InnerView

InnerView with Andrew Romanoff

By Jody Hope Strogoff & Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Andrew Romanoff, the former speaker of the state House, is challenging U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate this year. Bennet was appointed to the office in January of 2009 when Ken Salazar accepted the appointment as Secretary of the Interior.

Romanoff, who was passed over for the Senate vacancy appointment by Gov. Bill Ritter, formally announced his candidacy last September. Romanoff was interviewed at the office of The Colorado Statesman on Feb.11. We have extended an invitation to Sen. Bennet to participate in a separate interview with us.

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

Colorado Statesman (CS): Are you feeling a change in the mood on the campaign trail?

Andrew Romanoff (AR): At almost every stop, this Citizens United case (decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last month) comes up. It’s remarkable — I’ve been working on campaigns for 16 or 17 years now, and that’s the first time I can remember a court case consistently coming up. There are people who are really concerned about the effect it’s going to have on democracy. And that’s made our decision to turn down those sorts of contributions in the first place more resonant with folks, because they recognize that’s part of the problem, and the Supreme Court has made it worse.

CS: Do you find that people are really engaged about the contest yet?

AR: There is a bit of an echo chamber if you spend your time just in downtown Denver. You begin to suffer from this illusion that the rest of the state doesn’t exist, and I think that’s a mistake a lot of Denverites make. So, in some circles this (election) is all the buzz. But I think for most people, the primary is six months away, the general (election is) nine months away. Most folks are interested in paying their mortgage, feeding their family, getting a job; trying to figure out why their kids are moving back home, wonder why — what they could do, to get them to work.

CS: Do you find in your travels that there’s an anti-Denver kind of bias?

AR: I don’t know. It’s historically been resentment at the big city for sucking up the resources and the attention and most of the money that people have. But in this kind of environment everybody feels shortchanged — it’s kind of like a Lake Wobegone sort of thing, where everyone feels what they’re getting is below average.

CS: You said back in December that you thought there was tough press coverage of your campaign.

AR: I think a lot of the newspapers seem like they’re short-staffed, and they’re fairly obsessed with the money chase because that’s the only tangible measure they can use to gauge a candidate’s success. When we invite them to join us — I’ve been to 12 cities in the last six days, and we got good coverage, I think, out state, but it’s just the Denver media market, for lots of reasons, is not particularly interested in what happens on the course of a campaign in the rest of the state.

CS: Do you find it’s a little bit against you still?

AR: We’ve had three press conferences, I think, in the last 10 days and I think your publication is the only one to have actually covered them all, and I thank you for doing that. We just picked up two big endorsements yesterday. I think the Post put it in their blog.

(The endorsing unions) represent 40,000 people. The conventional wisdom is that money is all that matters. We’re counting people, not just dollars. So when (the United Food and Commercial Workers local) and the Teamsters bring 40,000 people to our side, we know that not all those folks are going to vote for me. But that’s what matters when more Coloradans contribute to our campaign in the last three months than to any other, we think that matters.

I just gave a speech to the Colorado Alliance for Retired Americans. I said that there is something wrong with a system that says we’re going to measure your success and your supporters’, and voters’ value, by their net worth. And that’s essentially what folks are doing among some of the chattering class. So, a woman from Colorado Springs who’s unemployed and sends a check for $10 matters to me, and she should get the ear of a congressman even if she had nothing financial to offer in return for his or her attention.

I don’t think I appreciated this as much when I was in the state House because I literally knocked on just about every door in my district when I ran four times. You can actually meet most of the people you represent in the course of a state House campaign especially in a district like mine that was compact enough that you could walk from one side to the other. That’d level the playing field, so everybody with a vote to cast had equal value. But even there, we narrow the focus to people who vote. The folks who aren’t registered probably don’t get as much attention because you don’t have their names and you don’t knock on their doors.

CS: Right.

AR: But with five million people to represent, this is what really has distorted democracy is (that) a lot of candidates act like Willie Sutton — they rob banks because that’s where the money is.

CS: Nevertheless, you’re facing someone who’s a fundraising juggernaut, who’s got tons of money.

AR: That’s true.

CS: No matter how he gets it, it’s still an advantage in terms of running a campaign, and staffing and going on the air.

