think the interesting thing here, though, is not — it’s not necessarily about civil unions, it’s about allowing the process to play out the way that it was designed. And that’s, I think, what has turned people off more than anything else because civil unions, the day before the session expired, was not the only thing that died, Republicans in holding it up held up something like 30 other bills, including some critical water projects that should have made it to the floor the following day as well. It was all procedural tactics, certainly the speaker is within his right to play the games that he played, but I think that Speaker McNulty, and any speaker, for that matter, sometimes needs to be reminded that they’re the speaker of the whole House, not just the speaker of one political party. And it’s unfortunate that for political reasons they didn’t give the bill a fair up-or-down vote.

CS: Chairman Call, you’ve talked about not pulling the strings in the Legislature, or being kind of a party boss, like some party bosses have been in the past in this state — electing Republicans, not setting the agenda, not telling folks what to do. Yet on the failure of the ASSET Bill [Ed. note: a bill that would have created a state college tuition rate higher than in-state tuition but lower than out-of-state tuition for resident children of undocumented immigrants] which was also killed and had bipartisan support, a lot of Republican support, some of the business wing of the Republican Party was solidly behind that. You expressed some regrets that that didn’t make it through.

RC: I did. We all have our own personal opinions about particular legislation, and so we have those. But as it relates specifically to the other bill we’re talking about, we’re going to move ahead and forward and looking at the upcoming election on the issues that really are important to Colorado voters, and that’s largely the direction of the economy and job creation.

CS: Has this been fun for you gentlemen, or more work than you had anticipated? Can you just talk about the actual job itself? More traveling than you thought — any surprises?

RC: Well you know, it’s interesting. I remember when you and I met last time around, you had been in your post for about a couple of months already.

RP: I think so.

RC: I had just been in there a couple of weeks and I commented, I think I observed that having closely been involved with the party as the legal counsel and as county party chairman, I was probably a little bit more familiar with the workload that was required. And it’s exceeded that — it has been a lot of work. It’s challenging to keep the members of the coalition all together, and yet also very exciting for the Republican Party at this moment in time when we’ve got a lot of big issues that we’re confronting and great candidates that we get to support. And so, for me, it’s been very rewarding and challenging at the same time.

RP: I’m not sure what I expected the workload to be, so I can’t say that it’s been more work than I thought that it would be, but it has been a tremendous amount of work and every minute of it — very exciting. I have an opportunity to travel around the state and visit with people that I probably would not have had an opportunity to meet. Spending time in very rural counties at picnics, places where there are more cattle than there are people, is actually a lot of fun to me. You see, from my experience, the energy building, leading up into 2012. When I feel like it couldn’t possibly be an energy level greater than this, the next week it is an energy level greater than this. So I’m excited about the next five and a half months, five months, because Colorado, as we’ve seen just in the last year, is an exciting place to be and I think it’s going to be even more so, exciting, before the November elections.

RC: For me, I think the most rewarding aspect of this position is the opportunity to travel the state and to meet with and to visit with some of the best, hardworking activists that we have out there. These are — just the level of dedication and hard work and individual sacrifice that many of our volunteers and local county party leaders and Republican elected officials, whether it’s the county assessor in Garfield County that I was just visiting with yesterday, or whether it’s a county commissioner or local mayor or the local county party vice chairman or precinct leader, who’s volunteering their time to talk to their voters and reach out to folks and talk about issues. The level of energy, enthusiasm and engagement by those good citizens who are doing it because they care about their country, they care about their state, they care about their local communities and their families, and they’re willing to volunteer and sacrifice of their time and means for the party and for candidates and for these big issues. That’s been the most rewarding and humbling aspect of the job for me.

CS: Just five months to go to the election and one critical component — though there’s going to be a lot of ads, there’s going to be a lot of visits by the candidates, there’s going to be a lot of grassroots work — is the vote itself and you’ve both had some things to say about that. Rick, a few months ago you said that after some testimony in the Legislature, the Secretary of State, Scott Gessler “has once again prioritized his partisan agenda” and (you would) “consider all avenues necessary to remove him.” I believe Matt [Inzeo, the Colorado Democratic Party’s communications director] answered a question from a reporter saying that that would include a recall. That seems to have not really gone anywhere, if that was indeed the intention. What are your thoughts on that?

RP: Well, my thoughts on that, and I think specifically the question was, does that include a recall? And I think the response was, I think, that would leave all things on the table. Gessler, I think, for the last several months has largely quieted down, but during the legislative session he certainly raised a lot of eyebrows and kicked up a lot of sand, and it certainly drew him some attention. The intent was not about recall, simply about getting people’s attention outside of the Capitol and outside of the Denver metro area as to what actually was going on that Gessler was trying to exert his control over. And I think that we certainly accomplished the goal — he has been in the public eye and every time that he turns around and he tries to change some election law or voting requirement, there are people that perhaps otherwise would not have been paying attention that are paying attention now. So we have accomplished a goal in making sure that people were sitting up and listening to the things that he was saying.

CS: There’s still a long way, though, between now and November. If you remember, in the 2008 election there were some complaints from both sides about voting eligibility and voting lists and names being thrown off the list at the last minute. Are you confident that this is going to be a free and fair election?

RP: I’m optimistic, because I think that I’m always optimistic and hopeful. But I think that we certainly have at any point in the next five months, we have a secretary of state that easily could be another Katherine Harris [Ed. note: the Florida Republican involved in that state’s recount after the 2000 presidential election]. Colorado could be a repeat of Florida in the sense that there are last-minute changes, there are eligible voters who could be purged from the lists, and I think that people need to ensure — a way to combat that is people need to constantly verify the registration.

CS: Okay. Chairman Call?

RC: I think to threaten something like a recall over a difference of public policy is the worst sort of irresponsible partisanship. And we can disagree in terms of things like requiring voters to demonstrate photo ID in order to prove eligibility to vote, but to characterize that as trying to intimidate or disenfranchise voters is inappropriate and very inaccurate in terms of what was being argued about. When we’re talking about different policy changes that the Democrats were trying to push through the Legislature that would have dramatically changed some of the standards with respect to active versus inactive voters to create a partisan advantage for one party, and then to go out there and say that they were sort of coming from the other end, I think is just inaccurate.

And I am confident that we’re going to have the election laws of Colorado fairly and appropriately followed. There’s going to be obviously legal teams and volunteers and lawyers and party officials watching this process and working very hard to make sure that we’re maintaining the integrity of the ballots and the voting lists — and that’s appropriate. Colorado is very fortunate, we do not have a history in any appreciable way of voter fraud or voter intimidation, despite what some candidates or parties may choose to use as a political tactic to try to drive turnout. We just don’t have that history.

And Republicans are absolutely committed in every sense of the way to ensure that eligible voters have an opportunity to freely and fairly cast their vote and have that vote counted. We want to make sure that elections are conducted with integrity, and so that the vote reflects the will of the people, but we also want to make it, while easier to vote, we want to make it harder to cheat. And so there are safeguards that need to be put in place and followed to make sure that we’re maintaining the integrity of our elections. And I’ve got every confidence that not just the secretary of state but (county) clerk and recorders — Republican or Democrat — are going to put partisanship aside and focus on their duty to make sure we run fair and free and accurate elections.

RP: I actually think — Chairman Call made reference to the fact that historically we don’t have these issues in Colorado. Voter fraud, the instances of voter fraud, I think, is actually, I’m not sure that you could even prove half a dozen instances of voter fraud in the State of Colorado, people that are trying to vote that are ineligible to vote. I think that, to me, says that, then, why change things? What Scott Gessler has been trying to do, and what he actually did, was change a person’s eligibility status. And there’s been no question that these individuals are citizens, that they are eligible to vote but Scott Gessler, because they skipped an election, changed their status to inactive.

RC: But that’s what the law requires, that’s what the law that — Ed Perlmutter, when he was in the Legislature, voted for that law. So you want to change the law to grant partisanship advantage.

RP: I’m not an election lawyer — Ryan is an election lawyer — but I think it’s important for me to ensure that there is some integrity there and you can’t just willy nilly go and change people’s status the way that Scott Gessler has been trying to do.

RC: Well, to be very clear, no one has been disenfranchised —

RP: — yet! —

RC: — no one has been dropped from the voter rolls. Anyone who’s on, whether they’re active or inactive —

RP: Our attempt is to ensure that those sort of things didn’t happen. But what the secretary has done is change people from active to inactive because they have —

RC: In following the law, the law requires him to do that.

RP: And I think that there is certainly some question as to the interpretation of that law, and it’ll certainly be decided in the courts as to what the correct interpretation is, and whether or not the secretary even has the authority to make changes like this.

RC: When you make a change from someone’s active to an inactive status, it doesn’t disenfranchise the voter and it doesn’t preclude them from voting.

RP: No, they have to take an additional step in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

RC: We all have to take steps to exercise that vote.

RP: When you have to take an additional step versus one other person who may be sitting next to you who for no other, there’s no other difference except that they voted last year and didn’t, unlike you who may have waited for three years to vote — that has the potential to disenfranchise people. And statistically, those people that potentially are being disenfranchised are the people that are minorities, the poor — and those are the things that we’re trying to protect.

CS: There’s another component to that, that Democrats and the Obama voters sat out the last two elections, the 2010 and 2011 elections, to a much larger extent.

RP: True, but that doesn’t make them ineligible or that shouldn’t —

RC: And no action taken by Secretary Gessler or the Legislature makes them ineligible to vote either, all they have to do —

RP: No, it changes them to inactive which means that they don’t automatically get the ballot that they probably checked off the box to say that they wanted to receive.

CS: If they’re on the permanent mail list, they don’t get the ballot if they inactivated in 2010 and 2011?

RC: That’s correct. So a voter has to take some modicum of effort to go online to the Secretary of State’s Office and in about 30 seconds they can update their status from inactive to active. Or they can show up to any polling place in their county on election day.

RP: And it is creating a hurdle for people to exercise their constitutional right to vote, a hurdle that some other person does not have to jump.

CS: Ryan, you said in an earlier interview that the Republican Party wants to make it “easier for people to vote but harder to cheat, and our political opponents want the opposite.” Do you find evidence of that? Is this the kind of thing you’re talking about?

RC: Well, the Democrat Party apparently seems to want to change the law to benefit a particular class of voters that sat out —

CS: Who didn’t vote?

RC: — who didn’t vote in the last couple of elections. Now, they’re not ineligible to vote, if they took the effort to go and — whether it’s going online to reactivate or whether the party contacts them and sends them a form to reactive or whether they just show up and vote on election day like voters have been doing for hundreds of years. That’s not an undue hurdle for them to show up and vote on election day like voters have been doing at a polling place. Not a single voter will be turned away if they show up to vote. And every single vote will be counted fairly and appropriately.

CS: Rick, are the Democrats making it harder to vote and easier to cheat?

RP: No, I think what that is, I think is — (laughs) Are the Democrats making it harder to vote and easier to cheat? It’s fear mongering.

RC: Well the law was enacted — look, the law was enacted —

RP: And it’s an interpretation of a law.

RC: The law was enacted to change someone’s voter status from active to inactive —

RP: It’s an interpretation of the law that even the courts have said is probably not a correct interpretation.

RC: — recognizing that in Colorado in particular we have a fairly transient population, people move around county to county, from neighborhood to neighborhood. And so when you go for four years without voting —

RP: Which many people do.

RC: Absolutely. And they are still entirely eligible —

RP: They are eligible voters.

RC: Exactly, they’re entirely eligible to vote, but they have to show up and vote at the polling place or take a small step of contacting their clerk’s office or going online or having the party committee hand them a form that they can sign and send in to be able to say, “I’m still living here, send me a ballot.” Yeah.

CS: That’s been on the books for some time but the convergence here is between that and the mostly all-mail and permanent mail-ballot elections, right? Is that something that needs to be resolved?

RC: We’re seeing an increasing change, trend towards that, but there’s going to be a lot of voters, whether that’s 20 percent or 30 percent, depending on the county or area, that are going to say, “I want to still vote on Election Day.”

RP: And they have the right to do that.

RC: Absolutely right.

RP: And the Democratic Party wants to ensure that, regardless of the mechanisms by which you vote, that you’re able to exercise your constitutional right to vote without impedance. And creating hurdles makes things more difficult.

RC: Colorado’s laws provide one of the easiest ways to — you can vote early, you can vote by absentee, you can show up on the polling place and vote.

RP: Do you agree that it’s creating a hurdle?

RC: No.

RP: That it puts a hurdle in place for people who are eligible to vote?

RC: It’s an appropriate balance in terms of not —

RP: But do you agree that it’s creating a hurdle?

RC: No I do not. I don’t think it’s —

RP: So going online or going to your county clerk or filling out a form is not an additional step that someone else who may have voted two years ago does or does not have to take?

RC: The law is designed to provide the appropriate balance of making sure that we’re maintaining the integrity of the voting list and not sending out a bunch of mail-in ballots to people that we don’t know if they’re still there or not. Now, clerk and recorders consciously send out postcards, they make all sorts of mailings and outreach. And if there’s no response from the citizen over a period of two or three or four years — you know, citizenship and the opportunity to exercise these rights comes along with it certain duties and responsibilities.

RP: Which is to register to vote, and these people have all registered to vote at some point in their life.

RC: And they are still registered to vote.

RP: But they’re no longer active, which means —

RC: They are still registered to vote. They are still eligible.

RP: — that if they checked off a box that says, “I want to receive a permanent mail-in ballot,” they will not receive a permanent mail-in ballot.

RC: That’s correct, because the law —

RP: And unless there’s some other definition of what the word “permanent” means, I think it should be fairly clear-cut that the Republican Party’s trying to put a hurdle in place to some voters.

RC: They’re checking the box, checking the boxes is in accordance with the laws of the state that says we’re going…

RP: The laws of the state that Scott Gessler is interpreting to his own will, that even the courts have said are probably incorrect interpretations.

RC: Well we’ll see what the court says on that, but the statute was enacted —

RP: Right, and until then the Democratic Party is going to continue to fight to ensure that, regardless of whether you’re a Republican or an unaffiliated or a Democratic voter, that you have an ability to go to the polls or get your ballot in the mail and send it back in, or early vote or absentee vote or whatever the case may be — that everyone who is eligible to vote has the same ability to vote without impedance.

RC: And that is something the Republican Party shares —

RP: Except when you don’t.

RC: — and we believe that nothing is impeding any eligible citizen who is registered to vote to cast that ballot or to request that ballot or to show up on the polls on election day and vote for their candidate of choice.

CS: One last question. Do you have a question for each other? Is there anything you would like to ask your counterpart, and vice versa?

RC: I think we’ve hashed it out pretty good.

RP: Yeah, I think so.

CS: One more, then, since we didn’t do that question? Do you get to spend some time outside politics, or for the next five months is that a fool’s errand?

RP: I do. I certainly find time to spend with family and with my partner and biking or skiing or just wandering, camping, hiking, whatever it is. So 90 percent of the time it’s politics but there’s some time where I have an opportunity to decompress and get away.

CS: Okay. Ryan, you’ve got a bunch of kids there?

RC: I do, and so you have to make time for it, for the daddy/daughter dates and for the —

CS: Is it hard?

RC: It is.

CS: They don’t let you just talk politics.

RC: No they don’t (laughs), and we try to do that, and we try to make sure that we plan for family time and we make family time. I’m taking my son camping this weekend after dragging him to a Lincoln Day Dinner, sorry, but that’s what you have to sort of do in some cases. And I find some balance by volunteering and teaching a Sunday school class on Sunday and helping out with the Boy Scouts occasionally or different things like that. And one of the other, I think, neat opportunities that Rick and I probably both have is, in this capacity, you get a chance to interact with some great civic organizations. You get invited to various events and community-oriented events and you see the good work of philanthropy and civic engagement on a whole host of things that aren’t just politics, but it’s giving back to the community. And that’s pretty neat to see too, so those are fun experiences.

CS: If anyone else is thinking about running for state chair, in one word, would you encourage them to do it?

RC: (Laughs) I don’t know if I’d wish this on anybody.

RP: (Laughs) I’m not sure that I would either.

RC: It’s very challenging but very rewarding too.

CS: Maybe in a state that isn’t the pivotal one in the nation and the most important election of our lifetime?

RC: That’s what makes this fun. If there was nothing sort of at stake, it’d be boring. That’s what makes things fun, competition.

CS: Thank you both too for coming by. I know you’re both incredibly busy, and we really appreciate you taking the time, sharing your thoughts —

RP: Of course. I’d say any time, but not any time. (Laughs)

— Jody@coloradostatesman.com
— Ernest@coloradostatesman.com



Stephens, Looper engaged in brutal battle

A Statesman InnerView with the GOP candidates in Colorado Springs’ contentious HD 19 primary

When Democrats drew legislative reapportionment maps that threw a number of incumbent Republican lawmakers into the same districts late last year, the House District 19 primary between Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, might have been the kind of no-holds-barred, intraparty smackdown they were envisioning. With the primary election still three months off, Looper and Stephens have been hurling charges and counter-charges at each other in a bid to represent the eminently conservative district, which covers northern and eastern El Paso County.

House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, stands in front of a large wall filled with historic campaign buttons at The Colorado Statesman offices last week.

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

While 27 legislative incumbents found themselves sharing a district with another incumbent — or two other incumbents in the case of a central Jefferson County House district — under the new boundaries adopted for the 2012 election, only Stephens and Looper are taking the rivalry to the voters. (Others are term-limited, chose to step aside or are running for higher office, leaving just one of the paired incumbents standing in the remaining districts.)

While the differences between the two candidates turn on questions they’ve raised about leadership, consistency and core political philosophies, the issue at the heart of the contest remains last year’s Senate Bill 200, a bipartisan, Stephens-sponsored bill that established a state health insurance exchange.

Stephens argues the legislation allows Colorado to set up its own rules, avoiding mandates it can’t control when federal health care reform takes hold in coming years. But Looper counters that the bill merely establishes a local version of “Obamacare,” dubbing the legislation “Amycare.” For her part, Stephens embraces the nickname and points to support from businesses and plenty of Republicans glad that Colorado got out in front of the question, though Looper isn’t ceding any ground and continues to point to SB 200 as a prime example of what she terms Stephens’ “liberal, left-leaning leadership.”

During a pair of wide-ranging discussions with The Colorado Statesman, Looper and Stephens talked about the legislative session, their political philosophies, and the primary campaign as this weekend’s House District 19 assembly and an anticipated June 26 primary election approach. Both are serving their third terms in office.

At the end of last week, Stephens and Looper joined Colorado Statesman editor and publisher Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning for separate, hour-long interviews in The Statesman offices. Stephens sat for an interview on the afternoon of March 15 and Looper joined The Statesman for a conversation on March 16. Stephens was accompanied by her campaign manager, Dustin Olson, who joined the conversation briefly near the end.

House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, points to a vintage Goldwater for President button among a large collection of political memorabilia on display at The Colorado Statesman offices on March 15 in Denver.

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The Statesman regularly conducts in-depth interviews with prominent political figures, including talks with Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont; House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch; Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs; and House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, as this year’s legislative session got under way. Find transcripts of The Statesman’s interviews with legislative leadership — along with dozens of other conversations with Colorado politicos — archived online at www.coloradostatesman.com/innerview.

Below are transcripts of The Statesman’s conversations with Looper and Stephens. They have been edited for length and clarity.

— Jody@coloradostatesman.com; Ernest@coloradostatesman.com

Colorado Statesman (CS:) How are things going?

Amy Stephens (AS:) They’re going well. Yeah, today — you know, crazy times. Tomorrow we have floor work and today we just did Senate amendments, so… And then we did thirds [third and final readings of bills]. And we’re moving on the calendar — there’s not much to the calendar, really. I mean, we’re moving that thing out and, again, budget comes in a week, Monday are the numbers. [Ed note: On Monday, the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting projected that state general-fund revenue would be $164.5 million higher in the next fiscal year than was forecast in December, potentially easing some of the tension over this year’s budget cuts.]

We’ll have a lot of stuff done by Monday prepared for budget time so we have the time that everyone needs to just really go through. You know, (Joint Budget Committee Chairwoman and state Rep.) Cheri (Gerou, R-Evergreen), and those guys are plodding along. And they’re actually getting a lot more 6-0 votes, really coming to consensus, so that’s a good thing. [Ed. note: The JBC’s six members prepare the budget item-by-item before sending it to the full Legislature.]

CS: Do you think it’ll be as easy as it was last time? What was it, 80 votes? [Ed. note: In 2011, the Legislature approved the budget by large, bipartisan margins.]

AS: Well, I think we have to see how their negotiations start out after we get the forecast on Monday, and where people kind of put their priorities, and then we’ll have to, as usual, always negotiate it.

CS: Yeah?

AS: But, you know, I think we reached it last year, and I see a lot more 6-0 votes, which tells me, OK, there’s some building more of consensus, which I think is very important.

CS: Is it a little easier this year? The pressure’s slightly off from where it was last year, with better revenue forecasts.

