InnerView

GOP, Dem chairs analyze elections

The Colorado Statesman

Three weeks after President Barack Obama won Colorado and Democrats took back control of the state House by a wide margin, state Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio and state Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call joined The Colorado Statesman for a wide-ranging discussion about the election and the future of both parties in a state both say they expect to remain up for grabs.

Palacio and Call are Colorado natives nearing the end of their first terms leading their parties, and both told The Statesman they are leaning toward seeking another two-year term at statewide reorganizations early next year.

In the wake of a vigorous campaign season that saw unprecedented competition for Colorado’s nine electoral votes — according to the latest statewide tally, Obama defeated Republican nominee Mitt Romney by nearly 6 points — the state chairs were both surprised on election night, though Palacio says he was pleasantly surprised at how early things wrapped up.

State GOP Chairman Ryan Call, left, and Democratic counterpart Rick Palacio, right, shake hands after their InnerView about the 2012 elections at The Colorado Statesman office on Nov. 27.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Time to hire some new pollsters,” Call concludes, conceding that the state GOP failed to detect how well Democrats were turning out voters.

Although he contends that the public sided with Republicans and on most major issues, Call credits Democrats with establishing a stronger emotional connection with voters and suggests that Republican candidates have to do a better job establishing that bond. He also pointed to a lengthy, divisive primary season that left Republicans having to build a unified organization in short order, an obstacle Democrats didn’t face.

“Our challenge is being willing to invest the time and effort and infrastructure over a period of time to help rebuild that party’s not just brand but also engaged activists,” he says.

Palacio counters that Romney lost the trust of voters by shifting his stance again and again, first in an effort to win the primaries, and then in a sharp lurch toward the center once the General Election was under way.

“People just never felt as though they had a connection with him and that they could trust him,” Palacio says. “He created his own narrative in a sense that he changed positions on every major issue.”

Terming the Republican Party’s performance with women and Hispanic voters “deeply troubling,” Call argues that the GOP has “to make room within our party for honest disagreements in terms of policy.” He points specifically to fostering a range of opinions on gay marriage, abortion and immigration questions “while still maintaining a core ideology and core principles of limited government and personal responsibility and a commitment to freedom and creating opportunity.”

Looking ahead, Call cautions that solid Democratic majorities in the General Assembly will give Gov. John Hickenlooper plenty of occasion to veto bills produced by his own party but also says he hopes minority Republicans can temper legislation before it makes its way to the governor’s desk. Palacio says he isn’t worried that Democrats will get carried away and instead says he hopes Republicans will take the opportunity to grow their own party by getting on board with the Democrats on key issues.

Both predict spirited statewide races in 2014 for Hickenlooper’s office and for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Mark Udall.

While the state chairs agree that the just-ended presidential campaign was “crazy” and often exhausting, they also relish the attention the swing-state status brought to Colorado and predict that the 2016 race will be no different. Call suggests that the state should consider moving toward a primary for the next presidential cycle, though Palacio says he’s happy with the caucus system.

Palacio hails from Pueblo — he ran for county clerk in 2006 — by way of Washington, D.C., where he worked most recently for then-Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s second-in-command.

Call, an attorney with Denver-based Hale Westfall, chaired the Denver County GOP and was the state party’s legal counsel before running for chairman two years ago. He lives in Arapahoe County.

Palacio and Call joined Statesman editor and publisher Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning for an hour-long discussion in the newspaper’s Capitol Hill offices on Nov. 27. It was the third time the two have sat for a joint interview as part of the newspaper’s InnerView series of in-depth conversations with the state’s prominent political figures.

The Statesman conducted regular interviews with Palacio and Call’s predecessors, former three-term Democratic state chair Pat Waak and former two-term GOP state chair Dick Wadhams, and at the beginning of this past year’s legislative session, the newspaper held in-depth discussions with legislative leaders. Find transcripts of The Statesman’s interviews with dozens of Colorado politicos archived online at www.coloradostatesman.com/innerview.

Below is the transcript of The Statesman’s conversation with Palacio and Call. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

COLORADO STATESMAN: Thank you both for coming. Are you getting any rest at all?
RICK PALACIO: Yes, actually, great rest. Spent five days at home, with family in Pueblo, just got back late last night and am doing my post-election non-shaving.
RYAN CALL: No shave. (Laughs) Well, it’s almost December now, so …
PALACIO: It’s almost December. It’s my winter — growing in a winter beard.
CALL: That’s right.

STATESMAN: And Ryan, you — ?
CALL: I’m shaving, yes I am. (Laughs)

STATESMAN: You have been busy with — ?
CALL: Yeah, there’s been a few close elections and some recounts, potential recounts that we’ve been trying to assist with in Jefferson County and in a couple of other places, and then there’s always an opportunity to evaluate and re-evaluate the results of an election. A lot of people to reach out to and listen to their perspectives and understand where we need to improve upon.

STATESMAN:I imagine that maybe there’s more re-assessing on your part than Rick’s part, in terms of what happened?
CALL: I’d say every election you learn from, but I do think you often learn more lessons, and sometimes tougher lessons when there’s a loss, especially one that was very, honestly, somewhat unexpected, especially on some of our state legislative races where we had expected to be a lot closer than we were.

