When 36-year-old Rick Palacio was elected to head the Colorado Democratic Party in March, he became the youngest state chair in living memory. Three weeks later, he lost the title when Republicans elected 35-year-old Ryan Call to chair the state GOP.
As both state parties gear up for what is shaping up to be a monumental election year in 2012 — by most accounts, swing state Colorado’s electoral votes could prove key to the presidential race — the new state chairs visited The Colorado Statesman for an in-depth interview about their jobs and their parties.
Both emerged from contested elections for state party leadership this spring, and both take the place of veteran politicos who helmed Colorado’s parties through a series of game-changing elections.
They have big shoes to fill. Palacio’s predecessor, Pat Waak, served three two-year terms, brought the Democratic National Convention to the state in 2008, and helped Democrats solidify legislative majorities, flip congressional seats and steer electoral votes to Barack Obama, only to see many of those gains reversed in last year’s election. Call’s predecessor, Dick Wadhams, served a pair of two-year terms, capping a history nearly unprecedented in Colorado politics helming successful senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns. Both Waak and Wadhams announced near the beginning of the year they weren’t seeking another term.
Newly elected state party chairs Democrat Rick Palacio, left, and Republican Ryan Call are pictured in The Colorado Statesman
offices on May 9 after sitting for an hourlong interview with the newspaper.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Palacio hails from Pueblo, where he made a bid for county clerk in 2006. He worked for U.S. Rep. John Salazar and, most recently, for then-Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who was second in command to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she ran things in the House of Representatives.
Call grew up in Denver, led campus Republican organizations, was Denver County chairman, and served as legal counsel to the state GOP for several years before running for the top job. He is an attorney with the Denver firm Hale Westfall.
Palacio and Call joined Statesman editor and publisher Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning for an hour-long interview at The Statesman offices on May 9. Their predecessors, Waak and Wadhams, regularly sat for InnerViews with The Statesman. 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 Palacio and Call. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Colorado Statesman (CS): Welcome to all of you, we’re very appreciative of you coming by and look forward to introducing you and having a conversation.
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call: Well, you were commenting, Jody, that this is really the first time that (Rick) and I have had a chance to meet.
Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio: It’s the very first time, yeah.
CS: Have you followed each other a little bit in some of the press accounts? I’m sure you follow it somewhat, that you know who won?
PALACIO: I have to tell you, I mean, I was rooting for the younger guy.
PALACIO: So yeah, I’ve seen you on [9News reporter] Matt Flener’s show, on Your Show, read a few things. And in all seriousness, congratulations. I think that it sends a great message from both of our parties that they elected the youngest of all of the candidates.
CALL: I would agree with that. I think that both parties are really trying to figure out how to reach out to those younger generations and new constituents. And we’re at an interesting point, I think, both in Colorado as well as historically where the parties are realigning a little bit and figuring out how you position yourself in the next decade or generation is a challenge for both of us. And I think it’s a neat testament to our respective central committee voters that they looked to someone, in both cases, a little bit younger, a little bit new way of seeing things.
PALACIO: Yeah, yeah, agreed.
CS: Can you each tell us a little bit about what you’ve been doing since taking office? [To Palacio] You’ve been in a little bit longer —
CS: — two or three weeks more than Ryan. But I imagine the first few weeks are sort of an indoctrination process? Or, do you want to tell us about it and then we can have Ryan tell us about his first three weeks?
PALACIO: Sure. Yeah, I think that I was elected a few weeks, at least three or four weeks before you were. It was March 5th, so just a couple of days ago it was my two month anniversary. It feels like it’s been a little bit longer than two months. Definitely the first month was indoctrination. You know, just really rebuilding what was left behind. As you both know, we didn’t really have much of a staff that was left over, not for any reason except that they all had planned on going somewhere else for a year, at least the last year our Technology Director Mike Weissman, who’s been with the party for a very long time, decided he’s going to go to law school. So he left, Pat (Waak) left, our finance team. Everyone sort of all made the exodus at the same time. So it’s really been just two months of rebuilding that, sort of the staff.
Matt (Inzeo, the press secretary) is new to the shop, Alec Garnett is executive director. So just mostly staff set-up and getting to know the various legislators that we have in our caucus in the Senate and the House and visiting with our U.S. House delegation and our U.S. senators. So it’s been a getting-to-know-you sort of two months.
CS: Do you know all the names of all the legislators yet?
PALACIO: Yes, I think I do.
CS: OK. There are a bunch of new ones, and we were just learning a couple of months ago ourselves.
PALACIO: Um-hmm. Well you know — and Ryan probably shares this experience as far as our legislators go — our legislators are automatically members of the State Central Committee. So anyone who’s good at counting their votes has got to know who’s there. So I think I had a conversation with most of them even prior to my election, in the couple of months leading up to it.
CS: You have had a State Central Committee meeting since you were elected?
PALACIO: We did. That was the first meeting. Down in Pueblo we had an Executive Committee meeting and a State Central Committee meeting, I guess it was about a month ago. Very successful, disposing of business that hadn’t been taken care of at the reorganization meeting where I was elected.
CS: Ryan, how’s it been — hitting the ground running?