AS: A little bit. I think the question is again going to be, philosophically, you know? We’re going to have to decide — Republicans are going to — the Senior Homestead issue is a budget issue and it’s a Constitution issue. [Ed. note: Republican legislators have said they’ll oppose budget proposals by the governor’s office to suspend the Homestead Exemption, a provision that uses state funds to pay for a $100 million property-tax break for older residents who have owned their homes for at least a decade. It’s a budget-balancing measure that has been invoked by both parties in recent years.]

We have really settled that issue; it’s not a matter of, ‘Oh gee, might we like to…’ We’ve said to the voters, this is it. And so it’s not, ‘Oh gee, do you think we should, I don’t know, maybe not go to bat?’ You know, we just are answering — we have to fulfill this obligation and we’re not going to balance that, we’re not going to sidestep that this year. So we’ll have some differences of opinion.

CS: Do you really think you’ll get that through?

AS: Yeah, I actually think we’ll —

CS: — and that the governor will — ?

AS: The governor, well … (laughs) You know what, I think it’s going to be about trade-offs, as always that a budget is. You know, last year it was about that too. Last year we put the software tax on the table along with the Ag tax, right, and said, “Look governor we have to grow business, we have got to do this.” In fact, it’s so interesting, the Tech Association’s annual huge conference is tonight, and this is where we heard so many stories from the industry. It really is quite motivating. So, I would say that you’re going to look at Senior Homestead, we continue to have the 4-percent reserve, and I have to tell you, I think this was the right decision. [Ed. note: Last year, at Hickenlooper’s urging, the Legislature built up the state’s reserve funds above recent levels that had dipped during the recession.]

The governor was very strong about it — he said, “There’s no way on a 1.25 percent reserve you could do —” I think everyone agreed, the Speaker (House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch) and I agreed this is wise, you have to build that up, 4 percent is where we’re at right now, I think that’s fair. We are not State Education Fund, we need to have in that and that’s not — I think we have to see about that and be serious, I think, on some level, about the State Ed Fund. We can’t see it as shopping tool, ‘Oh gee we might have some money, why don’t we see what we…’ Again, if we care about education, we really do need to. So those are some of the things.

You talk about, OK, so here are some of the gives-and-takes, right? What are we going to do with that? And I have every confidence Cheri (Gerou) and the team are working on that. They really have been doing, I have to say, a really good job. A lot of 6-0 votes, a lot. You know, the prison issue, going to be huge, right? We’re going to – CSP II (Colorado State Penitentiary II), we’re going to do that. [Ed. note: This week, the Department of Corrections announced plans to shutter a wing of the Centennial Correctional Facility in Canon City dubbed CSP II, citing projected savings that top $13 million after one year.]

CS: Do you expect some good news tomorrow from the —?

AS: I’m waiting ‘til Monday, meaning on Monday as we
have —

CS: Tomorrow Gov. Hickenlooper and (Attorney General John) Suthers are talking about the settlement? [Ed. note: On Saturday, Hickenlooper and Suthers unveiled plans to spend Colorado’s $51 million share of a multistate settlement with mortgage lenders, including spending some $5 million to establish veterans’ housing at the former Fort Lyon Correctional Facility in Bent County.]

AS: They are.

CS: There’s some speculation some of that might go towards Fort Lyon?

AS: Yeah I know, but you know what? I already am expecting decent — I’m just saying, any time you and I always hear decent, even — I think, and I think Cheri and friends are probably right — I don’t think we should expect some on-budget forecast Monday. I think you’re going to see it flat, I think you’re going to see us just inching along.

OK, so I have to remind you of this, that (leading regional economist) Tucker Hart Adams, in my first year in ’07, we went to lunch when all the new legislators — as part of our new legislator lunch, right? And (former House Majority Leader) Alice (Madden, D-Boulder) gave the intro, and then, I’d never heard Tucker Hart Adams, I had not heard her. I was so blown away, and all of it, upset, because it was doom-and-gloom. Tucker Hart called it, and I’m telling you, per year, she called it right. And I remember going under the table after calling my husband going, “Are we OK? Do we have our investments?” (laughs) Because she was right on. But Tucker Hart actually said that we would start to inch at the end of 2011 and said it’s going to be up to this economy what we’re going to do. And I think we’ve seen, actually, that happen, but I say that we have to continue to be prudent. We must be prudent about this — really, we do.

CS: May I ask what the tenor is like over there? It’s been kind of an interesting session…

AS: Yeah.

CS: We’ve had some kind of outside issues, such as (state Rep.) Laura Bradford (R-Colbran) [Ed. note: Bradford briefly threw the Legislature into a turmoil last month when she threatened to switch parties after McNulty established an ethic panel to examine a traffic stop near the Capitol when Denver police called Bradford a cab rather than detain her on suspicion of drunk driving, citing an obscure constitutional provision.] And the fact that you guys [Stephens and state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan] have a primary is often mentioned. What’s your sense of the mood over there and the temperament of the caucus? Has it been a lot different this year?

AS: This year it’s different because you have freshmen who have a year under their belt and so they’re actually taking a breath and getting more feet on the ground and that’s both for the Ds and for the Rs. So it does mean that, I think, that people are a little more relaxed in their job, particularly as we talk about issues and voting. So I sense a more relaxed feeling, and I don’t think, I don’t sense a — We don’t feel, I don’t feel on my side contention, I don’t — even really on (House Minority Leader Mark) Ferrandino (D-Denver), and I talk with him a lot, I don’t sense a kind of contention. I sense people are focused on their bills and just kind of working those along.

So we continue to have some good humor. It’s probably been a more — I’m not going to call it muted, but a more prudent, maybe, session is the way — just because we’re really trying to clear through that calendar. We know we start the budget (in the House), and so we really spoke with Mark and their side about really moving our things through so that we all have time on budget negotiations. So I think we’ve been focused on moving these things along. Sure there’s disagreements on bills or — you know, those are still to come, right? We still have those, but that’s not different than any other year we’ve been here. I would just say, just more muted, it just feels a little — not as —

CS: Intense?

AS: Yeah, or just wild, or whatever. I just see it just very more muted.

CS: Is it a lot different working with Mark Ferrandino than it was (former Minority Leader) Sal Pace (D-Pueblo)? [Ed. note: Pace stepped down from the leadership position at the end of last year to devote more time to his congressional bid in Colorado’s 3rd CD.]

AS: No, actually. Both, for me, were very — were easy to work with. I think that Mark is different in that his budget background lends him, in a way — I think he has, not buyer’s remorse, but you know what, I mean, he misses the JBC.

CS: That’s kind of his expertise and his forte.

AS: It is, it is, as opposed to maybe this particular — But so he likes his fingers in a lot of… You know he’s always looking at fiscal things. So that’s a difference, that’s a big difference. Mark really loves those things.

CS: Likewise, how would you say it is this year working with Speaker McNulty?

AS: Mmm. (smiles) Well, Frank and I go back a ways, so we have a long history of friendship together. And I think he has tried to be sensitive too, of kind of the reality of our situation in terms of, yes that I’m thrown in a primary, obviously, and, yes, that we have a lot of our freshman members who also need my time, and a lot of my committee chairmen that I meet with regularly. So, I think, we’ve been fine and single-minded — We never — we get along that way, united in purpose, so to me, as long as things are running more smoothly and that he actually — we feel the same way: We have got to move this calendar so that everyone understands when budget comes around, all of our freshmen once again are informed, that they know what’s going on.

So we’re very united in purpose on that. He’s not as much how you get there, in terms of, are the trains on time, right? However the trains get there? I think the speaker feels good, do your job, and I also rely a lot on our team — BJ and Carol and Mark and Kevin (Majority Whip B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland; Majority Caucus Chair Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock; Assistant Majority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs; and Speaker Pro Tempore Kevin Priola, R-Brighton) all have played bigger roles this year, because all are in their job with a year under their belt. And so everyone is quicker, and so, I think, Mark has been a tremendous help to me, BJ counting votes. You know, really, people are off doing their jobs and it’s — I think much smoother to me this year and it’s much more helpful. Really makes life better.

CS: Do you feel that sometimes the speaker or the Republican caucus gets labeled as — I mean, the assessments by some in the media that the leadership isn’t this or it isn’t that, do you feel a little bit that the speaker is taking the brunt of some criticism that isn’t really fair?

AS: Well, I feel protective of the speaker because I know his motives and I know his heart and I know his commitment to this job. I’ve always found it rather interesting that we’ve had (former House Speaker) Andrew (Romanoff, D-Denver) and Alice (Madden) as speaker and majority leader and we had (former House Speaker) Terrance (Carroll, D-Denver) and (former Majority Leader) Paul (Weissmann, D-Boulder) — and no one ever — I never received that kind of question like you’ve just asked me. In other words, we never asked it of them, and I’d love to know why. And I would suggest it’s because, I think, it’s always, in a governance situation, sometimes easier to try to criticize Republicans.

We never heard criticism of Andrew of Alice, you never read anything like that. You never read any criticism of Speaker Carroll. And I find it really outrageous of the press to almost, in my mind, in some cases, be overly or unfairly critical. And I’d like to say, show me two other people who brought a majority for Republicans to Colorado, and at the heart of it you will see Frank McNulty.

And lest anyone doubt Frank’s agility or ability and his smarts and his ability to get things done, he can run circles — he’s smart, he’s capable, he just is. And I actually think in some cases he has been unfairly — you know, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t some days and I actually will say to you I never saw The Post do this to Andrew or to Alice or to Speaker Carroll or to Paul Weissmann, and I’d love to ask why. And I think, inherently, you will find a bias. [Ed. note: The Denver Post Editorial Board criticized McNulty in recent editorials.]

CS: Well, you’re not the first to say that.

AS: (Laughs) Well, I will be the first and last to say it, because, seriously, I think it’s outrageous, and I think that when you can’t think of anything else, people resort to the petty. And I find it petty. And I’m just saying, for the speaker, he has better things and a lot of things to do. But I think, sometimes I watch and some of that seems a bit juvenile to me.

CS: You know, you now have a year under your belt too as House majority leader. What have you learned from last year to this year?

AS: Well you guys did a really kind, I would say, more historic interview with me in my first (year), and I actually thought you captured the essence of the history of majority leader. And I feel a great sense of history about that because, as you know, when I prepared for the job or got the job, I didn’t just rely on my — I relied on both Ds and Rs to learn from. I called Alice and I talked to Paul, I called Norma Anderson, I called Scott McInnis, I talked to Tim Foster, I talked to all majority leaders prior to me. And I actually feel a greater sense, to me, of being dedicated to our members to make sure that — again, I’m big on mentoring, as is the speaker — and I think to the degree that you can be there for people, you know?

In other words you’re there to listen, you’re there to help them if they need it, you’re there to also just pat them on the back and encourage them. In my mind, I think that, to me, has become so important: To lead your caucus in a manner that speaks to the broader Republican issue across the state. So, in other words, the principles, right? Ferrandino’s the voice on his side, I’m the voice on our side, right? So that we speak to those issues. And I feel a greater sense of responsibility for that and also, at the same time, even a greater sense of responsibility to and for our caucus. And you know, remember, the speaker’s over both (sides of the chamber), speaker’s over all, a voice from my side means a voice on his side. And I just feel a greater responsibility for that.

CS: Does it make a difference in the primary that you’re the majority leader?

AS: Well I guess we’ll see on the 24th (laughs). [Ed. note: The Republican House District 19 Assembly takes place on March 24 at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs. Both Stephens and Looper are vying to get the support of at least 30 percent of the delegates to that assembly, which would move them onto the June 26 primary ballot.]

CS: Is that an argument that you’re making?

AS: I think, really, the issue of leadership to me, is a really strong question because it’s really, Jody, in a way what you brought up. In other words, are some things unfair or whatever? Listen, I’ve had to make a lot of tough decisions with the speaker. And I think in this new district — I have 75 percent of this new district, Marsha has 19.8 percent of this district. Marsha’s never been in a leadership position, not considered a leader by — you know, the peers didn’t elect her to that, she’s a vice chair of a committee… I’ve got freshmen who are vice chairs of committee. I mean, there’s quite a bit of difference.

I think that in this district, comprised of so many leaders, retired military, former JAGs, Special Ops, Marines, you know, entrepreneurs, heads of companies — this is a very unique district in that they don’t take things at face value. These are people that, when you meet them, they don’t just take the card that you hand out, they go online and look it up and they go online and look and see if what you told them —

CS: They’re engaged?

AS: Oh my goodness, they’re engaged. They fact-check you, and here’s the other thing, not only do they fact-check you but then they don’t like it they will speak, they will e-mail you. And, I mean, you remember, this district is the highest voter turnout in the state. These are people who are not passively just waiting for you to come up with something then they go, “Wow, hmm.” And our experience has been so tremendous, Jody, about this. I had a woman who was (an Air Force Academy political science) teacher, retired. Darling woman, came to a coffee. She asked a lot of questions. I mean, she didn’t want to dominate the group but she was Miss “I’d like to know about — I would like to know about — I’d like to —” Well OK, well, fine, talk.
And at the end of the coffee she told our team, “I’m with you. Not only did you answer every question,” but apparently she’d gotten some mail — Marsha’s done a lot of mail, she’s gotten a lot of mailers. She fact-checked. And she went, “This is the biggest ruse —” She was a poli sci teacher (at the Air Force Academy), but she really didn’t take kindly to wrong bill numbers, wrong years, but then just a mischaracterization. And so, to us, that was rather interesting, but she’s one of a number that really in that district, they don’t take it at face value. They really do research and look and they want to know, are you straight?

They also value leadership. And, really, in their minds as someone who brought us a Republican majority, keeping someone who will work with their caucus, with their party moving us forward, they really care about that, they really do. Now we’ll see, this is the man here. (Stephens gestures to her campaign manager, Dustin Olson.) I mean, we will see with the — you know, the perfect storms, right? Campaigns are all — you’ve outlined this all here, they’re all perfect storms. We’ll see how that lines up. But what we believe is that the support for us has been so tremendous, I just think that, we’ll just see.

CS: Part of your job that you touched on there is helping maintain a Republican majority in the House.

AS: Yes.

CS: What are your thoughts on that? It’s a completely different map in a number of respects this year. A lot of seats up for grabs that weren’t in previous years.

AS: Yes it is, I know.

CS: And a one-point majority?

AS: And a one vote majority.

CS: And a presidential year, where the turnout’s going to be a lot different than it was in 2010.

AS: It will, it will. Now, I think you and I know, that in our caucuses were filled to overflowing again. We weren’t sure, we really didn’t know — But I tell you, I mean we were at Falcon High School, seriously, room full of people out the door, everyone angry, “I came here…” You know, it was just amazing. In my mind, that’s going to be very big. Again, you’re talking the ticket and how I think in my party people realize we’re getting behind, you know, the guy that’s on the top of the ticket. We’re not going to take our toys and just — So, I think people are dedicated this way.

Secondly, new maps. The speaker and I think we have — we’ve got a number of good seats. I think that we will have some fights ahead because some were reduced, right, to slight margins, but then we got better in other districts — (state Rep. Daniel) Kagan’s (D-Cherry Hills Village) district, right? So that’s going to be important. But I will tell you, we’ve worked hard. I know The Post did this story of course, on all the Dem money, and I don’t think in any case you can ever outspend that. I mean unions and (the Colorado Education Association). Frank and I knew this in 2010 going into it. But there’s other things, like really good candidates, right? Good candidates and people who get out and ground game. But — knocking on the doors, I mean, who’s going to do the work? That, to us, is really key, and I think again you will see that key in this election.

CS: Do you see some prime pickup opportunities in some of the seats?

AS: Well of course. You know, we do have the extra seat in Douglas (County), right, so just start with one there, right? I do see that the Kagan seat, in terms of that one, changed significantly. But then again so did (state Rep. Don) Beezley and (state Rep.) Bobbie Ramirez’ seat (Republicans from Broomfield and Westminster, respectively). So you know, you have to see where it’s all going to shake out, right?

And I think that with the new maps there are pickup opportunities as long as people — as long as your current seats stay well and stay strong. And I don’t mean that for El Paso, I do mean — El Paso you’ll have Jennifer George in against (state Rep.) Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs). Now, that district changed. Jennifer George is well known down there and an attorney and sharp as a whip. That could be — But, again, I think the candidates themselves and, again, the perfect storm with the presidential and who turns out, there’s a lot of factors at play. We feel good, we feel good. We’re focused.

CS: So you’ve probably got a map somewhere that’s color-coded. (Stephens laughs.) Are you willing to make a prediction and we’ll check back in November and see how you did?

AS: (Laughing) I think I’ll wait, I think I’ll wait. Let’s wait ‘til session’s over, you know? But I think that we feel good. I will tell you, the speaker and I don’t take anything for granted, so we believe that hard work and the work on the candidates is really critical, and I think that’s critical.

CS: You’ll be losing some members because of reapportionment?

AS: Yes.

CS: Some folks have stepped aside rather than going to a primary.

AS: Yes.

CS: A question that comes up: why is there a primary in (House District) 19 when all the others manage to avoid one?

AS: You’ll probably have to ask Marsha that. You know, it’s terribly unfortunate. I’ll go back to the leadership issue — when you have 19.8 percent of the district, you might want to think about that and might want to think about what that entails. I think our other members are far more open to try to speak together. We attempted — I think there was no — you know, we’d asked, I think, for her to be considerate of the Supreme Court and what they might look at on maps, and then all of a sudden she’s out in the paper the next day putting her stake in the sand.

CS: Were you surprised?

AS: I was disappointed, I was very disappointed. It’s just, you know, again, I think it’s a difference in leadership. People ask you come to the table and let’s talk, versus stick a — “I’m just, off I go.” And you know, when someone’s like that I really don’t think there’s, there’s really not much one can do. I think if you look from the outside in, you kind of ask, “Why?” Because when you have a team that has actually brought your majority together and actually moving in the leadership manner…

But you know, you’d have to ask. Really, to be quite honest, I don’t spend my nights thinking about that in terms of — I’m focused on bringing us a majority. I’ve brought us a majority and that’s where my goals are, and really sticking with us moving Colorado forward.

CS: One real quick follow-up. Before you were in a primary — this is a question that’s kind of nagged at me — did you know that you and Marsha had so many things to disagree about?

AS: Well you know, I didn’t.

CS: There seems to be quite a bit now that’s at issue between the two candidates. Until there was a primary and had you thought of each other as particularly on opposite sides of a lot of issues?

AS: I think if you do the research you’d see that, again, I think most people don’t know, 60 percent of what goes on at the Capitol people just vote through, right, and it’s the 20 percent that becomes contentious or all you hear about. So I guess if you were to do a look at votes you might see per-year, per-year differences. Maybe not hugely — my own district can tell you (laughs), because they check. Well, you’ll see some striking differences on certain bills of opinion and then pretty much you’ll see a lot that perhaps isn’t. I don’t challenge Marsha’s conservatism. I’m surprised at her new conservatism, so to speak — these are all new things I’m rather — who knew, who knew some of these? I’m amazed because, given my background at Focus (on the Family), of having —

CS: Right. The way that you are portrayed in some arenas is that you’re a moderate — ?

AS: Yeah.

CS: Or a RINO (Republican-in-Name-Only), which is — I don’t think we’d have heard that before last year.

AS: I mean, no one’s buying that. No one’s buying it. I mean, it’s not passing the smell test and people — and it’s almost become laughable, right? And these are the people that I guess there are some who you’ll never — you’re never pure enough, never whatever. I think a lot of it’s just hyperbole to throw out, to see if it sticks.

CS: You don’t think it is sticking or hurting you?

AS: No. You know, here’s at thing: it’s so funny because I’ve run in so many conservative circles, even through Focus for so many years and Marsha Looper’s never been a part of any — if I’m going to know people in circles, believe me, I see them, right? She’s just been nonexistent so I’m just amazed that suddenly she was out in front of Planned Parenthood she says, years ago? Boy, this is amazing — these are all new revelations to me and new revelations to all the conservatives that we — because it’s a small town in the sense of you know really who’s in the game and who isn’t. So I’m rather amused by it all.

CS: Are you surprised that she’s allowed her campaign to do some of those things and make some of those charges, take it in that direction?

AS: I think when you will say or do anything to get elected — I mean, remember, you know, elected is at the end of the day, do you win — I think anything’s possible. And if they feel that this is the tack they must take as a campaign, “Wow, OK (sighs). Wow.” I don’t think — people that know me — this is why I think when you read some of these things, people in the largest part of that 75 percent or whatever that know me, and they’ll go — (makes dismissive noise) (laughs), you know? It’s a shocker, right, because seriously it’s so off the rails that people are having — they don’t believe it, they’re not buying — it’s not passing.

I find that, particularly in regards, as you’ve said, to (Senate Bill 11-200) and some of the other issues, that when they hear really the protections and what is going on, they, “OK, thank you, settled. OK, we get it,” right? And remember that last year there was not that opportunity in the middle of session, right? I mean in terms of an education campaign, right? You couldn’t be out every night going, “Here’s the…” And again depending on how the media treated all of that, again, there wouldn’t be enough days, right? But again, when you’re with delegates it’s far more one-on-one, it’s a different thing.