AR: Sure, I recognize that. I’m not naïve about any of that. I think if money were all that matters, Pete Coors might be running for re-election to the seat that I’m seeking.

CS: — and Gov. Beauprez —

AR: Bob Beauprez would be governor, and Jon Corzine would probably still be governor of New Jersey.

We’re going to continue to grow this grassroots army and make a retail level campaign which I think is a better way to run and a better way to serve. I’m going to belabor this point because I know it’s the key interest for a lot folks — most humans, not just politicians, end up adopting the views of the people with whom they spend the most time. It’s just a natural, psychological fact.

So, if you confine your focus to the fairly narrow sliver of the electorate that has the best ability to finance your campaign — or if you skip the town altogether and tend to the needs of people on the coasts who are bigger givers, I think you lose touch with your constituents. I think it’s a real danger, especially in a race like this for a seat like this. It’s five million people I’m supposed to represent, and I’m trying hard to meet as many of them as I can.

CS: Do you find that there are a lot of people still undecided about the race?

AR: Oh yeah, I think so. The Rasmussen poll that we pointed out in our e-mail said if the election were held today, it’s 51-37 for the other guy; 45-38 for me [Ed. note: a poll showed former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, a Republican, beating Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet by 14 points and beating Romanoff by 7 points], I think that probably inflates the percentage who have actually committed because a lot of folks, just for the sake of probably answering the poll and getting off the phone, will pick a choice even if it’s not the one they’re going to stick with. So I don’t know what the percentage is but I suspect most folks have not made given their final answer.

CS: Have you done any polling since the one you did last spring?

AR: No.

CS: What were the results of that?

AR: Well, that’s really a part of the campaign that we don’t feel obligated to share. (Laughs) Sorry.

CS: As you go around the state, what are the main issues that you find people talking about?

AR: Jobs and the economy. Health care, which has been the subject of so much consternation in Congress, is up there. There are issues particular to different parts of the state. When I was in Alamosa we were visiting two of the schools that were under construction because of the bill that I passed. I talked a lot to the folks there about how to make sure kids had a chance to succeed in the San Luis Valley.

We’ve been talking a lot about energy policy because it’s an example of congressional cowardice — the Democratic senators who wrote to their leadership in an effort to put off the debate over climate change until a non-election year were not displaying much courage.

The Competition

CS: Do you see Michael Bennet much on the campaign trail?

AR: We’ve shared the stage at a couple of occasions [Ed. note: the interview was conducted several days before Romanoff and Bennet had their first debate last week].

CS: And are you friendly with him?

AR: Sure, yes. I like to say I’m not running against a senator; I’m running against a system.

CS: Okay.

AR: And of course the system is protecting its own.

CS: Does it bother you when some of the state legislators that you worked with may be undecided or are in Bennet’s camp?

AR: The vast majority are with me, but at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team. After I win the primary, every single person in the other camp, I think almost without exception, has said,“we’ll be running to your side.”

CS: Let’s talk about that. Do you think that the party will unite behind you? Because that’s been a problem with Republicans sometimes in the past.

AR: I spent 16 years uniting and strengthening and building the Democratic Party. They were united a year ago behind my candidacy, although it didn’t work out that way. But you know, we earned the support of almost every major newspaper in the state; 62 of the 64 county chairs; almost every Democratic legislator; and we’re building the same kind of coalition now. So, I think what a lot of Dems, what they’ve always wanted is to hold the seat, and I’ve got the best chance of doing that, as I think the most recent survey concluded.

I think folks recognize that our own party hasn’t delivered on the promises it made in Congress, so they want to shake up the system. I do too. They want somebody who’s willing to stand up to the party leadership — I’m doing that right now, with respect to the national party leadership. I think we will emerge from this primary stronger than we started, just like President Obama did after his much longer and more expensive primary two years ago.

CS: Has the party been fair?

AR: I will let others judge that. The national party has made no secret of its interest in circling its wagons and, we had hoped that the state party might have an interest in actually inviting folks who are undecided to the events next week [Ed. note: a fundraising visit Obama made on behalf of Bennet]. But, that’s the (state Democratic Party) chairwoman’s call, or the President’s. At the end of the day, my interest is in reaching out to people, not just power brokers or party bosses in Washington. As I remind folks, they don’t actually live here.

