InnerView

InnerView with Colorado Democratic Party chair candidates Baca, Bowen and Palacio

The Colorado Statesman

The three candidates running for Colorado Democratic Party chair talk about the state of the party and what they have to offer in an in-depth interview with The Colorado Statesman. Two weeks before state Democrats pick new leadership, Polly Baca, Adam Bowen and Rick Palacio took stock of their campaigns and had a lot to say about the races that will be run in Colorado next year, when the state is considered a must-win for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.


All three candidates got into the race last month after Pat Waak announced she wouldn’t seek an unprecedented fourth term as party chair. Democrats pick party officers on March 5 during a biennial reorganization meeting of the party central committee at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. (That night, the party holds its annual Jefferson-Jackson Day fundraising dinner, this year featuring keynote speaker Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.)

Baca is a former state senator from Thornton and now lives in Denver. She has held just about every position in Democratic politics except state chair, starting with an internship with the state party almost 50 years ago.

Colorado Democratic Party chair candidates Rick Palacio, left, Polly Baca and Adam Bowen stretch their legs after sitting for an InnerView in The Colorado Statesman office on Feb. 20.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

She served 16 years on the Democratic National Committee, including eight as a national vice chair. When she was elected to the General Assembly in the 1970s, she had the distinction of being the first Latina ever elected to both the Colorado House and the Colorado Senate. She lost a race for Congress in 1980 to Republican Hank Brown and has been an assistant to several Democratic presidents.

Bowen was chairman of the Larimer County Democratic Party for two terms until stepping down to mount an unsuccessful campaign for county commissioner last year. Originally from Northern California and the Midwest, he has said he was inspired to get heavily involved in politics by the Howard Dean campaign. He describes his bid for chair as “evolutionary, not revolutionary,” and points to his management and sales skills, as well as experience running a Democratic Party, as the qualities that set him apart. He has a business installing solar energy devices in Fort Collins.

Palacio works in Washington, D.C., currently but came up through the political ranks in Pueblo County, where his family has been a political force for decades. He ran an unsuccessful primary campaign for Pueblo County clerk and recorder in 2006, losing the election by two votes — a margin he says means he’ll never take a single vote for granted. He worked for House Majority Leader Alice Madden at the Colorado Capitol. He also worked both in the district and in the nation’s capital for U.S. Rep. John Salazar before landing a job with then-Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, where he continues to work. Palacio’s campaign for state chair has a slogan — he regularly refers to the “Three M’s,” which stands for message, money and motivation, three things he says he’ll emphasize if he gets the opportunity to lead the state party.

The candidates joined Statesman editor and publisher Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning for an hour-long interview at The Statesman offices on Feb. 20. Over the past two years, The Statesman regularly conducted interviews with Waak and her Republican counterpart, state GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams, most recently in late November and early December. Read those, along with more than a dozen others with prominent Colorado political figures, archived online at www.coloradostatesman.com/innerview.

Below is a transcript of the conversation with Baca, Bowen and Palacio. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Colorado Statesman (CS): How are the campaigns going? Are you all getting around the state, talking to central committee members?
Adam Bowen: Yes. I’ve been as far southeast as the Arkansas Valley and as far northwest as the Yampa Valley.

CS: Polly, how about you, are you traveling much?
Polly Baca: I’ve been traveling as well. I was up in Eagle (County) this past week and that was good for me. And then from Weld (County) down to Colorado Springs and over on the Western Slope.

CS: And, Rick, what about yourself?
Rick Palacio: I have been a little limited because of work schedule, unfortunately, but I have — as far south as Pueblo, of course, which is home. I think the furthest I did was Grand County, which was the first reorg (county party reorganization) of the season. And then I’ve done some — other than reorgs — coffees in Eagle and Summit and Clear Creek, Cañon City.

CS: Do you run into each other a lot?
Baca: Mm-hmm.
Bowen: Sometimes, yeah.
Palacio: We do, we see each other several times a day (laughs). We should just start commuting.
Baca: We’ve gotten to know each other.

CS: There’s a forum that you all are headed to after this. Are there any more between now and the central committee meeting?
Bowen: It’s the only formal one. There’s other events and things going on that are not related to the central committees.
Baca: Yeah.