STATESMAN: What happened, do you think?
CALL: Time to hire some new pollsters, I think, on our side. I think part of that was we were relying on some national and even local pollsters that weren’t detecting the kind of turnout modeling that the Democratic Party was apparently very successful at turning out. Most folks were anticipating a maybe D+3 kind of electorate and I think overall it was about a D+6 or D+7, and a different kind of world than folks we were expecting to show up on Election Day.

STATESMAN: What were your polls showing, Rick? Were you surprised at the strength of your party?
PALACIO: I was surprised that the night ended as early as it did. I expected it to —

STATESMAN: It was early.
PALACIO: It was. I expected it to go on a bit longer than it did, but I was not surprised at the wins. Our polling, our internals showed us consistently, especially in the presidential. The state legislative races were — I thought they’d be tighter than they were, some of them, especially some of the Jeffco races. But I was not surprised at the result of the presidential election. A couple of — one surprising piece that I had was the race in the 3rd (Congressional District). I thought that (Democratic nominee) Sal (Pace) would do better than he did, and Republicans certainly out-performed us in that district. And then, of course, in the 6th (Congressional District) we had Joe Miklosi and came very close, but just not close enough. So you know, it was not — while at the top of the ticket we won, it was not a night without loss on our part by any means.

STATESMAN: Right. Can we talk about the legislative races first? When we talked five months ago, Ryan, you were talking about the success recruiting candidates and that it seemed to be a very strong field. But the Democrats, or at least their opponents found some things to attack some of the candidates on, like Rick Enstrom and Brian Watson, who were probably — they’re the kind of moderate Republicans that everyone says they wish would return to the Legislature — what happened?
CALL: Right. Some of the caliber of candidates — whether that was Rick Enstrom or Amy Attwood, Dave Kerber, Lang Sias, Brian Watson — the field I think that Republicans put on the field of candidates was among the best that we’ve seen certainly in recent years. And the caliber of candidate, if you really honestly match them up against their Democratic opponent, there were some — a clear advantage, I think, on the GOP side. What we failed at in many ways was to be quite as aggressive or negative early in the cycle as our opponents did.

It was a model that (Obama campaign manager) Jim Messina employed in the presidential campaign to go out very heavy, very early and try to define the Republicans broadly and Mitt Romney specifically in ways that (I) would argue are certainly very unfair and not representative of who he was as a candidate. Similarly, as it related to many of our state legislative races, where we had a very aggressive and very negative campaign that painted a pretty unfair picture of people like Rick Enstrom and Brian Watson and Lang Sias and others. That’s a lesson for Republicans, that we can’t allow the opposition to define us. We have to be much more in control of who we are and what we stand for.

I think the opposition side also did a masterful job of tying Republicans here in the state, whether at the presidential level or even locally, to misstatements and Republicans in other parts of the country. I mean, to hold Mitt Romney or Republicans responsible for a Todd Akin or a Richard Mourdock is patently unfair. [Ed. note: Akin and Mourdock were the Republican Senate nominees in Missouri and Indiana, respectively, and got plenty of attention for remarks they made about rape. Both lost their races in states that Romney carried comfortably.] I mean Republicans, don’t go around comparing every single Democrat on the ballot to some of the more extreme examples, of the (California Democrat) Maxine Waters of the world, or, you know … but that’s the tactic that worked in this election cycle in many ways. I think overall Democrats were masterful at divide and conquer strategy of dividing up the electorate and then specifically targeting messaging to that particular division of the electorate that was looking for that kind of message.

STATESMAN: Okay, can I ask, though, gay marriage and abortion have been two kind of wedge issues used by the Democrats this year but famously, for a long time, those have been wedge issues used by the Republicans. Is it a good for the goose, good for the gander situation then or what’s — ?
CALL: Well, I think we are seeing a shift in societal attitudes on some of those issues and Republicans have been slow to offer constructive alternatives or a proactive solution to address that issue. I think it is unfair to say the Republicans want to turn women’s rights back 50 years. I mean, Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land for nearly 40 years, and yet Democrats have utilized that with great effect to paint Republicans as out of touch or uncaring about the concerns that are often on the minds of voters.

STATESMAN: Rick, are Democrats using an effective tool there or is it an — ?
PALACIO: Well, I think a couple of pieces, and one, going to the chairman’s earlier statement, he’s sort of painting with a broad stroke here. Republicans did it, I think, masterfully in 2010. When you look at all the various U.S. House races that were lost, a lot of those races, most probably every race that Democrats lost across the country, they were aligned, whether they were candidates or whether they were incumbents, aligned with Nancy Pelosi and, you know, any time you have sort of a whipping post at the top of the ticket you’re going to try to align various candidates or incumbents with that whipping post. And I think, fairly or unfairly in this election cycle, I think it was about the same in 2010, you had a person at the top of the ticket, former speaker of the House, that people were aligned with across the country and she was demonized.

