InnerView

InnerView with Ben Nighthorse Campbell

The Colorado Statesman

Seven years ago this month, two-term U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell sent Colorado’s political world spinning with an abrupt announcement he wouldn’t seek another term.


The decision by the broadly popular Republican — who was first elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 1992 but switched parties three years later — swiftly wrapped a lengthy public career. But it was only the latest chapter in a phenomenal rise from a childhood spent mainly in orphanages, through a stint in the Air Force and a trip to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where he competed in judo. A successful jewelry maker, Campbell has spent much of his adult life ranching in southwest Colorado, where he and his wife, Linda, still reside.

During some of his years in Washington, he was the only Native American in Congress, and he was only the third Native American to ever serve in the U.S. Senate. He is a member of the Council of Chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Tribe.

Former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell at the Denver March Powwow March 19.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Campbell was first elected to the state Legislature as a Democrat in 1982 and was elected to the first of three terms in Congress from the 3rd District in 1986. When Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth unexpectedly declined to seek another term in 1992, Campbell won a Democratic primary against former Gov. Dick Lamm and Boulder County Commissioner Josie Heath and went on to win the election. He upended state politics in 1995 — just after the GOP took control of Congress — by changing his affiliation to Republican and was easily reelected three years later.

Since leaving public office, Campbell has worked for the international law firm Holland & Knight as a policy advisor on Native American issues. He continues to craft jewelry on his Ignacio ranch.

Colorado Statesman editor Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning visited with Campbell in the stands at the Denver Coliseum on March 19 as the 77-year-old prepared for a gourd dance at the 2011 Denver March Powwow.

The Statesman regularly conducts interviews with prominent Colorado political figures. Read the archives online at www.coloradostatesman.com/innerview.

Below is a transcript of the conversation with Campbell. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Colorado Statesman (CS): Are you going to be dancing?
Ben Nighthorse Campbell (BNC):
When they have gourd dancing — do you know what gourd dancing is? Sometimes they have it, sometimes they don’t.

CS: OK.
BNC:
My wife, my sweet Anglo wife, she took my headdress and all my buckskins, and donated them for three years to the Smithsonian. And they’re picking them up — they picked them up last week.

CS: Oh, they did?
BNC:
Yeah, they’re doing a special edition of horses and — Indians and horses, and so she loaned them my outfit, so I don’t have a powwow outfit. (Laughs.)

CS: So how have you been?
BNC:
It’s like being reborn, retirement, it’s great. (Laughs.) You know, I miss friends back there but I don’t miss the lifestyle.

Then-Congressman Ben Nighthorse Campbell at a Colorado political event with Democratic National Committeewoman Kathy Farley in 1988.
File photo by The Colorado Statesman

CS: You don’t?
BNC:
The 80-hour weeks, constantly raising money. I mean you know, the invasiveness of the press. All the other stuff, I don’t miss all that. I think you go through a little bit of withdrawal when you first get out of office, because you wake up Saturday morning and you go, “Oh boy, shouldn’t I be somewhere for a speech or something?” And you’ve got to get a hold of yourself — I don’t have to be anywhere, I can have coffee with my wife and relax, you know? After about six months that wears off. But I had, like any senator, when I left I had a lot of offers, a couple from the different law firms. But the one I took was one that gave me the most flexibility. Some of them wanted me to live in D.C. and I don’t want to do that. For me, I’m happy with seeing D.C. in the rear view mirror and I was happy to come back out west. So Holland & Knight, they said, “No, you can live in Colorado, flexible schedule, travel for us, spend time on reservations that are clients of ours," and so on. So that’s what I do. I get back to D.C. maybe one week a month.

CS: Oh, that’s nice.
BNC:
Spend another week maybe on the road with different tribes. And home maybe two weeks where I work on my jewelry.

CS: Great!
BNC:
It’s good, I enjoy it.

CS: Do you have any regrets about not running for another term?
BNC:
Well, I could have stayed. You know, I didn’t have any — I’m confident if I had wanted to run again, I — In fact, I started to, I started to run again. And I was raising the money and doing all the stuff and then I thought, do I want to spend six more years here? And then I began to see them die, like Strom Thurmond and some of the other ones that stayed there ‘til they were just in their 90s and just died. I just didn’t want to do that, I didn’t want to make it a lifestyle. And some of them passed on, like Kennedy, and some of them were really good friends of mine. But I just saw them almost get to a point where they become institutionalized, by being there too long.