CS: And do you feel that it’s adequate opportunity to meet with central committee members and talk to them?
Baca: Mm-hmm.
Bowen: I think it’s a good opportunity, I don’t know that it’s an adequate opportunity. I think that it’s really — I’ve spent hours and hours on the telephone every single day — I think just one-on-one conversations seem to be the most helpful, as opposed to the forum setting.
Palacio: Yeah. If you’re talking to — if you’re giving a stump speech to a group of 300 people, or whatever, you have a limited ability to really connect with those people. I think it’s what we make of it. I think it’s really what we make of it. It gives us plenty of time to get out and talk to folks separately from the group meetings.

CS: What are you finding are the issues that people are asking you about? Do they have a lot of concerns for the party?
Baca: Well, one of the big issues is concern over the fact that the DNC (Democratic National Committee) got involved in our last primary.

(The White House and DNC got behind U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who had been appointed to the seat, in his primary against former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. Baca was a co-chair of Romanoff’s campaign.)

CS: Do you find that people —
Baca: There’s a lot of concern about that around the state.

CS: Polly, is that part of the reason that you decided to run? You were talking about running even before Pat Waak had said she wasn’t. (Waak announced at the end of December that she wouldn’t seek a fourth term as state party chair.)
Baca: Mm-hmm. People were talking to me about that. I really didn’t even consider it until after the election. And then people started approaching me about running. And when I had enough people approach me, I finally decided that I would do it because — again, my concern was 2012 and the importance of re-energizing and bringing the party back together, reunifying the party and re-energizing it. And that was the key.

CS: But there are no major races — there’s no Senate race, there’s no governor’s race in 2012 —
Baca: But there’s a presidential race and there are the House races. So 2012 is about the president and about taking back the House.
Palacio: And the redistricted congressional seats — that’s going to be huge.
Baca: Yes.
Palacio: That’s going to be huge and will set the stage for the whole decade, I think.

CS: But in terms of the White House’s involvement in the races, I mean would you anticipate that they would —
Baca: No.

CS: That was kind of a one shot deal?
Baca: Mm-hmm.

CS: The party’s ready to move on from that or — ?
Baca: I don’t see it ever happening again.

CS: OK. And is that still an issue?
Palacio: I don’t know that the party’s ready. I don’t know that the majority of the party activists are — sorry, let me take that back. I think a majority of the party activists are ready to move on. I think that there is a constituency of people that feel as though they don’t have a place at the table, and they’re vocal about it. I think Polly’s absolutely right, they’re upset about the DNC’s involvement and the White House involvement, and they just want to make sure that we don’t have a situation like that moving forward.

So I think that there’s a big job for the next chair in ensuring that everyone that has an opinion has a place to express that opinion, because there is not a sense of unity. I think a majority of people out there are united in what we’re trying to do, but there is a vocal constituency that feels like they need to be heard.

CS: So it’s not the same as it was two years ago, fresh off the Obama victory and Mark Udall (the Democrat who won the Senate seat previously held by Republican Wayne Allard), things had gone very well for Democrats? Everyone was moving in pretty much the same direction two years ago?
Baca: We were at a high in 2008. We had a high.

CS: Do any of you feel that as chair you would discourage primaries?
Bowen: Primaries are, I think, basically healthy. It sort of battle-tests people, it gets them organized. I mean, you know, there’s the whole money, expenditure issue of it, but I think that this state demographically is changing — I think it’s becoming more — it’s going to trend more — we’re going to have our ups and downs, right, but I think overall the trend is that the state is going to become more Democratic. And so that means the Democratic nominee has a better chance of winning the seat, which means more people are going to want the nomination.

I think the primaries are a fact of life and that we’ve all got to have, I think, a level of political maturity to deal with it, right? To deal with the fact that we’re going to have primaries and to understand that we’re on the same team, and we’re going to move forward together when those are done. But you know, the thought of making primaries go away or trying to reduce the number of primaries we have, I think helps to create the kind of situation we had in 2010.
Baca: I think primaries are healthy. They engage people. So many more people get involved when there’s a primary. The key is that primaries need to be about issues and not about personality. And then the two candidates need to come together after a primary and be supportive of whoever wins — as we all ought to do as good Democrats.
Palacio: I think primaries are a very important part of the Democratic process. I was involved in my own primary in Pueblo County in 2006. It was a very divisive primary, as far as primaries go in Pueblo County — I lost my election by two votes. A few days later I endorsed my opponent. I think that they help to — it’s sort of that “forged by steel,” they help candidates to come out on the other end stronger.