I think we have been successful at the end of the day with many voters to say, “Look, here is the issue,” and I think as time goes on today’s story — Mississippi creating an exchange, protect the state, built-in things through — [Ed. note: Last week, Mississippi moved ahead with the creation of its own health insurance exchange, similar to the one adopted by Colorado last year, even as the state continues to fight implementation of federal health care reform.] I think that as we see the Obamacare mandate, you know, slips and surprises about that, more people go, “Well thank God for Senate Bill 200,” because we did put our own Colorado protections in place. And I thought it was amusing that Mississippi said, “We’re going to do Mississippi Solutions and Mississippi Answers because we know healthcare better than the federal government” (laughs). That’s what we said, obviously, that’s what we said, and I’m very sure (Mississippi Gov.) Haley Barbour probably looked and went, “OK, I’m going to be looking at what Colorado did and then I’d better get going.” Because, you know, Barbour believed the same as, I think, many of us, is we’d better do something for us specific for Colorado.

CS: Right. I saw your op-ed was in The (Denver) Post a couple of weeks ago.

AS: Yeah.

CS: Were you trying to backtrack any part on that?

AS: No.

CS: Because you were very critical —

AS: Well I’m highly critical of Obamacare and stand with Suthers to defeat it. I mean, I wrote, I did a bill last year to opt us out of Obamacare so we could do some block grants to be able to handle that. And remain an even worse critic of it now that rules and regs and other things seem to be coming out and you say, this thing’s just going to blow up. We need reforms that don’t take 1,200 pages on one reg and then 2,000 (pages) for the bill. I think even to talk to our health carriers and businesses, it’s just become so convoluted. We will see — I know Suthers is fighting hard on that and I support him every step of the way.

CS: OK. You were talking about the difficulty last year with educating voters about SB 200. Do you wish you’d done it differently and gotten out there, so that it wasn’t so easy to caricature and didn’t turn into such a tempest in El Paso County? [Ed. note: Strife over the Stephens-sponsored bill led to a rift in the El Paso County GOP, including the very public resignation of a party officer last fall.]

AS: I think if you’re going to lead and you’re elected to be the leader, then you’re going to take some hits and you are going to — nothing is going to be easy. If you are the general, so to speak — maybe Frank’s the general, I don’t know (laughs), we’ll let him think he’s the general. Anyway, if you are, though, you’re called — you know, I could have used my position to pressure, right? I never once did, ever, because to me this was an issue of vote your district and vote your conscience, right, for members.

I understood the pressures people were under. I also understood at the end of the day the way this was written was in a manner that would so protect Colorado. And at the end of the day, instead of having the small business market and individuals thrown into some federal exchange that they have no control over, if that was to be their option, right, to me was unconscionable. And I think even when we had votes as far back as ’08, when we were looking at the Centennial Health choices that would have been universal healthcare, remember, which my opponent voted for — which would have been a mandate —

CS: Marsha’s Mandate? [Ed. note: The day of the interview, the Stephens campaign sent an email to supporters blasting the 2008 vote as “Marsha’s Mandate.”]

AS: Marsha’s Mandate, which would have been on every person — your eyes begin to open and go oh my gosh, what does that really mean? And I will tell you if it meant us not being thrown into — I would do it all over again. Now was it painful? Is it hard because of the human side of you to be caricature or when people — really, I think, some people lost all sense of, just, propriety and I think we would probably say some people got really a bit crazy I think. That’s a fair — On the other hand, the business community was so fabulous and the healthcare rallied and said, “This is the right thing. We do not want to be thrown into something like this, and we want choice for Colorado, we don’t want to be told how we’re going to do it.”

You know, I actually think my mistake, Ernest, was in assuming that it was common sense but that not in assuming that the word “exchange” could have been so politicized and volatile that it lost reason in the argument. Had I called this The Small Business Connector (laughs), we might have been better off. I think there are some ways that one could actually educate at the same time and I think that because we were under the pressure, in terms of states need to have something looking and in place so that by 2013 you’ve a reasonable amount of time to get something done. I actually think a lot of people didn’t know, they didn’t understand, which was why it was so easy to mischaracterize.

So we — I think, yes, on those ends probably you could have had a parallel track, as I think some people do. But on the other hand, I do think that I’m elected to lead — that’s my job. I don’t shy away or shrink away from it, I would do it again. Because, politically you could take the easy way out. People begged, “Sit on your hands, do nothing, take the easy way out. This’ll politically hurt you, this will kick —” You know, Jody, I mean you’ve known me for how long?

CS: Yeah.

AS: But this is not my style and that’s not who I am. And if I believe that if this is the course of action we had to do, then I will do it and I would do it and that didn’t mean it was easy or fun (laughs) or painful or difficult. It tests every bit of leadership skills, or, even, it tests you in ways you probably didn’t think it could. But I don’t think anything worth it, at the end of the day, when I read some of the things that are coming out and then I hear (state Rep.) Bob (Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, who chairs the legislative oversight committee concerned with implementing the exchange), or the Exchange people say, “Not us. Thank you very much, not us, because we will choose for Colorado what is the best thing to do. Thank you very much but we’ll determine what we’re going to do.”

And when I hear that from the board members or the governor or my caucus — then I go — And Bob Gardner has been, as you know, he voted no. That he has said on more than one occasion, thank God, because he really, he has seen the wisdom of the way we set this up. And I just have to say, it’s a great question and I think at some point — I’ve had people from D.C. come to me and say, “We’ve watched you, we’ve watched what you did, it’s a story unto a story. We actually have encouraged other states to model you.” I think Mississippi’s answer today is kind of funny, but I do believe that they saw what took place here and said, “Under every opportunity you did what was the right and the best thing we could do.” So “Amycare” is “Amycares” (laughs).

CS: Are you embracing the term?

AS: I always actually did. I kind of always laughed about it, actually, because Frank and I would always say, “Yeah, Amy cares about Colorado. Amy cares about small business.” And, you know, listen, I just again, Dustin and I can only go by what we’re seeing now with people going — They check it out, and when they learn they just go (shrugs), you know? And then all the other stuff seems so ridiculous, right? You know, rationed healthcare, abortion — it’s so ridiculous to people that, once you understand what we did, that they just shake their heads and it kind of just rolls off. It just rolls off.

CS: The dust is going to settle in another year or two?

AS: Yes.

CS: Everything, the exchange will be up and running and we’ll see how it’s working, be able to fine tune?

AS: Right.

CS: Whatever happens, is this going to be an important part of your legacy?

AS: Boy, that’s a good question. Well you know, yes, I — with or without, I guess so. I didn’t think that at the start of the year (laughs). When I ran the bill, understanding that I knew it was important, I didn’t see that it would go as big as it did.

But I also will tell you that I think part of that legacy too will have been school safety, with Safe2Tell, it’s huge to me. It’s impacted me just with kids and teens, that school safety’s going to be, I think, for me. I think you’ll always see the software (tax repeal), the Amazon (tax), the Dead of the Night, [Ed. note: Stephens worked to undo a set of tax and fee hikes put in place by the previous, Democratic-controlled Legislature] — all that stuff as very big and trying to have done something. And having reversed the software tax, in my mind, carrying that bill was huge. Because of all the software people I spoke with, in my mind, them saying, “Look this is the difference between us moving here or not,” or, “We’ll sign a contract over here with my entrepreneurs and start up.” In my mind, why would we not, right? I mean that’s huge. And the other one, which I think is very important also, was my first — remember my Illegal Crime Bill? That people were victimized but never got their day (in court)?

CS: Exactly.

AS: And in my mind, for crime victims, this was — and that was my first year in a hugely Democrat-controlled legislature and signed. And remember we called it — oh, what — I think (former Rocky Mountain News and current Denver Business Journal reporter Ed) Sealover called it, like, the Little Bill That Could, or, you know, in other words I was sent to committee to committee to committee and Ed would meet me there and go, “I can’t believe you’re on the third committee.” And for some reason that thing just kept passing out, there was no rhyme or reason. But we laughed at the end, but I will tell you now that people can get, on some level, a day in court, that were victimized, in my mind, is huge. So I think on those three levels, that’s what you’ll see.

CS: Part of your public persona is someone who has come to the Legislature with a career at Focus on the Family before that, and you’ve got Men of Faith, Women of Faith coalitions put together for your campaign. The story of how you came to your faith has always been a fascinating one, and I’m wondering, are you getting the chance to tell that to a lot of people on the campaign trail?

AS: You know, I do. Someone reminded me the other day that a generation has gone by, because I left Focus in ’01 or 2000, I don’t even know. (Stephens’ son) Nick was 8, now he’s 19. OK, so… And I did, because I traveled so much and Nick was, we felt, at a really critical age. And you know how moms, at the time, I mean I had a lot of great work and I loved my work but I love, obviously, my son more. And I really supplemented a lot of my time with — I did outgoing soldiers at Fort Carson on family issues and went with Air Force Academy on some of that and then I did juvenile justice federal grants and then some non-profit grant writing. And so you know, like all moms that want to spend some time, you kind of supplement and do that and that to me was one of the most — being with Nick and actually getting through those middle school, those times to me was huge. It was very, it was just great, because then he got to start to know who he — you know, middle school for kids is so hard, right?

And so I got to transition him then into high school and that’s the time (former state Rep.) Lynn Hefley was termed out and talked to me about thinking about running. And I was not sure, I was conflicted at first because Nick was 12, going to be 13, going in to — But we really, (husband) Ron and I felt that was super important. And I actually think that I had a great opportunity.

Let me switch for a second. When I was at Focus, I always encouraged us to get outside four walls because I think people are always where it’s at. So if you are just impacting or being with people — and I have a lot of people — my office is a revolving — people come in all the time and they trust you or they share with you. I just had the best opportunity to love on people, to be kind, to help. If they say, “Look, I need some time off,” or, “This is happening in my family,” well, that’s fine, OK. And that, to me, is more important than — what is it, do your thing privately, not for show, so to speak?

In other words, this has been a really great place no matter what side of the aisle you are on to meet and to be with people because, to me, humanity has no R or D beside it, it’s humanity. And it’s people’s humanity that make this job to me so exciting. And that you meet all kinds of characters, right? And really some decent people, right, and some people that you just kind of — I always find it amusing, I’m sure all of you say you’re going to write a book some day about it all, right? Because Jody, you’ve seen enough where, I’m sure no one would believe it, and they would think — You say, I couldn’t make this up, right?

CS: Yeah, yeah.

AS: And so what the interesting thing about that is that it’s for a snapshot in time. I’ve always understood that this is what this snapshot is in time. And your ability to enjoy, to be with, to encourage — whether they’re lobby people or whether they’re my own members, you know, “Where are you in life?” “Oh, I don’t know.” “Well have you ever thought about going back to school? You should really do that and get…” And being able to live one’s faith just maybe on a practical (level) without — You know, I’m part of the Prayer Caucus and until, well, until I became majority leader, I mean, I would go to the Bible study. I wasn’t always there, but I enjoyed, you know, just talking, learning your faith, whatever. But to me that’s not to me the essence about faith because faith, to me, is what I said to you about, it’s amazing grace.

You know, for whatever people thought about George Bush II, the one thing I always liked about George Bush No. 2 is that guy understood where he was from, you know? That he needed a savior, needs a savior and feels grateful every day to be waking up going, “Hey, I’m here today.” And in my mind that, to me, is just so important, right? To me, it’s amazing grace and I’m just so glad to be on board. And I have no illusions of — I might be criticized, I’m a realist about what we are doing in our Legislature, I think I’ve tried to be prudent with bills that will go to both houses. But, you know what, people are always armchair quarterbacks, but it’s different when you’re here and you live it, right? And so anyway, that’s where I’m at. Actually, maybe it’s getting older and —

CS: Wiser?

AS: (Laughs) Exactly. Well, let’s hope wiser, on some level.

CS: Has your schedule been really crazy? I don’t know how you do the Legislature and your leadership role and then the campaigning. And your family?

AS: Ask Dustin. (Laughs)

CS: How does that all work? Plus the fact that we have all this stuff going on during the session, which we haven’t had before in terms of the moved-up calendar. Is it crazy? I’m sure you’re busy?

AS: (Choking back tears) I tear up because I think the loss of my father was so huge, you know, this February — was really a huge loss. He was my hero, he was everything. But we knew he was going downhill, so if I’d say, what was the hardest, obviously, you know, losing your hero, who was every day such an encourager. You know, he would call me when he lived in D.C. and — oh, you’ll laugh about this, but you know he was in the FBI, so he was always worried about security at the Capitol (laughs). It was always on his mind. But he would call me so many days and just talk and laugh and just say, “Just get out there and get it going.” You know, he was just such a — so amazing.

And then he moved back to Hong Kong, Hong Kong was his love, and I said, “Dad, are you sure?” He said, “I’m sure. I’m freer in Hong Kong than you guys are here.” “OK dad, whatever makes you happy.” But you know, he lived his life, he just had a fabulous life. More fun than I think a human’s allowed to have, but he did, had more fun. And to me — I will tell you, and I don’t know if your parents have, if you’ve lost your parents, but in a way — so you’ve asked me, “Well how’s session?”

There may be my view on session and then there may be everyone else’s, but time stops sometimes, and you go, “Whoa, I’m in slow motion.” But when I came home I was so much more focused because I could be at peace with how we buried him, that it was honoring and all the people that turned out were so lovely. The legacy he left. And I guess it’s why I say to you why people are so important to me and, like him — there was a family with a boy, a young man in a wheelchair, I did not know them. I’d heard about him, he was going to go to University of Scotland, 19, just like my son’s age. He was at a going-away party for him, tripped over something and broke his neck and is in a wheelchair. Didn’t want to live, didn’t want to — My father flew to Thailand, where he was in rehab, a couple of times, met with him, said, “Look, you are brilliant. This isn’t going to keep you. You need to get in the FBI, you need to do these things.” And this boy rebounded, and I met him at the funeral.

And to me — so when we talk about a snapshot in time and how one impacts people, oh my gosh why not, right? To me that was the most of humanity, and this boy was so kind about him and just said how much that meant — and his parents. I really am taking vitamins, mega vitamins (laughs), I am. I take vitamin B, I try to take a lot of vitamins, I try to get sleep, although, as you know, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night going, “Oh, this bill…” you know? I juggle a lot of things anyway, I always have, but I think that, if anything’s worth it, you should do it.

And it’s ironic, I think — and I don’t know if it was a sign — you asked about why did you get in? Well, the last thing I got from my dad was a card and a campaign donation from him. And after he had passed away, it showed up in my mailbox. He had mailed it and then passed away. And, he just wrote the sweetest note. And it just, to me, it said, “You know what, you’ve got to just give it your best.” And really, I think Dustin and I, we talk about that, you give it your best. You work hard, you do what you do.

Listen, I think people get leadership they deserve and what they want and so I really am — I don’t know, Dustin, I guess we’re more at peace with things, aren’t we? I mean I really have no — I really — I mean, honestly, I just don’t worry about things. I just know that life goes on, and I’ve seen a lot of people that – oh, you’ve seen this. People that just put all — this was everything, and I think that’s kind of the hardest — You have to really have a very balanced approach, I think, about what’s real and what isn’t. I’ve met fabulous people here and throughout the nation, I feel grateful but if this ended, this isn’t the end for me. I mean, there’s life (laughs), there’s things to do. And I learned that from my dad, no matter where he was, just a character. So it’s always still — God, we’re not even a month away from the funeral, but it is very fresh to me and very tender and so I think I had a few weeks there of slow motion. But coming back, I think, the sense of just who met and the peace with which we buried him was good.

CS: Is there anything else that you want to mention that — It looks like you’ve got a good campaign person here.

AS: (Laughs)

Dustin Olson (DO): Yeah, I’ve been doing campaigns. Actually, we first met in 2002, I was doing some campaigns in El Paso County, so it’s been 10 years ago.

AS: And we know his sister, his sister was always a precinct person, and then her husband — I met them. We’d always be doing the phone calls together over at — You know, their family’s had a long history of involvement in the party.

Well, you know, I think at the end of the day this really is — I’ve certainly been surprised by some of that, you know, the mudslinging to the point of really, we think, outrageous. People do not have that kind of appetite. You see it even in Santorum, you know the Gingrich/Romney, people just are, “Look you know really, come on. Now I know we have some differences here…” But at the end of the day, I think people see, how do you carry yourself, how do you lead, do you flip-flop on things? You know, are you for something before you were against it, right? Or do you pull your name off bills because (whispers) “I’m in a primary,” you know? “Got to look conservative!” (Chuckles and sighs.)

CS: When you see Marsha at the Capitol, is it strange? Are things tense?

AS: Well I don’t speak with her, you know? In terms of, I’ve not had the opportunity nor do we have to really. I don’t worry that Marsha’s off on the rails on — you know, everyone’s voting, right? When I’m looking at 33 votes and what’s important, I understand. She’s a professional, one behaves professionally on our floor and does what you do. You know, I’ve seen it with Democrats to, it’s either side — we have a job to get done, we need to get the job done. And certainly we have very different people that surround us in our campaigns and I’ve got a real group of happy people around me — they’re happy, they’re positive (laughs), they’re forward-thinking. They go to a coffee, they meet me, they’re like, “Hey, can I come to the office and go volunteer?” These are people that you know, we have food, we laugh.

I have to tell you, we’re not in angst, OK? I’m not — we really are not. What we want to do is make sure our guy gets to be president and that we grow the majority and that we help the Senate grow theirs. And you know, that’s where we’re at. And the people that are in my district, really, I mean, when we talk leadership, they feel the same. They’re very forward-thinking and you know, a county assembly’s so different from a primary.

CS: Absolutely.

AS: I mean, it just is — and so I just believe and have to believe. But again, we could all be surprised. So, like I say to you, if angry whatever is the mode of the day, well, fine. You know, I think the truth of Senate Bill 200 will be very clear and is becoming more clear by the day. And with guys like Gardner and others that are engaged in it, it’s so clear. So, anyway, I want to thank you.

CS: Thank you so much.

*Marsha Looper InnerView also on the website*



Colorado Statesman (CS:) How are things going?

Marsha Looper (ML): I believe, in spite of all of the challenges that we’ve had to deal with this year, I think the session’s going well. We’re passionate about our issues and that’s why we’re all here, is to represent the issues that are important to our district. And so, I’m sure that the rest of the session will be just as exciting, and I look forward to it. Yeah.

(CS): OK. Well, you’re in a primary, and probably what we’re ranking as the top primary in the state this year — it’s certainly the most engaged so far. There were a number of incumbents drawn into the same districts and yet yours is the only one that went to a primary. How come you guys are having a primary?

ML: Well, I’ve had the honor to represent House District 19 for the past going on six years, and so, many of the issues that I had — many of the issues that were important to our district prior to reapportionment are some of the same issues that are important to the new reapportioned and new district. And so I announced back in July, and I believe that I’ve done a very good job for the constituents of my district, and I felt it was important for me to run for reelection for House District 19 and to continue the conservative voice for the district.

As you know, House District 19 is one of the most conservative, and El Paso County is one of the most conservative counties in the state, and so I’ve had the honor over the last couple of years to be one of the most conservative legislators from El Paso County, and this year’s no different. So the values of protecting life, of minimal government, traditional family values, individual responsibilities — those values I believe are extremely important to the families, the individuals, the voters of my district. And so, if I have the honor — and I’m working very, very hard to earn their support — I would be honored to serve them for a final year in the House of Representatives, continuing to bring the district to the right, to the conservative direction.

State Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, stands in front of a large wall filled with historic campaign buttons at The Colorado Statesman offices last week.

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

CS: How do you think the campaign is going?

ML: Oh, great question! I personally think it’s going well. We have been working very, very hard. We have had many town hall meetings, we’ve had — I’ll go home during the week and there’ll be a meeting at somebody’s home, a coffee meeting, we’ll talk about the issues that are important to them and the values and the principles that I hold dear and that they hold dear. And so those meetings have gone very well.

CS: What are you hearing from constituents and from — I assume you’re visiting some of the new parts of the district?

ML: Well yeah, absolutely.

CS: What are you hearing that’s different from what you heard out in the old parts of the district? Different concerns or — ?

ML: The concerns are primarily the same. They want government out of their lives, they want a legislator who is going to limit the size, the scope and the power of not just the federal government but the state government and the local government as well. They are burdened with high taxes and high fees and they need a break. And they are disappointed that there is a continued assault on their constitutional rights. And so what I’m hearing from almost every meeting that I go to is that we need to continue to have somebody like you up there who will try to repeal some of these big government programs, try to limit the amount of taxes and the amount of fees that we’re paying. We need that voice up there, we need that conservative voice. And that’s been pretty much consistent throughout even the new house district.

CS: Do you feel like you’ve been at a disadvantage because less of your old district is in the new district?

ML: I have to tell you that the existing House District 19 is a great house district to represent. I have had the honor and I have met some wonderful people, worked on some really important policy. Policy that helps our soldiers and their families both in regards to getting jobs, their education and then protecting our water supply. Water’s a big issue in the old district and the new district. And so since the issues are primarily the same, our message has been very well received because those are fundamental principles that even the new district — those concepts in the new district are heavily embraced.

State Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, talks politics with The Colorado Statesman in their office on March 16 in Denver.

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

CS: Do you find that you run into your primary opponent at a lot of functions or different functions or do you mostly see her just at the Capitol?