CS: Right.
BNC:
And I related to that — I used to be a counselor for Indian cons in Folsom, in San Quentin, years ago, volunteer counselor. And I met guys, lifers in there that if you opened the gate and said, “You’re free, get out of here,” they wouldn’t go because the fear of the unknown, the outside, didn’t know how to function in the private sector anymore, didn’t know how to — I swear I saw some of the same traits in senators who stayed here too long. Almost institutionalized. So I didn’t want that to happen. But the firm I’m with they’re — of course they don’t say anything, but I can feel them get very nervous if I get involved in anybody’s campaign.

CS: Yeah?
BNC:
It’s non-partisan and they really prefer that I just stay non-partisan, so I am. I have really a — I mean, Gov. Hickenlooper’s really a really good friend, he’s a great guy and a good friend. And Mark Udall, Mark is one of my closest friends in public office. But Scott Tipton in Congress, also a really close, personal friend. I had lunch with them both last week in D.C., in fact — on different days. (Laughs.)

CS: Really? Yeah, yeah.
BNC:
So I guess that was always my weakness in politics, is that I’ve always put friends ahead of parties. So when I was a Democrat I’d get the hell beat out of me by the far left because I wasn’t pure enough. And when I was a Republican I’d get the hell beat out of me by the far right because I wasn’t pure enough for what we call the true believers on either side. But they’re not the ones who elected me, it was almost always the ones in the middle who would cross over — the unaffiliated, the moderates, that’s who elected me.

CS: Right, right. So you still keep in touch with Mark and you’ve — ?
BNC:
Oh yeah, yeah. Mark’s dad, Mo Udall was kind of my patron saint when I got elected 30 years ago. So when Mark got elected we started having lunch once a week — excuse me, once a month, he’d come over to the Senate side and we’d have lunch. Never talked about an issue, we’d just tease the hell out of each other or something. (Laughs.) And Tom (Udall) would usually come, who’s his cousin from New Mexico. But Orrin Hatch was probably my best friend, the senator from Utah. Still see him all the time when I go back there.

CS: Do you?
BNC:
Yeah, I’ve got really, really close friends on both sides and I just never was comfortable about being pigeonholed about you’ve got to be Republican at the expense of those guys, because they’re all bad. I just don’t believe that, you know?

CS: Do you feel like it’s gotten maybe a little bit more partisan?
BNC:
Yeah, it’s gotten more partisan. The single-issue voices and the far left for the Dems, far right for the Republicans have become much more demanding of their elected officials. And I think sometimes either side of these extremes, they don’t want you to make good judgment decisions. They want sort of rubber stamp obedience to their principles, and the weakness of that is — particularly in a caucus state like Colorado — the agenda and the platform is not set by everybody in the party, it’s set by the ones who go to all the meetings, and they tend to be the true believers. And they tend to be further to the right in the R’s and further left in the D’s. And, oh my God, that last election! You know, I never had trouble in the general election, mine were only fights in the damn primaries.

CS: Right.
BNC:
I remember that last one, in Colorado Springs, and I was up giving my acceptance speech after being nominated and there was about three rows, and they were booing me and hissing me and I thought, holy mackerel, I thought were supposed to be on the same side.

U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell appears with Colorado GOP Reps. Joel Hefley and Wayne Allard at a press conference about the economy in the late 1990s
File photo by The Colorado Statesman

CS: Do you have regrets at all about switching parties?
BNC:
No, I wouldn’t — You know, what’s interesting to me is that a lot of people don’t know it, but when I switched parties, there were already 11 senators in office who had switched parties. They used to come up and whisper in my ear, “I used to be a Democrat too.” Phil Gramm, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Wayne Allard, Trent Lott — I mean, it just goes on and on. I didn’t know that!

CS: Wayne Allard was a Democrat?
BNC:
Mm-hmm, before he ever ran for office, though. Most of them had changed before. Phil Gramm changed when he was in the Congress.