CALL: I think that’s the best way to characterize it, is hitting the ground running. I think I was fortunate in that, having worked so closely with not just Dick but his predecessor and others, in the capacity as counsel and during the ’08 cycle I had left my law practice to go in and work for the party full time as in-house counsel and as the state party’s political director. So I had a much better hands on view of the party operational side. We were able to get in there and start making some things happen, really, quite quickly. Probably like Rick, much of my day is spent on the phone, fundraising phone calls and also reaching out to our county organizational leadership. A lot of time on the road too, attending Lincoln Day dinners and reaching out to our local leadership. So that has been just a lot of fun and really a great, rewarding experience.
Like Rick, I think I did have, obviously, a lot of chance to interact with both our leadership as well as elected officials quite a bit during the course of the campaign (for state party chairman), and I have interacted with a lot of these folks over the years just in my capacity both as kind of leadership as well as the state party. So those relationships were ones that I’ve had a chance to kind of renew and strengthen in a new approach. And that’s been fun, to be able to be in a position where you can really hopefully leverage what resources and efforts that the party can bring to bear to help them be successful in their individual initiatives. Whether that’s echoing the Speaker’s most recent sort of position on a piece of legislation or a legislative approach or whether that’s reaching out and helping facilitate a county organization or chairman who’s brand new in his post and trying to figure out the ropes. That’s been very rewarding for me.
CS: You’ve made some hires too?
CALL: We have. I think, like Rick, we had sort of a natural transition and attrition of a couple of our people. James Garcia, who had been serving as the executive director for the last couple of years, left to take a position with the Romney campaign, and that was expected. So that presented a nice transition. A couple of other staff went on to do a few other things and it gave us an opportunity to really re-evaluate our operational side in terms of costs and things. And we’ve been able to dramatically cut our overhead in an attempt to preserve capital for the upcoming campaign. This week we’ve changed offices in an attempt to — just down the hall, which is a much smaller space — to be able to preserve some more resources for the upcoming campaign in terms of rent. We made a hire of Chuck Poplstein who had been working the last cycle as Victory director (running the GOP’s coordinated, statewide campaign). It was a natural fit and really a tremendous political talent to come on as executive director. And we’ll be making some additional hires in the next little while for finance and information technology, IT kind of roles.
CS: Both of you had contested elections. Do you feel that there was any bitterness left over, having run against a couple of Democrats and Republicans? Or do you think everybody’s kind of united? Have you had the need to reach out to some of the groups that perhaps weren’t supporting you at first? Rick?
PALACIO: You’re right, I did have a contested election, but I don’t believe there were any hard feelings out there. I’ve had an opportunity to speak to most of those that were involved in, obviously, my own campaign, but in my two opponents’ campaigns as well. [Ed. note: Former state Sen. Polly Baca and past Larimer County chair Adam Bowen also ran for state Democratic chair.] We’ve enlisted them to help with various projects in the state party, various committees. So I think that we have a great relationship at this point, so I don’t see any left over hard feelings.
CALL: Really, it’s been very smooth and we’ve similarly been able to reach out, and, in particular Senator (Ted) Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch) has just been a real professional about it. [Ed. note: Call faced a more crowded field in his run for state GOP chair. Also running were Harvey, then-state vice chairman Leondray Gholston, Clear the Bench founder Matt Arnold and past congressional candidate Bart Baron.] I think that particularly my election, it really was something of a referendum in terms of the direction that the Central Committee and the party wanted to go. And because of that it was fairly overwhelming, that there was a real consensus to say, “OK, well we’ve sort of made a decision, this is the approach that we want the state party to be going in.” And it’s much more one that’s focused on the operational side and not so much on the ideological side. And because Republicans are united in those goals, it’s been pretty easy to build some common ground across the board with that. So it’s been positive, I haven’t seen any wrinkles, any problems.
CS: You guys feel free to talk to each other too.
CS: If something comes up and you’d like to interject —
PALACIO: Actually, I do have a question.
PALACIO: The make-up of your Central Committee — how many members are on the State Central Committee?
CALL: Just over 300. And ours, of course, is a function of state law, just like yours is. We don’t have as many bonus members (as the Democrats), things like that, as much. We’ve got the bonus member allocations to the county organizations as a function of the most recent gubernatorial ballot. And as a result, we typically have more like 400 to 450 Central Committee members, but this last go around it was just over 300 because of the impact of the governor’s race.
[Ed. note: The parties allocate “bonus” members to counties based on performance in benchmark races in the previous election. In the Republican Party’s case, since gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes got so few votes last year, there were an unusually low number of bonus delegates awarded to counties. The state central committees are also made up of county party officers and certain elected officials.]
What that did is it sort of crystallized the voting membership in the Central Committee into the leadership, the county organizational leadership; the chairs, the vice chairs, as well as the elected officials. And candidly, I think that helped us get more clarity in terms of the operational side. The vote count may have been differently if we had a much larger sort of representation of just regular activists that aren’t necessarily responsible in leadership, but have a better and maybe more thorough understanding of the actual operational side of winning elections. So we certainly saw an impact as a result of that, but at the same time most of our people really are focused on the task at hand in terms of elections.
CS: What about the make-up of the Dems?