ML: You know, I have the honor to work at the Capitol and represent House District 19 and I would say 99.9 percent of the time I see my opponent at the Capitol. And very little do we see — I’ve not seen her, I don’t recall, at all, on the campaign path at all.

CS: But it must be kind of a crazy schedule for you?

ML: Oh, it’s a wonderfully exciting schedule (laughs).

CS: You phrase it so nicely (laughs).

ML: I love my job, I enjoy representing the citizens of House District 19. And I couldn’t think of a better job to have, to have their trust and their honor and to be their voice on their issues. And so I get great comfort and I get a great deal of energy from just that.

CS: You are at the Capitol, though, with Majority Leader Stephens five days a week — ?

ML: Yes.

CS: Are things tense?

ML: You know when I’m in the Capitol it is my job to represent the district and to put partisan politics and keep those politics, let’s just say, outside of the building. And so for me, because I take my job extremely serious, I think the citizens, the voters of House District 19 would expect no less of me. And so I keep those issues of the campaign outside of the building. And when I get back home and I’m back in my house district and it’s campaigning time, I campaign very, very hard. And so it’s not been difficult for me, because I understand my job.

CS: It has been a really hard-fought campaign.

ML: Um-hmm.

CS: There’s press releases, brochures, ads, cease-and-desist orders flying back and forth. Had you expected it to get this … spirited? Is that the right way to describe it?

ML: I think that’s the purpose of primaries, is to give the voters a true picture of who I am and how I am much different than my opponent. And some of those differences are, well my opponent is running legislation that embraces the federal government, whether it be (health insurance) exchanges for “Obamacare,” whether it be the 1365 Cap and Trade bills, OK? I’m running legislation to oppose those types of government programs and then going to the mic constantly and fighting for freedom and liberty and less government intrusion. So I think it’s my job as a candidate to explain what I’ve been working on and my commitment is to stick to the facts, and that’s what I stick to, is the facts, on the campaign.

CS: What about your opponent? Do you think she’s stuck to the facts or her campaign is — or her supporters?

ML: Well, you know, there were some false charges about an immigration bill that I worked on back in 2008. And I can tell you that the greatest compliment that I’ve had is the endorsement of Tom Tancredo. I mean, when Congressman Tancredo endorsed me, I mean, that sent a message to the district that Marsha is serious about cracking down on illegal immigration. You know, Marsha is not running legislation to bring illegals to the state. And so I am honored that I received the endorsement of Congressman Tancredo and I believe that speaks volumes itself.

CS: You’re a professional at the Capitol, but have you changed your opinion of Amy Stephens? Did you expect it to be like this, an intense primary?

ML: My first primary I had in my first run for office, I had a primary and so I was introduced to that at that time in my life. And I never wanted to run for office in the first place. It landed on my lap in a letter of condemnation for a private toll road, OK? And so, for a year and a half prior to even thinking I was going to run for office, I was fighting the bureaucracy up here.

CS: Yeah, I remember that.

ML: I was fighting the politicians who wanted to steal our private property rights and give them to another company. And so this primary that I’m in currently is no different, it’s a primary that’s a difference of opinions, a difference of values and principles. And my record is very clear. I have a proven track record on my conservative votes. The Colorado Union of Taxpayers, as you know, has scored us — they’ve scored the Legislature every year since 1976 — and this year I was the most conservative in the House of Representatives from El Paso County, and my opponent is down there at the bottom voting 50 percent of the time with the other party. And so I have a proven track record — the Republican Study Committee of Colorado has given me a B and gave my opponent an F. And so on values and principles that are extremely important to the Republican Party and to the district that I have the honor to represent, I believe that I walk the walk.

CS: Before you found yourself in a primary, which was back in July when you declared, when you announced that you were running back in July and again in November said, “We’re in this,” you didn’t know you were going to be in the same district as Majority Leader Stephens — I think that came as a real surprise to a lot of folks where some of those lines fell. Before that became clear that you were both going to be in 19, did you know that you disagreed with her about that much? Have you been at odds with Rep. Stephens before this?

ML: Oh yes. Oh, yes, yes. Yeah, clearly, House Bill 1365 and then last year the following bill, because 13 — you know, I challenged 1365. And so there was a bill that was ran the following year and I opposed that bill as well and my opponent supported it. Senate Bill 200 is another example. You know, I opposed that last year and this year I ran legislation to repeal it (laughs) and it died in the Senate.

CS: Right. But that did get support by the business community, some members of that and some Republicans.

ML: Um-hmm. It did.

CS: Do you think that shows that perhaps someone who could work with coalitions might be beneficial to the district, or do you think that’s kind of selling out a little bit?

ML: That’s a great question. My role as a state legislator representing House District 19 is to represent the constituents and not special interest, not big businesses. But my job is to represent the citizens of the district. And I can tell you that 99.9 percent of the constituents in my district opposed Senate Bill 200. They are adamantly opposed to Obamacare and they see that Senate Bill 200, because it established the Colorado Exchange, ushered in Obamacare and all of the regulations that we see now that we see now that are coming out from (the federal Department of Health and Human Services) — all those regulations that accompany that. And so, she had great opposition in the district — I believe if we were not reapportioned into the same district anyway, she had constituents that were going to run against her.

CS: She still had a primary – [Ed. note: Retired Air Force Major Gen. Gar Graham was an announced Republican candidate against Stephens but dropped his bid after the first of the year.]

ML: Right, and so that speaks volumes about how she strayed away from the principles and values of what were important to the district.

CS: And do you think the people in the district recognize that? Do you hear a lot about that?

ML: I can tell you probably one of the biggest conversations that we have most often when we have a town hall, Senate Bill 200 always comes up. Senate Bill 200, Obamacare, the regulatory framework, and then the taxes and fees that accompany that. Because many of the citizens, many of the families in my district see that the American dream is slipping away from them, that their children and grandchildren will never have the opportunity for prosperity that we did.

Because they see not just are their taxes going up because of health care, but then you’ve got 1365, OK — those utility fees, those utility rates. Now, they project that because of 1365, utility rates will go up by 24 percent over the next 10 years. And then job losses and then food costs go up. So it’s very clear to me that not just the citizens of House District 19 are concerned but I would say statewide. And I as a mother and a grandmother am very concerned that we’re losing our freedoms and liberties, and we need to stand up and say we need to stand up and fight for those principles that our founding fathers fought for.

CS: Do you consider yourself part of a movement?

ML: Well you know, I was grassroots before grassroots was popular — when we were fighting the toll road, OK?

CS: And (former state Sen.) Tom Wiens (R-Castle Rock) was involved.

ML: Yes! Remember when we were fighting the toll road there were 1,800 people that came up —

CS: To the Capitol?

ML: — to the Capitol. Right, right. And so I believe that the grassroots movement has always been there, and I am honored to have the endorsement of the El Paso County Tea Party, and I’m honored to have the endorsement of the 9-12 Patriots and the El Paso County Budget Reform Coalition, because that signals to me that I’m on the right path. I am on that path of limited government, individual responsibilities, freedoms and liberties. And in my view, when there are additional regulations and additional taxes, that chips away at our freedoms and liberties.

CS: It sounds like El Paso County, which I don’t think anyone would disagree is one of the most Republican counties in the state. Douglas County would say maybe they are —

ML: Yeah, but we are! (laughs)

CS: El Paso’s the original, since before anyone even lived in Douglas (laughs). But there’s primaries just bursting out all over in El Paso. There’s (state Rep. Janek) Joshi (R-Colorado Springs), (state Rep. Larry) Liston (R-Colorado Springs) has one, it looks like (U.S. Rep.) Doug Lamborn is going to be facing one too, and a lot of them are along similar lines. It’s the candidate who could be viewed as more establishment or more, perhaps, willing to compromise, and one who isn’t. What accounts for that this year? You live there, so give us some insight —

ML: Well, I believe that the families in House District 19 — I can only speak to House District 19, and I can only guess that this is consistent for most of El Paso County — that they want a voice at the Capitol who’s going to defend life. They want a voice who is going to limit the size of government, limit taxes and fight these special interests that seem to take over when the session starts. And I believe people are sick and tired of electing politicians who are not representing them but representing special interests and big government. And so the contrast is real, the contrast is there and I think it is exciting that the voters of El Paso County will have some clear, contrasting choices in this upcoming election: Either a true conservative who has a proven conservative record or a moderate, and some would call a progressive, in the raceTed .

CS: Who’d have thought (laughs) that El Paso was being represented by progressives all these years —

ML: Well I think the voting records are there. It is an interesting year in El Paso County, but it’s an interesting year in the state.

CS: Isn’t it?

ML: Don’t you think?

CS: Yes.

ML: And I think being effective and — being conservative and being effective are extremely important to the citizens of House District 19. I’ve worked with many constituents throughout the years on water policy, military policy, small business policy, putting a hold on EPA, OK? Ran that resolution last year, put a hold on the EPA regarding some massive regulations that are coming down toward water and this year actually running the bill that says, “No, the General Assembly has to chime in on any of these expensive regulations that at the end of the day are going to cost the citizens of the State of Colorado.”

CS: Sen. (Abel) Tapia (D-Pueblo) said that he brought the immigration bill to you because you weren’t Tom Tancredo, that you were known as someone who could work across the aisle and was a moderate voice on a number of issues, looking for solutions and not ideology. Was he wrong?

ML: You know, I enjoyed and it was an honor to work with Senator Tapia. My style is — it’s still conservative but I don’t think we have to be unprofessional. And House Bill 1325, that Senator Tapia and I worked on, had more enforcement and more oversight than anything else in that bill and so, for me to be able to explain how important that wasm and for Senator Tapia to understand, for me was monumental. And I have no regrets from running that bill. That was a great bill — our farmers needed legal workers here. And for my opponent and their supporters to make it anything else, I think that’s shameful. Because, at the end of the day, if we don’t have legal agricultural workers here, then that food will rot. You know, it’s going to rot in the fields, it’ll rot in the orchards. And we will not have any domestic security because without our food supply we have nothing (laughs). And so it was an honor to work with Senator Tapia. And that wasn’t the only bill that Senator Tapia and I worked on — we worked on the Fountain Creek Watershed Bill, OK? And that ended up moving Colorado Springs and Pueblo down the path on an agreement for SDS, right?

CS: Who thought that would ever —

ML: Rep. Looper and Sen. Tapia, right? (Laughs)

CS: Yeah.

ML: And the coalitions that we were worked with thought it was going to take four, five, six, seven years to get a bill passed. But I work really hard to understand the concerns that my Senate sponsors have. I stick to my guns. But if there’s a way to alleviate those concerns and still move the issue forward and get something done, I’m relentless when it comes to that. And because of the Fountain Creek Watershed District, you know we have the largest water project in the nation going on right now. 1,800 … 2,000 jobs, possibly. It was a major job creating bill as well as a long term sustainable water supply for Colorado Springs. I think it’s one of the most important bills I’ve worked on.

CS: You’ve also crossed the aisle and come to some great solutions on military issues.

ML: Thank you.

CS: It’s striking how often you work with all the military bases in your district and then with folks who represent military bases up here in the metro area. Is that something that kind of crosses party lines and transcends some of the differences at the Capitol?

ML: You know, this is another really important issue for me personally, because my dad was in the Korean War, and I believe that we must do more for those who sacrifice for our freedoms and liberties. And so a commitment that I’ve always had when I ran for office, in addition to those principles of limited government, was to do more for our military, our veterans and their family members. And so I think it’s been — it may be as high as 15 pieces of legislation that I have successfully sponsored, and I don’t think that even includes this year’s. But it has been an honor to work across the aisle on issues that are really not — this is not a partisan issue.

When it comes to supporting our troops, it’s been an honor to work with the Republicans because the Republicans are always there, OK? And when it comes to supporting our families and our troops, we’ve had very little opposition — I’ve had opposition from the other side on military legislation — but, over all, I believe the state embraces and understands the importance of supporting our military families. And if re-elected, I will continue to do so. My commitment is every year to make life a little easier and especially those soldiers that are coming back with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. You know, the Veterans Trauma Court was major in El Paso County, it was a major piece of legislation. You know, we had soldiers coming back getting into trouble and they didn’t know why they were getting into trouble. So it’s an honor to work with Fort Carson, the veterans at Fort Carson, Air Force Academy, Peterson and Schriever (Air Force Base), and I hope to continue to do so.

CS: One of the things that Rep. Stephens mentioned when we talked to her was that she’s in leadership, and she made a point of stressing that. She seemed to imply that she was in leadership, and you weren’t, and there was a reason for that. Would you care to comment on that?

ML: Absolutely, thank you for the question. I believe that just because an individual is in leadership does not entitle them to a position, being re-elected for a specific position. Her type of leadership has been the wrong type of leadership. If you take a look at the CUT (Colorado Union of Taxpayers) ratings, if you take a look at the legislation that she has ran, her legislation is much more progressive and left-leaning than legislation that I have worked on, which is right-leaning. And for me it’s not about the power at the Capitol, it’s not about the leadership in the Capitol, what it is, is about, I represent the citizens of House District 19. I know why I’m up here, I am up here to fight for them.

All Republicans, I believe all the Republicans up at the Capitol go and campaign for our colleagues who are running for reelection or for new Republican candidate. We always do that, that’s what we do. And so for me, I’ve heard the comments but, quite frankly, her leadership has been the wrong type of leadership. It’s been liberal, left-leaning leadership and not right-moving, to the right. You know, from House District 19, since it’s so conservative, we have an opportunity to take issues that are so important, like fighting abortion, like limiting taxes, like traditional family values and move those conversations and make them center-stage. And with her leadership we’ve not done that and with my leadership I have and I will continue to do so.

CS: What aspects of the job do you think are most fun for you? You obviously enjoy it.

ML: I do. I would say, I love serving the people and in listening to what their concerns are, hoping that you don’t have to write a piece of legislation at the end of the day, hoping that there is a different type of path to take for a solution, OK? But for me, it’s about connecting to the people of the district, to serving them, to understanding what makes, what frames their issues, and meeting their families. You know, I’ve knocked on a lot of business doors as well, I’ve talked to a lot of business owners in House District 19 and I’ve been to all of the bases, OK? Bases and Post — Fort Carson Army Post. And I do so on a regular basis, and I think that’s the most rewarding part of the job is meeting and visiting and interfacing with the constituents.

CS: You live on a ranch, is that correct?

ML: Yeah.

CS: It’s a working ranch?

ML: It is. We have horses. We used to have cattle, but because of the downturn in the economy and feed went up, energy costs went up, we are no longer raising cattle this year. We used to raise cattle, we used to sell cattle, we used to sell our beef to private sell, we call it private sell. Our children were raised on the ranch. We moved to Calhan — we’ve not lived there all of our life in Calhan, we lived in Falcon, next to my husband’s parents. My husband and I met in Grand Junction, we were both going to Mesa State College, OK? And then Exxon pulled out. Remember when Exxon pulled out of Grand Junction? (Sighs.) It was the early ’80s and so our jobs — at that point in time I was working at the phone company and the phone company was recognizing massive layoffs, and so I was fortunate to get a transfer over to Colorado Springs. And then once the house sold, my husband moved over to Colorado Springs. And we did that intentionally because we wanted to live next to his parents.

CS: Do you like that kind of life?

ML: I love — I love my life. I love his parents, my mother and father-in-law. They have been instrumental in helping us raise our children. And that’s why we moved there. It’s because I believe deeply in family and how important family is. And so, if it wasn’t for their help, I don’t think we would have been as balanced as we are. And so we raised our children with the values that we thought important. It wasn’t always easy because they had their animals to take care of, OK? You know pigs, we had pigs, we had cattle we had sheep, we had horses, we had chickens. And so that taught them great responsibility.

CS: And the kids took care of them?

ML: Oh yes, yes, yes, yeah, that was their jobs. And then six, seven — maybe 10 years ago, we moved to Calhan.

CS: Early part of the decade?

ML: Right. My roots are Slovenian, and so I was looking for a traditional Slovenian community to live in.

CS: Which is what?

ML: European. European, OK, former Czechoslovakian. And so, Catholics, and all the traditions and the events that Catholics and Slovenians have. And so we had an opportunity to buy this ranch and it was just raw land at that point in time. And so I wanted to raise my children, finish raising my children in that type of community so that’s why we moved out there. And it has been a blessing ever since.

CS: I imagine your weekends now are campaign-related?

ML: Oh, they’re pretty full and I love it. You know, we’re having a — not I, but the El Paso County Tea Party is having an Obamacare and Colorado Health Exchange presentation tomorrow and so they’re bringing in some doctors to talk about the regulatory scheme of both of them. And so that kicks off tomorrow morning and then afterwards we have a meet and greet with (District Attorney) Dan May over at Serranos coffee. The district attorney has endorsed me, and so we’ll be meeting with delegates and alternates afterwards.

CS: Have you been surprised at any of the endorsements that you thought you might get and didn’t or — ?

ML: No. For me, endorsements are important, they’re very important, but what’s more important is the relationship that I have with the citizens and the constituents of the district. And so for me, it’s more important to get on the phone or to go knock on a door and talk to my constituents. And so I spend a great deal of time doing that.

CS: And recently the delegates?

ML: Yes. Yes, after caucus night. And we had great turnouts for the caucuses.

CS: That’s what we hear.

ML: Major turnouts, at least in the schools that I went to and in the house district, we have 303 delegates for House District 19 and 290 alternates. And that’s a third, that’s a third of all the delegates to El Paso County. It should be an exciting time on Saturday the 24th. And this is important, this is an important race to them.

CS: Oh, very much so. And a lot of people from around the state are watching, too. Do you get a sense that your colleagues at the Legislature are paying a lot of attention to it?

ML: You know, I work with wonderful people at the Capitol and the campaign doesn’t come up too often. You know, it’s more about the policy. Like today was all about the policy at hand and, you know, our colleagues on the left side go up and say something which gets underneath my skin, so I have to go up and say something to defend my district and the voice of my district. But — no, there’s not been much discussion about the campaign.

CS: Have you ever thought of running for higher office?

ML: I have not. Every now and then, somebody will mention that, but for me, I just — I’m trying to do the best that I can with the terms that I’ve been blessed with and the people that I’ve been blessed to represent. So I really pay attention to the mission at hand, because tomorrow can always bring a different set of circumstances.
So I just try to live day by day and address the issues of the district, and my family issues as well.

CS: How many kids do you have?

ML: I have three children. And they’re not children anymore, they’re grown.

CS: Are they all grown?

ML: Yeah, they’re all grown, I’m a grandmother this year! And that, that even compels me to be more passionate about these issues that we talked about earlier — limited government, taxes, freedoms and liberty. Because my granddaughter, who is six months old, I see her being saddled with high taxes, more government and I’m very, very concerned about her ability to reach the American dream and to prosper, I really am. And I can tell you, that’s a driving force in my life, is my family, my children and my grandchildren’s future.

CS: Just about half way through the session here, and it looks like the budget is coming down the pipe — there’s going to be a lot of news that could affect that one way or the other. What are your thoughts on where things are going? There are some fairly firm lines drawn at the beginning of the session by leadership on both sides as far as the Senior Homestead tax exemption. What’s your sense, what’s going to emerge from the House?

ML: You know as well that we have a constitutional requirement to balance the budget, and the citizens of Colorado put that in the Constitution in 1876. And so the most important thing is, our most important job here is balancing that budget. And every year the budget is balanced. Every year is controversial, right? Every year is cantankerous and I don’t expect this year to be any different, quite frankly. But I do believe that a budget will be hammered out. And I don’t believe people are going to be happy on either side with the cuts that we have to take.

CS: But it’s a little bit better, we think, this year than previous years? And it’s slowly trending in the right direction, slowly?

ML: I agree. It’s encouraging, we have that uptick in the economy and if the economy can just keep upticking, and we can get a handle on the unemployment and job creation and those issues that are important to help us recover. But I have been up here long enough to know that there’ll be, I think a very reasonable budget that is hammered out between both the House and the Senate and the governor’s office. And we have a great speaker. You know, I have full faith in Speaker (Frank) McNulty, and I believe he does a great job not just being the speaker of the House of Representatives but also being the leader of the Republican Party in the House.

CS: Do you think he’s been fair between you and Majority Leader Stephens? Do you think he’s taking the politics out of that?

ML: Oh, Speaker McNulty, it’s an honor to work with Speaker McNulty. He has been totally fair. I’ve not seen any — I’ve not seen any deference in regards to the importance of running the chamber the way he believes the chambers shall be managed and run. And so all I can say, it’s been an honor to work with Speaker McNulty and he’s done a great job managing — I think managing the whole session (laughs). Because the whole session’s been challenging. You know, it’s not just my race, there are other races and then with reapportionment and —

CS: Folks running for Congress too, there’s that going on.

ML: Right, right. And so he has great challenges to deal with on a daily basis, and I think he does an outstanding job of doing that.

CS: Do you think the Legislature’s done its job so far as far as fulfilling the jobs, jobs, jobs requirement that leadership set at the beginning of the session?