CS: One of the things that Pat Waak has said to us is that she tried to vet, as best she could, some of the potential candidates who wanted to run for some of the major offices — governor, senator. What are your feelings about the role of the state chair in trying to discourage or encourage candidates to get into specific races, or to become candidates?

She had kind of a nuanced take on vetting — she said, “Well, we’ll look into folks’ backgrounds and we’ll have a good, hard discussion with them if they’re thinking about running for a statewide office or Congress.” And she might have some other opinions to offer to them. So it’s not kingmaking, but it’s getting involved in the process.
Bowen: Candidate recruitment is a really important part of the party’s function, I think. Before I really got involved politically, one thing that just sort of stuck with me is that – I live up in Fort Collins, I’m in Congressional District 4, and there was no Democratic candidate for CD 4 in 2000. We just gave that to the Republicans. And I mean for a congressional level office, that’s — I don’t know how many seats might go uncontested out of the 435, but I would guess there are not many. And that just stands out to me as the state party didn’t come through that year.

It’s really important that we field candidates everywhere. And some people are going to have personal reasons for not wanting to do it. Maybe they’ll think about it for a few months, then they’ll say, “You know what? I’m not up for this.” And so a good, vigorous candidate recruitment effort I think is important to start early with the state party. That’s something the state party needs to be doing now.

Polly Baca, standing, one of three candidates for state Democratic Party chair, speaks as fellow candidates Rick Palacio, left, and Adam Bowen look on Feb. 20 at the C.B. & Potts restaurant in Greenwood Village.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

CS: What about weighing in about candidates you might think are not right for (a particular race)?
Baca: I think first of all I want to agree with Adam that the first priority is to have a candidate in every single race. I don’t care what race it is, we’ve got to have a Democratic candidate. I actually ran for Congress in the 4th District in 1980 to do just that, so we would have a candidate. It was in the middle of my (state) Senate term so it was – I didn’t have to worry about —
Bowen: No big risk to you —
Baca: No big risk at all. And I was in a position to do that. And I ran against Hank Brown (laughs) who was the darling of the Republicans that year, and it was a Reagan year.

But I believe that because I ran, Gary Hart got elected that year. He won by less than 1 percent of the vote. But I know that I turned out people in Weld County and Larimer County and you know, even in the mountains, the mountain communities, I know that I did. And Grand Junction — (the 4th District) used to go over to Grand Junction.

So I took great pride in helping Gary get elected in 1980. And so I agree wholeheartedly. I think there’s some validity in taking a look at candidates, and if they’ve got some issues in their background, we need to sit and talk about that. I don’t see anything wrong with that. The key is to field the best candidate, but of course that’s why I support primaries. Because even though if somebody has some issues in their background, you need to let them know they’ll probably come out because, let’s face it, gosh, I’ve led such a public life there’s nothing I can do, still, without it ending up in the newspaper. And I know that, and anybody that gets involved with politics needs to know that—you no longer have a private life — you just don’t — even when you don’t think you’re going to be involved in politics any longer.

How many former elected officials do we still hear about that something happens, they do something, they get a ticket for something and it’s in the paper. And you no longer lead a (private) life once you become a candidate or an elected or even a party official. So you need to let folks know that, so they have no qualms about — I think it’s a matter of informing the candidates of what they’re facing. The fact that they will be scrutinized, everything that they do will be scrutinized. And they will live in a goldfish bowl from the moment they announce. So if there’s anything in their background, it’s going to come out so you might as well say it up front. The big issue for me was, quite frankly, that I married a priest — and I just dealt with it up front when I ran for office (laughs).
Bowen: (Laughs) That doesn’t seem very scandalous, Polly. Is that the best you can do?
Baca: It was 1974 (laughs).
Bowen: Not these days, not these days.
Palacio: I agree with both Polly and Adam. I agree that it’s the role of the state party to vet candidates and to recruit candidates. I think I would go a little further, though — not just congressional or statewide candidates, we need to talk about state rep, state house seats as well. But do the vetting, talk to the candidates, inform all of the parties involved before decisions are made. But then respect the wishes of the local party, of the local county or the congressional district or wherever it is.

