InnerView with Dick Wadhams

By Jody Hope Strogoff & Scot Kersgaard
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Dick Wadhams was elected Colorado Republican State Chairman in March 2007 and reelected in March, 2009. During the 2008 campaign he also served as campaign manager for Senate candidate Bob Schaffer.

He worked from 1981 to 1989 for Colorado U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong.

Wadhams managed the statewide Colorado campaigns of U.S. Senator Hank Brown in 1990 and U.S. Senator Wayne Allard in 1996 and 2002. He was campaign manager for Governor Bill Owens in 1998 when Owens became the first Republican governor of Colorado in 24 years.

Wadhams was campaign manager for U.S. Senator John Thune of South Dakota in 2004 when Thune defeated Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle — was the first time in 52 years a sitting Senate Democratic leader was defeated for reelection.

He also helped Montana U.S. Senator Conrad Burns in his successful reelection campaigns in 1994 and 2000. He served as Chief of Staff for U.S. Senator George Allen of Virginia in 2005- 2006.

Wadhams was born and raised in rural southeastern Colorado where he was a Republican county chairman at age 19 in 1975-1976 and he is a graduate of the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo.

Below is the full transcript of the Q&A with Waak. The transcript has been edited for clarity:

Colorado Statesman (CS): It’s been a little quiet in December. Is this is the calm before the storm?

Dick Wadhams (DW): It doesn’t seem like there’s any calm, even in off-election years. In terms of how busy I am and how intense the atmosphere is, I don’t see a lot of difference.

CS: It’s almost like there was no break from 2008.

DW: Exactly. I think part of it was the resignation of (Sen. Ken) Salazar. A year ago, we were waiting for Ritter to decide who he was going to appoint. That set in motion the dominoes that have been falling ever since. I’m not saying that Salazar was invulnerable, but he turned what, on the surface, looked like a competitive Senate race into one I think we’re going to win.

CS: Do you think Senator Bennet is becoming more entrenched and more accepted?

DW: What I’ve noticed — and I think this is a result of the entrance of (Andrew) Romanoff into the race — is he’s definitely shoring up his left flank. His visibility on the health care bill is in stark contrast to the lack of visibility he had on every other issue earlier in 2009. I think he wanted to make sure the base of the Democratic Party knew that he was already behind that legislation.

His attempt to distance himself from the bribery that (Senate Majority Leader) Senator (Harry) Reid embarked upon to get the bill passed was pretty lame. It’s one thing to say you disagree with it, (but) he voted for bribery twice. There was actually an amendment on the floor of the Senate to take out the special deals Nebraska and Louisiana got, and (Bennet) voted against that amendment. He voted to table it, to kill the amendment.

And then, of course, he voted for the bill overall.

If he really wanted to assert himself as an independent senator, he would have at least voted for the amendment. But, more importantly, he would have told Senator Reid, “I cannot vote for this bill, since it has been passed through bribery.”

And I don’t think there was any other word you can use to describe it.

Giving $300 million to Louisiana, granting an exception to Nebraska forever, giving the University of Connecticut and Chris Dodd a $100 million teaching hospital…

I don’t see $100 million coming this way. Not that I think it should. I don’t think we should have been in the business of trying to get our bribe, our largesse. I think what our senator should have been doing is fighting against the deals that were cut for those other states. It’s reprehensible. It truly is. It gives Washington a bad name — and Washington didn’t have a very good name before.

CS: You don’t buy his sincerity?

DW: I think it’s as phony as a three-dollar bill. If he truly was against it, he could have voted against it very specifically in that amendment, and he could have held his ground and said, “Take these things out, and then I’ll vote for the health care bill.”

The 2010 Senate Race

CS: Do you think he’s going to be the Democratic nominee in 2010?

DW: I presume he will. Incumbency’s a fairly powerful weapon, in a primary especially.

CS: What about the Republican side? Do you presume that your nominee will be Jane Norton?

DW: No, I do not presume that. I would describe Jane Norton as the frontrunner, but I don’t think she has an overwhelming frontrunner status.

Basically, Jane comes into the race with a lot of advantages. Having been lieutenant governor, she’s got much higher name ID among Republicans, and she was very well liked as lieutenant governor. Because of those two things, I think it’s accurate to describe her as the frontrunner.