STATESMAN: Nancy Pelosi?
PALACIO: Nancy Pelosi was demonized. So, I think it’s part of this process, is trying to define your opponents before they have an opportunity to define you. In our case, with the presidential election, Mitt Romney gave us plenty of opportunity to define him early. He was not masterful at maintaining his positions over the course of time. I think the country saw that he was capable of changing positions with the direction of the wind, I think, which is unfortunate to have with a candidate like that. So there was a lot of distrust that he garnered from the American people from the very beginning. I think that you have examples across the state where many of the candidates that we saw, that we were running against had flaws, and it’s the job of any campaign to make sure that those flaws are highlighted, and the benefits to highlight those in your own candidates. So I think, over all, the Democrats came out on the winning side. But, certainly, I don’t feel like gloating. We had our own disappointments as well.

CALL: Well, I have to give a hand to my counterpart and to the Democratic Party for executing on a strategy. Had they got that strategy wrong, had the Republican Party or the Romney campaign been able to get out from under that picture that was being painted of Republicans, they probably would not have had the resources to create a new narrative. They also invested very heavily early in the cycle and over a period of time. There’s an inherent significant advantage of being the incumbent. Republicans enjoyed that in 2004 with President Bush’s re-election, where we got out early and defined John Kerry as sort of an out of touch waffler and vaguely French and all sorts of other ways we used to sort of undermine his credibility for the electorate.

So there’s a lot of advantages being the incumbent. The infrastructure that the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party here in Colorado has been able to work on developing over the last, really, six years, was difficult to match after a divisive and difficult primary on the Republican side where we had to build the campaign operation up within about six months. And that is — some inherent disadvantages to that.

I think this election cycle we saw more energy and enthusiasm along our electorate than I had seen for a long, long time. And a lot more unity. It took a while for our side to come together — probably too long for our side to come together — but once we did we were pretty united in our support of Mitt Romney and our Republican field. But it comes a bit too late. And our challenge is being willing to invest the time and effort and infrastructure over a period of time to help rebuild that party’s not just brand but also engaged activists.

STATESMAN: In terms of vetting candidates, especially legislative candidates, you had a good candidate or a great candidate, but maybe something in his background 20 or 25 years ago, with Rick Enstrom and the flap about his stores — how far back do you go? [Ed. note: Democrats hammered Enstrom relentlessly for a ticket he received in the 1980s for selling drug paraphernalia at a record store he owned in Grand Junction.] Is there a perfect candidate who has nothing in their skeleton closet? Is that the kind of candidate you need?
CALL: Well, Romney came just about as close as anybody that I can think of in modern history of a presidential candidate with pretty few skeletons in his closet. No extramarital affairs, no drinking problems, no DUIs and a business record that even Bill Clinton called sterling. So you’ve got a candidate who was pretty darn impressive, had to navigate a very difficult primary election field that forced that candidate or, by choice, that candidate chose to take positions that were too far to one side or another or use language that was a bit awkward and could be taken advantage of. That’s the nature of these campaigns, and I think that, given the history and the approach of campaigns, I honestly don’t envision a time where anything is going to be off limits, and our opposition has shown that when you don’t have something you make something up. So that’s going to be part of the game, unfortunately, moving forward.

PALACIO: I don’t think people are looking for perfection in a candidate. I think people are looking for a candidate that they can trust and that they believe is on their side. I think that, in spite of Mitt Romney’s perfection and his lack of imperfections, people just never felt as though they had a connection with him and that they could trust him. He created his own narrative in a sense that he changed positions on every major issue. I think that had he stayed far to the right the way that he did in the Republican primaries, that perhaps even those who disagreed with those positions may have felt as though they could trust him enough with their vote. But you saw the first debate, here in Denver, much of the things that he ran on the previous year he was shying away from. And then you saw the foreign policy debate where Mitt Romney was nearly emulating the policies of President Obama. And I think especially just in that last, that final two months, his pivot towards the center really made people — it validated people’s fears about who this man was. Essentially someone that they were not able to trust.

CALL: I think that Chairman Palacio’s observation about having candidates that can appreciate, or that the voters feel like care about them, was the emotional connection that the Republicans have had a hard time connecting with voters on. We saw exit polling, and, again, there’s a temptation to rush to a judgment and sort of point to one or two magic bullets and saying, this is the reason we lost — it was our databases, it was our candidate, we weren’t conservative enough, we were too moderate. There’s always those dangers, so I think we have to take some time to really evaluate all this. But a few broad trends are coming through pretty loud and clear, at least that I’m learning.

When you look at the polling, and they asked, which of the candidates, and by extension which political party, has the right views or the right approaches on issues like spending and the debt, Republicans are winning handily. When they asked, in terms of some of the exit polling, which candidate and which, by extension, political party, is showing the kind of strong leadership that we’re looking for, Mitt Romney was coming out ahead. Which candidate shares my values? Mitt Romney comes out ahead. But on the question of which candidate, and by extension which political party, cares about people like me — you saw that poll from the exit polling — 81 percent said Barack Obama, 18 percent said Mitt Romney.

So you can be right on all the issues, you can have the right positions and the right policy solutions to confront the challenges of high unemployment and a stagnant economy and trying to foster the kind of policies that Americans and Coloradans want, but unless you make that emotional connection so that they know that you care about them and their family, you’re going to fall short. And that’s what I think we saw very prominently. The Obama campaign was making strongly emotional appeals, appealing to people’s security. Republicans were talking about jobs and the economy more in the abstract and didn’t connect it down to the individual in a way that was persuasive.

