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.
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.
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.
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.
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 —
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.