ML: I believe that the House of Representatives has. I’m disappointed in the Senate. We continue to get legislation over from the Senate that increases the size and the scope and the cost of government, and people can’t afford it. You know, if we can limit, and on a very basic — very simple limit that growth, allow for an uptick in the economy. Because when you increase energy rates, those companies, those manufacturing companies have to pay higher costs for energy and they can’t afford that so they’re going to have to reduce their employees. And so I believe the House has done a pretty good job, but I’m disappointed in the Senate.

CS: Speaking about legislation that might be coming over from the Senate is civil unions. There’s been some controversy over what you think about civil unions, what position you’ve taken since a year ago. What’s your take on that?

ML: That’s a great question, thank you. I’ve always been opposed to civil unions. My record since 2007 has reflected that, and I will continue to be opposed to civil unions, I’ll continue to be opposed to gay marriage, I will continue to fight for traditional family values. And so with that I’d like to ask you, are there any more questions (laughs) about that issue? Because I’ve been trying to be clear and direct.

CS: What do you think the disconnect with some people not being quite sure comes from?

ML: Do you remember last year’s civil union bill?

CS: Um-hmm.

ML: It wrapped up very late, I think it was 10:00 or 10:30. And I stayed — my office is right next to the Supreme Court chambers. So I stayed and I listened to it and I was, quite frankly, disappointed with the testimony on both sides. I thought it was heart-wrenching, I thought there were things that should have never been said.

CS: This was the House Judiciary? [Ed. note: After passing out of the Senate, last year’s civil unions bill died on a party-line vote in the GOP-controlled House committee at the end of a hearing that went late into the night.]

ML: This is in the House. And it’s not from the committee members but from those who came in and testified. And as a Catholic, I found some of the comments that were coming in, that were directed at the sponsor of the bill, very heartless at times. And so I had had a long day, and me and my aide, Michelle, were walking out and had the opportunity to visit with John (Schroyer, the Gazette’s Capitol reporter). And so it was late, and if I was not clear enough, then that was my fault. But I was tired, wanted to leave the building and so I wanted to make sure it was clear. And John gave me the opportunity this year to say on the record I am opposed to civil unions and I will be opposed to civil unions.

CS: Well I appreciate you clarifying that because that is something that we’ve heard, just talking to delegates and folks in El Paso County, is, “What’s going on with that?”

ML: Yeah, you’re right. Right, and I would say that would because my opponent made an issue of that and it’s my responsibility to say, “Well here’s the record. Here’s the bills that you and I have voted the same on, consistently on when it comes to civil unions and gay marriage in the General Assembly.” So there is no distinction there, the record is the record and so I continue to walk the walk.

CS: To switch topics here, it surprises me a bit that there’s a large enough community in Calhan for there to be a Slovenian community there.

ML: You know, we have St. Mary’s Hall, we have some of the oldest churches in the state.

CS: Really?

ML: Slovenian churches. We have our own Slovenian cemetery, we have a Catholic cemetery and we have the Christian cemetery. And back, oh man, in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, the Slovenians had their own schools. They weren’t allowed to go to school with the other children.

And so there’s a long history, and I did my genealogy, I’ve been back to Europe to Slovenia — it was Czechoslovakia prior to that, right? I have great aunts and uncles that were killed in the concentration camps, and so I stay in contact with my family from Slovenia. You know, we’re a motley crew out in Calhan. We are the salt of the earth people out there. We are who we say we are, we don’t pretend that we’re anybody else, and you either like us or you don’t. And I love living in that type of community.

CS: Does everybody know everybody?

ML: Pretty much, and everybody knows where everybody’s kids are, OK? Now I know where my granddaughter is, OK? And so we keep close tabs. I think we watch out for each other, and that’s the beauty of raising a family.

CS: Do your kids still live there with you?

ML: My daughter lives in Calhan.

CS: With your granddaughter?

ML: Yes, yes. And so it’s fun. We hope some day that my daughter and her husband and our granddaughter will take over the ranch, because at some point in time, you know, you’ve got to hand that over to the younger generations. I can tell you it is so refreshing to go home at the end of the week to the ranch. There’s fresh air, there’s wide open spaces.

CS: I bet it’s lovely.

ML: And have an opportunity to look up into the heavens and actually get grounded, you know? What is important in life, what are the priorities in life. And it does, it gives me that respite time to develop the priorities for me and my family and for the district.

CS: Is there anything else in legislation that you’re running this year? Something you’re paying particular attention to that you’d like to talk about?

ML: You know, Ernest, I want to thank you because you brought up the illegal immigration claim from my opponent, and over the last couple of years I’ve been consistent. I drafted the Secure Communities bill last year. Two years ago, remember when our governor was running for office, he talked about how he supported Secure Communities but Gov. Ritter wasn’t quite there. And so I had drafted legislation that would allow, it would direct the Attorney General’s Office to sign the Secure Communities contract with the Department of Homeland Security and so I had the opportunity to have that conversation with the governor’s office before Gov. Hickenlooper was sworn into office.

And to his credit and to Gov. Ritter’s credit, Gov. Ritter signed the Secure Communities Act, and we did not have to run that piece of legislation. Now the follow-up to that this year is the mandatory E-Verify bill that (state Rep.) Spencer Swalm (R-Centennial) and I are working on. And that’s at the committee next week. What we did was we took a look at the 2006 Special Session legislation that passed. Rep. (Judy) Solano (D-Brighton) and Sen. (Bob) Bacon (D-Fort Collins), OK, they worked on a piece of legislation that requires of all employers to maintain documents —

CS: Right, I remember that.

ML: — of workers, right? Of international workers. Well, we’d like to bring that issue into the new century. We’ve got technology, E-Verify has come a long way since then.

CS: It’s been six years —

ML: Yeah, it’s a very accurate, 98.5 or 6 or 8 percent of the time there’s an instant reply. And so it would alleviate those false documents that may be occurring right now that —employers shouldn’t have to determine, “I don’t know if this is a legal document or not, it’s a document. It’s a driver’s license, it’s a Social Security card.” So if we can give them the ability to use E-Verify instead, it makes it easier, it’s cheaper —

CS: More consistent?

ML: Yeah, more consistent. So we’re running that bill this year, the Mandatory E-Verify bill. Another really big bill that I’m running, and it’s a trigger from last year’s EPA bill, is a bill that restricts the promulgation of water quality rules that are mandated by the EPA. Now, this is a discussion about algae. Algae and nutrients, phosphorous and nitrates in our streams. And so last year there was a mandate that was coming down that said the state has to do this, so I said, “Whoa, let’s run a resolution to do a cost-benefit study. Let’s figure out how much it’s going to cost the state and at the end of the day, is there a benefit and if there is, where is the benefit?” So we got the cost-benefit study done this summer and that cost-benefit study ranged anywhere from $4 billion to $24 billion.

CS: For the cost or the benefit?

ML: (Laughs) Exactly. For the mandate, OK? For the statewide mandate. And, the evidence that they used, the science that they used wasn’t even from Colorado, it was from other states. And so that report was delivered and presented the Water Resources Review Committee this last summer, and so I followed up with a bill saying, “Oh, this is so expensive that I believe that the General Assembly needs to chime in.” They need to decide, does the state need to move forward with these rules? Because, to me, the agency who’s responsible, which is the Department of Health — this is such a big, costly issue that I think it’s the responsibility of the General Assembly members to make this call.

Because every family out there is going to have to pay the price of this regulation. And we just talked about 1365 and an increase in utility rates there, 24 percent over 10 years. We talked about Senate Bill 200 and the increase in healthcare costs that that’s going to trigger. And so I believe it’s time that the General Assembly members have the opportunity to chime in and say, “Yes, we are going to move forward with those types of rules,” or, “No, we’re not going to. The people of Colorado can’t afford it right now.” So that’s a really big bill, that is the Nutrient EPA Bill, and that is a hold on any rules that would get promulgated — you’d have to get the approval from the General Assembly. You being the Colorado Department of Health, would have to get the approval of the General Assembly before you move forward.

CS: What’s the likelihood that that’ll pass?

ML: Well the resolution passed last year, yes, so we are pretty confident that it’s going to pass. We’ve been working with the Colorado Water Congress, OK? Colorado Water Congress supports it. We’ve been working with the Colorado Nutrient Coalition and the small communities throughout the state. You know, the large communities like Denver and Colorado Springs, they can share those costs throughout their ratepayers. But Fountain and Monument, they’ going to get hammered. Eagle County — there was a meeting that I had with one of the wastewater managers from Eagle County, he told me that there would be an increase of costs anywhere from $150 to $200 a month that their rate payers would have to cover for this. And that’s just tier one, that’s the $4 billion regulation, not the $24 billion regulation. So I think there should be site-specific regulations, there should not be a one-size-fits-all and I believe that the elected officials should be held accountable for those decisions, not an agency. So that’s pretty big.

CS: Would you like to direct the Department of Health to promulgate site-specific regulations then or they’re either up or down with what the EPA has told them to do?

ML: I would actually like whatever recommendations the Department of Health has, that they take it to a scientific peer review committee, OK? And, first of all let’s make sure the science is there before we move forward with costly regulations, which is something we’ve never done before. OK, first of all let’s make sure the science is there, and then second of all, yes it should be site-specific. Because I don’t think little Fountain, I don’t think little Flagler, I don’t think Monument or Ramah, I don’t think any of these small communities who have no impact on that water quality in the stream should be burdened with these new regulations and these new rates.

CS: What are the consequences if the Department of Health refuses to follow the EPA’s regulations?

ML: That’s a great question. Now, we had heard in 1365 that if we stayed, if we didn’t move forward with these new rules, that we’re going to get sued. Well guess what? The EPA has relaxed the rules and they’re not even going to promulgate rules for two to three years on regional haze so that’s off the table completely. That bill, those two sets of bills were ran, and there was no need to run the bills because the EPA has put that on the table and backed off. I believe that the EPA is going to back up on these mandates as well because there is — this is an unfunded mandate.

CS: Who’s going to pay for them?

ML: Yeah, who’s going to pay for them? Especially when we have unemployment rates the way they are, and our revenues are still short. As a matter of fact, these are so costly that there’s not even a tenth of the money in the revolving funds that we get loans for water projects on to cover the projects. There is just no way to fund the projects.

CS: Well is there pushback from other states then?

ML: Oh, yes. Yes.

CS: Colorado’s not out on a limb.

ML: Oh, no. Many states are pushing back and I appreciate Gov. Hickenlooper’s executive order last year that says he’s not going to support any unfunded mandates. You know, you need to show me the science that we need to move forward with the regulations, and that there is not going to be any more unfunded mandates that are ushered in on these small communities — or any community in the state. So I appreciate his stand there and that’s actually part of our argument as well in the bill. When you read the bill, we refer to that executive order, and it’s very, very important that we stand by our word. So that’s pretty big. And I would say leaving — First of all I want to thank you, this is the first time we’ve had the chance —

CS: We’re so glad you came over.

ML: Thank you. Because there’s going to be some — I can only guess there’s going to be some additional legislation that’s proposed that will be — it’s going to be exciting for me and may give other people some heartache. But it’s what I have to do for my district. And so, we’re going to wrap that up in a couple of weeks.

CS: OK. And your campaign manager is — ?

ML: Lana Fore-Warkocz. She’s great.… Do you know her — do you remember her from Dan Maes’ (gubernatorial) campaign?… She is as grassroots as they come. She is one of the hardest-working, committed ladies I have ever met in my life. And it has been — we’ve worked a lot, a lot of hard work, but we’ve had some great times together. (Laughs) And just say, “OK, well, you know — ” (Laughs)

CS: “What’s going on today?”

ML: This is the primary, right? You can’t get too upset. I don’t get too upset over anything that comes down the pike because, when we were fighting for our ranch, I tell you what, when the politicians up at the Capitol and the special interests tried to steal our ranch, tried to steal our quality of life, that really cut to the — cut straight to the heart when it comes to me. And so these primaries, they’re extremely important, but you know, you fight as hard as you can and the best man wins and you leave it up to the wisdom of the voters and they always pick the right candidate. Always, there’s no question in my mind. So I’m excited about county assembly and I’m excited about the primary, and we’ll just keep working hard.

*Amy Stephens InnerView also on the website*



Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman says the value of relationships among lawmakers can’t be overstated and predicted that this year’s session will produce results because of strong relationships across the aisle and between the chambers. Jobs and the economy are the key subjects this year, and Cadman says he’s confident both Democrats and Republicans will […]

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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.)

Senate President Brandon Shaffer

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

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.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

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 —
BS: Sure.

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.
BS: Um-hmm.

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.
BS: Right.

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 — ?
BS: Right.

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?
BS: Sure.

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?
BS: (Laughs).

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 —
BS: (Laughs.)

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.

CS: OK.
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.

-Jody@coloradostatesman.com
-Ernest@coloradostatesman.com



House Speaker Frank McNulty says GOP lawmakers are excited about the 2012 legislative session and expect a constructive 120 days despite friction with Democrats over a reapportionment process that ended up pitting several Republicans against each other.

Returning to helm his second session since Republicans retook control of the House in the 2010 wave election — by a single seat, while Democrats kept firmer control of the state Senate — McNulty said the focus this year will be on getting government out of the way so small businesses can create jobs. It’s an agenda without “a lot of flash,” he acknowledges, though he emphasized that it’s exactly the prescription the state GOP believes will cure the ailing economy.

Even though McNulty says he’s confident newly drawn legislative maps leave Republicans in a good position to retain their majority in the House, he expressed disappointment that the Reapportionment Commission’s Democratic members rushed through a set of maps that grouped several GOP incumbents in the same districts. McNulty calls the final outcome “unfortunate,” particularly because he says the commission was within sight of district maps that could have won unanimous approval. Describing the current process as “broken,” McNulty says there are Democratic legislators — in addition to plenty of Republicans — interested in considering different ways to handle the once-a-decade task.

House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, talks with The Colorado Statesman on
Jan. 9 at his office in the state Capitol.

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

During a wide-ranging discussion with The Colorado Statesman, McNulty also said he expects the Republican presidential nominee — a couple days after the interview, he officially endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the race — to carry Colorado and provide some helpful coattails for legislative candidates.

First elected to the state House in 2006, the Highlands Ranch Republican easily won reelection twice and swiftly ascended to the leadership position. A lawyer, McNulty worked in the Owens administration handling water policy before running for office.

Two days before gaveling the session into order, McNulty joined Colorado Statesman editor and publisher Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning for an hour-long interview in the speaker’s office, on the afternoon of Jan. 9. The Statesman regularly conducts in-depth interviews with prominent political figures, including one with McNulty’s House Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, in last week’s issue. Read the transcript of that interview and 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 McNulty. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Colorado Statesman (CS): So how are things? Are you ready for it to get going or…?
House Speaker Frank McNulty (FM): We are. We’re ready, we’re excited. One of the things that we’ve taken on is, really, the important idea that less is more. There’s no silver bullet that the State Legislature can pass to rapidly improve Colorado’s economy, so we came to the conclusion that we will do what we can, and our goal is to help clear the way for small businesses to create jobs. So there’s not a lot of flash to our agenda, but it is real stuff that worked for Colorado. So yeah, we’re excited to get to work.

CS: What about the climate, the tone? We’ve asked you about this at the Press Association preview and you’ve answered it and so has your counterpart, but when it really comes down to it, is it going to be a little bit tense, do you think? Or after the reapportionment — how do you just put away your hard feelings and say, “Well, we’re on a different path now”?
FM: Well, because we have to. We can’t allow any of that to find its way into the legislative session if we expect to be constructive. I’ve made my thoughts clear about what I think of the way the Democrats acted in this [reapportionment] process, none of that has changed. The underlying maps, there’s little for us to argue about. I’m not concerned about the maps one bit.

CS: You’re not, after all that?
FM: I’m not. The disappointing part for me is, in visiting with (reapportionment commissioner and former Republican state Rep.) Rob Witwer was how close we were to an 11-0 vote on the Reapportionment Commission. That really would have set Colorado apart from, well, from every other state. And we missed that because of the way the Democrats treated (Republican state Reps.) BJ (Nikkel) and Brian (Del Grosso) and Marsha (Looper) and Amy (Stephens) and (state Sens.) Bill Cadman and Keith (King), and that’s why that happened. And that’s unfortunate. Without those games, there was a real opportunity for them to find an 11-0 vote.

CS: Do you think the Republicans were game-free themselves? … In other words, they played no games whatsoever?
FM: Well (pause) … It’s hard to say where you make that the case. I’m thinking throughout the process and different maps were drawn at different times and submitted at different times in the process but we always met the deadlines and our members attended the hearings. The real — from a process standpoint — the issue of two different deadlines, one for Republicans and one for Democrats was a real problem. The Democrats got to see the best work of the Republican commissioners, tweak it, right? — and then submit their map. Well, when you get to cheat off of somebody else’s test, it’s going to have a different outcome.

(Reapportionment commissioner Mario) Carrera [the commission’s chairman and lone unaffiliated member, who voted with Democrats on the final maps] could have corrected that. He could have said, “All right, this is all a misunderstanding, I didn’t mean to have two different deadlines. This is a miscommunication, here’s the way that we’re going to fix it. We’re going to let Republicans submit a map or submit changes, we’ll vote on that map or vote on those changes. I understand the deadline’s passed, but because of this issue of having two different deadlines, we’re going to fix it. We’re going to fix it right here, allowing all of this information in and we’ll vote on it.”

He didn’t do that. Instead, he completely railroaded the process and I think that was — it was a disservice to the Republican commissioners but also a disservice to the process because they were really so close to an 11-0 vote. And I trust Rob (Witwer). I mean if Rob said, “Hey, we can’t get anywhere on this, it’s a disaster, we’re just going to walk,” say, “Rob, I trust your guidance. You’ve been in this for a long time,” but that’s not what he said. So…

CS: So think of it this way: this year you only have to do — you only have the uncontroversial things like elections and…
FM: (Laughs).

CS: …all that kind of…
FM: Makes it easier, right?

CS: Makes it easier.
FM: Yes. I’m optimistic about this session and I don’t — it’s not — We understand what it means to be in leadership and to govern from the work that we did last year, but we’re fortunate that we have a strong bipartisan base to build on from last session. We will have our disagreements again, there’s no doubt that (Democratic House Minority Leader Mark) Ferrandino will be sitting where you are, telling me about this thing or that thing. But, fundamentally, we have the understanding that we can work together — and not just on the day to day thing, which we’ve always done pretty well. Colorado has always been good at getting the nuts-and-bolts done in a bipartisan way and moving those forward. But on the big things like the budget, 80 votes for the budget. 80 out of 100. [The General Assembly approved the 2011 budget with 80 legislators voting for it.]

CS: You expect that this year too, that much consensus?
FM: It’s going to be harder this year, but I do believe that we will be able to find bipartisan consensus. There’s really no reason why we can’t. No hard lines have been drawn, and everybody seems to be open. We’re in disagreement over taxing seniors — the governor has laid out his thoughts on that and the Democrats have laid out theirs, and we’ve laid out ours. So that’ll be a point of discussion as the budget moves forward, but there’s no reason to not believe that we can’t work that out at this point.

CS: That does sound like a hard line that’s been laid down by both sides, that that’s not something the governor or the Democrats say the state can afford right now. They’d rather put the money into rent, energy … [Ed. note: Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed putting money into a rebate program to subsidize housing and energy payments for low-income seniors rather than restore a pricier property tax exemption for seniors who have lived in their homes for at least 10 years, known as the Homestead Exemption.] And some of the Republicans have talked about doing some means or asset testing for that. Is that — ?
FM: I’m not opposed to the work that the governor has done to provide relief to seniors on mortgage payments, rent payments. He can’t say with a straight face that that’s a fair trade against $100 million in property taxes that seniors would pay if he had his way. Right now as the law stands, the Homestead Exemption is in full effect and the governor needs to pass the bill to tax seniors.

CS: To take it back?
FM: Right. And so, if he wants to keep that money, he’s going to have to pass that bill. On this question of means- versus asset-testing, we do have a constitutional amendment and we have to work within the language of that constitutional amendment and it’s very much driven by the price of a home. So — the value of a home, I should say — you don’t know what the price of your home is until you sell it, right? The value of a home. And so, working within those constraints, I think is a valuable conversation to have, and we’re certainly open to it.

CS: Are you getting any indications that, after a year in office perhaps the governor may change his style at all, or do you expect the interactions to be much different than during the first session?
FM: Hmm… That’s an interesting question. I hope that our interactions are the same. We’ve always had a good working relationship — we’ve had a good working relationship with the governor since he came into office. We’ve had regular meetings and have visited cordially on every time, so I don’t want that to change. I still want to have the — I still think that we ought to have the opportunity to visit and talk about the important issues and then determine which way we go. But I do think we need to do more on regulatory reform. I understand that it’s not one of the sexiest issues out there, but it’s a place where we can make a real-world difference for businesses. This idea of clearing the way, the simple proposals that we put forward, none of them are earth-shattering, but they make a difference to businesses that are attempting to make ends meet and attempting to grow.

CS: What’s your reaction to the regulatory reform that was released today from the governor’s office? Is that a step in the right direction?
FM: Regulatory reform that was announced by the governor today? [Ed. note: After holding roundtable discussions around the state with businesses, on Jan. 9 Hickenlooper’s office released a 94-page report called “Cutting Red Tape in Colorado State Government” and said state agencies have already begun eliminating unnecessary rules and streamlining processes identified by the initiative.]