I think that, pointing back to some of the divisiveness, there are a lot of people that feel as though the will of Denver or the will of Washington is shoved down their throats, so what we don’t want is to vet candidates and the state party say, “No, this isn’t the guy,” and that be the guy for the local party.

CS: We’re going to do kind of a lightning round. This is a tip of the hat to (former 9News political reporter) Adam Schrager, who did these in all the debates last summer and fall. Can we go around and we’ll just have one- or two-word answers?

Since this could be an issue for the Republican chair candidates, we want to ask you. Have you ever donated money to Republican candidates or committees?
Bowen: No.
Baca: Unh-uh.
Palacio: No.

CS: Should the chair position be volunteer or salaried?
Baca: Volunteer.
Bowen: Volunteer is good. There’s an executive director position which is separate. Sometimes a chair will wear both hats. Pat did that in some years.
Palacio: I think it should be a discussion by the entire central committee to figure out what the best strategy is moving forward.

CS: Do you plan to work full time or will you keep your day job? Adam?
Bowen: Full-time.
Palacio: Full-time.
Baca: Full-time.

CS: Who do you hope wins the Republican Party chair race? Who would you like to have as a counterpart?
Bowen: I would like to see (state Sen. Ted) Harvey.
Baca: I don’t have a preference.
Palacio: Yeah, no preference.

CS: OK. Rick, who do you think will win?
Palacio: Harvey.

CS: (Directed to Baca and Bowen) Concentrating on your own race? (They nod.)
(Directed to Palacio) Since you’re the only one who has a preference, why do you hope he wins the race?

Palacio: Because he represents the extreme of the Republican Party in Colorado. I think that it would be a good opportunity to shine the light on those issues that he represents, that he has carried the torch for.
Bowen: I think generally speaking, the Republicans are taking an ever-more extreme position on issues, focusing on social, wedge issues, that sort of thing. So it’s good either way for us.
Baca: And I’d be glad to take on whoever they nominate. It doesn’t matter (chuckles).

CS: Speaking of the Republicans, over the last few years (two-term Republican State Chairman) Dick Wadhams seems to have had a more direct role in Republican politics on a kind of day-to-day, micro level than Pat Waak did with Democrats. When a Republican legislator, you may remember, was “taken to the woodshed” for some things he’d said, he had to go and apologize to Dick Wadhams. And there was some gossip about a Republican legislator calling up Dick Wadhams during committee sessions, asking how to vote on bills. Pat Waak doesn’t seem to have had her fingers in the day-to-day politics to that same extent. What role should a party chair have, both in establishing and enforcing a “party line” in Colorado?
Bowen: I think Republican DNA and Democratic DNA are much different from each other in that sense. We’re not this very paternalistic, top-down sort of party, that’s just not our style, frankly. And if Pat tried to do that as chair, she wouldn’t be chair for another cycle, it wouldn’t have happened. We’ve got a lot of people who have very strong opinions, very independent thinking, people that are in different parts of the political spectrum. And frankly, if we’re going to keep the big tent, we’re going to be successful with keeping the big tent. I think we’ve got to allow people to have an honest and open conversation about things and not say, “Here’s the line that Big Brother’s feeding you, period.”

CS: Rick, you’ve said one of your Three Ms is messaging, and having a consistent message. Is that partly the party chair’s job to make sure that the party’s on the same page?
Palacio: I think messaging is a huge part of it. It’s one of the three big roles I think that the party chair and the state party needs to fill. I don’t believe in party purity tests. I don’t think that a Democrat from Lincoln County is going to be the same shade of blue as a Democrat from Denver County. I think the important part is that they’re Democrats and, frankly, I would rather vote for a Democrat that voted with me 55 percent of the time than a Republican that voted with me 5 percent of the time, any day of the week. Messaging is critical but a message needs to be tailored to a community as well.
Baca: My vision of the party chair is one who organizes and listens to those at the local level, grassroots level, and brings that message and that voice on up the line to the candidates. It’s not a matter of dictating, it’s a matter of informing. And so if our legislators or congressional delegation, governor etc. — if there are some issues, they need to be informed. They need to be informed as to what those issues are for their own benefit as they move forward. And I think it’s the state chair that can help make that happen.