PALACIO: We have quite a few bonus members. We’re similar in set-up that we have bonus members that are allocated for gubernatorial, presidential elections, and so I think with alternates and delegates we were near 600, somewhere in there.
CALL: Sorry just to interrupt — for your Central Committee you have alternates as well?
CALL: Really? So you do a — it’s a delegation, rather than a sort of just by virtue of their office, they’re voting numbers?
PALACIO: Right. Well, the Central Committee has, of course, all of the elected officials that are part of the Central Committee and then there are alternates elected from each county or region for the bonus members specifically.
PALACIO: So the bonus members have alternates.
CALL: OK. Republicans don’t have alternates. If the bonus member doesn’t show up, then that county loses the vote.
PALACIO: Yeah, there are always a line of alternates. I think the doors open at 7, tables for registration open at 7 o’clock, and from what I understand in years past, it turns into a bit of a shoving match in some counties for alternates to be seated.
CALL: Oh, in terms of who gets in the first spot?
CALL: So they’re not ranked, or how’s that — they’re supposed to be ranked?
PALACIO: Yeah, I think that they’re supposed to be ranked (chuckles) — some counties do it differently in their own reorganization. So some counties, like my home county (Pueblo County), we elect all our alternates and rank them. Some counties don’t rank them and just elect alternates, and then it’s a sort of free for all who registers first on —
CS: First come, first serve?
PALACIO: First come, first serve, right.
CS: At each meeting.
PALACIO: Right. And then it’s funny, we have an ability to, if you are a bonus member and you’re not there in time, your seat is given up, you still have the ability to show up late and reclaim —
CALL: Your seat?
PALACIO: — your ballot, right.
CALL: Ah. So whoever’s the alternate —
PALACIO: If you find the person.
CALL: If you can find them (laughs).
CS: You have to find that particular person.
PALACIO: If you can find… You have to find the person that has been assigned your ballot.
CS: So it’s a real free for all?
CALL: Oh, man.
PALACIO: So there’s a little bit of hiding if you’re an alternate. So it’s fun.
CALL: I remember going through the trainings that we were doing in the last couple of years and I worked with some — I probably didn’t work with your predecessor at the state party level but certainly with representatives at the county level. And looking at the differences between the way the parties run their caucuses and assemblies was also interesting and instructive.
PALACIO: Um-hmm. Yeah, yeah.
CS: Curious since you bring that up, the next year is going to have a different election calendar, partly to make sure the military vote gets out there in time, but that’s going to move everything up quite a bit except the caucuses. What’s your take on that? How’s that going to work?
CALL: It actually moves up the caucus date too, by three weeks.
CS: Three weeks — not as far as some of the rest, but yeah, everything’s more compacted.
CALL: And it puts us — I think if you look at the last couple of cycles with Colorado — Because so many other states were going that first week in March, Super Tuesday, the fact that we were late later in that mix, I think, actually sort of hurt Colorado’s voice in the presidential nominating contest a bit. And so being able to move that up at least to the first week in March, I think, is going to be a good thing for Colorado, Republicans and Democrats.
PALACIO: I agree, yeah.
CS: But you’ve got a more condensed season between caucuses, county assemblies and state assemblies.
CS: And the state assembly’s in the middle of the legislative session. It’s going to be different. Do you feel that it’s going to run OK?
CALL: I think it’s going to impose a significant amount of administrative challenges on us. I think that both parties are going to have to learn to use technology more efficiently to be able to compile those results and get things put together. Candidly, I think the Republican Party has a little bit of an easier time at it because we don’t have to do all the funny proportional math that you guys do with respect to the allocation of delegates and alternates. Ours is just whoever shows up and gets the vote gets to be the delegate.
We don’t have that same sort of proportional representation, but at the same time, I think in the long run it’s probably better for us, at least, to have a little bit of an accelerated primary calendar and more time to make the case to the general electorate, rather than the previous model which made it very difficult to sort of retool after — especially after a divisive primary. And while that may benefit one party one particular year, I think overall it probably benefits both parties to be able to present a good, clear difference between their candidate once they’ve got it figured out, to the general electorate.
PALACIO: Yeah, I agree. It’ll be more money is going to need to be spent in the general election. So if you think that 2010, you were saturated with campaign ads and telephone calls in the general, I mean it’s just going to be —
CS: — start two months earlier?
PALACIO: Start two months earlier, right. But I think that generally it’s going to be helpful for our party, the GOP as well, in coming together around a nominee.
CS: With it happening so early, though, and so close to the (legislative) session, do you think that’s going to have an impact on drawing from the legislature for candidates? Maybe not this year so much but in future years, that legislators aren’t going to have very long to campaign when they’re not in session, raise money, some of the restrictions on that. Do you think that’ll change the make-up?
CALL: I don’t think so. I think you’ll see candidates get started a little bit earlier, towards the end of the previous year in terms of fundraising, but I don’t think it’ll make that big of a difference.
PALACIO: Yeah, I don’t see it making that much of a difference either.
CS: And of course going into 2012 we have no U.S. Senate or governor, statewide races. We have, of course, the congressional and a presidential.
CS: And the regents, absolutely. And the Legislature, control of the Legislature. But do you see the presidential as the key race for Democrats and Republicans? Would you touch also a little bit on the congressional races? Is the presidential (race) going to be job one for both of you and then whatever else you have time for?