CS: But if you were to win you’ve got to work with them. How does that work?

AR: I expect I’ll find a lot of new friends after I win the primary. I recognize that’s the way things work. A lot of folks will tell you, hey, we were right with you, we just weren’t allowed to say so. It’s a fairly fickle business. I get that. I’m happy to earn as much support from as many people as I can. At the end of the day, I was the leader of the Democratic Party at the state House for six years. So, I know how to unite a party, build a party.

I also know what the appropriate limits of party power should be. I never, and maybe this was a fault but I didn’t punish folks for breaking ranks. I never thought when people got sworn in — and I stood there and raised my own hand four times — we didn’t take an oath to the party, we took it to the Constitution of Colorado, and I hope now to the U.S. So, yeah, I’m happy to work with folks on both sides of the aisle, sometimes, for eight years (in the Legislature). And I’m sure I’ll have differences with the national party leadership. But it’s not a tough call — if you’re asked to pick between what’s good for your party or your country, there shouldn’t be much of a dilemma.

CS: Each incoming senator gets to pick two mentors, one from each party. Michael Bennet picked Chuck Schumer and John McCain, and tells lots of stories, mostly about McCain, and how that’s had an effect on his life and his family. If the Senate still has the same membership as it does today, which two would you pick?

AR: I haven’t given that any thought at all, I can honestly say.

CS: You’re running against the system, but are there some senators you like?

AR: There are senators that make great contributions to the country. I’ve really spent no time thinking of that — I couldn’t hazard a guess.

CS: Are you operating on the premise that Jane Norton’s going to be the nominee? Do you think that’s a safe bet?

AR: I don’t think any bet is safe this year because it’s such a fluid political environment. I recognize her name recognition is higher than the others, probably because people are thinking of (former state Attorney General and Interior Secretary) Gale Norton. I worked with Jane when she was lieutenant governor. I was first the minority leader for the first two years, and then speaker for the last two. I have respect for her. I don’t know who they’ll pick. I think I’ll beat any of the Republicans that they nominate.

CS: What do you think of her, though?

AR: I’ve always found her very friendly and pleasant, and I had a nice working relationship with her.

CS: You know Tom Wiens, of course …

AR: I served with him too. We worked together on some issues as well.

CS: What about Ken Buck?

AR: I don’t think I’ve had any interaction. I think we’ve met once, but that’s about it.

CS: Would you run the same kind of campaign regardless of whether it were Norton, Wiens or Buck?

AR: Yeah. What voters want is somebody who will tell you what he or she is for, not just what he or she is against. So I’m not planning to change my tune between the primary and the general (election), or, frankly, between the general and the time I get sworn in. This is the advantage of being true to yourself and your constituents, is you don’t have to navigate and posture and figure out how to calculate every vote. I think this is what happens — and I saw this in the state House a lot — people forget why they ran for office and they start replacing the ends with the means. Every decision gets evaluated as to how it might advance the prospects for the next election. And then at some point you have to jump off that little merry-go-round, because if you spend all your time just trying to calculate the political advantage of a decision, you forget why you sought office or who sent you there.

The Governor and his Appointment

CS: How’s your relationship with the governor these days?

AR: I haven’t talked with him since his decision came down. I supported his re-election effort.

CS: Were you surprised that he got out of the race?

AR: Yes, I was. I’ve known him and Jeannie (Ritter) for, gosh, over 16 years — they used to live across the park from me. He knocked on doors with me, and I appreciated that, and we worked together pretty closely. Just on a personal level, I’m glad that he seems more at peace.

CS: What were your feelings when you heard that he had picked Bennet (as senator).

AR: I don’t know that it much matters at this point. He only had one vote, and there’s three million registered voters who haven’t had a chance to weigh in yet. I thought then, and I think now, that I’ve got the best ability to represent this state in the legislative process, and the governor’s decision didn’t alter that immodest conclusion on my part. The law gives him the right to fill a vacancy. He exercised that right in the manner that he chose. I haven’t met a lot of voters who feel obliged to just defer to one person’s judgment, whether it’s the governor or the President of the United States. Folks in Colorado want to make a choice.