CS: Right.
BNC:
Dick Shelby changed just before me. And I didn’t have any idea so many had changed before me.

CS: Floyd Haskell had been a Republican before he (ran for the Senate).
BNC:
Yeah, so they started whispering in my ear. What I found is, all the ones I met were the ones that went from Democrat to Republican — Haskell went the other way. But I was only the second in Colorado as a U.S. senator, I think, to change parties, and one on both sides.

CS: That was actually a big story (when you switched parties).
BNC:
Oh yeah, it was. And some of my own relatives — Indians tend to be Democrats, you know, most Indian people. I got heat from my own relatives: “You, what did you do that for? You sold us out!” And it wasn’t part of the deal, but not long after that I became chairman. And I got more legislation passed for Colorado because I was on the Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. And more legislation passed for Indians than anybody, well, in history. And we have the records — a lot of people don’t know this but you can go through the records of former senators from Colorado and find out how much legislation they signed into law, and I can tell you right now, some of the most famous ones didn’t have zip. They had maybe three bills in six years or less than that. Go look at mine — I think I had a total of like 29 bills signed into law. And one year, in fact, I forgot which Congress it was, I had more bills signed into law than any other U.S. senator and any House member, either one. Out of the whole 535 (members of the House and Senate), our office had more legislations signed into law. I know what the records are, I just don’t say it much. I know what the records are. And then you look at some of them — I won’t mention their names — they’re well known and they have a big name, but they didn’t do zip when it comes to getting the damn bills passed and signed into law.

CS: Right. Have you ever met Michael Bennet?
BNC:
Yeah, yeah, I know Michael. I know him really well.

CS: How do you know Michael?
BNC:
Well, I had met him a couple of times just before he got elected, but most of the time was after. I’d kind of kept away from that race. But I see him all the time — I saw him last week in fact. He’s carrying a bill for Fort Lewis College, a tuition bill. Very fine man. That’s the problem, you even say he’s a fine man, if you’re in office and you say that you get heat from your own side of the aisle. I remember one time, Hillary (Clinton) was teasing me, she said, “Hey, let’s go riding some time. Take me for a motorcycle ride,” and I said, “OK, I will sometime.” We teased about it — we never did it, we teased. And then word got out, I got calls from people, real strong Republicans, “You ever take her for a ride, we’ll never vote for you again!” I thought, holy mackerel, what is this coming to?

CS: You’re kidding.
BNC:
No, I’m not kidding. I mean it’s just, it gets crazy. They get that angry and partisan when they don’t even know ’em!

CS: Right.
BNC:
I often told people — you’d hear them railing about, “Clinton this-and-that Clinton!” I said, “Have you ever met him? Because I have, and I know him well, and I can guarantee, if you knew him personally — through all his personal foibles — you would like him. If you met him personally you would like him.” He just was an engaging, interesting, open guy. But if you didn’t know him, man, these partisans, they develop all this hate based on — I don’t know where they get their information. And the other way, too; some people hate Republicans. I met George (W.) Bush long before he was ever the president. Same thing — if you met him personally I can almost guarantee you’d like him. That’s the weakness of politics — it’s driven by innuendo and gossip and B.S.

CS: So what do we do? Is there any —
BNC:
— any salvation?

CS: Yeah.
BNC:
I don’t know. But one of the things I — in the Senate, one of my jobs, I was also the chairman of the Helsinki Commission. And the Helsinki Commission was set up after World War II to investigate human rights violations in about 57 nations. So I used to travel a lot, to foreign countries, Russia and a lot of places, you know, all over Africa and so on, as part of that delegation, as the chairman of it. And I can tell you, for all of our weaknesses, I used to come back to this country and thank the Lord I was born here. Because the problems we’ve got are nothing compared to the problems of a lot of countries. Our problems pale. Some of those countries I went to in Africa, the AIDS epidemic was so bad, they were burying a hundred people a week from their village — a hundred people a week from AIDS. When you see that you think, oh boy, we haven’t got any problems in America. (Chuckles.)