PALACIO: I wouldn’t say that whatever else we have time for. We’re going to make time. The presidential re-election is certainly going to be the top priority for us, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the races fall much further down the ladder. We have to re-elect President Obama, we need to regain the majority in the State House that we lost this last cycle, and, depending on redistricting and the way that the maps look, you know, hopefully regain our U.S. House seats that we lost as well. But I wouldn’t say that one is going to overwhelm the rest. Now, will the presidential re-election campaign roll through like a freight train? Absolutely, no doubt about it. But I think that there’s going to be plenty of oxygen in the room for all of the races.
CS: How confident are you that President Obama can again carry Colorado? Because traditionally, other than 2008, it usually goes to a Republican. What’s your assessment of how the Democrats could possibly do?
PALACIO: I have the highest degree of confidence that the president is going to carry Colorado again. I do. Colorado is a very — it’s becoming a younger electorate. We saw a dynamic shift in 2008, a tremendous amount of energy behind President Obama. I think many of the things that he campaigned upon were actually passed and signed into law. So he has, I think, demonstrated that he is a great president and well deserving of re-election in 2012.
CALL: And I guess that’s where I’ll have to respectfully disagree with my colleague over here, because I believe that the president has overreached, and his agenda has hurt Colorado families and businesses in ways that our electorate has felt up front. And I think that Colorado is, and really always has been, a more center-right type state and has kind of been bred into our culture an independence from Washington that the overreach that we’ve seen — with particularly some of the legislation on health care and the regulatory environment and environmental issues — that have hurt Colorado businesses and families and hurt jobs and the economy, will carry the day. And so I do believe that Colorado voters will see the direction that this president has taken the country, and they’ll want to change direction.
CS: Any indication whether Colorado is going to be a Romney state or is it way too early to — ?
CALL: It’s really early on our side to do that. Obviously Romney had a great deal of support in Colorado, but we have a terrific field. And one of our challenges is, candidly, we’ve got a lot of good people to pick from.
CS: Did Newt Gingrich announced this morning that he’s going to — ?
CALL: That he’s going to form an exploratory committee, yep. So you’ve got Newt Gingrich in the mix, you’ve got terrific governors with some great hands-on executive experience, like Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty in the mix. Other great leaders in Congress like Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, obviously, with great, thorough understanding of federal policy that could bring a lot to the table. That’s our challenge, as Republicans, is that we have such good candidates to pick from that it’ll be hard to get a consensus candidate fairly early. But I’m optimistic that regardless of who the Republican Party nominates, they’ll be able to draw that contrasting message between our overall kind of philosophy of government versus what we’ve been seeing from President Obama and the Democrats in Congress.
But that’s part of what healthy elections are all about, is drawing stark contrasts between the two different ideas and approaches to fixing America’s and Colorado’s challenges, and I think that that’s where Republicans will do well. Now I will say that Republicans are an independent-minded bunch of folks, and so my challenge is keeping everybody on the team working towards those common goals. And I’m sure that my colleague probably feels the same way, recognizing that politics and particularly party politics is a coalition sport. And keeping all the people on the team working together towards those common objectives is a challenge I think we both have to deal with.
PALACIO: Yeah, and I obviously am going to disagree with you on almost all respects, except for the stark contrast between our candidates, and that a contrast needs to be drawn. Certainly, I think the contrasts are drawing themselves, you know, thinking about all of those that could be potentially or will be running on the GOP ticket, there are some interesting people that I think don’t represent Coloradans, certainly don’t represent Colorado families and small businesses. You know, the first one that you mentioned is Mitt Romney. But yet the first mention of overreach you gave was health care reform — Mitt Romney passed RomneyCare in Massachusetts, which is very similar to the Affordable Care Act [Obama’s signature health care reform law] in the individual mandate and the way that the reform is carried out.
So, as far as Romney goes, I think you may have a much more difficult time getting your Republicans to rally around Mitt Romney, if he should be the nominee. I think, actually, Romney might have a difficult time even getting the nomination in Colorado. Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, many of those on the far right, I think, are just a little bit too extreme for Coloradans. You’re absolutely right about Coloradans. You said the GOP is fairly independent, Republicans in Colorado are fairly independent. I would say that Coloradans generally are very independent folks and that’s partially what makes Colorado such a battleground state, is our independence. It’s sometimes difficult to tell which way we’re going to swing and I think that the barometer right now isn’t necessarily the best for any of the Republican hopefuls that are out there, which even furthers my confidence in President Obama in 2012.
CS: We could keep disagreeing on that all day.
CS: Agree to disagree. Can we get a prediction from both of you? Other than presidential, what do you think is going to be the most hard fought contest next year? For control of the State House, State Senate or some of the congressional seats?
CALL: I think it’s some of the legislative races, candidly, because that is what often hits close to home in terms of impacting, directly, families and job creation and the kinds of things that impact Coloradans — is the direction it’s happening. And with Governor Hickenlooper in the governorship for the next few years, what’s going to drive the policy agenda in Colorado is going to come from the legislature. So while the presidential campaign will sort of provide overall energy and enthusiasm, much of our effort will also be directed towards reclaiming the State Senate and expanding majorities in the State House so that Colorado Republicans can advance a pro- economic growth and job creation agenda.