CS: His plan… unwinding the regulations in response to —
FM: We welcome any attempts to decrease the regulatory burden on businesses. What we put on the table are concrete examples of where we can improve the regulatory environment, make it less burdensome for businesses, and at the same time make sure that we’re protecting the public health, the environment and safety. So those concrete proposals — we ought to move forward with.

We certainly welcome Gov. Hickenlooper as a partner in pushing regulatory reform. It’s something that I talked about as we were earning our House majority, it’s something I talked about during my Opening Day speech last session. It’s something that I’ll talk about again on Wednesday [on the Legislature’s opening day] and it has become a real component of everything that we’re doing because we’re hearing from business owners that this is where we can make a difference for them. And so we shouldn’t lose this opportunity, but certainly we appreciate the governor coming on board to at least take a step in that direction or at least push more priority towards it, which is really where we’ve been.

CS: When (Hickenlooper) was campaigning — in fact when he was elected — he said that he was envisioning some kind of law to (measure the) business impact on legislation… [Ed. note: Like the fiscal impact reports issued for legislation, some have proposed also requiring a report on any proposed law’s impact on business.]
FM: Um-hmm.

CS: So I would think that he would be supportive of this kind of reform that you’re looking at?
FM: Our bill sponsors have visited with the governor’s office, (House Majority Communications Director) Owen (Loftus) has visited with the governor’s office, and we do believe that there are pieces here that we can put together, and if we can get them through the Senate and get them to the governor’s desk, that he wouldn’t veto. In fact, Rep. Ferrandino, one of the things that we did was, we sat down with the employment community to talk about these bills before we rolled them out. I visited with Mark and sat down and walked through in general and specific, these proposals. And the only one he balked at was the 6 percent limit. [Ed. note: Reps. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, and Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, are sponsoring legislation this session to reinstate a 6-percent limit on the growth of state spending. A similar, long-standing limit known as Arveschoug-Bird was repealed by Democrats when they controlled both chambers in 2009.]

And I understand that there is a philosophical difference on that, and we approach the world a little bit differently on spending restraint, but if that means that we can find common ground and move forward on the other eight proposals — job creation, responsible budgeting — move forward with that, that’s a real positive for us.

CS: What about the Democrat jobs agenda? What’s your take on that? They’ve been releasing that in pieces, but given a preview of the whole thing too.
FM: (Laughs) Well, they’re sort of like a bunch of Lego pieces out on the ground right now, and I haven’t actually seen them put up in to anything yet. The first bill that the Senate Democrats rolled out, they dusted off a bill that was killed last year. [Ed. note: Senate Bill 1 called the “HIRE Colorado Act,” sponsored by state Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Arvada, would establish preferences for companies for state contracts when they agree to employ mostly Colorado workers.] To me, this shows the difference between the way that Republicans approach the idea of a jobs agenda and the way that the Democrats approach the idea of a jobs agenda.

For us, it’s clearing the way; let small businesses go out and create jobs. 90 percent of the businesses in Colorado employ less than 100 people, so clear the way, let them go out, grow their business, employ their friends and neighbors, put Coloradans back to work. The Democrats’ idea of a jobs agenda is: we need more hurdles, more obstacles. They introduced a bill as the hallmark, the cornerstone of their jobs agenda that’s already opposed by C3 (Colorado Competitive Council), NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business), CACI (Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry) and expect people to look at that and say, “Oh wow, what a great new idea!” — when it’s already been rejected by the people who were actually creating jobs and growing this economy. So I do think you see those very different perspectives. The bills that were announced today by the House Democrats — we’re going to take a look at them. I think one looks like it’s a repeat from a bill from last year, but the other bills, we’ll take a look at and see what we can do.

CS: Speaking of repeats from last year, civil unions is going to be one of the biggest non-economic arguments in the Capitol this year. What’s your take on that? That group of Republicans, the Coloradans for Freedom, make a case that it’s time for Republicans to get behind that.
FM: Well, they’ll be like any other group down here advocating for the passage of the bill. To me, our focus is on the job-creation agenda, and that’s where our primary work is going to be. Now this is the legislative process and on Wednesday we begin that long sprint, uphill, downhill toward May 9th — 9th? 10th — it’s a leap year. We begin that long sprint, and lots of other things are introduced, lots of other things happen in that time and each one of those will be taken up and handled by the legislative process. Last year civil unions, the Civil Unions Bill came over from the Senate, assigned it to Judiciary Committee where it should have been assigned. It was a committee that — the committee that should have heard the bill. There was a long but fair hearing on the bill, and the proponents weren’t able to get a majority of votes out of that committee. And that’s my plan for if the Senate sends it over again or if somebody introduces it in the House, that we’ll deal with it in a way that’s fair and pragmatic like we deal with all of — every other bill that’s introduced, and handle it that way.

CS: Do you think there’s a possibility that with some of your caucus term limited or that they might be persuaded to vote for that, not having to face an election again? I bring it up because Rep. Ferrandino said he thought there could be some more movement.
FM: I don’t know, there are many different reasons why legislators vote for or against bills. Ultimately the proponents have the obligation to convince a majority of legislators in Senate committee and on the Senate floor, and in House committee, on the House floor, and then the governor, that this is the right thing to do. So it’ll be up to them, and whatever way that they can best communicate that, they’ll take that up. It is kind of funny that last year I was getting calls from proponents of this legislation saying, “Send it to a committee we’re sure it’ll come out of, send it to a committee we’re sure it’ll come out of.” And you sort of look at an issue like this and you’re like, “Well, Local Government? No … Economic and Business Development? No.” So Judiciary is the right committee, it’s the fair committee and so it’s up to the proponents to convince a majority that it makes sense.

House Speaker Frank McNulty says that the Republican jobs agenda amounts to getting government out of the way, while Democrats want to impose more hurdles for businesses.

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

CS: Speaking of a lot of legislators reaching their last session this (year), there’s going to be an unprecedented amount of turnover this year, especially out of the House with the number of members running for the Senate, but also all the districts without incumbents in them too. Does that cast a different light on the session — is there more of a look toward a legacy from some of the members? Have you been getting that kind of feel?
FM: The feel that I get from at least my members — and I haven’t had the same types of conversations with Rep. Ferrandino’s caucus as I have had with mine — the sense that I get is our caucus members still understand the seriousness of the job that we have to do down here. It is a remarkable, remarkable opportunity to be the one voice that is standing against the tax and spend agenda that really threw our state into a tailspin and, I think, prolonged the recession in Colorado. And to be that one voice that stands against that and says, “Let’s do things more responsibly, let’s look to create jobs, let’s look to reward innovation and not penalize it.” So, our members bring that same attitude back this session… And we’ll have our challenges, it will be unique, perhaps unlike any other — perhaps like any other session. This is really the first year of redistricting where you have the full effect of term limits, and so all of these things will necessarily cause a little bit of a flavor, but I don’t anticipate any unusual or unavoidable hiccups.

CS: Speaking of reapportionment, though, just one last question about that —
FM: Sure.

CS: Do you think that it’s time to change the process?
FM: I do. The process shouldn’t be as antagonistic as it’s been. At least, I was aware of what was going on in 2001, and aware, obviously, of what was going on in 2011 (laughs). We should do it a better way, and I know that there’s support from the Democratic side to look at alternatives. The process is broken. If there’s a way that we can do it better we’ll certainly — it will certainly find an ear with me and with our House leadership.

CS: Do you sense that there may be some tension in general between some of the incumbents who are running against each other? Do you think you’ll be accused of playing favorites?
FM: Well I hope not, they’re all my favorites. It was sort of like growing up, my dad… We had six kids, five brothers and sisters. My mom and dad were always saying, every time we’d have a contest, it’d be like, “tie, tie, tie, tie!” So we always all tied, which explains a lot now that I look back on it (laughs). But we have a strong caucus and I suspect the only challenge that we’ll have in that area is the Northern El Paso County seat. [Ed. note: House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, were drawn into the same house district and are engaged in a primary to represent it.] Marsha and Amy and myself, we all came into the Legislature at the same time, we’ve been down here, and we’ve worked with each other, and we’ve supported each other, we’ve opposed each other, we voted for bills, we voted against bills. And so my direction to both of them is that if this is going to happen, you’re going to keep it above board and we’re not going to let what’s happening in Northern El Paso County find its way into our caucus or into the House chamber.

CS: Have either one of them asked for your support?
FM: Neither one of them has asked for my support.

CS: Would you offer it if they asked for it after the session is over? Or you’re not going to choose sides?
FM: No, I won’t publicly endorse either Marsha or Amy.

CS: Are you going to get involved in any of the other legislative races?
FM: I’ll be involved in the 65 legislative races (laughs).

CS: I mean like (Lakewood Republican) Rick Enstrom announced today against (Democratic state Rep.) Max Tyler.
FM: Yes.

CS: That’s a competitive district and you were involved previously in that district.
FM: Yes.

CS: Is it a targeted (race) in your mind?
FM: Absolutely. Rick is an extraordinary individual. I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to visit with him.

CS: I’ve met him, I don’t know him very well.
FM: (Laughs) He is one of these rare people that, when you need help, regardless of what it is, whether it’s you need to shovel rocks out of the back of your pickup truck into your back yard, or you need somebody to come and help out at a non-profit fundraiser, he’ll buy the table. So he’s one of these rare guys that’s just there to help, and he enjoys it, and he takes that same attitude to everything that he does. And I think that he will — I know that he will provide a very favorable contrast to Rep. Tyler in that race. And so I mean I’m excited about Rick Enstrom running.

We’ve had a conversation, I said, “Rick, they’re going to bring everything they have against you, and they’ll use everything you said and every vote you had on the Wildlife Commission, and everything you did on the Mesa County Commission, and they’ll pull that, they’ll distort it and they’ll throw it back at you,” and his answer was, “This is too important for me to sit on the sidelines.” And so he knows that he’ll have mailers against him, he knows that there are chances that his face will be up on television with the Democrats going after him, and he still did it. And that says a lot about his character.

CS: Are there any other legislative (races) that you’re particularly excited about?
FM: I am. I’m excited that (state Rep.) Robert (Ramirez) is running for the State House. [Ed. note: The Arvada Republican earlier announced he was running for a state Senate seat but this week said he would instead run for reelection to a second term for his House seat.] I’m excited about Amy Atwood, which is in the seat just south of the one Rick Enstrom’s running for in Jefferson County. I’m excited about our opportunities in El Paso County, that (Democratic state Rep.) Pete Lee seat — I think that over the coming days or weeks, we’ll show some real strength there.

I’m excited about candidates that we’ve got running for seats in our target — Bob Rankin running for that Northwest Colorado seat, Polly Lawrence running for the Douglas-Teller (County) seat. And these are folks with real world business experience that they’re going to bring to the State Legislature. How can that not make a difference? When Republicans and Democrats are saying jobs are job one, and we have all of these legitimate business people lining up — Employers who help put food on the table of their employees, all of these folks stepping up and saying, “I’m going to make a difference myself,” that’s meaningful.

Now, I know the Democrats will find every way to Sunday to spin that, but the one thing they can’t get away from is all of these folks sign paychecks. They put people to work, they survived the recession and now they’re coming out the other side of it saying, “I want to do something for my state.” Brian Watson — running against Dan Kagan in House (District) 3, same type of deal. (These Republican candidates) went out and were successful businessmen, businesswomen, and now want to do something for their state. It’s really quite amazing. I’m actually — talk with some of these guys, Brian or Rick or Polly, and I’m actually humbled by it. I mean we sort of get in our cocoon down here in the Legislature but these are folks who have that real-world experience to help us do a better job down here.

CS: Of course, we have the presidential election — are you confident that (Republican frontrunner Mitt) Romney or the (eventual) Republican nominee will carry Colorado and perhaps have some coattails effect?
FM: (Laughs) I would just take some positive coattails at this point after last year’s governor’s race. (Laughs.) Yeah, I think the Republican nominee will have an opportunity to fare well in Colorado, and I think Gov. Hickenlooper was right when he said that Barack Obama has work to do here. The president is not popular, his policies have not helped move Colorado forward, and Colorado is a state that looks for results. Our voters are very bright, Colorado has a well educated voting public and that’s going to matter when the Republican nominee comes to Colorado looking to earn our votes.

CS: Of course we don’t have any other statewide in terms of a U.S. senator or a governor — that was quite the election we had last year —
FM: Yeah, wasn’t it? (laughing).

CS: What about yourself? Do you have any aspirations yourself, some day wanting to serve as governor or congressional seat or…?
FM: My aspiration is to add seats to our House majority in 2012, and it’s not — my philosophy is, do what’s in front of you well and don’t worry about what else might be out there. Our first project and our first priority when it comes to campaigns is to go out and grow our House majority. That’s what we’ll do.

CS: You sound like you’re optimistic that you’ll hold on to the House and grow (your majority) — is that correct to say?
FM: I am, I am. You always have the same concerns on campaigns about recruiting candidates and raising the money you need to support those candidates. In this era of Colorado politics, you need both of those. The Republicans don’t have a grip on elections, the Democrats don’t have a grip on elections so we’ll have this back-and-forth. And to the extent that we recruit good candidates like those we just talked about, we’re going to be in a position to grow our majority. Based upon our numbers, we start from a base of about 29 seats [out of 65 House seats], have three seats where the Republican advantage is less than five points, so that’s a pretty good spot to be in. I’d rather be in my spot than the Democrat spot. Well, actually I’d rather have 45 seats that had a Republican advantage, but I think that’s even unreasonable for me to ask.

CS: It’s not Colorado?
FM: It’s not Colorado (laughs). It’s not.

CS: There are some people who think that perhaps the governor actually benefits by having split chambers —
FM: Um-hmm.

CS: — that it’s kind of a buffer, not having to contend with all the Democratic proposals. Do you share in that belief?
FM: Oh, yeah. I think one of the happiest people in Colorado after the election was Gov. Hickenlooper. I mean he was —

CS: Because he won, too.
FM: Right, he won. I don’t think he was quite worried about that. But having Republicans earn control of the State House really did him a favor, and I appreciate the position we’re in because we are making a difference. We’re killing the bad-for-business bills that were introduced and passed in the past. And we’re also stopping bills from even being introduced. And so, from that perspective, I’m very pleased with the role that we’re playing and I do believe that my guys are doing a great job. But the governor does benefit. The bills that would push him toward the left are dying in the House now instead of being sent onto his desk like they were with (former Democratic Gov.) Bill Ritter. How the governor would react to that, none of us can know, we all can speculate. None of us would probably be right. But I am absolutely positive the governor is pleased those bills don’t even make it to his desk. I did ask him to host a fundraiser for us, he politely declined (laughs).

CS: Since last session you got married —
FM: Um-hmm.

CS: Have you been able to rest up and get psyched up for the session and have some fun?
FM: No (laughs).

CS: No?
FM: I am psyched for the session, psyched up for the session, but Shannon and I did not get away. We did have the time to take some time off, but no long beach vacation with umbrella drinks. That’ll have to wait until May.

CS: Is there anything else we haven’t asked you about that you want to touch on?
FM: I don’t think so, this has been a lovely conversation. I think we’ve run the spectrum, actually. And Owen — it doesn’t look like he’s too uncomfortable, so we must be doing all right.

CS: OK. And you’re look forward to working, of course, with the prestigious press corps again.
FM: Yes, we always love the Fourth Estate!

CS: Do you think the press coverage has been relatively fair?
FM: Ooh, how to answer that? Ah … yeah, I do. I think that the press corps has shrunk, I mean even since I’ve been down here.

CS: Absolutely.
FM: And I don’t think that that’s a good thing. I mean, I understand that newspapers are businesses, and they need to make the decisions that they make, but it is — and I’m not saying this self-serving either — we are fortunate in Colorado that we still have a paper that covers the political and policy goings-on in this state. And that itself is meaningful. But, yeah, I think it’s fair.

CS: You don’t consider perhaps that The Denver Post might — I guess Secretary of State (Scott) Gessler last week, I heard him speak and he rallied against the Post as this bastion of liberal Democrats and thought it was just the most unfair press probably in the country. I was wondering if you —
FM: (Laughs) I don’t — we all view everything that we do through whatever political filter we have, so that’s going to happen. I think that in this age of anyone who has a website can start a blog, it’s still helpful to have the printed word.

CS: Absolutely.
FM: You guys, the Post, the (Pueblo) Chieftain, the (Grand Junction Daily) Sentinel, I mean you’re all still fact checking, you’re all still making sure that something is right before you send it to print, and you don’t get that with blogs. And so it will be a sad day when all of the newspapers — if all the newspapers go away. [Uncomfortable laughter.] Well, I’ve asked (Denver Post owner Dean) Singleton, what’s the next iteration, right? What do you guys do next? I mean, you guys have an online presence —

CS: Yeah.
FM: How do you make that work?

CS: I don’t think the model is quite there yet in terms of how to make that work but —
FM: But that’s OK because we’re still reading newspapers.

CS: Yeah.
FM: I mean I still want to have, in my hands, something to read.

CS: Good. Not everyone feels that way, especially the youngsters.
FM: Well, that’s what you guys are going to have to deal with because there is a real change coming. And it’s something that we’re dealing with in our press operations, is how do you connect, how do you identify with that new generation of readers and new generation of activists?

CS: Do you follow the blogs and the strictly online discussions about politics in Colorado?
FM: Not so much anymore. When I had the time, I did. I would say that my life is — reading is pretty much left to my e-mail alerts and The Statesman that comes in my mailbox — which, thank you guys for still providing that resource out there.

CS: Have you read any good books lately?
FM: I just read O’Reilly’s book on the Lincoln Assassination. [Ed. note: Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly recently published Killing Lincoln, a fresh look at the assassination.] I thought it was interesting. He weaves the facts together in a way that’s different from anything else that I’ve read, and in a way that puts it together more in a timeline with characters, instead of just facts. So I thought it was interesting.

CS: Do you have time to read during the session or are you just keeping up? Besides bills?
FM: Just keeping up, yeah.

CS: Yeah, so that’s the last book you’ll be reading before the end of the session?
FM: Probably. When I go home at night, you sort of like to decompress and —

CS: Not have to really think about —
FM: Not have to think.

CS: What are we now, nine days into the — do you have any New Year’s resolutions that you’re working on?
FM: No, I resolved a long time ago to not have New Year’s resolutions (laughs). You’re just sort of setting yourself up. You ought to resolve all the way along the year to do better. For the session, though, my focus is going to be on eating better and not snacking. So we’ll see.

CS: It’s hard, isn’t it?
FM: It’s very hard. So we’ll have to catch up in May to see if I successfully held to that.

CS: Do you exercise or do anything like that?
FM: I do, I do.

CS: What do you do?
FM: During the session I did treadmill, but I’m probably going to have to switch to elliptical. I’ve got a little stress thing going on on my tibia — it makes, it makes me mad when you can’t just go do it, but the doc says I have to give it time to heal, so…

CS: You can always run the stairs here, that’s good exercise.
FM: I guess (laughing). I do that anyway.

CS: Do you take the stairs?
FM: Um-hmm.

CS: Good!
FM: Yup.

CS: That’s exercise.
FM: Yup.

CS: That’s good.
FM: It is.

CS: Well, thank you so much.

— Jody@coloradostatesman.com
— Ernest@coloradostatesman.com



As the Colorado General Assembly prepares to gavel into session this week, the leader of the House Democrats predicts that lawmakers will be able to tackle a range of thorny problems facing the state, despite any lingering anger among Republicans — who hold a one-vote majority in the chamber — over a Democratic-driven legislative reapportionment decision GOP leaders have called “vindictive.” In part because so many legislators won’t be returning next year, says House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, the bitter partisan atmosphere could still yield a productive session as lawmakers consider their legacies.

The Denver Democrat made history when he took over as House minority leader about a month ago, becoming the first openly gay man to hold one of the Legislature’s top leadership positions. (In 2003, former House Minority Leader Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, won the distinction as the first openly gay woman to hold a top post in the Colorado statehouse.) But, even though he was one of the prime sponsors of a civil unions bill killed by a single Republican vote in a House committee last year, Ferrandino says he’s hoping to find a GOP House member to introduce the bill this year.

After moving to Colorado early in the last decade, Ferrandino was first appointed to his seat by a vacancy committee in 2007 and then made his way out of a crowded primary to win election the next year. Before winning office, he worked as a budget analyst for the Colorado Department of Health Care and Financing and served on the powerful Joint Budget Committee before taking the leadership position, bringing a numbers-crunching wonkiness to the table.

House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino is optimistic that the upcoming session will be productive despite hard feelings from an acrimonious reapportionment process. He talked about the Legislature in an InnerView at The Colorado Statesman.

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Democrats, who hold a more comfortable majority in the Senate, have already started to unveil an ambitious slate of proposals to address high unemployment in the state, as Republicans are countering with their own set of solutions. And even as recent economic forecasts look brighter, the budget battle lines have been drawn between rapidly expanding Medicaid costs that Republicans say have gotten out of control and a $100 million property tax break available to some senior homeowners — suspended by both parties as a budget-balancing measure over the years — that Ferrandino says needs a revamp.