CS: This week Governor Hickenlooper’s taking a lot of fire from Democrats for some of the specific cuts, for the general tone of his budget. What would you inform him about? You’re talking to Democrats every day — what would you let him know if you were party chair?
Baca: If I were party chair, I would hope that I would have already gotten around to the grassroots, the 64 counties. And I suspect there’s probably a lot more sympathy for doing something about taxation than we hear about. And I know the governor took taxation off the table. I don’t know at this point if there’s sufficient enough interest in that, but that would be my job — to find out whether or not there was. I haven’t done that work yet so I don’t know, but there are obviously — I think it can’t be Denver-centric because a lot of times all the governor hears is what’s in Denver. And so you’ve got to get out and bring in the voices — let him hear the voices that are out there in the hinterlands, so to speak, in the grassroots, in the 64 counties. See how folks are feeling. I don’t know at this stage because I haven’t done that research yet and I haven’t done the traveling. Where are Democrats coming down? Is there that much resistance to the big programs? How do they feel about…? I think there probably is a lot of resistance to cuts in education, etc., but we need to either poll or — and he probably has, I suspect he would have, but I don’t know that.
Bowen: I think John Hickenlooper’s a really politically astute guy. I don’t know if his intention is really to cut this much money from K-12 education. You know, our citizens — not just Democrats — but our citizens really value education. If you ask people what are the most important things to them, that’s at the top of the list almost always. And so, if we’re going to cut that much from education I wonder, are the people going to realize, “Wow, we really are in serious trouble.” I think people will vote for taxation when they know that that money is going to benefit them in a certain way, or it’s going to help a certain program. And we see people pass sales tax increments in a lot of cities

For example in Fort Collins, the people have just voted in a 2010 election — it was pretty much a conservative leading election — people in the City of Fort Collins voted to increase city sales tax in order to preserve critical services — police, fire, that sort of thing. I think this is part of the process. I don’t know if we’re going to have these huge, huge cuts to K-12 education, but I do think by making this proposal I think that there’s going to be an increased awareness of the trouble we’re in on the budget, and also it really overlaps quite a bit with the ongoing fiscal crisis, the TABOR-created fiscal crisis that we’ve struggled to deal with for what, 19 years now?

CS: — and the loss of the (federal) stimulus funds this year makes it even more dire —
Bowen: Right, yeah, the stimulus, that was a temporary fix.
Baca: Maybe what we need to do is to get the support out in the local communities to repeal TABOR.

CS: Will that be a role for the Democrat Party?
Baca: If in fact we found that to be what our folks believed. Again, I think we have to go out and do our work and talk to the people at the grassroots level and see where they stand.
Bowen: Senate President Shaffer is proposing some changes to the way that we amend the Constitution via initiative, and I think that’ll help deal with it.

CS: Is that the first step to actually tackling that?
Bowen: Yeah.

CS: Rick, what would you tell Gov. Hickenloooper after this week?
Palacio: I think there needs to be an honest conversation about our budget. We don’t have the revenue streams to support all of the expenses that we have — partly because of TABOR, partly because of the economic situation that we find ourselves in. But there needs to be an honest conversation. And I don’t think any Democrat believes that cuts to K-12 education is the way to fix that fiscal crisis. So we need to figure out what is. And, to Polly’s point about TABOR, or whether it’s the role of the state party to push a repeal of TABOR — I think it’s the role of the state party to enable our Democratic lawmakers and their Democratic candidates to get out their message and to help them deliver whatever that message is. I don’t think that we as a party should be driving our own policy agendas. I think that we should leave the policy — we know what we stand for as Democrats, we know what our values are — we should leave the policy to our lawmakers and our candidates and help them to drive and create a message from that.

CS: If you are elected state chair, is there anything you can think of at this point that you might do differently than Pat Waak has done for the last three terms?
Palacio: I think Pat’s done a phenomenal job. I think that she and the team that we have had in place for the last five years have been excellent at what they do. I’ve talked about it in my Three M messaging — I think that one of the things that I would like to do more of, frankly, is fundraising, fundraising and building other non-financial pieces of infrastructure that are supported and created by the state party, like campaign and candidate training.