CS: OK, and what’s your take on — ?
PALACIO: Yeah, I would say that the hard-fought battle for us is going to be the State Legislature, the State House in particular. We’re in the minority by one seat, I think many have mentioned before that we lost that one seat by a mere 200 votes. So I think we’re all going to be working towards regaining that strong majority in the State House and making sure that we retain the majority in the State Senate. And then certainly it’s going to be a battle for our U.S. House seats. That’s where a lot of money tends to be spent, it’s also where a lot of our GOTV (get out the vote) efforts, really our up ballot, our top line candidates like U.S. House. You mentioned that we don’t have a top-line statewide candidate, so I think that gives us more of an opportunity to focus on regaining those two U.S. House seats and our State House.
CS: Speaking of candidates, one of the issues of your predecessors seemed to be, especially on the Republican side, the role of the state chairman in “vetting” candidates — or recruiting candidates. How do you two view your roles as state chair in terms of candidate recruitment? And we’d be curious too, what’s actually gone on with that. Have people been approaching you to run?
CALL: Yeah, a few people obviously have. I think my role is a little bit more, rather than vetting or recruitment, it’s more development and support. My job that I see it, is to help facilitate folks to get access to the process, to have a very transparent but vigorous primary battle to find out who needs to be our standard bearer in any number of races. But it certainly is not my job to put the thumb on the scale to influence the outcome of that, rather to help provide advice and guidance in a very even-handed way to anyone who would seek to represent our party in the general election. That’s a challenge, because some candidates bring a lot to the table and other ones are new to the game. My job is to help facilitate with resources and help in guidance and training in an even-handed way and make sure that our process of caucuses and assemblies in the primary election really does test those candidates to see which one is going to be the best to carry the party’s banner.
CS: Do you find that there are some people who — because that was an issue in your race (for state party chair) — that some people think it’s still the role of the state chair to perhaps vet them more or put the thumb on the scale?
CALL: Sure. You know, we look very closely and look to and work very closely with our local county leadership in particular, as it comes with candidate development and recruitment. Because you know, if you’re the chairman of the party out in Jefferson County then you know your people, you know that district. And so particularly with respect to recruitment of legislative races, we do look to that a lot. I don’t think it’s the job of the state party’s chairman to put his thumb on the scale in any way, but I do think it is the job of the chairman to be actively working behind the scenes to help provide the kind of support and help to guide candidates so that they can put their best foot forward as it relates to a desire to carry the party’s nomination. And that’s the challenge with any election.
It’s also a long game for us in terms of candidate development and recruitment, and so we will also in the upcoming elections not only focus on the congressional seats and the presidential election and certain legislative races, but we intend on providing a lot of help and resources and support to those folks that are running for local office — county commissioners or even municipal offices — that may be up in the course of the next few years, because we see that as a great farm team for developing good, principled candidates that have some experience in government and can then do much better in a higher office. It’s a long-term game.
PALACIO: You know, I think that the role of the party certainly has a bit of a vetting responsibility. Fortunately, for Democrats across Colorado, we’ve never really had much of a problem recruiting candidates. We tend to have Democrats across the country and in Colorado, and we’re a very diverse party — we have a lot of faces that come forward every time that there is a vacancy or potential vacancy that opens. So, when we have a wide range of individuals, then I think we have to step back and perhaps ask ourselves and have conversations with our county chairs and our county party activists and legislative leaders, who is the best person to put forward for whatever office it happens to be. So, you know, certainly I think that vetting is part of the responsibility, but, as Ryan mentioned, I think that a greater responsibility for us is really just developing an infrastructure and providing some sort of a support for our candidates in our various counties.
CS: OK. Have you been approached by folks looking to run for office already? Is it already underway? Is it too early?
PALACIO: No, I don’t think it’s ever too early in this business. I have people that I’ve had conversations with that want to run in 2014.
CALL: Or 2016 (laughs).
PALACIO: Or 2016 even, right. So no, at least a couple of conversations per week with various candidates or potential candidates from around the state.
CS: OK, and as far as kind of working on a farm team out there in some of the municipalities, counties, maybe even school boards, are you having a hand in that? Is that something that’s in the state party’s purview?
PALACIO: Yeah, it’s definitely part of the responsibility of the state party to build a strong farm team, much as Chairman Call’s responsibility is to build a strong farm team for the GOP. I think the difference is what we’re farming here.
CS: How so?
PALACIO: Well, I mean he’s obviously farming for the future of the Republican Party and we’re obviously farming for the future of the Democratic Party. Difference between winter wheat and corn, perhaps, I don’t know. But it’s certainly part of the responsibility.
CS: You both have been on the road somewhat. Can you talk about where you’ve traveled since taking office?
CALL: Well, I don’t know about Rick, but certainly both in the campaign, we certainly spent a lot of time on the road — I think I probably put 5,000 miles on the car. It was really a great experience to travel the state and reconnect with our great grassroots leaders, elected officials all over the place. I remember there were a few days where you wake up in the morning and you drive to Grand Junction and then you go to Delta and then you go to Montrose and then you come back home. So they tend to be sort of long days sometimes, but it certainly is a terrific state and we have great grass roots leadership all over the place.