CS: What did you do last year between the time Sen. Bennet was appointed and when you decided to jump into the race? You were out of the country for a while —

AR: I spent some time out of the country. I went to the Middle East and to Nigeria. I worked with a group called the National Democratic Institute, which does democracy building, and, in my case, legislative training in Abuja, in Nigeria. I took a job teaching at the (University of Colorado at Denver) School of Public Affairs, and so that was really good experience. I’ve been teaching off and on for more than a decade now at different colleges around the area.

CS: Do you have your law degree yet?

AR: I graduated (from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law) in December of ’08. I got (the degree) at the end of my term.

CS: Did you ever consider going to work for a law firm?

AR: That’s funny — a friend of mine told me, ‘You should go to law school if you either want to be a lawyer, or you really like going to law school.’ Neither really applied, but it did give me a set of skills that served me in the Legislature, and I think will serve me in this new job. I like learning, so it was a good experience.

CS: You also are pretty fluent in Spanish, are you not?

AR: Yes.

CS: How did you pick that up?

AR: I used to live in Central America. After college I went down to Nicaragua and Costa Rica and taught English and learned Spanish and lived with some local families. It was the best year of my life, actually. It was 20 years ago. That was a good experience. I can talk about this a little more now on the trail because I have been thinking about what has shaped my views.

I think living abroad, and going to Alabama to work for the Southern Poverty Law Center, and supervising an investigation, as I did, of employment discrimination in Boston — that was a pretty eye-opening and rewarding experience. I think those experiences have shaped my approach to public policy and my passion for it.

The Campaign

CS: Running for the Senate, or contemplating serving in the Senate, has a scope that’s beyond even what happened in the state House here.

AR: Right.

CS: There’s foreign policy, national economics — who do you turn to for advice on that?

AR: That’s a great question —

CS: Do you have a brain trust on different topics?

AR: It’s funny, we have five thousand folks participating in some fashion on the campaign, whether they’re volunteers or hosting house parties or making phone calls. And, most of the folks, if you ask them what they want to do, their number one choice is, policy. So we do have a fairly wide circle of folks who have offered policy advice at no charge. From different walks of life and different corners of the state and different sets of policy issues. (Former state Sen.) Ken Gordon has been helping corral that team into fleshing out some policy positions.

CS: You’ve brought in some consultants from out of state?

AR: We got some offers from those four folks that I think you’ve read about.

CS: How’s that going?

AR: Good. I think they picked up on some of the same sentiments that we find in Colorado across the country, and are here to help us as the campaign moves on. [Ed. note: four days later, Romanoff cut ties to one of the four consultants after a video surfaced showing the consultant disparaging unions and environmental groups.]

CS: Is this a tough time as a Democrat to run?

AR: Yes.

CS: Obviously things have changed a lot from 2008. Does it make you nervous that perhaps the national climate is affecting the electorate?

AR: It’s not just a tough time for Democrats. It’s a tough time for America in general, because people are hurting — people are losing their jobs, losing their savings, losing their homes, losing their health coverage. I think the frustration that a lot of folks feel, as they look at Washington, is this sense of urgency and desperation, in some cases that we feel in our own lives, doesn’t seem at all matched in that very comfortable country club called Congress.

I was reading an exchange over the health care debate, and there was a senator turning to a colleague saying, ‘This is no fun for me’ — and that’s not the point. Or the folks that said, ‘This debate over health care was too risky, we should put off the climate change legislation.’ I think there is a real gap between the lives of ordinary Americans and the work that seems to go on — or doesn’t — in Washington.

I’ve talked about this a lot with folks around the state. I just got an e-mail from a woman two days ago, just to drive home this point. She wanted to help out with the campaign but (she said), ‘I’m very sorry, but I’m not going to be able to be part of the advance team. I discovered when I attempted to go to the doctor on Friday that insurance for me and my son had been terminated. Because of his preexisting condition and my fluctuations in income, finding other coverage will be difficult. I was already working seven days a week. With this development I will be unable to turn down work to attend events. This is particularly frustrating because Andrew is the only person I really trust to fight for equal access to health care, education, and all the human rights issues. I will be back to work towards his election as soon as I solve this unnecessary problem.’