STATESMAN: When did you realize that we’re going to lose this thing? Did you know a month out, two weeks out, the day — ?
CALL: Sure. Well, it was closer than I thought it ought to have been when we were looking at the returns in terms of early voting and absentee ballots. Driving around the city, driving around the state, quite frankly, the visuals in terms of the yard signs and the bumper stickers and the enthusiasm and the number of people in the campaign offices — Republicans were really surging, especially after the second debate. There was a sense of optimism, there was a sense of energy and, again, that sense of unity. When we started looking at the returns in terms of early voting and absentee balloting, I thought Republicans should be further ahead than the numbers were. We were still marginally ahead. But it really wasn’t until the returns started coming in from Jeffco and Arapahoe County and some of the early posting returns, where it became apparent that unaffiliated voters in particular had broken heavily against Republicans in a variety of races across the ticket.

STATESMAN: And you, Rick, were you pretty confident?
PALACIO: I had early confidence. I think I, like every other supporter of the president, was disappointed in his first debate performance, and I think morale suffered a little after that. It was shortly after the first debate, three days after the first debate, that I did a tour of roughly 30 counties and 1,500 miles, and my fear became even a little bit — became even more fearful, because the yard sign war was actually being won by Mitt Romney, especially in a lot of the counties outside of the metro area. The Western Slope, southern Colorado, mountain areas — 4 x 8 Romney yard signs were everywhere, very few Obama yard signs. You hear people worried about that. You have hundreds of volunteers sitting in offices making phone calls and knocking on doors — the numbers look good, yet they’re fearful that the yard signs aren’t there. So you have this conversation, where you try to convince people that yard signs don’t vote. But, still, they want to know that there are other teammates out there.

So there was about a two week period of time that I was a little worried that things were not going in our direction. And then it felt like the momentum began to build again. I woke up on Election Day actually feeling very, very optimistic. We knew fairly early based on the Arapahoe and Jeffco county returns that we were going to win. But there was a couple of weeks period of time that I was a little worried.

STATESMAN: After the election Mitt Romney famously, in a call to fundraisers, blamed his loss on the “gifts” that the Obama administration had bestowed on constituencies, and a number of prominent Republicans, including several who campaigned for Mitt Romney in the state here, quickly disavowed and distanced themselves from that and said, Newt Gingrich said that it was an “insulting” and wrongheaded take on the election and on how the Republicans need to connect with the voters, like you’re talking about. What’s your take on that?
CALL: Well, it’s a given that we’ll never outbid the Democrats in terms of government spending or government programs and all of that, I’m prepared to concede that. I think that the policies that back that are flawed, deeply flawed. Eventually, as was famously observed, you run out of other people’s money. And the challenge, of course, in policy-making is developing policies that accomplish what we want. And that’s economic growth, it’s job creation, and it’s also taking care of the neediest among us while also ensuring that those that are able to work don’t become so dependent upon government programs they lose part of what makes America great, that spirit of entrepreneurship and self sufficiency that has always driven our success. And we see the result of out-of-control spending and debt in California, and we see it in Greece and in European nations, and so we know that that’s the path or where the path that our Democratic counterparts will take us. And I for one don’t think that California or Greece are a model that we should seek to emulate.

But I do think that we have to learn, as Republicans, to talk to people’s concerns in a way that is more personal and address those concerns in a way that’s meaningful and not just simply fall back on trite ideology when we’re talking about people and their families and their careers and their livelihoods. And a recognition that people are hurting and have been hurting especially over the last few years. I think that we are going to see some economic recovery, I think in many ways it’s going to be in spite of the president’s policies and not because of them, but I do think that — I hope for the best. I want America to succeed, I want our state to be strong, so I don’t wish the president or the Democratic majorities in the State Legislature ill will. I want them to be successful because I want our state to be successful.

STATESMAN: Would you say that after looking at themselves, that Colorado is a blue state or is it still a swing state?
PALACIO: Yeah, I think we’re a swing state. We have a very evenly divided electorate. By no means was this an easy victory on election night. We have a great candidate in our president, we have great candidates in the Legislature. We were running against, in my opinion, quite a flawed, out-of-touch candidate in Mitt Romney and flawed candidates in the Legislature. This is going to be a lot of work to maintain Democratic majorities in State Legislature and I think four years from now whoever our nominee is it’s not going to be an easy run for us.

But I think that Coloradans, and I’ve said this for a while, I think Coloradans are Democrat-leaning independents. Those that are not registered as Democrats themselves, I think they’re Democrat-leaning independents. You have a very rapidly growing Latino population that, certainly the Republican Party has not done much to ingratiate themselves to. You have a very strong female constituency that the Republican Party has not done a great job of building trust with there as well. So I think that we have a very good opportunity and very good chance of maintaining our blue status, but it’s not going to be an easy one.

I want to go back to the previous question, where Mitt Romney’s statement a few days (after the election) to donors, talked about “gifts.” This was not new, and Mitt Romney did this in his 47-percent comment to donors behind closed doors earlier this summer. It’s part of what fed this narrative that he was out of touch and didn’t represent the entirety of the country. For those people who were not voting for President Obama but voting against Mitt Romney, it validated their feelings post-election.