I have been doing a lot in terms of going to Lincoln Day Dinners and spring flings in Park County and Saguache County and down meeting with local leaders in Pueblo or in Fort Collins and on the Western Slope, certainly, Grand Junction. So we get around. That’s a big part of, I think the job of the chairman, is to show the flag and to be able to reach out and make sure that we’re in close contact with our local leadership and that they know that we’re an active resources to helping them be successful in their initiatives in the counties.
PALACIO: Yeah, definitely rallying the troops is a big part of what we have to do. We spoke several months ago, right in the midst of our campaign [in a Statesman interview with the Democratic state chair candidates] and I think I had traveled to a dozen communities at that point. Since my own election, travel hasn’t necessarily been heavy but it’s going to be a busy summer. Various JFK or Jefferson Jackson dinners that I’ve been to, Jane Jefferson, the Democratic women’s group in Adams County, and just spent Saturday evening in Otero, the tri-county Otero event and Crowley Counties for their JFK Dinner, Fremont County. And over the next several months I think we have 28 different communities on the calendar in the next two months.
CS: That’s a busy schedule. You’ve also been back to D.C. for some (Democratic National Committee) business? Can you tell us anything about that?
PALACIO: Sure. I was in D.C. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week. The DNC elected a new chair, Debbie Wasserman Schulz, a congresswoman from Florida. And then just meeting with our delegation; both members of the Senate and our three House delegation members. And various people (who) are providing support as well. So just a quick three-day trip.
CS: Three-day whirlwind?
PALACIO: Three-day whirlwind. I think Wednesday was the DNC meeting — Thursday several DNC, other sort of support meetings then the Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House, which was fun, exciting. And meeting with both of our senators and our congressional delegation.
CS: OK. Have you been back to D.C. for any (Republican National Committee) business?
CALL: Not yet.
CS: A lot of that happened before you came aboard.
CALL: Yeah, the RNC meeting in terms of the election of new officers was before that and we have a new chairman, obviously, with Reince Priebus, and he comes from a background of having been a state party chairman and much more operational in focus. And I’ve had some great conversations with Reince. We actually had a chance to meet on a number of occasions before the election because he had been so actively involved in some of the legal team operations of the party previously. And so I had a chance to interact with him in that capacity before, so I have a lot of respect for him. And his focus is on the operations side of the party and less on some of the other things that the predecessor chairman did.
CS: Rick, are you spending any time fundraising?
PALACIO: I spend a lot of time fundraising. I would imagine just like my colleague, it’s at least a portion — two, three hours every day on the telephone.
CS: Is it hard?
PALACIO: It’s not hard but I don’t think that anyone really likes to ask for money. It’s certainly not hard, there are a lot of people out there that in the past have given to the Colorado Democratic Party or Democratic candidates, that are more than willing to give again. I think everyone knows what’s at stake for us in 2012, so people have been very generous. So as far as level of difficultly, it’s not up there with mining coal or digging ditches or anything like that, but it’s not my favorite thing to do.
CS: Ryan, you’ve got a new thing going with the Capitol Club [a monthly Republican lunchtime fundraiser featuring noted speakers in downtown Denver].
CALL: The Republican Party is trying out a number of new initiatives. We’re bringing back things that we used to do that we haven’t done for some time in terms of some regular donor meetings and clubs. We want to also provide a good forum to talk about issues because that’s what the upcoming campaign’s going to be about.
But like my colleague, I mean much of my day is spent on the phone or in meetings raising money for the party and I think, like him, our people understand, and our supporters and donors and contributors over the years understand, what is at stake in the upcoming election, and they have also been very generous in their willingness to help us be prepared for 2012.
CS: Although we’re two days before the last day of the legislative session here — so this might be a little bit premature — but other than the budget and redistricting, two things that the Legislature had to do this year, I’d be curious, what you think was the most significant legislation that was passed this session, and also curious what you would have liked to have seen happen that didn’t.
CALL: Good question.
CS: Rick, what do you think?
PALACIO: As far as what I would have liked to have seen that didn’t happen, from my own perspective I think it would have been nice for the Legislature to pass a civil unions bill. Unfortunately, the Republicans felt that it was not something for them, and they decided to vote it down, so we didn’t have an opportunity to pass that. But I think two of the significant pieces that did pass — and I would imagine that — I won’t speak for you — but one of them is just a bipartisan budget that was passed. A nice healthy majority in both chambers in both parties passed a budget, which is always good, so we didn’t necessarily come down to the wire. And the other piece, I think, is health exchanges, a big part of what needs to be done by the states so that we can make sure that we’re part of the Affordable Care Act and that all of Coloradans are provided health insurance, I think, was a major accomplishment as well.
I think that some of the best advancements really were the Republicans’ ability to find additional savings in the budget and minimize the cuts to education. Education’s an important priority for the Republican Party — we understand that that’s an issue that, particularly Rep. (Tom) Massey (R-Poncha Springs), that his leadership was really able to help minimize some of the difficult cuts to education in a way that helps minimize the impact on local communities in particular — especially rural communities. The rural school districts often struggle because of capital and other concerns, and so the budget was adopted and some of the subsequent amendments in the budget, I think, was a real win for not just the Republicans but also for Colorado citizens.