But I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that she will be the nominee. Jane is working very hard. I’ve personally been impressed by how she’s getting around the state. Every time I turn around, I see her in a clip from Lamar, or from Craig.

I know she’s also aggressively raising money, which we have to do. I think Jane is rising to the occasion as a candidate.

But Ken Buck also has been methodically running around the state for several months now. And I think Ken has built credibility with Republican activists.

Tom Wiens just got in the race. He’s telling people he’s going to be able to use his own money in the race, which always is an important factor.

Cleve Tidwell continues to blow it away. There’s no evidence that Cleve Tidwell has slowed down at all in terms of campaigning.

Competition is healthy for our nomination — Jane’s got to earn it, and she’s demonstrated she’s committed to that. But we have a process to go through.

The 2010 Governor’s Race

CS: The governor’s race has changed since our last interview, nearly a year ago. (AND OBVIOUSLY IT HAS CHANGED SINCE THIS INTERVIEW WAS CONDUCTED SHORTLY BEFORE THE NEW YEAR. BUT WE’VE DECIDED TO KEEP WADHAMS’ ANSWERS AS IS.)

DW: Dramatically changed. Scott McInnis is now in a very, very strong position to win the nomination. I give a lot of credit to Dan Maes for his tenacity, and he’s continuing to campaign.

Both of those candidates asked me for advice in the aftermath of Josh Penry’s withdrawal. I answered their questions, and whether my advice is worth anything — that’s up to them to decide (laughs).

With Scott, I said, “I think you need more definition on your candidacy. I don’t think you’ve been able to convey a clear sense about why you want to be governor of Colorado and what your agenda would be.”

I cited to him the agenda that Governor Owens ran on in ’98, when I ran his campaign: To cut taxes, reform education, improve transportation and with very extensive policy positions behind each one of those points.

I said, “Scott, use this as an opportunity to better define yourself.”

And to Scott McInnis’ credit, he could have acted like a victor and just said, “Well, I drove Penry out of the race.”

Instead, he reached out to Josh. He reached out to Tom Tancredo, who was ready to get into that race, and made it very clear publicly.

As a result, Josh and Tom worked with Scott to develop the Platform for Prosperity, which, by the way, is a McInnis campaign document. It is not a Colorado Republican document. There has been some confusion about that.

I credit Scott for doing that, because I think it’s a very solid document.

If he becomes our nominee, I really think it can become the basis for our Republican campaigns — not only for governor, but state Legislature as well. I think it’s something to rally around.

CS: Why do you think so many people have knocked it?

DW: Well, for one thing, whenever you put something out, it becomes a target for sure. I think that’s fine. But you’ve got to define yourself — running for governor of Colorado, especially.

Bill Owens laid out his transportation plan in the summer of ’98, and he really fleshed it out, using the TRANS, essentially for T-REX, but also to expand I-25.

Our opponent, Lieutenant Governor (Gail) Schoettler, derisively called him Ten-Lane Bill and said, “There’s no way you can expand I-25. It’s just impossible. It’s too expensive. You can’t do it. We just need to expand by rail.”

So that was a lightning rod in that campaign.

Well, guess what? We bravely embraced Ten-Lane Bill. Ten-Lane Bill became governor of Colorado.

And every time I drive up I-25 from my office in the Tech Center, I think about Ten-Lane Bill. My point is that agendas always draw fire, but they also set the parameters of debate in a campaign. Scott McInnis has moved the debate in this election.

Having said that, Dan Maes called me, and I encouraged him to stay in the race if he wanted to.

I also said, “Dan, you get a lot of credit from me and many other Republicans for your tenacity in running around the state and going to Republican events. You’re doing well, but it’s more than that. You have to raise money, too.”

I’ve always said that in order to run a campaign in a statewide race, you have to have the grassroots organization and volunteers. But you also have to have money.

You can’t have just one or the other. We have had plenty of candidates who try to finance campaigns without a dedicated grassroots army, and they lost. And we’ve had plenty of candidates who think they don’t need money, and they’ve lost, too.

All the campaigns I’ve ever run in Colorado had very strong organizations, whether it was Owens or (Wayne) Allard or (Hank) Brown or whoever. We were well financed.

But we couldn’t have won those elections without both money and a dedicated army of volunteers and leaders around the state.