Ferrandino will be steering a House caucus that includes two congressional candidates — his predecessor as minority leader, state Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, stepped down a few months ago to devote more time to a run against U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, while state Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, is mounting a bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora — during an election year that promises to focus unprecedented national attention on Colorado’s contests.

Ferrandino joined Colorado Statesman editor and publisher Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning for an hour-long interview at the Colorado Statesman offices on Jan. 4. The Statesman regularly conducts in-depth interviews prominent political figures. Read transcripts of more than a dozen other conversations with Colorado politicos archived online at www.coloradostatesman.com/innerview.

Below is the transcript of The Statesman’s conversation with Ferrandino. It has been edited for length and clarity.

House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, pictured here at The Colorado Statesman office on Jan. 4, says he’s optimistic that Republicans and Democrats can work together this session, “but actions speak larger than words.”

Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Colorado Statesman (CS): What are your thoughts going into the session?
Mark Ferrandino (MF): I think we have the opportunity to have a pretty productive session. There’s lots of big issues we need to address, and some small issues. I’ve been talking to several people, and I think there’s a lot of things we can do — not trying to change the world but actually just practical things we can get done, bipartisan. I think the press is saying it’s going to be a very partisan session because of both the redistricting and reapportionment, and the election coming up. And I think we control that ourselves. We have 120 days in the session, we can either make it really partisan, or we can say, “We’re going to put that aside during the 120 days and actually work together.” My hope is we’ll work together because I think there’s actually practical things we can do.

In terms of the House agenda, I think Democrats are looking, number one, at jobs and the economy. We’ve already outlined one bill, Senate Bill 1 — the HIRE Colorado Act, which actually, the Republicans, the speaker [House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch] has already said, “Well it’s just a union-payback bill,” but it actually — if you look at the math, we’ll bring more money back into the state because we’re spending state dollars in Colorado to hire Coloradans. Over the next couple of days and weeks we’ll outline some more of our jobs bills, and that’s the number one focus of most of our caucus because that’s what they’re hearing when they’re out with their constituents.

It’s that people are worried about — even people who have jobs don’t have the job that they used to have. It’s not the same level of employment that they used to have. It’s, “How do we get the economy going back so that people who want jobs can find jobs, and people who want to get better jobs can find those better jobs?” One of the other things we’re hearing is workforce-development issues, and we’re going to work a lot on jobs as tied to workforce-development and how do you match up skills? Because the economy’s changed — the type of jobs that are out there are changing than what was before the Great Recession. So how do you make sure the universities, the higher education system is targeting the right skillset for businesses? We’re going to be rolling out, hopefully, something in the next week, actually this weekend, looking at trying to foster that collaboration.

The second issue that’s big is the budget. Me being on the budget committee, that’s where I spend most of my time. With a new forecast, we’re seeing hopeful signs. We have more leeway. I think the governor did the right thing to say that we’re not going to cut K-12 anymore, especially given the Lobato lawsuit and that decision. [Ed. note: Last month, a Denver judge ruled the state has failed to meet constitutional obligations to provide the “thorough and uniform” education required by the state Constitution, a decision the state is appealing to the Colorado Supreme Court.]

While it’s being appealed, it’s still, “We shouldn’t dig our hole deeper,” depending on what happens with Lobato. The Republicans keep going after Medicaid. We have one of the leanest Medicaid programs in the country — we’ve been doing things to control costs. We’ll continue to find solutions but there’s no — they want a waiver, but there’s no magic waiver that’s going to solve the problem. If they want waivers, let’s talk about what those waivers would do. There’s only a limited amount of waivers that we could actually get… They talk a big game, but we still haven’t seen real, concrete solutions about how do you solve the Medicaid problem? It’s actually been Democrats — through the Accountable Care collaboratives, some of the cost-containment issues — that we’ve been able to actually look at controlling costs.

The Senior Property Tax Exemption will be a big debate during the session. I think the governor, in terms of putting — now it’s about $18 million in the Fuel and Rent Rebate program, is really targeting the most needy seniors. I think one of the issues we need to understand with Senior Property Tax Exemption is, one, it’s not means-tested, so someone who has a million-dollar home in the mountains, versus someone who is on fixed income, gets the same amount. And someone who’s on a fixed income who doesn’t even own their home doesn’t get the benefit of it. And you have to live in your home for 10 years, which, if someone wants to downsize their property, they’d lose their property-tax exemption. So there are fundamental problems within the property tax exemption itself that, if we really want to target the most needy, and allow seniors to move smarter through life in terms of if they want to downsize — not losing those benefits and making bad decisions because of economic incentives that we’re doing in the wrong way — we need to look at changes to that program. Regardless of the budgetary impact, I think that program needs to be revisited. With the aging population, there’s issues there that we need to make sure we’re hitting the right people and not putting in a program that’s just another entitlement program that’s going to grow out of control.

CS: Do you think it’s time to look at reformulating the Senior Property Tax Exemption?
MF: Yeah, I think it needs to be changed.

CS: Not just because times are bad?
MF: When times are bad you have conversations you otherwise wouldn’t. So, if we’re going to have the conversation about the Senior Property Tax Exemption, let’s have a conversation about if and when we’re going to restore it. If we’re restoring it, let’s restore it in a way that actually makes sense, that it’s really going to the most needy seniors and not just blowing a hole in the budget.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino listens intently as his colleagues on the Joint Budget Committee discuss fiscal issues in 2010.

Photo by Jamie Cotten/The Colorado Statesman

CS: Do you not get the distinct impression that, for the Republicans, this is a big issue for them to fight?
MF: It’s funny that, when you look at ’02 and ’03 during the last downturns, when Republicans controlled the House, they voted to suspend the Senior Property Tax Exemption. It’s only been in place, I believe, three years since it actually was passed. So three of the 12 years it’s actually been in place, or three of the 11, something like that. So now it’s this sacrosanct thing, even though Republicans in the past have voted to suspend it. So, I think they’re playing some politics here, versus actually what the right solutions are for the state. The question to them is: The governor proposed a balanced budget. Now, if you don’t want to do what the governor did, what are your offsets to that? So if you want to fully restore the Senior Property Tax Exemption, which is about $100 million, you take away the $18 million the governor’s put in towards the Fuel Rebate Program, if you want to do that, I actually think that’s a good policy to itself. If you do that, you’re looking at $88 million — $82 million! Geez, I should be good with numbers — $82 million. The question is, where do you get that? Do you get it from schools, do you get it from higher education? They want to get it from Medicaid — there’s not much there. I don’t know if you were at the [pre-session briefing sponsored by the Colorado] Press Association —

CS: Yes, we were.
MF: — and they talked about the billion dollars in optional services that we can… This was (Senate Minority Leader Bill) Cadman’s great idea, that we have a billion dollars in optional services, but as I said there, you have to actually look at what those optional services are. Just because they’re optional doesn’t mean they’re enhancements. Other states have enhancements, what they give more. What our optional services are are prescription drugs — which is optional, we can get rid of it, but your hospital costs will skyrocket because people aren’t managing their diseases — and home- and community-based services, which means, if you don’t provide — to get eligible home and community based services, you have to be eligible for a nursing home. So if you aren’t going to be in a home- and community-based services, you’re going to get full, 24/7 care in a nursing home, which is much more expensive. So, it sounds great, let’s go to our billion dollars in optional services, but that billion dollars we get rid of will cost us more. And those two, the nursing home and community based services and PACE — which is the Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, which is a kind of home and community services — and the prescription drugs take up about half a billion dollars of that billion dollars. And there’s a lot of other things too. But that’s half of it — if you get rid of that, you’re going to spend much more than billion dollars in the costs that are associated with that because you just can’t — you have to provide the services.

CS: Do you have to? Are those truly optional services? Under the Affordable Care Act, as it’s going into effect, some of what you can do is changing. Are those?
MF: Those are optional.

CS: And they’ll continue to be?
MF: My understanding is, they’ll continue to be optional — but at the same point, they’re not. They’re optional because you can pay for the same care different ways. You’re going to pay for it. The question is, what’s the best outcome for them? The best example, I think, is someone with diabetes. You can pay for their insulin which is a prescription drug, or you can pay for their hospital visitation and then, after they decompress so much, (you can pay for) their dialysis, which is much more expensive. To put one person on dialysis probably costs you more than — and I’m totally pulling this out of nowhere, so don’t quote me — but insulin for someone’s (entire lifetime) will probably not cost more than a year of dialysis for a person. So does this make — it doesn’t make sense

CS: You ran the numbers when some of these optional services were put into effect, (comparing) some of the spending on other long-term care with spending for nursing home care? Did those costs actually drop?
MF: Yeah — actually, a lot of the requirements for the optional services, when you get the waivers, you have to be budget neutral or show a budget savings. So when you’re requesting from the Feds the optional programs, you have to show that it’s actually going to reduce costs, or at least be the same costs. So all of these, I think have done that. Now, do they cost more today than they did 20 years ago? Of course, because there’s more people on things, inflation and all those issues. But it has, I think, and you could probably prove it. And if you look at other states, states are moving towards what Colorado is doing to really emphasize home- and community-based services versus nursing homes, so we’ve actually been a leader in some of the Medicaid innovations. People look to us and South Carolina, probably, and North Carolina, as three states that really are kind of looking at, how do you do Medicaid differently? So the budget — I do think we have some wiggle room on that with the new forecast, but I do think it’ll be a big debate, as always. I mean it’s the only thing, constitutionally, we have to do.

The last piece of the things that we’re going to be working on is around tax expenditures, both transparency and accountability around those tax expenditures. Last year we did some reporting around those, and so that’s going to start to give us information next year. But we’ve seen reports that show that, for example, the Enterprise Zone tax credit — last year alone we spent, The [Denver] Post calculated it at about a hundred some-odd thousand dollars per job that was created, while House Bill 10-1001 that was carried by [former state Rep. Joe] Rice (D-Littleton), and supported by the Democrats, I think they showed that it was costing us $9,000 per job that we were creating. So, should we look at the Enterprise Zone, maybe reform it? We have several bills to reform it, one to cap the rate that enterprise zones could get, so it’d be capped. I have a bill to say that you have to review every enterprise zone every five years because an enterprise zone is trying to create economic development in this spot, so eventually, hopefully —

CS: It’s going to get up there.
MF: Hopefully, so eventually you can get rid of (enterprise zone designations).

CS: There’s not a sunset for the present designations?
MF: No. And 80 percent of the state is an enterprise zone. It’s a little ridiculous, and so I think it doesn’t pass the smell test. And so we’re going to look at those. Just because something we did 30 years ago made sense now doesn’t mean it makes sense now. And there probably are better use of tax dollars, either through different types of incentives, like House Bill 1001, other kind of innovative ideas of how do you start startups and entrepreneurial things that other states are doing that are working. Why don’t we use the money there, instead of in things that were passed 30 years ago? Just because they were done then doesn’t mean that they’re actually working today. We need to evaluate those, just like we evaluate all the spending issues.

One of the other issues that will come up in session — actually in the beginning of the session — and it hopefully will be something we can do very bipartisan, I’ve had good conversations with the speaker, is around oversight of departments and the SMART Bill that I and [Senate] President [Brandon] Shaffer (D-Longmont) passed now two years ago, the State Measurement — State — oh gosh, now I have to remember what SMART stands for. State Measures — no, State Measurements — State Measurements for Accountable, Responsive and Transparent Government, that’s what it stands for — (laughs) it took me a second. We had the acronym, we filled in words after (laughs).

It’s already started with the (Joint Budget Committee) this year, and it’s going to start even more with the Committees of Reference. One of the emphases of that bill was to move Committees of Reference from just bill committees to oversight committees as well, and hopefully we’ll start to see that culture in the Legislature change, with leadership really pushing members to take that oversight responsibility, actually as a key of their job — not just passing bills, but actually doing the oversight as part of their real job. So hopefully that will be an interesting, bipartisan thing that we can start session off well together.

CS: You mentioned bipartisanship. We heard Speaker McNulty talk about the fact that he was going to be bipartisan and there was not going to be politics involved if he could help it. How much do you take that with a grain of salt?
MF: I take him at his word, but we’ll see — actions speak louder than words. We’ll see what happens during the session. I think, from conversations I’ve been having with him, there are going to be things we disagree on. There’s reasons there’s two different parties and people associate with different parties. We’re not going to agree 100 percent. It wouldn’t be good if we agreed 100 percent. We’re going to have our fights and our arguments. One is, how do you do those arguments — how do you do them in a respectful way where everyone has dialogue and everyone can have their voice and the outcome is where it is? And then, do we find places where we can work together and actually pass things and get things done?

Right now I’m pretty hopeful that we can have a session that — we’re going to have Civil Unions, we’re going to have — the Republicans probably will bring up collective bargaining issues — the things you see every year that come up and we have huge fights over them are not going to change. Those are going to be there, that’s why we’re in different parties. But I think there’s a lot of things we can do together, and hopefully we look for those opportunities to do those together.

CS: So even given that this year is politically charged, maybe in a way that last year wasn’t, with the elections, some lingering anger over reapportionment — that’s an ambitious agenda that you’re talking about there. Last year we heard from some legislative and party leaders at around this same time, and they talked much the same about jobs bills. At the end of the session it didn’t look like a whole lot had been done and everyone had just kind of gotten through and was worn out by passing the budget.
MF: Yeah, the budget did take a lot out of people.

CS: What’s different about this year? Are we going to be looking at the end of this session and saying, “Well, what happened to all the jobs bills?” Last year, there was the Agricultural Tax repeal —
MF: Right. I don’t know if I’d say that was a — well, I’m not going to…

CS: The Republicans say that’s an economic incentive and has helped spur job creation, to an extent. But other than that, there’s not a lot to point to other than just getting through the session.
MF: Yeah. I think there were a lot of jobs bills out there that didn’t end up going anywhere. Hopefully, one thing is I think we’re going to see some of the similar bills but hopefully we learned from the errors and mistakes and where there were… You know, sometimes bills die because there’s legitimate concerns with them, and people can spend the interim meeting and working on actually how to deal with those. So hopefully we’ve learned some of that.

The other thing I would say is, while it is coming up to an election season, the other thing that will be interesting to see is you have a lot of legislators who are both term limited or who have decided not to run for re-election. And if you’ve spent time in the building, people change when it’s their last session, because they don’t have to go out to the voters and they want, in that last session, they want to — they start to think about legacy, what did I do in my time here, what am I going to get done? And there is a lot — you see members much more willing to cross the aisle and cooperate on bills during their last session because they really want to get something that they’ve been working on done.

If you think about (state Rep.) Judy Solano, who’s been working on trying to reform the CSAP tests. She’s going to bring that back — it’ll be the last time she can bring that back — and, hopefully, people will work with her to try and see if we can get that done. (State Rep.) Tom Massey on film incentives — that’s a bill he’s been working on for years. This is his last session, the governor’s supportive of it, and maybe we’ll see something done.

I do think that kind of having people not running or people term-limited will allow some of that collaboration to actually happen. Even while everyone thinks it’s partisan, it does change members — especially with a 33/32 (partisan split) in the House, you have enough members on both sides who want to just come to the middle and say, “We want to get things done,” that those majority and minority lines will blur a lot more, I think you’ll see this year, than in the past. At least that’s my hope.

CS: If you were term-limited this year, what would be your bill that you’d say, “It’s time to get it done and I’m going to …”
MF: Oh, that’s … I mean, if I had … You know, payday lending’s been my big issue for a long time. We finally passed that two years ago. So that’s done. In terms on a personal level, civil unions is important. I want to be in the Legislature the day we pass that bill. I won’t be carrying it this year —

CS: As you’ve said, you won’t be sponsoring it this year.
MF: Yes, as I said I want to be in the Legislature when it passes. I said that purposely. Because it’s not important that I carry it, I want to just see it happen.

CS: Are you encouraged that the new group of Republicans that is forming — is that a good sign in terms of how it might spill over into Republican votes so that there’ll actually be a vote in the House?
MF: It can’t hurt. I do think that, when you look at polling data, I think there’s been several polls that somewhere around 75 to 80 percent of Coloradans support some type of recognition for same-sex couples, and 60 percent of self-identified conservatives support civil unions or some recognition. So this is just a manifestation of those attitudes in the public. We hear a lot that the Legislature sometimes takes a little time to catch up to the views of the public that they represent, and I think this is a good example of where the public is out front leading their representatives on it.

And there are members of the Republican caucus who are, I think, afraid of primaries and afraid of backlash from those, even though they might be even kind of on the fence or even supportive, they worry about the political ramifications. And so you have a small group of people who are on the far right who are controlling what happens in the Legislature, which is not what’s supported by the vast majority.

So hopefully, as you see more and more Republicans who say, “Well, no, this is a Republican value too — this is not a partisan value, this is a value that we all share” — and it should be. Equal rights should not be a Democratic issue, it should not be a Republican issue, it should be just a human issue. We should all support equal rights. I mean it’s just basic founding of our country. We’ve moved more as a country towards — you look at our founding documents, we’ve moved closer and closer to the ideals of our founding documents as we look at moving towards equality. And this is the step in that progress.

CS: Are you optimistic?
MF: I’m opt— I’ll say this: I’m more optimistic this year than I was last year. So, I think we can do it. I think especially with some of the members not running, I think that might — the question is, where do they want to be when history’s written? Where does their name want to be written on, which side? And so hopefully that will help people not have to think about the political ramifications, but what they think is right.

And what I would say about the people who worry about the political ramifications, I think that is over — I think the political ramifications are worse on the opposite side. Voting against it, you have a much bigger population who is going to be unhappy with you than if you vote for it. Because the vote for it is a much — 76 percent of Coloradans — I mean, I’m sorry, there’s not many things you can find that 76 percent of people in this state agree on.

CS: Right, but if you’re from El Paso County, you’re perhaps —
MF: It still is supported and still is… I don’t remember the number but it was either in the high 50s or low 60s (percent) of El Paso County support it. You have to remember that there’s a small group of people who are the religious conservatives, but there’s a lot of people, and Colorado is known historically when you look at the Republican Party, very libertarian.

CS: Right.
MF: Libertarians tend to be in support of this type of thing, because it’s government out of your life. So, it’s where libertarians and Democrats on social issues tend to come together and agree on things. So I think that’s what you’re seeing, and hopefully we’ll see it pass this year.

CS: Let me ask you, if the support is so high, and it’s consistently high over the last year, year and a half in polling, and only going upwards…
MF: Why not go to the ballot?
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CS: Why not go to the ballot and repeal the Marriage Amendment? I mean, there’s a lot of arguments for that, to help spur turnout in a year where people might be less than enthused about voting for things they voted for four years ago. Why was that decision made?
MF: So, one, there’s a difference between civil unions and marriage. And, I don’t know, when you look at the polling data, you look at the public, I don’t know if the public’s there on marriage. I think they’re on recognition, not on marriage. So I don’t think going to repeal the marriage issue, I don’t… I think it’s changed a lot in the six years — we’re going to six years since the Marriage Amendment passed, and I think that trend’s going to continue, but I don’t think we’re there yet, as a state.

We just saw nationwide, for the first time last year, that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, which is a milestone, and I think you’re just going to see that support continue to grow. But I think the issue is civil unions and we’re really focused on civil unions right now. Because there’s people out there who have families, who have kids, who need those protections, and that we can’t wait for the public to change its opinion on marriage, because those people need protections now.

CS: Putting it off for the ideal doesn’t help them?
MF: Yeah, exactly. Someone had me do (the) Caplis and Silverman (radio show on KHOW-AM) yesterday, and they were saying, “Why don’t you go to the ballot with civil unions, if it’s so supported?” My argument is, I didn’t like going to the ballot for Ref I [a ballot measure to establish civil unions defeated by voters in 2006] to begin with. I thought they should have gone through the Legislature. But I think it was kind of a strategic idea with the Marriage Amendment on the ballot, they wanted something pro to contrast, so I understand that.

But basic human rights is not something we should vote by the people. Even if the people support it — we have a legislature for a reason, you know? We represent people, we got elected, we should do our job, vote on issues that we have the rights to vote on, and then get held accountable by the constituents. If they don’t like what we did, they have every right to vote us out, but I don’t think — I actually think if we don’t do it, people will see more likely they’ll get voted out than people who actually vote for it. So, yes, try it on other things, but I don’t think it’s the right issue you bring to the ballot to say, “We’re going to vote on basic human, equal rights issues at the ballot.” It’s just not — you don’t let — I mean, our Founders, just the idea of democracy and how we separated powers, and how we dealt with different things is you didn’t want the tyranny of the majority over the minority. And so the majority voting on the minority’s rights is against kind of the principles that we were founded on.

CS: Right, and Colorado’s got a history of some problems with that?
MF: Yes — Amendment 2? (Laughs.) [Ed. note: The amendment, passed by Colorado voters in 1992, barred any government in the state from granting protected status to gay or lesbianresidents, but was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996.]