I’ve talked a lot about the Wellstone Program that probably all of us have participated in over the years. We need to create an infrastructure such as that so that when we are out recruiting candidates in Durango or in Grand Junction, it’s not just, “Great, you’re vetted now go out and try to get elected.” (Instead,) we have something in place to teach candidates and their campaign volunteers how to raise money, how to put a press plan together, how to put a field program together, how to do field organizing. So I think that’s an improvement that can be made at the state party level.

CS: Polly?
Baca: I would focus, again, more on the — I have a 64 county strategy. I want to get out to 64 counties and really be there at least twice a year and really encourage our state officers to do the same. We need to engage the Democrats at the local level and encourage them and let them know that they have influence. You know, a lot of times people at the local level don’t feel that they have a voice, don’t feel that they have any impact. I want to make sure that they do have a voice, and that they do have an influence on their party, that they are important. And I would work at making sure that that happened.

CS: Do you feel that that’s been lacking under Pat Waak?
Baca: Let me just say that we can build on what Pat has done, and we can build beyond where she’s been. And I think that’s what you have to do; you have to take a look at what has happened in the past and you build on it. And fundraising is critical and I want to do fundraising not only from the big donors, that I have personal relationships with, but also at the grassroots level we can be doing more fundraising.
Bowen: Pat and the team have done a tremendous job and I really see myself as an evolutionary candidate, not a revolutionary candidate. But there are some evolutions, though, that we need to do. First of all, the team is going to be much different. A lot of the staff at the (state party) is gone. And the other issue is a lot of the people who are going to be officers are going to be different. The only existing officer running for re-election is Carolyn Boller, as secretary. So I think we’ve got a managerial challenge — we’ve got to hit the ground running pretty much right off the bat.

I’ve heard from people who have been candidates especially in districts that aren’t favorable to Dems, and those folks I think don’t feel like they’ve had support. And, you know, you’ve got to use your funding in areas where it’s going to make a difference — and that’s why there’s organizations like House Majority Project and the Democratic Senate Finance Committee. But I do think that some of those candidates that aren’t targeted by those organizations could use some additional support. For example, when I was chair in Larimer we sent candidates to Wellstone, and that was a priority we paid for, that they went to Wellstone. And of course we did trainings for activists, we engaged the students, we sent them to student conferences in D.C., that sort of thing. So all these I think are evolutionary changes from what Pat and the current team has done.

CS: We’ve heard some concerns about Organizing for America coming in next year with a very clear objective and maybe bigfooting the local Democrats —they’re not concerned whether there’s a county commissioner elected in some small county in Colorado, they want the vote turned out for Barack Obama. What are your thoughts on that and how do you plan to deal with any potential conflicts with OFA?
Bowen: I think we have to wrap our arms around OFA. We’re all ultimately on the same team so we’ve really got to embrace them. It brings a certain amount of volunteer activity and those volunteers will cross over, right? I was a county commissioner candidate in 2010 in Larimer — and OFA focused on the federal races, that’s fine — but because those people were active they knew about my race, they helped with my candidacy and there’s nothing like good, open communication to make that happen. If OFA is operating in one way and the CDP is operating in another place and the county parties are all out here, we’ve got to really all be communicating as a team.
Palacio: I think that because we don’t have a statewide candidate on the ballot this year, this cycle, we have an incredible opportunity as a state party to focus down-ballot. We have the president at the top of the ticket and then we have our state Senate and our state rep, so there’s a significant gap there that we haven’t seen in a while — obviously our congressional candidates — but we don’t have a U.S. Senate seat, we don’t have secretary of state or (state) treasurer, etc. We have an opportunity to focus on those down-ballot races, we have an opportunity to rebuild a bench that we had in ’02, ’04 cycle that allowed us to have the majority in the state House and the state Senate for the first time — both at the same time — in 44 years because we focused on those down-ballot candidates. And not having a statewide candidate on the ballot allows us to do that. And having the presidential re-election at the same time allows us to do that.

The Obama campaign is going to roll in like a freight train. They’re going to do their thing. I agree with Adam that we need to have an open line of communication, we need to encourage the Obama campaign to utilize our local activists to the best of their ability. To make sure that if they’re paying people to go out canvassing, going out and knocking on doors, that they’re not shipping people in. The people that they ship in, their heart is in the right place, but if you’re shipped in from Vermont and you’re dropped off in La Junta, and they ask you to go and cut turf and create neighborhoods to knock on doors in La Junta, you’re not going to be very good at it regardless of how good your intention is.