That’s what I told Dan.

I said, “Dan, you’re doing great work on the grassroots, but you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to raise money, or you can’t win. You’ve got a window here between now and the end of the year.”

Of course, it was mid-November when that was all going on. Now we get into January, February … and the caucuses are March 16.

Those were my two bits of advice for Scott McInnis and Dan Maes in the aftermath of the Penry withdrawal.

CS: Do you think Scott has been specific enough about what he wants? Is there room for improvement there?

DW: Sure, there need to be more specifics, and there will be.

I would take you back once again to the Owens Transportation Plan. We didn’t unveil that until the summer of ’98.

He wanted to improve transportation. That was always part of his plan. But the specifics of the Trans Program and what became the T-REX Project — that concept really wasn’t laid out until, I guess, early spring of ’98. We defined that very bold transportation agenda once we got into the campaign year.

I wouldn’t expect anything more or less from Scott. I think the platform is a great framework as an agenda, and, over the course of the campaign, I think he will continue to refine that.

Part of it depends on what happens this legislative session. Every word said at the Capitol plays into the campaign for governor. As we get deeper into the legislative session, he will be working with our Senate Minority Leader, Josh Penry, and with Mike May and all of our Republican legislators, and the issues will become clear. That’s going to come.

(The Platform for Prosperity) is a pretty darn good document, and if he becomes our nominee, it’s something that our party can rally around.

CS: Do you think Josh Penry will end up with a cabinet position under Scott McInnis?

DW: I don’t know what will happen. What he does with Scott McInnis — Governor McInnis, hopefully — I don’t know. I can’t see beyond Election Day.

CS: Do you feel like he got shafted a little bit?

DW: No, I do not. Not at all. I think Josh came to a very personal decision to withdraw from the race, and he made the right decision. I say right because whatever decision he’s made is the correct one. I’ve been around candidates for a long time.

You know, poll numbers and political dynamics and the atmosphere and all that stuff — those are all important questions that candidates have to look at. But the most fundamental question is how bad you want it and if your family is ready for it. And if Josh got into this thing and realized the toll it was going to take on him and his family, then he made the right decision to get out. In fact, I was just telling a guy today who called me who wants to run for a statewide office in another state. He just asked me questions about it. I related to him what you’ve heard me talk about before.

When I was getting ready to go to South Dakota, I had had many conversations about the vulnerability of (Tom) Daschle, the dynamics of the South Dakota electorate, all those things. But the most important conversation I had was not with John Thune.

It was when I went to South Dakota to sit down with Kimberly Thune and to meet their two teenage daughters. To really get a sense from Kimberly of whether the family was up for a rerun. Because he had lost two years earlier. I thought if I get the sense that Kimberly Thune does not want John to run, that they’re not ready for another bruising race, then this is a non-starter.

And that’s when I became convinced that John Thune could win, because she was solidly behind it. She was excited about it, and she knew what they were getting into.

I remember her saying to me, “Dick, after you’ve gone through one of these, what could be worse than what we just went through?”

And she said, “You know what? We also learned that losing is not the end of the world.”

I say that because, ultimately, that’s the most important thing. How bad the candidate wants it and if the family’s behind it. Because if one of those questions is answered “no,” ain’t gonna happen (laughs).

CS: Do you think Governor Ritter is vulnerable? Has that changed over the last year? (PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THAT RITTER WAS STILL IN THE RACE WHEN THIS INTERVEW WAS CONDUCTED.)

DW: I think he’s become more vulnerable. In fact, I continue to be amazed at what a weak chief executive he is as governor and how weak he is politically.

If you go back almost 50 years in Colorado history — to John Vanderhoof, to Dick Lamm, Roy Romer, Bill Owens — the common thread with all those governors is that they were seen as very strong chief executives. When they walked in a room, you knew the governor of Colorado was there. You had a sense that they had a grasp of the office.

You might have disagreed with their specific policies, but you did not doubt their ability to handle the job. I don’t think you can say that about Bill Ritter. And I think that’s one of the main reasons why his numbers are weak right now. I do not think he’s perceived as a strong leader.

People expect a strong leader as governor. The fact is, we have not had an elected governor being unseated for re-election since 1962 — which plays into my larger point.