So I think the Republican Party has a job to do. There’s a tremendous amount of good will that could be built with Latinos, especially, and with women. I believe in a two-party system. I think that we are better off as a nation, we’re better off over all as a people when you have some sort of a balance of power. That balance of power is going to be difficult to attain when you are creating enemies of some of the largest growing constituencies that we have in the state.

CALL: I would absolutely agree with Chairman Palacio. The Republican Party does have opportunities to reach out to Latinos, to women voters, and needs to in ways that are meaningful. I also agree with him that that back-and-forth between the liberal party and the conservative party makes for better policy as we’re trying to find that right balance between those ideologies. And I think that there is a bright future for the conservative party in Colorado, even though we have some temporary setbacks. I think Democrats are at great risk of overreach. That happened the last time Democrats were in the majorities in both chambers with a Democratic governor, and it cost them. I suspect that we may see much of the same in this upcoming legislative session as well, creating the opportunity for Republicans to paint a contrast — a contrasting vision in terms of policy, but also in terms of vision for the state and its direction.

STATESMAN: Ryan, you mentioned before Rick arrived that you’d gotten a lot of feedback from people. Everyone has their ideas of Monday — or Wednesday morning quarterbacking. What are you hearing from people? Is it a wide array of analysis or questions?
CALL: It’s a good question. There are certainly some trends, I mean our performance among women, among Hispanic voters is deeply troubling — minority communities as a whole, African Americans, Asians — because the Republican Party that I believe in is, frankly, the party of the up-and-comer, the party of the immigrant, the party of the person, the entrepreneur who wants to make a better life for himself or herself and their families and to build institutions of community. So that’s troubling, deeply troubling.

It was interesting to reflect upon the recent film about Abraham Lincoln. Our party’s roots began in this fight to recognize the dignity of the individual and free people from not just slavery as it related to the institution, but also the shackles of economic disadvantage. And that we believe that policies that empower that individual and make them self-sufficient is the right path for not only establishing the dignity of the individual but it’s the right policy path for continued success. There are those messages that are certainly resonating a lot.

There are some voices that say that our candidate wasn’t conservative enough, there’s others that’ll say the candidate was too conservative and we need to go more centrist. Those are discussions that I’m sure will play themselves out time and time again in primary elections moving forward. That’s part of the process, and we’re better for it.

STATESMAN: Do you subscribe to the theory that the party should be more embracing of some of these groups, or perhaps stick with its more conservative principles?
CALL: Well, Congressman Cory Gardner made a good observation after the election. He said that we, as Republicans talk about a big tent but it’s no good if there aren’t any chairs in the tent, so we need to make room within our party for honest disagreements in terms of policy. A good example of that, frankly, might be issues of gay marriage, and we talked about that. I think there are a lot of good Republicans of good will who recognize that there’s a role for the state to define a civil union or a domestic partnership while still maintaining traditional definitions of marriage. There’s issues pro-life versus pro-choice. I think many good Republicans of good will could recognize I can be pro-choice and agree with my pro-life friends in saying taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund that kind of activity, or we should provide for rights of conscience for individuals and businesses and certainly religious organizations to not be compelled by the government to provide those kinds of services that are in such contravention to their deeply held religious belief.

So I think that there are ways that we can find accommodation within differences of opinion on policy matters while still maintaining a core ideology and core principles of limited government and personal responsibility and a commitment to freedom and creating opportunity, rather than greater government and greater government dependence.

STATESMAN: The Republicans this year will have the opportunity to demonstrate where they stand on some of those issues. Civil unions were supported by a hefty share of the delegates to the Republican state assembly in a party platform vote and even by some sitting legislators last year —
CALL: Um-hmm.

STATESMAN: Would it be wise for Republicans to get on board with that this year?
CALL: You know, it’s a good question. It is not my place as a state party’s chairman to tell lawmakers how to vote on specific policy bills or legislation. Certainly I can have conversations with them about the merits of the policy and perhaps the political ramifications of votes, but in our system of representative government, the people elect those representatives and they have to use their best judgment in supporting or opposing policies that they feel like either help or hurt the state and its citizens’ interests. I think as a party our party will maintain a core commitment to those traditional values that have built families and communities for generations, and I don’t think you’ll see a weakening of that. But I think you may see folks who recognize that there’s a proper role for the individual and the church versus the state, and we may see that dynamic play out. But that’ll be up to our lawmakers.

STATESMAN: ASSET legislation too, we’re likely to see come back before the Legislature. Is that something where Republicans —
CALL: Sure.

STATESMAN: The business wing of the (Republican) party is heartily in favor of that?
CALL: Sure. As well as other Republicans who recognize that the best path for self sufficiency rather than increasing government reliance is in education. And, again, as a party who believes very deeply in the worth and dignity of every individual, we as a party have to do a better job of supporting policies that help empower the individual — while also maintaining our strong position in defense of the rule of law. And many times the most difficult decisions that I think our lawmakers and average citizens have to do is when they have two competing principles. We believe in the rule of law, and yet we also believe in dignity of the individual, how you reconcile those? And that’s where the policy makers have to, and the legislators, have to strike that balance and it’s not always an easy one.