But I know, in reality, now we do, we’ve got this huge deficit. And I happened to bump into Al Simpson the other day, we visited on a plane. He was co-chair of the Deficit Reduction Commission. He said, “There is no way out of this. We’ve got to do two things; We’ve got to cut the spending and raise taxes, and both will barely get us out of it.” And he told me he got a letter from one lady that said, “You S.O.B., Simpson, you’re going to reduce me to eating dog food.” In other words people say, “Yeah, we’re in trouble, but don’t you touch my stuff.”

The real problem that everybody faces now in office is they’re tinkering with the edges. You see it on the news and they’re battling back-and-forth about the budget bill and doing a (continuing resolution), all this stuff. That’s all tinkering around the edges, because entitlements are taking up something like 80 percent of all the money now. And at the present growth, it won’t be too many years before entitlements take everything. No money for the national defense, right? No money for the Forest Service, no money for parks, nothing. All money would have to go to entitlements at the present growth rate. They’ve got to do something about that if they’re going to get it under control. And yet everybody’s scared to touch it because of the senior lobby.

CS: Exactly, it’s pretty strong.
BNC:
It’s too bad, but I know when Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, testified before the Senate about four months ago, he said, “At the present rate of growth, our national debt will exceed our gross domestic product.” Think of that — and then think who did that happen to? That’s what did happen in Greece and it happened in Ireland, and look what happened to them. Riots in the streets. Fortunately the EU, the European Union, bailed them both out. Ain’t nobody going to bail us out. We’re the ones that people always want to bail somebody else out. Nobody bails us out, we’re on our own. So until they deal with the entitlements, there is no way we’re going to balance the budget, I don’t think.

CS: Have you met President Obama?
BNC:
Just twice, because he was coming in just as I left the Senate. I met him twice, once on the floor and once, actually in an elevator, where we talked a while. And he was a very engaging guy, a good speaker, I don’t like a lot of his policies. But he had just come back from Kenya, and I said to him, “That’s very nice that you went back to visit your people.” He said, “Well you do it all the time.” I said, “Yeah, but mine are here, I don’t have so far to go.” (Laughs.) I thought that was kind of neat that he went back to Kenya.

But his policies, I think, there’s no doubt in my mind, some of them are really driving us towards the French form of socialism. I don’t know how we get out of that. What’s going to happen now, though, is that he got whacked good in the last election, lost 72 seats or something. He’s going to come back to the middle just like Clinton did because he will get nothing done if he doesn’t come back to the middle. And he will just not get re-elected if he doesn’t come back to the middle.

CS: Do you think there are any strong Republicans who might give him a run?
BNC:
Well, no. At the present rate, I tell you what — I have nothing against Sarah Palin, don’t even know her, but if she’s a candidate, Obama wins, simple as that.

CS: Have you ever met her?
BNC:
No, no, I saw her one time but I was helping McCain a little bit and stuff, so I happened to see her, but I don’t know her. But I don’t think she’d run anyway, she’s making millions and become almost a pop icon — she won’t run. But a lot depends on whether the economy rebounds a little bit in the next year and a half, whether there’s more jobs. You know, all that stuff’s going to — whether we get in another damn war in Iran or some of the other countries where all these upheavals are going on. If we get drawn into that, we can’t support three wars, there’s just no question about it. And people, I think, are getting very angry about all the money we’re spending going out of the country and not enough of it staying here.

But if it is — every Republican candidate, God bless them, I admire anybody, either side of the aisle that runs for office because it ain’t easy — I ran 10 times, I know it ain’t easy. But every one of them has something that they’re going to have to eat. Huckabee, when he was the governor, at the recommendation of the prison commission, released a con — and shades of Michael Dukakis and Willie Horton. He’s going to live with that thing, even though all he did was accept the recommendation of the prison (board), you know? But they’re not running, he is.

Romney, he’s going to have to find a way to justify why he passed a health care bill similar to the national health care bill and now he says the national bill is no good. See, that’s the kind of things people understand. You might confuse them you start talking deficit dollars and all that but they understand that stuff very easily. (Laughs.) That’s what sways them when they vote, the bread-and-butter issues that they know in their home. But Colorado, you know, it’s always been a swing state but what’s interesting is there’s still a bigger number of Republicans than there are Democrats, and yet the Democrats are winning most of the statewide races.