Bill Ritter is the most politically weak governor we’ve had in decades. I think back to 2001. In December of 2001, as Governor Owens was getting ready to run for re-election, the Democrats essentially wrote off the race. They were totally focused on (Sen.) Wayne Allard. No candidate emerged of any credibility. They weren’t even talking about unseating Bill Owens.

Show me a Democrat who doesn’t think Bill Ritter is vulnerable at this point.

Bill Ritter has not governed the way he campaigned. I’ll take you back to Bill Owens once again. He ran on those three key issues, and what did he do after he became governor? He cut taxes three times. He passed a landmark education reform bill. We did go to the people and pass the Trans Program that built the T-REX Project and accelerated projects around the state. By the time Bill Owens got ready to run for re-election as governor, his actions as governor matched his rhetoric as a candidate.

What has Bill Ritter done as governor, other than continue to give lip service to this New Energy Economy? I contend those things would be happening under a Republican governor and a Republican Legislature.

Did Bill Ritter tell us in 2006 that he was going to sign an executive order signing the State of Colorado over to union bosses? Did he talk about that in 2006? No, he did not.

Did he tell us that he was going to pass a property tax increase without going to the voters of Colorado and then get the State Supreme Court to rubber stamp it? Did he talk about how he was going to raise property taxes? No, he did not.

Did he say he was going to raise automobile registration fee taxes? It was just the most regressive tax you can imagine. The lower down the economic ladder, the more that hurts. Is it going to hurt me to pay another $40 a year for my car and my pickup? No. I don’t like it, but I’m not going to lay awake at night.

But I’ll tell you what — for a lot of people, that extra $40 is going to hurt. And, yet, he didn’t tell us that he was going to do that in 2006.

Did he tell us that he was going to try to solve the budget problem by an early release program, putting literally violent offenders back on the streets much earlier than they should be?

He didn’t tell us any of those things. And, yet, I believe those are the issues that define his governorship.

And that’s why I say that the way he’s governed has not matched the way he campaigned. He campaigned as a moderate, pro-business Democrat, and he’s been anything but. And that’s why he’s weak right now.

Villafuerte’s Nomination for U.S. Attorney

Let me give you another example: the Stephanie Villafuerte nomination. I don’t think that was a good move on his part. People have asked me if I thought it was either arrogance or stupidity. I don’t think it was stupidity. I think it was arrogance that he nominated her for U.S. attorney. For him to think that her nomination could be put forward and that an issue from the 2006 campaign would not be re-litigated in the public forum — it just boggles my mind!

I could not believe my eyes the day he announced that. I know it was Udall and Bennet, but this was Bill Ritter who put that name out.

The senators basically abdicated their responsibility as senators and let Ritter shove them around on that. Udall, I’m frankly so disappointed in. Not because I support Mark Udall. I just thought he was smarter than this. I think Mark Udall should have had the presence of mind and the political foresight to see that this was a non-starter. He should have been the one who very privately told Bill Ritter, “Governor, this is not going to fly. This nomination is going to revive all the debate…”

The Voorhis issue had kind of receded into the recesses of the public consciousness. Unfortunately, I think the guy got screwed, and I think he deserves his day in court. And he’s going to get it in January, with that hearing and, hopefully, with the Homeland Security investigation. But partially, the public had kind of moved on from that issue. Putting her forward and then the comedy of errors… Every time Villafuerte or her allies spoke, it dug the nomination a little deeper.

This whole “threat” thing. Governor Ritter himself used that term. He started to say “death threat.” He used the term “death,” and then he caught himself, and then he said “serious threat.” But he started to say death threat, if you listen to the tape.

We could go on and on about the Villafuerte nomination, but this drives home my point that Bill Ritter is not a strong chief executive. I can guarantee you that Bill Owens and Roy Romer and Dick Lamm would not have put forth a nominee who would have been instantly controversial, with all that baggage she had.

I have no doubt that Stephanie Villafuerte is qualified to be U.S. attorney, that she has strong qualifications to be U.S. attorney. I never doubted that. But the Voorhis case raised serious ethical questions about that nomination.

Of course, it’s dead now. But she should never have been put forward. She should have had the good sense to know that this was not a smart idea.

CS: Do you think you were too tough on her?

DW: No, I do not.