STATESMAN: When Republicans did have a majority in one of the chambers, though, they came down on different sides of those issues than the Democrats and kept those pieces of legislation from coming to full votes or being enacted. Is that one reason that Democrats have been able to portray Republicans as out of touch when it comes to those issues?
CALL: It’s a good question, and it’s one that I’m sure that a lot of lawmakers are thoughtfully considering. I think we look at our party’s platform, we look at some of the votes, for example of the delegates at the state convention, and you are seeing some interesting changes in attitude on some of those particular questions. We saw resounding support, for example, at the state convention for Republicans in Colorado, for a guest worker permit program, and significant support for educational opportunities even at the national platform. For the first time in our party’s history, in the platform, we have strong support for a guest worker program and immigration reform. So I think that some of those issues are ones that will obviously be an important part of the dialogue moving forward. But I think Republicans need to maintain and look back to those core principles that define us and a departure for them, I think, would be a mistake.

STATESMAN: Rick, what’s your take on the legislative session coming up and what Chairman Call has brought up?
PALACIO: We have an evolving society. Not just here but around the world. We have moved from the positions that we had 50 years ago, even 10 years ago — civil unions probably would not have received the amount of support that it has right now. And I would guess that in this legislative session that you’re going to see some Republicans that take bold steps to support things like ASSET and civil unions. And I challenge more of them to do the same because I think that it’s the right thing to do. While they’ll happen under a Democratic — they’ll pass regardless of whether we have Republican support, I think ASSET and civil unions will both pass with Democratic votes and I’m confident that the governor will support them as well — I think it would still be nice to see a nice swathe of bipartisanship on some of the pieces of legislation that traditionally have been supported only by Democrats.

And it’s a myriad of other things as well, I think that the Republican Party can do to show that they’re on the side of some of these growing constituencies and that the movement within our society, like a move towards a marriage equality. I think there’s still room under both tents to have very opposite views.

I think it’s a great analogy that Congressman Gardner used, having a big tent but not enough chairs, and my challenge would be make more, build more. What I see as the problem is not so much the chairs, but that the tent seems to be shrinking and that’s not good for any party. I don’t think that either party should be an exclusive group for people who look and speak exactly the same. They should be quite welcoming.

I look forward to the legislative session, we have quite a diverse group of individuals. We have quite a few women and we have a record number of African-American lawmakers, a record number of Hispanic lawmakers that are coming into this class, so I look forward to seeing the various work that they entertain, because I believe that the Democratic majorities that we have in the state House and the Senate are quite representative of the people of Colorado.

STATESMAN: Do you think there’s a danger that the Democrats can overreach?

PALACIO: There’s always the danger. I think that we have very pragmatic leaders in both chambers and I don’t — I think the work that they’re going to undertake is the work that the people of Colorado would like for them to do.

CALL: I think there is a significant risk. And I do hope that our lawmakers from both political parties will listen to the opposition. For example in the civil unions legislation we expect to see I certainly hope that we can have supportive Democrats in supporting conscience exemptions for religious organizations and private individuals, or a number of other policies where that give-and-take between the political parties can make better legislation as opposed to one particular view dominating entirely.

And when the Democrats do overreach — because they will — Republicans will be there to say higher taxes, greater regulation is not the path to success. Putting a damper on energy development in the state and job creation is not the recipe for the progress that we hope for. And so you’re going to see us talking about that in a very articulate voice. I’ve got a lot of confidence in our Republican leadership in the state House and in the state Senate. Sen. (Bill) Cadman is the Republican leader in the Senate and (House Minority Leader) Rep. Mark Waller, I think, will do a fine job in standing firm on their principles and working to make bad legislation better where possible.

STATESMAN: Do you feel anxious with Gov. Hickenlooper as a Democrat and both chambers being — ?
CALL: He’s a Democrat? Sometimes people tend to forget that.

STATESMAN: Well, that’s what I was going to ask you. What are your feelings about the fact that the governor, it’s one-party governance at the state House? Does that make you a little bit nervous, Rick, that perhaps the governor will be put in a position of having to veto some legislation, or how closely do you think the leadership will work with the governor’s office?
PALACIO: It actually makes me very hopeful. I think that we have a real opportunity to move Colorado forward and get things done. Our Senate and our House leaders have very strong relationships with our governor, and I think that they’re going to work very collaboratively to actually produce legislation that’s going to help the people of Colorado. So I think we have some great things that are in the works here: ASSET, civil unions, some work on some energy legislation, job-creation legislation, as well. So I’m looking forward to an exciting session.

STATESMAN: Ryan, I don’t know if you were joking about Gov. Hickenlooper?
CALL: He’s always presented himself as very much a pro-business and he’s had that opportunity. With divided control in the State Legislature he has not had to take any firm or clear positions on potentially controversial policies because they didn’t make it out of the Republican-controlled House or, similarly, out of the Democratic-controlled Senate. I think that Coloradans deserve more than just TBD from their governor. [Ed. note: Hickenlooper launched a public review of long-term state policy dubbed “TBD,” short for “To Be Determined,” which earlier this month delivered a preview of its report, set to be unveiled on Dec. 3.] I think they need to have a clear vision of where he’s going, and I think that there is a significant risk that with one-sided control in terms of the legislative chambers, that the only backstop for the worst policies will be that governor. And I hope he makes the right decision because, again, I wish Colorado success in that and so I don’t hope for policies that will hurt the energy industry or job creators or the entrepreneurs of our state. But I do hope that he makes some clear (decisions) and does veto the kind of legislation that would run counter to his stated position of being pro-business.