CS: Do you think that’s going to continue, though, in 2012?
BNC:
Until they get us candidates, because Colorado, I think only about — well, maybe 20, 25 percent, votes straight partisan, then there’s a huge swing vote. That’s why I won. Even after I was a Republican, I won the women’s vote, the Hispanic vote and the labor vote — which is pretty hard for a Republican. Because those were swing voters: “I don’t care if you’re an R or a D, I’m going to support you, guy.” That’s what helped me.

CS: Now, you know Dick Wadhams?
BNC:
Mm-hmm.

CS: He’s come under some fire. Do you have any feelings about the job he did?
BNC:
Well you know, I know Dick well, and I certainly don’t want to criticize him. You know, because since I’ve been out I have been — in fact I’ve gotten a little heat from some Republicans saying, “Why aren’t you more active, why aren’t you doing more?” You know, but I prefer being me and a private lifestyle, so I just stayed away from that. But I don’t think I want to say anything about what kind of a job he did, that’s for the people that are much more involved in the process than me.

CS: What about the fellows who are running to take his place? Do you have any thoughts?
BNC:
Frankly, I don’t even know who it is. Who are they?

CS: Ryan Call, Ted Harvey — a state senator from Highlands Ranch — are probably the front runners.
BNC:
I don’t know, but I think it’s a tough job. Because you’ve got to be a little — you’ve got to wave the flag a little bit for the party, but at the same time you’ve got to think, how do you get crossover, moderate votes for my candidates, how do you get the unaffiliated to vote for my guy? And it’s not easy. I think the (Republican) national chairman, the last national chairman, was kind of a disaster.

CS: Michael Steele?
BNC:
Yeah. Unfortunately he was.

CS: Do you have a feel for the new guy (recently elected Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus)?
BNC:
No, I haven’t met him, but I knew Michael Steele. Not well, but I know him.

CS: What are your thoughts on the Tea Party? That’s something new in politics since you left office —
BNC:
Yeah, and I think they got unfairly maligned by the left, who was trying to paint them all as a bunch of bigots and all that stuff. You saw that. Well, I happened to be in Farmington (N.M.) one day, at a car show, of all things. It was right next to this great big parking lot where the Tea Party was having a rally. And I kind of just went over because I saw guys over there I knew, who were small businessmen and farmers, and I looked around and said, “This is not a bunch of crazy people, I know some of these people.” Yeah. So they were maligned.

CS: So you’re still dancing on occasion?
BNC:
Yeah, well, I was going to the Grand Entry and everything until my wife loaned my outfit, my headdress and everything to the Smithsonian. So I just brought my gourd dance outfit and I don’t even want to know when they’re gourd dancing, or if they’re gourd dancing, but I’ll gourd dance when they do.

CS: And you’re working on your jewelry business?
BNC:
Oh yeah, I work all the time, yeah. Yeah, I work all the time. My daughter has a gallery in Durango, so she hijacks everything I make, pretty much. (Laughs.)

CS: Do you like working on jewelry? Does it make you feel —
BNC:
It’s a form of therapy — I don’t know where it goes, I don’t know who buys it, I don’t know nothing like that. I just like to work on it. Have since I was 12 years old. So I’ve always been very competitive. I used to enter a lot of juried at art shows, but I don’t do that anymore. I found I couldn’t do that, because I’d go to a show like Santa Fe Indian Market, which is a big one, I had a booth there for 15 years. I’d go there and people would come by and, “Aren’t you that senator? Well what are you going to do about my Social Security? Why did you vote so-and-so?” Oh my goodness, I thought, what am I doing here? I gave up my booth, it’s just too much hassle. Haven’t had a booth since — send it to a gallery.

CS: How is your son Colin (Campbell) doing?
BNC:
He’s fine. The last campaign he got involved, he coordinated a campaign for Bush-Cheney for Colorado. He’s sort of burned out. He saw what I went through. He has a software company and doing very well. Just bought a new Aston Martin — I can’t afford an Aston Martin! So he’s doing very well.

CS: Good for him.
BNC:
And my daughter (Shanan Wells) has a gallery, she just bought a new building in Durango, right on Main Street, a big building for a large gallery, so they’re both very successful in private business.