We kept it to the issues. We kept it to the questions surrounding the accessing of the NCIS database by the Denver District Attorneys’ Office, to her repeated phone calls to the DA’s office. All this is public record.

What I wanted, and what many others asked for, was a full public hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. When Senator (Jeff) Sessions said he was going to put a hold on the nomination and that he wanted an additional FBI interview... Well, that told me right there. If she was not willing to go under oath to answer the questions, everything we’d been claiming was true.

CS: Were you surprised by her withdrawal?

DW: When Senator Sessions raised the concern — sending a very clear message to the administration and to Udall and Bennet — the issue caught my attention, and I wanted some answers.

That was on Tuesday. And then, on Friday, he sent the letter saying, “I want the nomination delayed, and I want additional questions answered.”

I wasn’t surprised the following Monday, when she withdrew.

CS: Your counterpart, Pat Waak, seems to think you got a little personal.

DW: I would like for her to show me the quotes and statements I made that made it personal. We kept it to the issues at hand. I sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman and ranking member. I asked them for a full hearing before the committee on her nomination and that she answer these questions.

I also sent a letter to (Denver Police) Chief (Gerald) Whitman after he stonewalled The Denver Post and would not respond to questions about the alleged death threat. I sent my own letter to Chief Whitman, and, amazingly, he sent a response to me, of all people. Now, it was a fairly lame response, but I feel sorry for Chief Whitman for having been put in that position.

Everything I did and said was very consistent with what The Denver Post editorial page called for in terms of answers to the questions and being forthcoming.

I think Pat Waak ought to be more concerned about a governor who was so stupid in putting that nomination forward. The real hindering about Stephanie Villafuerte was not going on in Republican circles. It was going on in Democratic circles. Every few days, there was another story and another inconsistency, another nonsensical statement from Ritter or Villafuerte’s allies.

What was really going on is that the Democrats were getting tired of it. On top of it, there are a hundred Democratic lawyers out there who could easily be approved as U.S. Attorney.

When Bill Clinton nominated Tom Strickland to be U.S. Attorney, Wayne Allard did not oppose the nomination. Wayne Allard could have killed that nomination, by the way, because we had control of the Senate. He could have just killed it right there. He could have said, “No, you’re not going to get through the Senate because I’m going to put a hold on it.”

I was the state chairman at the time, but no prominent Republican, no Republican, period, that I’m aware of, raised any objection to Tom Strickland, because there was no ethical cloud hanging over Tom Strickland.

I mention that because this was very extraordinary, to take this on politically. But it was the right thing to do. Bill Ritter, Stephanie Villafuerte, the Denver District Attorney’s Office, were able to get away with a lot, in my opinion, in the 2006 campaign. And I think Bill Ritter did the public a service by putting the nomination forward so we could revive these questions and get them answered.

Issues and Candidates

CS: Do you think Republicans will take control of either the State House or the Senate?

DW: I think we’ve got a very good chance at both of them. I’m going to predict we’re going to, at the very, very, absolute minimum, dramatically close the majorities in both houses. I think we have a real shot at both houses. It depends on the quality of candidates we recruit. I’ve been very pleased so far about our candidate recruitment in both the House and the Senate.

It also depends on how the governor’s race is going. That will tie directly into the legislative races.

And it will depend on the national environment. The bottom line is, we just didn’t have any shot at all in winning a competitive race for the Legislature in 2008 and 2006, due to the national environment. It’s a much different situation in 2010. The playing field, in my opinion, will be — at the very least — even, hopefully even tilting our way. All I’ve ever asked for is a level playing field, which we haven’t had for a couple of election cycles. Nobody’s had it. There’s been no state that’s had a level playing field the last couple of election cycles. I think it will be in 2010. I’ll take those odds, and let’s have some good races.

CS: Are you going to be in Colorado the whole time?

DW: You betcha! Can’t wait!

I really do believe this is the first time since 1986 we’ve had this much going on at one time in Colorado. We’ve had plenty of exciting Senate races and exciting governors’ races, but the last time I think we had a genuinely competitive Senate race and a genuinely competitive governor’s race the same year was ’86.

You can kind of make a case for ’98, although I don’t think Dottie Lamm ever really got on track against Ben Campbell, so it really never was much of a race. That changed back in ’86, when (there was an) open seat in Gary Hart’s race, and the open seat for governor because Dick Lamm was term limited.