CS: OK. And what would you have liked to have seen the Legislature do that they haven’t — barring that they might do something in the next two days?
CALL: Sure. And I know that we have a couple of bills that are still out there. For example, I know Representative Stephens has been pushing, and in the House it had overwhelming support to —
CS: The interstate compact?
CALL: Some of the interstate compacts issues, but also the Amazon tax and some other things that would, I think, really help some of the industries in Colorado. Republicans did lead on trying to create an environment that would facilitate job creation and growth, and we were able to get some things passed — not everything I think we would have liked to have seen — but they were able to get a number of those things through and that’s good for Colorado.
CS: Can I ask a follow up? Rick brought up that civil unions (legislation) was voted down by the few Republicans on (the Judiciary Committee) in the House. And when you talked on the Your Show interview you said that you thought that was something that Republicans could come together and reach some compromises on, that you foresee that something that may be a toned-down version or something like that — that civil unions will pass in years to come. What’s your take?
CALL: I do foresee that there will be something on that. I mean it’s always difficult to sort of see into the future, but I do believe that there were some Republicans, even currently, that might have supported the bill. But I think that the bill and the legislation, in its form as it was proposed, didn’t do enough to protect certain aspects of traditional marriage and families. But I do believe that a form of that down the road will gain some Republican support. What it looks like and how it comes out, I don’t know. I know that we’ve had Republicans in the past that have proposed certain civil unions type legislation, we’ll see what happens in the upcoming legislative session and others. But I believe it’s unfair to criticize, or to characterize, rather, Republicans as not wanting to protect and preserve civil liberties in that instance. But we also need to balance that with the proper role of the state and protecting families.
PALACIO: Well, I’m curious to know what it was — on Your Show you also mentioned the legislation went too far. I’m curious to know what that meant, that the legislation went too far. I think, from my perspective, as well as many Democrats out there, as well as, I think, the majority of Coloradans, think that civil unions is just a matter of fairness. So I guess my question is twofold: what it was that went too far, and what it was that the civil unions bill would have done to endanger, if you will, traditional marriage?
CALL: I’m not going to talk specifically about the legislation, but I do know that Colorado voters have weighed in on this issue. They were very overwhelming in their support of traditional marriage in terms of the constitutional amendment not many years ago — they did vote against Referendum I — and I think if we are going to be deferential to what the voters said on that, legislative members need to proceed carefully when you’re dealing with something that the voters have spoken on that. Now, is public sentiment changing on some of those things? Perhaps. But I also don’t think that it’s necessarily fair to characterize the issue as a civil rights issue, it is the proper scope of government. You know, I’m looking forward to the upcoming legislative session, I think we may have some opportunities to revisit this issue and many others that weren’t able to get accomplished in this particular session, that will perhaps provide some contrast between the way that Republicans view the role of government and that of our Democratic colleagues. But you know, as to the specific aspects of the legislation, I’m not …
CS: Ryan talked about some things the Republicans did, saying we’re helping to get government out of the way to create jobs. What did the Democrats do to stimulate jobs in the state in the legislative session?
PALACIO: You know, I’m going to actually mention one thing that wasn’t so much the State Legislature as it was that it was an accomplishment of President Obama and congressional Democrats, and it is health care reform. And I think that if we want to talk about job creation, nothing is more stifling to entrepreneurship than the inability to go out and start your own business because you’re afraid that your health care is going to disappear, or because you’re afraid that your health insurance, like it has in the years past, is going to increase 200, 300, 400 percent per year. So I think that that is one of the major accomplishments of Democrats — the president and the Democratic Congress — in helping to create an environment in which jobs can be created and more small businesses can be created as well. So as for the Legislature (pause) Let’s see …
CS: Say it’s an open question?
CALL: Because there are so many bills and legislation, it is —
CS: Whether repealing the Amazon tax really creates that many jobs, not sure?
CALL: I understand.
CS: But did either party do much that, really? Because that’s all people talked about at the beginning of the session.
CALL: Yeah, because that’s on some people’s mind and I will comment about that. And I welcome if Rick and the Democratic Party want to make the upcoming election a referendum on whether Obamacare is a good idea or a bad idea. Because, while there are certain aspects of reforming our health insurance industry, the Republicans have put forth in the context of being able to have portability and private ownership of plans, competition across state boundaries, addressing tort reform and things that really have impacted the cost and growth of the cost relating to health care. Republicans have put forward some good proposals on that. What we have not proposed is that the federal government should come in and mandate the kind of things that it has in that kind of a federal legislation. So if that’s what the Democratic Party is going to be running on and standing for, I welcome that as a referendum on the difference of approach that Republicans and Democrats see the role of government.
CS: Would you include the health care exchange as sponsored by Senator Boyd and Representative Stephens as part of that — that was originally a Republican idea, it was a Heritage Foundation idea?