CS: Good, good. And you don’t mind the traveling that you’re doing?
BNC:
Well no, because I don’t have to. I can set my schedule; I don’t want to go this week, I’ll do it next week or whatever. But you can’t do that when you’re in the Senate or you start getting heat from the editorial boards, you’ll start getting angry letters from constituents, “Why weren’t you there? I was there.” And I can’t tell you how many times people would come in the Grand Junction office or the Fort Collins office, my office, and say, “Is the senator here?” “Well no, he’s not.” “What do you mean? This is his office, he’s not even here?” and I’m in D.C., of course. And we used to get — oh, I ought to write a book about some of the — about the guy that wanted me to change the national anthem to a song his brother wrote. (Laughs.)

CS: You’re kidding?
BNC:
No, really. The one that wanted me to blind everybody that goes to prison so they couldn’t escape. Oh, yeah, we ought to do that, good idea, Jack.

And then the lady just before I left, she calls up (laughs) — I didn’t answer the phone, a staffer did. “My garbage hasn’t been picked up for three weeks.” “Well, ma’am,” my staffer says, “This is the U.S. Senate office, we don’t pick up the garbage.” The lady says, “Well who am I supposed to go to?” My staffer said, “Have you tried the sanitation department?” The lady said, “I didn’t know I was going to have to go that high!” And I said, “Oh my gosh, and they vote?” (Laughs.) They vote!

CS: Oh my goodness. Did you know the Salazar brothers?
BNC:
Real well. I knew Kenny (Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar) a lot more than John (former U.S. Rep. and current Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar), but I’m good friends with all of them. I spent some time with Kenny on a plane the other day and we were on the same plane flying back to D.C., so we spent the whole three hours visiting.

CS: Really?
BNC:
Yeah. It’s a tough job, man. Same thing, you get beat up by the enviros on one side and the pro-energy guys on the other. And I noticed this recent poll, only 16 percent positive approval rating or something, which I feel sorry for him. But hey, I know Kenny as a person and I think he’s working at it as hard as he can.

You know, we had a divided family on that election night because I was friends with Pete Coors too, I was trying to help Pete, but my wife was helping Kenny. [Ed. note: Democrat Ken Salazar beat Republican Pete Coors in the election for the Senate seat Campbell gave up.] But Kenny knows if I’d have stayed in office, he says he wouldn’t have run if I’d have wanted to stay in office. So he’s in the Cabinet (laughs) because — not that he owes me anything but (laughs) that’s the way it works in American politics. There’s an opportunity and the domino effect and something happens way over here that started here.

CS: Exactly.
BNC:
How’d that happen?

CS: You considered for a while running for governor back in 2006?
BNC:
Yeah, I did and I looked at it, had a lot of calls, a lot of support. People going, “Yeah, you need to do that,” and all. In fact, I had some people suggest I run for governor so I could appoint my own successor in the Senate, so to speak. I wouldn’t have done that if I had run, one, but I think I would have been competitive. But the more I talked to my family and I said, “Do you want to do that for a potential eight more years?” I just wanted to move on for new things.

It’s not easy being the only Indian in Congress, I’ll tell you that, because you know, you inherit national constituents. I had old people tell me one time, “We’re so glad that we finally had one in Congress.” They didn’t know, they thought I was elected from Indian Country at-large, rather than from Colorado. And you’ve got to help them if you can and I did help them as much as I could. You develop a much bigger — you inherit a lot more work because you don’t have the staff to be a national office but we got calls from South Dakota and Oklahoma and everywhere else wanting help. But I don’t regret my decision. I might some day look back and say, “I could have run, maybe I would have been the governor,” and so on. But it’s OK, for a kid that was out of an orphanage as a youngster, I did OK.

CS: You were the most popular politician in the state for some time.
BNC:
Well, I know, based on the numbers. You can look it up — I’m not trying to brag, but on the numbers, I know I won by the largest margin.

CS: You served with Scott McInnis, right?
BNC:
Yeah.

CS: Do you keep in touch with Scott at all?
BNC:
Yeah, he called the other day and said, “We’ve got to get together, I haven’t seen you for a couple of years.” “Yeah, we’ve got to, we just haven’t yet.” But yeah. But I only talked to him once since that blow up. [Ed. note: McInnis lost last year’s Republican gubernatorial primary to political novice Dan Maes after allegations that he plagiarized articles written for a nonprofit foundation.]