I think the 3rd District is going to be the sleeper of the election. There’s no doubt in my mind that people in the 3rd District personally like John Salazar, but John Salazar has been voting almost down the line with Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic majorities. He voted against cap and trade, but he waited until the last moment to do so.

CS: He still voted against it.

DW: He voted against it, but let me tell you, the way he did it is almost worse than having voted for it. By refusing to tell us how he was going to vote, and nobody knowing how he was going to vote until he actually cast his vote on the House floor — that tells you he was making a total political calculation on that vote. If he had been against cap and trade all along and had fought against it and had spoken out against it, fine, I’ll give him a lot of credit as a courageous Democrat. But that was a politically calculated vote.

Same thing with Betsy Markey’s vote against health care. Spare me. We all know what happened. She went to Pelosi and said, “You’ve got to cover me. You’ve got to give me cover on this thing. I had to vote for cap and trade because the enviros spent literally tens of millions of dollars for me, but you’ve got to cut me slack on this one.”

Same thing. She waited until the last minute. I think that is so cynical. Either you are for cap and trade or you’re against it. Either you’re for that health care monstrosity or you’re against it. But the way they waited until they actually voted on the floor shows it was a total political calculation. I think that’s almost worse. That’s really the worst scenario.

CS: Do you think there’s a decent chance that the Republican in CD 4 can defeat Markey?

DW: Absolutely. Listen, I think any Democrat would have won in the 4th District in 2008. Go to any voter registration roll on the 4th District, pick out a Democrat, put their name on the ballot and they’d win. Honestly. I really think it was that kind of a situation.

She has to defend her record this time. Now Marilyn Musgrave is not the issue.

And then, same thing, John Salazar’s not going to have Barack Obama to protect him, and he’s not going to have little brother Ken to protect him, either.

Remember, that’s how he became a congressman to begin with — because his little brother was winning the U.S. Senate race.

A lot of people like John Salazar, but I’ve got to tell you. It’s one thing to like your congressman, it’s quite another to see how they vote and how they’re representing you in Congress. And that’s the problem for Salazar as we get in to 2010.

Scott Tipton is running. There are two other candidates — Rick Beeson, the district attorney in Glenwood Springs, and Bob McDonnell. We’ve got competition for the nomination, but I think that’s going to be our sleeper race for the 2010 cycle.

CS: What about Ryan Frazier?

DW: I think the 7th, numbers wise, is harder. But Ryan Frazier is exactly the right kind of candidate. And Lang Sias is very impressive. He’s a top gun pilot. Both of those candidates are the type who could win, if they run strong campaigns and put themselves in a position to win.

If this is a ’94-like year, I could see that being a district that could be the ultimate sleeper of the 2010 cycle. It’s a tougher district, but I don’t think it’s impossible at all.

The two very high quality candidates right now in that race are the kind who, if things came together right in the campaign, could pull off a big upset.

I’ll say one thing about (Ed) Perlmutter, about my friend, Ed. At least he doesn’t do what Markey and Salazar do, which is hunker down and crawl under their desks and try to figure out how they’re going to vote on an issue. He is an unabashed, in-your-face liberal. There are no apologies from Ed Perlmutter, and I applaud that. Perlmutter doesn’t go into the fetal position and then crawl over the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and finally cast a vote based on political calculations.

CS: And Diana DeGette?

DW: I’ve always liked Diana DeGette. We’ve always had a nice relationship. She’ll probably deny it (laughs). We have found ourselves two or three times in airports waiting for a flight and had a chance to talk. I find her to be a terribly pleasant person who I enjoy talking to. I’ve never been a Diana DeGette detractor.

CS: But that’s not a seat that Republicans really expect to win, right?

DW: It’s not one I’m spending a lot of time on (laughs).

Plans for 2010

CS: Are you going to be traveling a lot of the state?

DW: My policy as state chairman has been that if two or more Republicans ask me to come speak to them, I go. I do it.

When I first got elected in 2007, I always kind of saw my tenure as state chairman as a four-year program.

Despite the outcome of the 2008 campaign, I was very proud of getting rid of the debt I inherited and re-establishing the credibility of the Colorado Republican Party with the counties.

I really worked hard. I got around the state. If a Republican organization or a county organization asked me to speak, I did it. I love to do that. I love to travel the state.