STATESMAN: What do the parties do in the next year? Is it too early to start looking at 2014 or is there a period of rest and relaxation or how do you refocus?
CALL: No rest for the wicked, as the old adage says.

PALACIO: It’s never too early.

CALL: Exactly.

PALACIO: It’s never too early. I think we started looking at 2014 in 2011. It’s always about planning for the future. We’ve already begun talking to candidates for the Legislature and for the various U.S. House seats that we have up, and we’ve begun meeting with the governor and his campaign team and Sen. Udall and his campaign team as well. So it’s never too early to plan. 2011 was all about our year of planning, 2012 was our year of execution and it’s going to be the same for 2013, ’14. ’13 is planning and ’14 is execution.

CALL: Same is true for Republicans. We’ve got, I think, a very good prospective field of candidates for both the statewide offices — attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, obviously — we expect good candidates there and for the U.S. Senate and for the governor’s race. I think Republicans have a much broader field than some people give us credit for. Our effort is also strongly directed towards helping to recruit and support candidates for state legislative seats, especially in competitive suburban and other districts around the state. That effort at candidate recruitment and development is certainly a top priority for the Republican Party.

STATESMAN: Do you expect the same legislative seats in the House to be in play next time?
CALL: More or less. Certainly the field is better for us in the state Senate based on the seats that are up in the cycle, and I think Republicans have a great shot at and a pathway to the majority in the state Senate. The House seats I think will remain very competitive, especially with incumbents, having Democrat incumbents there — and a pretty young freshman class. There’s a lot of turnover at the State Legislature, and so I think lawmakers from both political parties kind of find their sea legs up there and we expect to see a lot of work. The state party, for the Republican Party’s part at least, is going to be very actively engaged in helping recruit and support those candidates doing the kind of fundraising and volunteer and activist training and recruitment that’s necessary to build a strong campaign operation for, especially, the two big statewide campaigns we expect to see.

STATESMAN: Do you think we’ll see any rematches in the legislative races?
CALL: You might. Again, we have a very, I think, good field of candidates and as folks start to see what the voting record is on some of these lawmakers they may recognize that that’s not who they thought they were getting. And so that creates, certainly, an opportunity for Republicans.

STATESMAN: Do you see either Sen. Mark Udall or Gov. Hickenlooper — how vulnerable do you think they are, if at all?
CALL: Sure. I think every incumbent running for re-election is going to be held accountable to the people for their record and the contrasting vision that Republicans will offer both in terms of the national campaign — and the U.S. Senate will indeed be a national race, control of the United States Senate is going to have implications far beyond Colorado’s borders, and so it will probably attract a lot of attention. In terms of leadership within the state, I think a lot of people will be watching to see how Gov. Hickenlooper responds to a Democratically-controlled Legislature and the kind of legislation he’s either going to be pushing for or supporting or hopefully, in many cases, vetoing. And based on that record I think you’ll see a better gauge of how vulnerable the two candidates are.

STATESMAN: Rick, do you think those are both going to be full-spirited races?
PALACIO: Yeah, absolutely. But you know, I think both Sen. Udall and Gov. Hickenlooper have long histories of working across party lines to get things done. They’re very popular amongst Coloradans because they represent the majority of the people of Colorado on business issues, on energy issues, on environment issues. Whether it be immigration reform or health care, there are a myriad of things that both men represent the majority of the people of Colorado on. Listen, two years is a lifetime away, a lot can happen. A lot could happen not just here in the state but nationally, but I think right now both men are sitting in great positions for re-election in 2014.

STATESMAN: Um-hmm. What do the Republicans need to do to nominate a Senate candidate who can win in Colorado? It’s been a long time since Wayne Allard won a seat here. [Ed. note: Allard’s successful reelection bid in 2002 was the last time a Republican Senate candidate won the state.]
CALL: I’m encouraged by the prospective field and maybe even some names and faces that might be a surprise to some but yet could provide a very compelling candidacy. I think that our process of caucuses and assemblies is a good one. I’m glad that we did move up the date of the primary election, and there may be some opportunities, especially as we’re looking forward to perhaps 2016 and beyond to re-evaluate the role of a presidential primary election earlier in the state’s cycle. Colorado, I think, is going to continue to be a swing state from the national perspective as well as in the state, and that creates some opportunities, I think, to have Colorado’s voice heart on a broader scale moving forward.

STATESMAN: Okay. Is that something you would support, moving toward a presidential primary in Colorado, to bring the state some prominence early on?
PALACIO: You know, it’s interesting you brought that up, and I was just thinking, I like our caucus system. I think that it really helps to show the depth of the grassroots organizations across the state, so I’m perfectly fine with leaving things with the way that they are right now.

STATESMAN: Plans for the future. I’ll ask you both, are you running again for state chair?
PALACIO: I believe so, but I have not made a final decision.

STATESMAN: Okay. Ryan?
CALL: In much the same boat. Spending a lot of time talking with our county party leaders, elected officials, and coming to a decision within the next probably week or two.

STATESMAN: Okay, and you’ll let us know?
CALL: I will let you know, you bet.