CS: Were you surprised that that blew up?
BNC:
Yeah I was, but I don’t make any judgment calls. I don’t have any idea what went wrong, what happened, what led up to it and all that. I was surprised, because Scott’s a tireless fundraiser and a tireless campaigner when he got into a campaign. So it did surprise me, because I was kind of, been away from the front lines there but there are a lot of subtleties that go on, I don’t know. Happily in the dark. (Laughs.)

CS: Right. Is there anything we haven’t asked that you want to talk about?
BNC:
Oh you know, maybe it’s a little teary-eyed to say it, but as many problems as we have, as much as I’ve traveled and all the countries I went to, all that, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going through a crisis now. But we’ve been through crises before, whether it was World War II, the Civil War or the Revolution or whatever, we’ve been through crises before. And I’m not sure that we will ever get this country back to the happy days of the ’50s, but I know a lot of things will be fixed. But it ain’t going to be easy and it’s going to take a lot of sacrifice.

One of the weaknesses of this country that I’ve noticed very clearly, very clearly, though, is there’s a movement towards Balkanization, which is bad, bad, bad. And the Balkanization is about religious lines and ethnic lines where people will put their racial background, whether it’s Hispanic or whatever, ahead of the national fabric. Not everybody, just a growing Balkanization. And that word came from the Balkans and look, they had peace two times in 500 years. Once under Hitler and once under Tito, right? That’s with the Serbs, the Croats — and they put their own racial group or religion ahead of the national fabric, there is no peace. And unfortunately I think we’re moving towards that and that’s one of the real dangers in America, one of the real dangers in America. I mean, when people used to come to this country they would want to become Americans, learn English. Now they want to bring all the stuff from their own country and have little their country in America. I think everybody should be proud of their ethnic background and their religious background, but I think you’ve got to be very careful if that becomes the driving force before the national fabric. And it looks to me like that’s growing.

CS: By the way, how do you know Hickenlooper? You said you were friends with him?
BNC:
Yeah. As I remember, the first time I met him was in an airport waiting for a plane, just got to talking, visiting. Then I just seemed to bump into him two or three times after that — that was long before he ran. And when he had the brewery, before he ran for anything, he brewed and put it in bottles of beer called Benny’s Beer. And he gave that to me as a campaign contribution and I tell you what, those bottles of Benny’s Beer were the biggest things. We’d raffle them off at fundraisers, Benny’s Beer. (Laughs.) I don’t know what the hell was in there because I don’t drink. (Laughs.) Hopefully it was good beer. So I thought that was such a nice gesture of him to brew some Benny’s Beer, that we got to be friends after that. And he’s making tough decisions now and getting heat from the left for doing it. I think he’s making the right decisions. No question, Colorado’s in trouble like the rest of the states. Not as bad as some of them, but —

CS: Like California?
BNC:
Oh, I don’t know how anybody’s going to bail them out. They’re in such deep trouble, I don’t know. They have so many entitlement programs out there that there’s an exodus of people who are the taxpayers and the businesses, they’re getting the hell out of there. They’re going to Nevada where they don’t have to pay corporate taxes or moving to — look at the demographics of who’s growing and who’s not. Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado are all growing. Those big states are in so much trouble, they’re not growing, they’re shrinking.

CS: Thank you so much for your time.
BNC:
Well, I’m glad you came over.

CS: It’s great to see you again.
BNC:
Life is good. Yeah, yeah, and I don’t want to sound crass, but boy, the income’s a hell of a lot better. (Laughs.) I started a college fund for all my grandkids. I couldn’t do that when I was in office, I didn’t have enough money to start a college fund for them. Now I can do it, so that’s the nice thing about coming home.

CS: Great.
BNC:
You can do some things you never could afford to do in office. A lot of people think oh, you get a big salary in office but the expenses are so damn much that you don’t have a lot to do for your family.

CS: It was good to see you — we’ve missed you.
BNC:
Well, that’s like I said, I miss friends.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com
Ernest@coloradostatesman.com