So we need to encourage the Obama campaign to utilize our county chairs where they’re able. If they’re going to pay people, they should start with our local activists to pay or to recruit. If they’ve exhausted all of those possibilities then move outwards. But I think that there’s a dual role — it’s communication with the Obama campaign, and then it’s the state party focusing on the down-ballot races, rebuilding our bench, and allowing those candidates to ride the coattails of Obama.
Baca: Colorado is critical for the re-election of the president. It’s one of three states he has to win. And so, of course, his campaign has already started, and we will see OFA in here sooner than later. I actually want to go back to D.C. as soon as possible and sit down with (DNC Chairman Tim) Kaine and the leadership of OFA and talk about how we actually implement their strategies. It is important, and I think both the two gentlemen expressed concerns that I have and thoughts that I think are important.

In particular, I think there was a lot of feeling at the local level that people who have always worked at the grass roots level were not utilized, especially in paid positions. I would want to encourage OFA that if they were to utilize — if they had funding — their best bet would be to utilize some of the local talent that we have as their campaign folks. I’d (also) like to share some activity that I saw in this past election that, quite frankly, was a waste of money and that we’ve got to be much more efficient with our money, regardless of who is putting the money in. Whether it is at the OFA level of whether it’s — well, we won’t have it this time, but senatorial campaigns, etc. — we’ve got to make sure that every dollar is spent in the most effective and efficient way possible. That can’t happen unless there is good communication between all the parties involved. And I want to make sure that we share the knowledge and the experience and the skills that we have here in Colorado with the national entities that have an interest in making sure Colorado stays Democratic.

CS: Polly, do you think they’ll be open to that?
Baca: Oh yeah, sure. I know I can get to them. I have no doubt that I can sit down. They know who I am, and I can sit down and talk to them.

CS: Could you each talk briefly about why you think you have the edge over the other two candidates? In other words why should people vote for you after hearing everybody speak?
Palacio: I think that there are really a couple of reasons here. One of them is experience and I know that my colleagues here that are on the ballot with me have a significant amount of experience. I think that my recent experience working in Washington actually brings a lot to the table. I think that there are some that might feel as though it’s not a net positive for me and that maybe it’s a net positive for them, because I’ve been in D.C. However, there’s a war going on right now in the Republican Party against Democrat values, both here at the state level and the national level, that I have been in the trenches. I have recent connections on a national level, I have recent connections at a state level. And it’s the strategy and that experience, I think, is really a net positive for me.

I’m also fairly young — I’m 36. Colorado has a very young electorate. We have a very young electorate and we have a growing Latino population. I think that both of those things are favorable from my standpoint with me as chair. I have the ability to talk to people that are in both of those camps, they qualify. The checkmark is checked for both of those that perhaps my colleagues don’t have that same ability. So, it’s a combination of experience and where we are as a state, I think, that is really of benefit to my candidacy.
Baca: I believe that I have the experience, the knowledge, the passion and the grit to be the best chair of the Colorado Democratic Party and what the party needs right now. My experience is long term, I’ve been involved in every level of the party. I don’t think there’s an aspect of the party that I have not been personally involved in, whether it’s party office or whether it’s elective office. I have won campaigns, I have worked at all different levels. I’ve worked for three presidents, most recently President Clinton as a Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs.

But I also have — since I left office, since I left elective office, I’ve been involved in leadership development and my passion has been to share the experience that I’ve had. And so I’ve mentored and I’ve actually developed leadership programs. When I was with the Hispanic Institute I ran a multicultural leadership program, out of which came several legislators. And then more recently I was involved in a candidate development and training program with the Colorado Latino Reform that produced, again, legislators. You know, we had three people from that leadership development program get elected to office and we also had several campaign managers that came out of that. And I was one of two people that put that together.

I’ve also mentored — I’ve been involved with mentoring young people, including people that have been involved in the various movements, no matter who they might be. Which is why I have so much support from the young. I’ve got both the current president of the Young Democrats and the former president of the Young Democrats supporting me. And I doubt that there are very many young people that I — I have even been asked by some legislators to help them in terms of the knowledge that I bring to the party.