STATESMAN: This is what, now, nearing the end of your terms? Looking back over the last nearly two years, what’s the job been like? Is it like you expected?
CALL: For me it’s been incredibly rewarding, being able to see the diversity of our state, to understand and get to know — some of the best people you’re going to come across are our activists and volunteers and local party leadership. The sacrifices that they make in support of Republican principles, the work that they do in their communities is just astounding. So for me the most rewarding thing is getting a chance to spend time with and get to know and recognize that the good people that live in San Miguel County have a very different world view than the good people who live in Mesa or in Arapahoe County and others, and eastern plains of Colorado have some of the hardest working people we’ve come across. So for me that’s been very rewarding.

It’s been great and to look at the accomplishments of the state Republican Party in terms of turning around our finances, our organizational capacity, being able to run caucuses and assemblies, really without a hitch — through a pretty difficult environment of some very strong opinions about candidates — and to build a unified party moving forward in support of those candidates. We have seen a great success at the state party in turning around fundraising and engagement and volunteer recruitment and such, as well as candidate development. And I expect and would like to continue that trend.

STATESMAN: You both took office after state party chairs who served at least two terms. Do you feel like you’ve put your stamp on the state party?
CALL: I really do feel like that — and this is very much a team sport. The staff that we have working, the state party’s executive director and political director, communications, a great Victory program operation — we’re all in this fight together. So much of the credit that I’ve received, it definitely is due to the staff and to the many hundreds of contributors that help fund what we do, whether they’re major donors or that great lady that sends in her check for $12.95 once a quarter. Every little contribution, every willingness to give and support and volunteer time makes this job worth it.

STATESMAN: What about you, Rick?
PALACIO: I would agree with the chairman, it is a team sport. I feel like my team, the team that I have the honor of leading here, has certainly made its stamp, but it is about the thousands of volunteers that helped with the re-election of President Obama. It’s about all 64 of our county chairs and various activists at many levels, whether they be people that have been around cycle after cycle for 30 or 40 years or whether they’re people that just showed up a couple of months ago because they believed in the vision that the party’s representing and the leadership of our president.

It’s all about doing this in a collaborative way. That’s the only reason that we had the successes that we had on election night, is because we have developed a model whereby we all work very well together. And it’s not just metro-centric, it’s also relying on folks that are living in some of our out-counties as well. We had 65 field offices open across the state, which I think was a record, so part of this success was about each of those 65 field offices as well, whether or not those field offices in those counties actually were able to achieve a 50-plus-one percent or whether they achieved 30 percent. Each and every vote for our side was because of the hard work that they put forth. So I feel good about the last two years, and if I decide to run, I think the next two years will be just as exciting.

STATESMAN: A month before the election or thereabouts when both candidates, the president and the governor were coming in and out of the state, did it occur to you like, oh my goodness, Colorado, this is crazy? What were your thoughts?
PALACIO: It was crazy. (Laughs)

STATESMAN: Okay.
CALL: (Laughs) I thought it was terrific. I mean, the fact that both candidates were here so frequently and their representatives. We had Michelle Obama, the first lady, we had Ann Romney and Paul Ryan here frequently as well as many, many other representatives from the campaigns and surrogates. It was, I think, a good place for Colorado to be in contention. I think it allowed the presidential campaign to focus on the issues that are important to Colorado voters, it gave our voters the chance to really see up close and personal the candidates and their message. It created that personal connection with the candidate that’s so important. I’m afraid at some level that Colorado voters, especially Colorado Republicans, will get used to that level of attention and expect it, like the good people that live in Iowa or New Hampshire or Ohio where you’re running into a presidential candidate every other day at the local coffee shop. I don’t know if it’ll get to that point, but I think it was good for Colorado and certainly great for our party.

PALACIO: I agree, it was definitely good for our state. You know, I look forward to four years from now or three years from now in the primaries when people look back and say that Colorado was the tipping point, that we end up in a situation where all of our primary candidates on both sides are making frequent trips to coffee shops in Arapahoe County and in Jefferson County. Then I think it’ll truly prove that Colorado is a swing state and Colorado does matter.

But it was very exciting. A month before the election the president came through and you were thinking, this is my last chance to see the president, and then he was here three days later and two days after that and a week after that. It was exhausting, but at the same time no one can deliver a candidate’s message better than the candidate can himself, and I think the proof is in the pudding. We believed going into this that President Obama deserved a second term and that the majority of people of Colorado agreed that that was the case. We worked hard — collectively, collaboratively we worked hard — to make sure that the people actually got a chance to have their voices heard and on election night the president was re-elected because of Colorado. So we think all of it was certainly worth it, regardless of how exhausting it was.

STATESMAN: Last question: do you have any questions for each other?
CALL: Just congratulations and I’ll look forward to the next fight.

PALACIO: Yeah, congratulations to you as well. You had some victories. As I said, we had some disappointments but, over all, it was a good night. I think there were good things to take away for both of us. You certainly put up a good fight and I congratulate you for all of the work that you did because I know it wasn’t easy and herding your elephants certainly could not have been easy the last two years, and the next two years I’m hoping that you have a better time of it, just not too good of a time.

CALL: Thanks, Rick.

STATESMAN: Thank you both again for coming by.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com
Ernest@coloradostatesman.com