These are daily reminders which I save of what’s going on outside the corridors of power, and why this matters. I think that whatever they put in the water supply in Washington that causes people to forget who they’re supposed to be working for, is something I will fight against. This is literally a matter of life and death; the health care debate is not just a politically thorny issue for Democrats and Republicans. It’s fatal.

I feel the same way with respect to the debate over climate change — or the non-debate now — and the economy. I got into politics to fight poverty. LBJ said the best anti-poverty program is a good job. And 200,000 people in Colorado don’t have one. I’m trying to find other words to express this, to convey what I think a lot of folks are feeling. And the trouble is, of course, that their interests don’t get well represented because they can’t make campaign contributions. They don’t have lobbyists. They’re not too big to fail. They deserve a voice. More than that — they deserve a champion.

CS: Have you thought about what committees you might want to serve on?

AR: The governor asked me this question too, a year ago [Ed. note: when Romanoff interviewed for the Senate vacancy appointment]. I said at the time that the health committee — HELP, it’s called — because that’s when I served in the state House, and that’s what I care a lot about. And the Foreign Relations Committee, because I have some experience in the rest of the world, and I think the challenges the rest of the world face have an impact on every part of American public policy. The days in which you could distinguish sort of what goes on here from what goes on abroad are over.

CS: Do you see a dichotomy between the way you’re running now, kind of as an outsider against the system, versus a couple years ago when you were, some people say, the consummate insider.

AR: There’s irony, obviously, in this experience. When I was in the state House, I never lost sight of why — and I think my colleagues will tell you this too. When they made me speaker in 2005, I said we should start solving some of these massive problems we inherited for two reasons. One, because we’ll be in better shape to keep our majority if we do that, and we did. But two, and more importantly, because if we start solving these problems — if we balance the budget, if we fix this problem with the (state) Constitution, if we rescue our colleges from financial extinction as public institutions, if we repair the safety net we shredded for health care and human services — if we start doing some of the things that we were elected to do, even if we don’t keep our seats, let’s say this whole majority just evaporates in two years, the state will be in better shape, which is the point.

And what kept me grounded outside the Capitol was the ability to meet the people I represented. Knocking on their doors or holding town meetings or sending e-mails to 75,000 people and listening to their answers, or opening my office hours as I did every week when I was speaker, or televising the state House so that people could watch what we do. All of those tools brought the Capitol — (former Gov.) Roy Romer used to talk about bringing the Dome on the Range, and I think we did that.

I think it’s tougher to do this in a far off land like Washington, D.C., with a much bigger constituency, with like five million people (in Colorado).

But I think that experience prepared me very well for this job — because the contrast between the things we were able to get done across the aisle in Colorado, and the problems that are getting neglected in Congress, could not be further apart. It’s two different worlds. I think they could learn a lot from us.

CS: The contrast from a little over a year ago when Obama was inaugurated — the economy was in a much more urgent situation than it is now, but I get the sense that people are a lot gloomier now. There’s not a quick fix, there’s not a quick turnaround. A lot of things that Congress and the administration tried didn’t work. Do you get the feeling that people are gloomy, or are still hopeful? Or is there a sense these problems are intractable?

AR: I think a couple things are going on. There’s a lot of anger and I think what folks saw last year was an effort to bail out the banks so that we could stabilize the financial markets and avoid a deeper recession. But we didn’t do what we needed to, to make sure that some of the money that we gave to those banks got loaned in return.

I just met this morning with a group of small business owners who told me the same thing that we’ve heard throughout the campaign, that a lot of employers, especially small employers, can’t get the loans they need. They don’t understand — they’re not too big to fail, so they don’t qualify — they’re not poor enough to qualify for public assistance yet. They’re like most folks, they’re somewhere in between. They don’t see Congress listening to them. They haven’t gotten the help they need. Instead, what they’ve watched — this is the second part of the reaction — I think, is this unholy spectacle of senators cutting deals with the special interests that subsidize their campaigns, agreeing to protect the profits of pharmaceutical companies instead of negotiating deeper discounts. They’ve seen the senators cutting deals with one another — the Corn Husker Kickback or the Louisiana Purchase, which are pretty well known terms now. Maybe that’s the way Washington’s always worked, but it’s more naked than ever and more appalling to people, especially in the middle of this crisis.