CALL: It was, and Republicans have — and again, I think there’s a difference between having the states be the laboratory of those kinds of things, because it’s more within their purview. It’s not within the federal government’s purview to be dealing with those kinds of things in the same way that they have. And so I think that the states can become good laboratories of policy as we work through some of those things, and health care exchanges is one approach to be able to have the states control and have more of a say in terms of the type of access to care and pooling that would benefit the business community. That’s why you saw a lot of business community members come out (in support of exchanges). Now you did see some Republicans taking a different approach because they were concerned and I understand those concerns in a very sincere way, that the health care exchanges could be a route to implementing a federal plan. I think that there are safeguards in place in terms of the legislation. Was it everything Republicans wanted? Maybe not. But I do also believe that principled Republicans have taken different positions on that particular piece of legislation, and part of that process of testing it out in terms of the states is part of the way legislation —
CS: You don’t foresee that being a rift over the next year?
CALL: I don’t think so.
CS: You hear a lot about primary challenges —
CALL: I mean, you see that, but I think that it’s probably unfair and inappropriate to zero in on one particular piece of legislation, particularly when principled Republicans took positions on both sides of that question. It was less a question about principle, in my opinion, as a question of tactics in terms of how best to allow Colorado to have a say, in terms of how we would run our own health insurance industry here in the state.
CS: Its own set-up?
CALL: Exactly. But I am very sympathetic and understand the position of many good Republicans who saw Senate Bill 200 as a route to implementing a federal law which we all oppose.
PALACIO: Well, I mean, and I’ll just follow up quickly on that point. If it’s a federal law that the Republican Party all opposes, I think that then again, going back to my earlier statement, Mitt Romney’s going to have a very difficult time gaining the Republican nomination in Colorado.
CALL: And I guess I would disagree with that because that’s an example of a state doing a state-based implement to address an issue in terms of caring for their citizens, not a top-down federal approach in terms of imposing that on all 50 states and territories. So there’s a huge, a world of difference between what was adopted in Massachusetts versus what was imposed by Barack Obama and the federal government. The other thing that’s important to keep in mind is that Romney, in that piece of legislation in particular, was not the governor in terms of its implementation, and we’ve seen dramatic departure from the original principles put forth in that particular bill in Massachusetts by the Democratic governor who took over.
CS: Deval Patrick? Quick question: What do you think of how Hickenlooper has done as governor? Ryan?
CALL: Hickenlooper is a very good politician, but I wish he were a better leader on some issues that he did seem noticeably absent from this legislative session. While Gov. (Bill) Owens and even Gov. (Bill) Ritter seemed to be a much more present force in terms of driving an agenda, Governor Hickenlooper seems to have taken a significant back seat to driving policy or the agenda in this particular session. I would have liked to have seen a little more leadership on that, particularly on issues like the budget and redistricting and other things.
PALACIO: And I don’t see him as taking a back seat so much as I see him as a much quieter personality than we’ve had in the past, one that is not necessarily out in public on all of the deal makings and all of the negotiations that take place. I think that Gov. Hickenlooper deserves a lot of the credit for the budget that actually was passed, I think that he deserves a lot of credit for the health exchange piece that was passed. Redistricting — by the time, I guess, you go to print, the readers will know what happened —
CALL: We’ll know whether it happened or not.
[Ed. note: Republicans and Democrats were unable to come to agreement on congressional redistricting maps before the Legislature adjourned Wednesday night. Both parties have filed lawsuits over the matter.]
PALACIO: — what happened or not. But I know that the governor has put a lot of work into this session, I think that he’s been incredibly busy. I think that his priorities are much like the Democrats in the Legislature and the Democrats in Washington, that this is about America’s middle class and America’s small businesses. And I think that he’s been a real leader in both respects.
CS: Before we close, do you guys have any questions you just want to ask of each other? Quick questions after having the chance to meet, to talk here.
CALL: Well, it’s great to meet you, Rick.
PALACIO: It’s nice to meet you.
CALL: I look forward to hopefully seeing a lot of you over the next few months, it’ll be a fun campaign. I hope that we can both learn to respectfully disagree on matters of policy and still be friends as it relates to understanding of our shared commitment to try to make Colorado a good place to live for our families. I don’t know, what’s your background? Are you married? What’s your background in terms of — I’m just curious.
PALACIO: No, I’m not married, I have a partner, and a dog that will be 14 years old next week. So if that counts as — that counts, I guess, as the closest thing to a child as I have. I grew up in Pueblo, which I’m sure that you’ve read. I have a huge extended family, I have six nieces and six nephews, so extended family keeps me just as busy as I think one can be.
But likewise, I think that we both — I have confidence that we’ll both be able to get along while we’re being respectful in our disagreement about policy issues. I know that we’re both coming at this from one of deep patriotism. We both, I’m sure, care a lot about our country and our state in which we live and we want our citizens of middle class as well as all classes of citizens to have a fair and successful life. And you know, I think the difference here is just the policy and how we get there, so I would hope that as we move forward, that we’re able to have friendly, civil conversations. While we may disagree on the way to get to our destination, I know that we have the same destination, really, in mind.
CALL: That’s certainly my hope as well. We should probably at some point work together on some of our initiatives about helping educate Colorado voters about the caucuses and the assembly process, making sure that people know how to access that and have their voice heard on that. I know that that was something that we’ve done with some of your predecessors and colleagues at the county level in particular, and making sure that we do a good job of that in helping people understand will be something I look forward to working with you on.