CS: But the only way to do that is by voting on those rights, since it’s in the (state) Constitution.
MF: Well, marriage — I think the only way you’re going to get marriage, which, shocking news, I support gay marriage — but the only way you’re going to do that is through the ballot box, and so we’re going to have to do that through the ballot box, unfortunately. But this is one of the pieces of history people forget, is when the Marriage Amendment — I think it was Amendment 43 — when it passed, throughout the country there were two options, really. There was the narrow version that was just marriage, and then there was the broad version that said anything like marriage, looks like marriage, sounds like marriage, does anything, gives anyone recognition you can’t do. And the writers of the amendment did the narrow version because they saw from polling data they would have lost the other one. So the voters, by one making that decision and seeing that, they left the door open for the Legislature to do civil unions, because they didn’t do the broad one.

I think the Legislature’s doing what they have the power to do and to do civil unions. As I said, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, and I do think it happens either in ’12 or it happens in ’13, and I say that regardless of who’s in the majority of the House. I think you’ll have enough turnover and enough people who have gone through an election who will be OK, feel much more comfortable voting for it. Even if it’s still Speaker McNulty, I think it passes in 2013 — if it doesn’t pass in 2012.

CS: But why wasn’t it done when the Democrats controlled both chambers?
MF: Hindsight’s 20/20. You know, I think it was time to — you see, one of the things was looking at Ref I and giving time for the —

CS: That was still too recent?
MF: It’s still too recent. I think at the end of 2010, maybe we should have looked at it when (Democratic Gov. Bill) Ritter decided not to run again, but I think no one — at the time during session, no one saw the impeding wave at that time coming in. It wasn’t until later.

CS: You just mentioned Gov. Ritter — can we focus a little bit on Gov. (John) Hickenlooper?
MF: Sure.

CS: There was a recent story, as you know, about Hickenlooper’s style of leadership.
MF: Yes.

CS: And now that he’s gone through his first session, do you have any different kinds of expectations from him as he goes into this new year?
MF: I think he’s going to continue to be Hickenlooper with all of his positive and all of his negative. All of us have our positive and our negative. But he is — It’s funny, I’m reading Steve Jobs’ biography, and there’s a whole part in Steve Jobs’ biography about this — he creates a reality distortion field, gets things done because he just, he wills it to happen. And Hickenlooper is in some sense similar to that because he has these ideas and he just, he pushes on them, and he gets things done because he’s determined and he brings people together. He says, “This is what we want to do,” and he listens. He’s different than other governors, I think, because he’s not — he doesn’t have this clear agenda, like, “This is what I want to do.” He really wants to be, I think, the governor who makes government work, who makes it — and I think it fits him perfectly — the effective, efficient and elegant. And that elegance is the key to understanding Hickenlooper.

I think you’re going to see him continue to try and reform government, make it work better, try and update it to a more 21st Century way of working. He’s trying some bigger things. He’s already talked about some of the work he’s trying to do with personnel reform. He’s trying to do some things around Pinnacol, we’ll see what happens with that — I think he was smart to set up that task force to look at it, and we’ll see what comes out of it. To the chagrin of Democrats and Republicans sometimes, he tries to bring everyone together and find the middle ground. And that annoys people on the left, and it annoys people on the right but actually when you look at the state, it probably does actually pretty good stuff for the state.

CS: It’s symbolic of Colorado because it is kind of split in terms of party affiliations and people?
MF: Yeah, Colorado is a practical state. We’re one of the most educated states in the country. People are smart, they want government to work, they don’t want it to be overly partisan and overly one-sided to the left or right, they want it in the middle. And I think he helps to bring it there. The great example is the fracking rules. He and others were able to get a good compromise where we have the toughest disclosure rules in the country, and I don’t think you would have seen that happen without Hickenlooper being involved in that. So while he’s not the show horse, and while he does give a good speech and he does good on the stump, but he’s not the person who is out there saying, “This is my agenda, and I’m going to go and…” — making bold statements. He gets a lot of things done by working behind the scenes and listening to people. And I think he’s going to continue to do that, I don’t see him changing much.

CS: Is it a lot different from his predecessor, Gov. Ritter?
MF: There’s similarities in some places, but they’re very different in their style. Ritter was — he knew what he wanted, he wanted the New Energy Economy, he fought for that and there were times where Ritter was — I think people would say he was not the most decisive at times. You would hear a lot from the second floor, “Well, we just wonder where Ritter stands on things.” I do think Hickenlooper has learned from — when he came in, he talked about how he talked to Ritter, he talked to (former Republican Gov. Bill) Owens and (former Democratic Govs. Roy) Romer and (Dick) Lamm to try and see what worked for them and what didn’t. And I think he’s learned from Ritter about trying to be more clear on where he stands on issues.

I don’t hear that much anymore that we didn’t know where Hickenlooper stood on issues, you know, privately. It’s not like he’s going to go out and say — but you go talk to him and he’ll say, “This is my problem with this bill and if you deal with this we can work and see if there’s an area.” And this is also — he frustrates legislators — is he will not say, “No, I’m not…” He won’t go to you and say, “I’m going to veto your bill.” He’ll go, “Well here’s my concerns with your bill, let’s see if we can find a place where we can actually find common ground.” You know, that’s what his staff does and it actually gets good policy, but it sometimes gets people frustrated (laughs).

CS: But people are frustrated, and there’s another round of this criticism the last couple of weeks, that he doesn’t wade into controversial situations and do the kind of problem-solving you’re saying he’s so good at.
MF: But I think he does do it behind the scenes. I think he does do — tries to work behind the scenes to build those coalitions. If I’m sitting in the governor’s chair and there’s something that’s coming up that’s going to — it’s just the two parties upstairs are fighting each other — which, hopefully, we’re not going to be doing — and it’s just this partisan issue, why would I wade in? Why would I step in when it’s just people taking political shots at each other? I think when there’s practical conversations happening, he steps in to try and make sure that those — that where there’s a difference, he can bridge that difference. But when there are so diverse differences that it’s just partisan, I don’t think he, he doesn’t try to step into things because it doesn’t make sense for him to use his time and resources to try and solve a problem that can’t be solved. I think he’s really smart with his time.

CS: But isn’t that an element of leadership?
MF: Well, but I mean look last year. Civil unions — he came out and supported civil unions. He didn’t have to weigh in on that, he weighed in on that. On personnel reform he’s taking on some key areas that are tough. On Pinnacol, he’s taking on key constituency groups that are not — I don’t know if they’re there yet on what goes on with Pinnacol. I think he uses, he’s smart in where he spends his resources.

CS: He does seem to be taking on some of the sacred cows, but is that the only place he’s spending his political capital? is the question that comes up. With school lunches last year, and near the end (of the session) when the regulations were holding the budget hostage, that was the Hickenlooper I think that a lot of people say they’d like to see more full-time. A lot of fights he did seem to sit on the sidelines, though. You’re saying that, privately, he was steering things?
MF: I think it was him and his staff —

CS: You didn’t see a lot of solutions on some of those things, though?
MF: (Laughs) I think a governor’s in a weird position, any governor, because you have a situation where our government is set up that the Legislature is arguably the more powerful branch of the two — but it’s this issue where I think sometimes you get legislators, especially when you’re a governor, saying, “Don’t tell us what to do. We’re the Legislature, we’ll tell you what to do.” And then the governor’s trying to balance that between being too involved or not being involved. I think if he was the opposite and so involved, right, he would get screamed at by…

CS: People would say he was running the state like he did Denver?
MF: Right, where there’s a strong mayor. I think in Denver — look, he can lead, he knows how to lead. He did it in Denver, I think he’s done it in places as governor. But I think it’s a different role. And I think he’s doing it well.

CS: So after the first year, your counterpart in the Senate, President Shaffer, said that he expected to see a different kind of (leadership) style this year, now that the governor has got his legs under him?
MF: I think he’s going to be more out front on things. Look, Pinnacol, personnel reform, I think he’ll do some other things. There are some other issues that I know he’s working on that he’s probably going to roll out in the State of the State (address). So there’s things he really wants to be out front on. I think he spent his first year trying to figure out what those were. Now he’ll start to do those and roll those out. But I don’t think his style’s going to change — how he approaches solving problems and dealing with policy isn’t going to be any different.

CS: What about your style versus that of your predecessor, (former Minority Leader) Sal Pace? Do you see any differences in how you’ll be doing things?
MF: I’ll just say how I approach it, I won’t — Sal did an amazing job stepping in. I think he was a phenomenal leader. He really showed the ability to actually be the fighter when he needed to be the fighter and be the person who could bridge the divide when he needed, and he really worked well with the speaker. My experience, and what I think I bring to this role is being on the JBC for three years, it really is kind of that committee that does not look at partisan issues. And even with the new JBC, where there’s new members, it really got to a place where it wasn’t partisan. There’s the saying when you cross the street you take your partisan hat off and you write a budget that’s practical and looks out for the best interests of the state, not for either party or the area where you represen

I think that mindset that I have from the JBC will serve me well in the minority leader role to try and make sure I work in that context of thinking, what’s best for the state, not what’s best for my party. I have a good relationship with Frank (McNulty). We joust each other, and we’ll disagree but we actually get along and we hang out together, so I think that will help. And so did Frank and Sal, so I think the relationship between the two leaders in the House, between Sal and Frank, and Frank and I, won’t be very different. I think my experience will help with the job but I think it’ll be very similar in a lot of sense to Sal’s ability to call a spade a spade when it needs to be called but also be willing to sit down and find a common ground where we need it.

CS: This session, you’ll have two members of the House and one prominent member of the Senate running for Congress. [Ed. note: State Reps. Pace and Joe Miklosi are running for Congress in the 3rd and 6th Districts, respectively, and Senate President Shaffer is running in the 4th District. All are Democrats challenging Republican incumbents.]
MF: Two members of the Senate!

CS: Two members of the Senate?
MF: (State Rep. Kevin) Lundberg. [Ed. note: Lundberg, a Berthoud Republican, is considering a run against Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis.]

CS: He’s still considering it —
MF: Oh, he filed an exploratory committee, that’s —

CS: Yeah, he’s created an exploratory committee, and he’s got a Facebook page asking for advice.
MF: (Laughs) I should weigh in on that.

CS: Do you have advice for him?
MF: I think he should run, I think that’s great (laughs).

CS: OK, so maybe two in each chamber running pretty hard. In your experience, does that skew things? It’s not often that there’s that many —
MF: The only time I can remember — we had (state Reps. Scott) Tipton and Cory (Gardner) running at the same time, yeah. [Ed. note: Two years ago, Tipton and Gardner both ran successfully against Democratic incumbents and were elected to Congress.] And I don’t think it changed much. I think there was a heightened sense of kind of their votes and were they missing…

CS: Were they there —
MF: I remember Cory being gone a lot. So I think there’s heightened. I think the press and everyone else is more heightened to what they’re doing as congressional candidates. But in terms of day-to-day operations in the House and Senate, I don’t think that’s going to change.

CS: But the election year calendar is pushed up quite a bit, so that you’ve got your precinct caucuses, county assemblies and your state assembly and convention all —
MF: But the House District and Senate District assemblies always happen during county conventions, which usually happen in April, so it happened during session already. The only thing we’ve moved up — everything moved up a little and the caucuses, the Republicans are doing February, we’re doing March, which is the exact same time we did it four years ago — well, February was the time we did it four years ago. So I don’t think it changes much. Hopefully what it does change is it puts pressure on members to get done early so we can go out, because of the earlier primary period, and maybe we can get done a week or two early, which is my hope (knocks on the table) — we shall see. I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful.

CS: Was it Speaker McNulty who said that at the CPA briefing? He’d like to talk to you guys about getting done early. Is that something that you’re all in agreement with, or just on the House side?
MF: I know at least on the House side, and I think President Shaffer has said that, so I don’t know — I haven’t talked to Sen. Cadman or the other — (House) Majority Leader (Amy) Stephens or (Senate) Majority Leader (John) Morse. But I think, if we’re done — if we’re sitting there twiddling our thumbs, it doesn’t make sense for us to come in. If we have real work to do at the end, and you’ve mentioned it, last year — you look at the last days of session where we almost went to the brink of a special session because the Republicans wanted to pay back a contributor who happened to be the payday lending industry, in a rules bill and they’d already lost the bill once, so they tried to come around and — Only bad things happen — I think our chief of staff, (former House Majority Leader) Paul Weissmann, says it well: “There’s usually nothing that needs to pass in the last week of session. Anything that gets introduced is usually something that is going to have problems.”

CS: Speaking of things, though, that you might need to take care of early — some of the election laws. Are those on a fast track, or is there the potential to let things stand the way the Secretary of State has them? [Ed. note: Secretary of State Scott Gessler recently ordered primary candidates to file biweekly campaign finance reports after legislation moving up Colorado’s primary date failed to also adjust reporting requirements.]
MF: I think there’s conversations going on around the reporting for the primaries, and going back to a more reasonable, sensible reporting. The fact that most members don’t raise money during session anyway because there’s strict prohibitions for certain — you can raise money, but not from anyone who’s associated with a lobbyist or is a lobbyist. You don’t see people raise that much money because they’re too busy in the Legislature (laughs). Also, reporting every two weeks zero (dollar) reports doesn’t really make much sense and so before (the primary date moved), I think it was like a, somewhere between a month and two months’ reporting before the primary. I think there’s a desire to move back, and I think there’s agreement to try and do that quickly, because it has to be done before Jan. 30.

CS: Do you feel that the secretary of state — there’s been some criticism that he’s perhaps overstepped —
MF: I don’t know if it’s been criticism or it’s been the courts saying that he actually is overstepping. Criticism sounds like it’s unjustified. It’s actually the facts that he’s overstepped his boundaries. To go from (former Democratic Secretary of State) Bernie Buescher, who in most people’s eyes is one of the most non-partisan, most reasonable people in the state who’s been elected office, to go to Scott Gessler [the Republican who defeated Buescher in 2010] who is — he is now using the secretary of state’s office to do what he’s tried to do for decades as a lawyer for the Republicans, to skew the ability for Republicans to actually be able to have advantages in campaign finance and elections. It’s sad to see what’s happened to that office.

And he really has — I think he is — secretary of state is something that should be above politics, because you really, you’re overseeing the campaigns. He has done the exact opposite and made it all politics. You know, when he’s going to go and raise money for a county party that he just fined and waived a significant portion of their fines, just the appearance — He doesn’t understand that that appearance, just even if it’s not illegal, but the appearance of that is bad. You know, I think this is someone who really is out of touch with reality and the mainstream of Colorado.

I think we’re seeing that when the courts — it’ll be interesting to see, he already said he won’t need it, but I doubt it — as he goes through these court cases, I think he’s going to have to come to the Legislature for more money for legal fees. And the question is, why are we paying these legal fees when every time he goes to court, he gets shot down? So he’s clearly continuing to overstep his bound and then the taxpayers are paying for him to overstep his bound and do partisan stuff through this elected office. I don’t think that makes sense, so it’s going to be — I think it’ll be — we will have an interesting session with Scott Gessler.

CS: In addition to making sure that there aren’t loopholes to try to exploit, like the reporting requirements before the primary, does the Legislature need to set some more guard rails for the secretary of state’s office?
MF: You know, the problem is, there are guard rails: the law. And he just ignores it (laughs) and then the courts tell him. And so it’s hard when you have someone who’s an elected official who isn’t following the law, and then the courts are saying no, and then he continues to do it and says, “I don’t really care what the courts are saying.” That is significant — how do you put guard rails on someone who doesn’t care if the guard rails already exist?

CS: Cut his budget?
MF: My bigger question is, if he comes for a legal services request to actually pay for his lawsuit, should we actually fund it if he continues to behave the way he’s behaving and spending money in a way that is, he knows he’s going to lose in court and he just doesn’t care? I think granted, there’s roles in — you know, if you just cut the entire secretary of state’s budget, there’s things that need to get done in the secretary of state’s office like actually doing the elections, business filings, non-profit filings — you don’t want to hurt those people just because of his bad behavior.

The question is, how do you go after what he’s trying to do bad? Because there’s things he’s doing, probably, that are good, that get overshadowed by all the news that he keeps making for himself. And it’s sad, because even with (former Secretary of State) Gigi Dennis and some of the Democrats and Republicans, there have been skirmishes and people saying, “Oh, well this is someone using for political gain,” but nowhere to the level that I’ve ever seen a secretary of state using his office to clearly go beyond what is in his scope of power.

CS: Can we talk about you and how you got here? You had sort of an unusual path to public office —
MF: I’ll tell my five-minute history of life. Born in New York. I have a twin sister. Was born with oxygen deprivation in the womb, so I was born cross-eyed. Had surgery when I was about a year and a half to straighten my eyes. Actually I had surgery about six months ago to straighten them again, because after a while they start to go the opposite way, so I just had them straightened. But from an early age was kind of known that I was slower, I was not developing the same rate as my sister. So my parents — both being teachers from New York, education’s key to them — had me tested pretty early, and I was diagnosed learning-disabled with reading comprehension issues and thought processing issues.

I always say, when I was a kid, if you asked me a question, my first answer was, “What?” like I didn’t hear you. Because the reason was — it wasn’t because I didn’t hear you, it was to give me the extra time to — and then I would answer the question usually halfway through you asking it the second time, which annoyed people. It’s like, you heard me the first time. But it was that kind of coping mechanism to give myself that extra time.

And so I was in special ed, self-contained classes. Where I grew up in Clarkstown was 10 elementary schools. I went to Kindergarten with my twin sister but then after, I think it was either 1st grade — I think it was 1st grade, there was only one school that had special ed in the entire district at the time. We’re talking 1980, really, kind of right when you started dealing with special ed issues. So from 1st grade to about 5th, 4th grade, I was in self-contained classes, so just… you know, not with my sister. There was a school like literally a quarter of a mile from our house, I got bussed on a short bus across town to another school.

And then by about 5th grade I started getting mainstreamed, so I started taking regular classes and then after that, I started playing trumpet. Playing trumpet I always attribute to helping me overcome a lot of the issues I had kind of emotionally dealing with special ed, because it was kind of this thing that I was doing with everyone else starting in 4th grade that I was as good at as everyone else and didn’t have — wasn’t seen differently.

CS: Do you still play the trumpet?
MF: Still play the trumpet. Still have it in my… Sits in my office at home. So I don’t play as much as I probably should… So then I got involved in sports — I played football, played track, I was a pole vaulter in high school and college. By junior high — it’s weird in Clarkstown, because you’ve got 10 elementary schools, but only one junior high school for two years. So a lot of kids in the one junior — it’s one of the biggest junior highs in the state, at least at the time, of New York. And so I actually was back with my sister and then I went to high school with my sister.

By then I was in all mainstream classes and went to resource room and had help. And I always took my tests on time because that was part of my IEP (Individualized Education Program). And I remember I said this during the [Senate Bill] 191 debate last year, was I remember I think it was junior high I had a teacher who told me that, “If you can’t take your tests on time then you’re not smart enough to be in my class.”

So you know, it was definitely a lot of emotional issues going through. I think in the article that (Denver Post reporter) Tim (Hoover) wrote about me getting my glasses thrown out of the window and finding them by the bus, because I’m pretty blind without my glasses. I mean, I can’t read. I can barely see the 1 on the license plate over there. And so dealing with that — Tim asked me the question, in the role that I have now, what’s more significant, the fact that you are a gay man in this role or the fact that you overcame a learning disability? I said, “It’s not even a question, it’s the learning disability and where I’ve come.”

I had very supportive parents, they were — and I’ve said this, too — they didn’t want me to run for office, partly because I think with the learning disability and with being gay they were very protective of me, and they didn’t want to see me get hurt. Now they’re very proud, and they’re going to be here, actually, in a month or so, they’re going to come — they haven’t been down when I’ve been in session, so it’ll be nice for them to see that.

So I went to college, did my undergrad and Master’s in five years at the University of Rochester, went and worked at the White House Budget Office for three years under Clinton and Bush, met my partner Greg. He got a job out here with (the U.S. Customs Service), at the time, and so we decided to move to Denver — best move I’ve made.

I moved out here, worked with the Department of Justice doing auditing for them. At the time, got involved with Democratic politics, the gay Democratic group. Because it was interesting — everyone thought, you live in D.C. you’re very involved in politics, but I worked at the White House, you couldn’t be involved with politics. I was a non-partisan person so I had to be non-partisan. So as soon as I — and I was very involved — I loved politics as a kid. I would watch all the debates, I volunteered on Mario Cuomo’s campaign, the ABC campaign – “Anyone But Cuomo,” — when he lost. That’s when Pataki beat him.

I was always interested in politics and so when I got to Colorado, I got involved in politics. Ended up becoming treasurer of the state party pretty quickly and moved and worked for HCPF (the state Department of Health Care Policy and Financing) just across the street for a couple of years. And then when (former state Rep.) Mike Cerbo stepped down, I was just like, OK, I’ve always wanted to do this and then, yeah, I’ve been in the Legislature now — I can’t believe it, but this’ll be my fourth session. It doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes it feels like it’s been much longer, sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday that I got appointed and then elected.

CS: We’re very pleased that you would come over and share your thoughts with us, and we appreciate it. We look forward to covering the session — it should be an interesting one.
MF: It’ll be a fun one!

CS: It’ll be a fun one.