I talked to a woman a couple of months ago. She said, ‘It’s great that Congress has some plan to fix health care by 2014, but what am I supposed to do now? I’m losing my coverage now. My kid’s sick now. What am I supposed to do for the next five years’ — this was last year – ‘while Congress dithers?’

I talked to a woman up in Greeley who said her daughter’s got coverage because her husband’s employed, but the company there is going to close, and when that happens, her daughter will lose her coverage, and because her daughter has diabetes that will be very difficult, if not impossible, for her to get a plan that she can afford on the individual market. I think being closer to your constituents, as I was in Colorado for eight years, makes it much harder to ignore those problems even if you wanted to.

But you fly off to D.C., you spend your time at cocktail parties, you fly across the country to some other swanky fundraiser in Bel Air… I suppose it’s easier, you just don’t see these folks or listen to them or feel their pain. And if they don’t bankroll your campaign, their influence on your decisions or your attention or their impact on your approach is much less.

There’s a circular phenomenon because those folks don’t participate because they can’t afford the cover charge, so you spend less time talking to them if you’re like most senators, and that leads them to be more disillusioned and disengaged, and that cycle perpetuates itself.

CS: Some of the deals you’re talking about that are clogging the system were cut by the Obama administration at the outset (of health care reform negotiations). Do you still have confidence in President Obama and his ability to lead the country out of this mess that we’re in?

AR: Yes, I do. I don’t agree with every decision that any president has ever made, but I think one lesson I take from his experience — and I think a lot of Americans have reached the same conclusion — is it’s not enough just to change presidents, and put a person of real courage and vision in the White House — and I think he has those qualities — if the same skills are not matched at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The President inherited a mess, as he pointed out in the State of the Union last month, and it is not possible to fix all the damage that we’ve suffered over the last eight years in 12 months.

But one of the lessons that we can take from elections across the country is voters will punish a party that doesn’t seem to be addressing their needs. I’m aiming to restore the promise that the Democratic Party brought to Congress and to try to build alliances with the folks — as few as they may be — on the other side of the aisle and that in the senate who are willing to work with us. We’ve faced these odds before. Westword called me the leader of the permanent Democratic minority. So they said you guys are never going to take over the state House and there was good reason for their skepticism since it’d been 30 years. When we took it over they said, well, that’s a fluke, it won’t last.

CS: Then two years later …

AR: So two years later we kept it, and two years after that. Then they said, well, that’s fine, but you’ve just inherited this big fiscal crisis. There’s no point in getting power. A lot of folks on our team were pretty disappointed. You’re not going to be able to touch TABOR — we did that too. We didn’t check off everything we set out to do, but we didn’t lose sight of why we sought power.

CS: Do you feel you left the state in better shape than when you entered office?

AR: I do. There are some things I would have done differently but am proud to have authored Ref. C. I’m proud to have authored the largest investment in school construction in state history. I’m proud to have authored even some bills that failed.

I told the story last night in Westminster: When I was a freshman I took on a proposal to protect paramedics and nurses and other medical providers from needle-stick injuries, which they were suffering because a number of hospitals had not adopted the retractable needles or needle-less systems that make HIV and (Hepatitis) C less likely to spread. I proposed requiring those sorts of systems but the cost of those needles are higher, so the hospital association said no, they can’t afford it. We heard from an EMT who’d contracted Hep C — and I think maybe HIV too — from a needle stick injury that she had suffered. It was Hepatitis C, because she needed a liver transplant, and she got one, but that liver failed as well, and so she’ll die, it was pretty clear. She’s got three little girls and they will lose their mom because the hospital that she worked for couldn’t be bothered to pay for a needle-less system or retractable needles. I know something about taking on fights against tough odds — and, more importantly, she does.

CS: That was a bill you introduced when you were a freshman?

AR: Yes.

CS: Did it eventually pass?

AR: No, we lost by one vote, I think, but eventually the Feds adopted a proposal that required hospitals to do the same thing.