And then, once I hired Mike Britt as our executive director, I don’t think the communications between the counties have ever been better. I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish.

I worked closely with the state Legislature, our legislative leadership, much to the consternation of the Democratic Party. They would start complaining that I was spending too much time at the Capitol.

I wasn’t over there as much as they were trying to pretend I was. But I’d go over there. I love to go to the Capitol as much as I can.

CS: Do you think Josh Penry will end up with a cabinet position under Scott McInnis?

DW: I don’t know what will happen. What he does with Scott McInnis — Governor McInnis, hopefully — I don’t know. I can’t see beyond Election Day.

CS: Do you feel like he got shafted a little bit?

DW: No, I do not. Not at all. I think Josh came to a very personal decision to withdraw from the race, and he made the right decision. I say right because whatever decision he’s made is the correct one. I’ve been around candidates for a long time.

You know, poll numbers and political dynamics and the atmosphere and all that stuff — those are all important questions that candidates have to look at. But the most fundamental question is how bad you want it and if your family is ready for it. And if Josh got into this thing and realized the toll it was going to take on him and his family, then he made the right decision to get out. In fact, I was just telling a guy today who called me who wants to run for a statewide office in another state. He just asked me questions about it. I related to him what you’ve heard me talk about before.

When I was getting ready to go to South Dakota, I had had many conversations about the vulnerability of (Tom) Daschle, the dynamics of the South Dakota electorate, all those things. But the most important conversation I had was not with John Thune.

It was when I went to South Dakota to sit down with Kimberly Thune and to meet their two teenage daughters. To really get a sense from Kimberly of whether the family was up for a rerun. Because he had lost two years earlier. I thought if I get the sense that Kimberly Thune does not want John to run, that they’re not ready for another bruising race, then this is a non-starter.

And that’s when I became convinced that John Thune could win, because she was solidly behind it. She was excited about it, and she knew what they were getting into.

I remember her saying to me, “Dick, after you’ve gone through one of these, what could be worse than what we just went through?”

And she said, “You know what? We also learned that losing is not the end of the world.”

I say that because, ultimately, that’s the most important thing. How bad the candidate wants it and if the family’s behind it. Because if one of those questions is answered “no,” ain’t gonna happen (laughs).

CS: So this sounds like you’re not going to be running off to Nevada.

DW: No, but I’ve been very open. Sue Lowden’s a very good friend of mine. She has been Nevada state chairman while I’ve been Colorado chairman, and so I’ve gotten to know her on the Republican National Committee.

And she is in a primary situation in Nevada. I support her. I can get involved. Sue is a friend of mine. I offer her advice when she asks for it, and I want her to be a U.S. senator.

But no. This is where I’m going to be. There’s no more exciting place in America than Colorado in 2010. You talk to the pundits in Washington. I mean all roads lead back to Colorado. There’s a fascination with Colorado outside of Colorado. The National Journal did a big piece by Ron Brownstein, and then Dan Balz wrote a column for The Washington Post.

They had spent a lot of time out here pre-Democratic National Convention and wrote articles about how Colorado had changed. They came back out here during the August recess, and they both wrote pieces based on their experiences out here, saying, “My Lord, what a difference a year makes! A year after they nominated Barack Obama in downtown Denver and then he carried the state in November, Colorado is now suddenly in play and there could be a Republican sweep in 2010.”

That’s the essence of their stories. CNN did a piece. There have been this series of articles. They’re fascinated by what could happen here again.

Man, I wouldn’t leave that for anything. This is just a great place to be this year.

And besides, it’s home. I’m from here.

CS: How’s the state party doing?

DW: We’re doing great. We’ve got a lot of money to raise in 2010. At the beginning of 2009, obviously Republican contributors were still kind of stunned by what happened in 2008, but there’s an excitement now in our grassroots, and we’re getting a number of contributors. I’m confident we will have the resources we need to do what we need to do in 2010.

Colorado’s Political Future

CS: Colorado — and it’s not unique among states — seems to swing back and forth a lot, with one party in power and then the other one. But there’s always a group of people in the middle, the independents.

DW: There’s been a lot talked about how Democrats have so dramatically increased their role. It’s true.