But in addition to that I’ve also maintained the networks that I have at the local, state and national levels with individual big donors. I’m the Treasurer of Jared Polis’ Victory Fund, you know, I’m close to Rutt Bridges, he and I are good friends — I haven’t seen him in a while, we have to have lunch soon. And Al Yates, who I brought into the state; I was on the recruitment team that brought Al to Colorado State University. We had to twist his arm, but we got him here. And I know Tim Gill — and so those were the big four in 2004.

But in addition to that I also have very good friends who have given the big bucks to the party. But I don’t think it’s just about money. And, by the way, Rick works for (House Minority Whip) Steny Hoyer. Steny and I were Young Democrats together. Nancy Pelosi was on the DNC when I was Vice Chair of the Party and Tim Kaine and I, he knows who I am. I can’t say we’re friends but he’s certainly… And this past election, prior to the election I was on, and I still am on, all the White House calls. I’m on a call with the White House every two weeks, and I always get invited to the White House holiday parties. That was one of the places I was encouraged to run when I was back at the holiday party on December the 16th. One of the gentlemen in the political office had heard I might run and he sought me out and he encouraged me to do so. And after he did, then I paid more attention to those here at the local level who were encouraging me to do so because I can raise the money. And that money is needed. But I’ve done it in the past, I’ve raised money in the past so I’m not afraid of doing it.

I also want to take advantage of the new social media. I’m on Facebook, I’ve been on Facebook quite a while now and I tweet. (Laughs) And so you have to use the new media to — because this next election is going to be an opportunity for new social media to be used to a far greater degree than it has in the past, so I understand that. One of the things I bring to the party is an understanding of all the different things that happen both through — well, it’s through personal experience, you know, that I have that to offer. And it’s true that at times I’ve taken a year or so off to re-energize (laughs), but I’ve been pretty involved and have kept my relationships current for decades. And so I think I have a lot to offer.

Most important, I think, is the passion that I bring. I just feel passionate about the importance of electing Democrats and I get — I mean, every time I see the Republican messaging that has misinterpreted who we are, it gets me angry and it gets my juices going and I want to be in the fight together. I want to be out there doing what we need to do to win. And I bring public relations skills, had my own public relations firm for a while, was a public information officer at the White House. I’m a writer, put out a newspaper, you know, and I know how to develop messages. I’ve done that for candidates and I’ve done it for myself in terms of developing the kind of messages that win elections.
Bowen: These two are really fine folks and I really appreciated being able to engage in this process with them. I think they both really bring something that’s valuable to the party, and I hope that if I’m elected chair that we can continue comparing notes and getting ideas. I think the difference is, and I think what you’re looking for here is a contrast on why I’d be the best person: I’ve got concrete, recent experience managing and leading and growing organizations, whether I was a national sales manager, in the non-profit world, I’m the only person to have run a political party. And I think that there are a lot of great ideas that are out there, and that’s all the more evident to me after having really extensively traveled the state. There are a lot of really terrific ideas that are out there. And we’ve got to engage folks, we’ve really got to get the best ideas that are out there, and it takes some management skill to pull all that together and to make some critical decisions and, with a team, decide how we’re going to go forward.

If you look at Howard Dean in 2004 when he was running for president, he really didn’t know anything about information technology or using the Internet as a fundraising tool or as a communication tool, but he had the right team. He was open to the ideas of — he had Joe Trippi managing his campaign, and they brought in tools that he as a candidate didn’t really know existed before. But he put those to work because he had the right management skills, basically — he knew when to recognize a valuable idea and how to get that into top gear and get some traction. So I think that’s how I differ from these folks and I really, really hope that we work together afterwards, because it’s going to take all of us to win these 2012 elections. But I think above all, to be the chair of the Democratic Party in this state is going to take some real management skill and a proven track record leading organizations, and that’s what I’ve got.
Baca: And I think we’re all committed to working together regardless of the outcome of this race.

CS: Well, it seems that you’re all highly intelligent and have a lot of respect for each other, and I wouldn’t anticipate this is going to be an ugly, nasty race.
Baca: No.

CS: Would you agree?
Palacio: I agree with that.
Bowen: Absolutely.
Baca: I’ve learned to generally like and respect my two colleagues here, and they are colleagues. I consider them colleagues, not opponents (laughs).

Jody@coloradostatesman.com
Ernest@coloradostatesman.com