Life on the Campaign Trail

CS: How’s life on the campaign trail? Do you like it, or is it something you do to get to a place?

AR: I like it. We’ve had a great time. The last trip took us from Vail to Glenwood to Aspen to Steamboat to Granby, then back down through Colorado Springs, Pueblo into Antonito, Alamosa, Durango, Cortez. I think folks appreciate the chance to actually weigh in on issues that matter to them; that’s very rewarding. I think it will make me a better senator. I think the experience of meeting so many of my own constituents in the last eight years made me a better representative. And it’s fun.

CS: Is it fun? What’s fun about if for you — meeting all the people?

AR: Yeah. First of all, it’s a beautiful state, so it’s not exactly a hardship assignment to have to travel to these places. The only hardship is you don’t actually get to see as much of them because you end up popping in, talking to some folks and running off to another event. Breaking out of this bubble that sort of surrounds downtown Denver, between the Capitol and 17th Street is a good reminder of — one, it’s fun just to talk to folks, and two it’s a good reminder of why you do this.

CS: It’s said that you live, sleep, eat, and breathe politics.

AR: [Laughing] I’ve heard that said.

CS: What do you when you’re not doing politics?

AR: Thanks for asking. I have some time to exercise — I play tennis — spend some time with my friends, my dog, go to movies, go out to eat, go hiking if I can.

CS: Are you finding much time since the beginning of the year since things have really accelerated?

AR: No. Fortunately, my successor (in the state House) has a dog too, and so she’s taken him under her wing — if dogs have wings. (State Rep.) Lois Court is the mother of Miel [Ed. note: Spanish for “honey”], who’s a yellow lab, and she’s the girlfriend of Zorro, who’s a border mix … Zorro Romanoff. They’re quite fast friends. They would be more than friends but for the surgery.

CS: Are you going to take your dog to Washington?

AR: I’ll need a friend there! … I haven’t thought that far. We haven’t had that conversation yet, the dog and I.

CS: Do you like Washington as a city?

AR: It’s a magnificent city just in terms of the monuments and the sense of history and the museums. I think it’s probably not a good week to ask, right, because of the snow. I was thinking about this last night — I watched something with the congresspeople holding forth. I think the challenge is, how do you avoid getting caught up in the town. I would rather spend more time in Colorado.

CS: How much consideration did you give to maybe switching to the governor’s race?

AR: We got a lot of calls to that effect right after Ritter announced which was, obviously, a big surprise. We had volunteers working the phones every night, as we do, and they started getting responses — it was the talk of the town for that period. A lot of folks said, gosh, this is a way to make a difference in a different fashion, so I listened to what they were saying. At the end of the day, the reasons I’m running for this job didn’t change just because of the governor’s decision. When I look at the problems I want to fix, and the problems I think we need to fix in the country and planet, I think, that those can best be fixed by me in this way. But it was, you know, flattering to get a lot of these calls.

CS: Do you think Hickenlooper will win?

AR: I do. I think it’s going to be a tough campaign for anybody.

CS: Do you think it’ll be a good Democratic year in Colorado?

AR: I think that’s up to us. It has to be very tough for Democrats across the country, especially if they’re in Washington and doing nothing, to win. I think the voters have expressed that. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing better than my opponent in the head-to-head against the leading Republican. I think about it less in terms of whether the party will win than whether we deserve to win it. To me, a party that loses sight of the principles for which it is established should reform itself, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

CS: Anything you want to add about your campaign?

AR: You were asking about reuniting the party. What we’ve heard from a lot of folks is that they were going to sit it out this year. This is flattering and humbling and inspiring to me, but a lot of folks said we were so frustrated and so disillusioned and we had such high hopes in 2008 that we were just going to knock off 2010 and find something else to do until you decided to run. So we’ve got a lot of first-time campaign volunteers, or longtime folks who have overcome their cynicism. We’ve had a number of folks — this happens to me almost every day — somebody came up to me and says, ‘I’m a lifelong Republican, I’m going to switch parties, vote for you in the primary.’ So that’s been very encouraging, and it’s harder to quantify.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com
Ernest@coloradostatesman.com