This isn’t the first time. In the ’70s, the Democrats had a huge affiliation advantage over us in plurality. But the independents are the ones who swing back and forth in Colorado.

Talking about the lead-up to the Democratic National Convention in the 2008 campaign, it was so tedious to read story after story on the national level characterizing Colorado as if for the first time ever, Democrats are finally competitive in Colorado after years of Republican domination. I’m thinking, what state are they talking about?

From ’72 to ’94 there were 14 elections for senator and governor. Democrats won 11 of them. Bill Armstrong and Hank Brown won three Senate races. The Democrats won six straight elections for governor. They won five of eight U.S. Senate races during that period of time. Now we had a period of domination from ’96 to 2002, and Democrats have been winning since then.

What is this state they’re talking about that Democrats have never been competitive in? Twenty-four straight years of Democratic governance, and they had at least one Democratic senator that whole time. It’s always been a competitive state.

CS: How will things be different here if Republicans win? If you take the House and/or the Senate and the Governor’s Office? How will you hang onto that majority or plurality beyond the six years you had last time?

DW: I think we will be a fiscally responsible party. We won’t play games with TABOR, we will re-assert the integrity of TABOR. We will not flaunt the will of the people by finding avenues to get around TABOR.

Republicans learned a lesson in losing Congress. And, frankly, losing the Legislature. We have to reclaim the mantle of fiscal responsibility. We have to be serious about it. It defines us as Republicans.

A Governor McInnis and Republican majorities in the Legislature would mean that tough decisions would be made, not put off. I would have a lot more respect for Bill Ritter and the Democrats if, on their property tax increase, for instance, they put it on the ballot. Let’s have a public debate. Why didn’t they do it? Because they knew they’d lose.

Republicans will have respect for the taxpayers and for the voters, and if they want to raise taxes, they’ll put it on the ballot. They’re not going to find some gimmick to get around it or try to go to the Supreme Court to rubber stamp undermining TABOR.

That’s the difference, I think, that defines Ritter and his Democratic majority — their absolute disrespect for taxpayers and the way they’ve conducted themselves on these policy issues.

Personhood and Social Issues

CS: Do you think social issues, if that’s the right term, could come into play to derail the Republicans?

DW: I think that there will always be disagreement within our party on the social issues, especially abortion. We’re always going to have pro-choice Republicans and pro-life Republicans. But I think that both sides have finally come to grips that number one, we cannot be a majority party by seeking some kind of purity on either side. Whether it be pro-choice or pro-life.

Frankly, that’s what the Democrats did. They actively recruited pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gay-marriage Democrats. That’s why they had these big majorities around the nation. And the Democrats finally got the joke, that they could not be this narrow pro-choice at all costs party and actually shun pro-life Democrats. They finally figured it out. I think our side has figured it out, too.

Obviously, those debates will occur in the future to some degree. I don’t think they’re going to have the prominence they used to, and that’s why you’ve got some of the strongest pro-life Republicans in Colorado in the state Senate supporting Ellen Roberts, a very pro-choice Republican candidate in southwest Colorado. Ellen Roberts is an outstanding, strong candidate. She’s going to win that Senate seat. And you’ve got strong pro-life Republicans like Josh Penry and Greg Brophy and Mike Kopp and others solidly behind Ellen Roberts for that Senate seat. They want to win. Besides, they know ultimately that issue is not going to play that much in the state Legislature.

CS: Last year, the party did not take a position on the Personhood Amendment.

DW: I even publicly said I opposed it, as did Bob Schaffer.

CS: This year, it has been written a little bit differently.

DW: I will admit I haven’t looked at that.

CS: Might the party support it this time around?

DW: It’s up to the party. I don’t speak for the entire party. I can’t see much difference in how it will be approached in 2010 than it was in 2008, to be honest. Colorado is accurately described as a pro-choice state, but with exceptions. There’s a reason why the pro-choice Democrats have never tried to repeal the public funding ban on abortion that passed in the ’80s. They knew they’d lose. So it’s a pro-choice state, but with exceptions.

CS: Does the party have a position on medical marijuana?

DW: I must confess I don’t give a lot of thought to that issue. It just doesn’t interest me that much.

Our medical marijuana law passed by the voters is being abused and needs to be addressed by the Legislature, but I don’t see it as a partisan issue. Frankly, it doesn’t even really interest me personally.