Posted: July 01, 2010
Election 2010: Scott McInnis readies for fight against Hickenlooper
Six-term congressman leads the pack in fundraising but was narrowly bested by virtual unknownBy Mike Cote
Fourth-generation Colorado native and Grand Junction resident Scott McInnis has a long history in Colorado in the state Legislature, where he served as House majority leader, and in Congress, where he represented the Western Slope in the 3rd Congressional District for 12 years. Now the longtime attorney aims for the GOP nomination in the Republican race for governor.
McInnis, 57, managed to get House Minority Leader Josh Penry, a fellow Western Slope politician, to drop his gubernatorial bid. But McInnis supporters probably didn't expect a challenge from Evergreen businessman Dan Maes, who narrowly beat McInnis in May's Republican Assembly.
We talked to McInnis about the race during an interview at the ColoradoBiz offices. Watch video highlights from the interview and read the complete transcript at www.cobizmag.com.
The following was edited for space and clarity.
ColoradoBiz: Up until the Republican Assembly, the media was framing the November election as a Scott McInnis/John Hickenlooper race. How has Dan Maes' showing in the assembly changed your campaign?
McInnis: I've been on the campaign trail for more than a year. I started with Bill Ritter and then (John) Hickenlooper. Josh Penry was in the race, and then (Dan) Maes is in the race. That's just the trials and tribulations of the campaign trail. But what you really do when you set up a campaign is you say OK, where is it you think you can best help the people of the state? And then based on that, how do you deliver that in a message? So it hasn't affected that at all. We're excited, and things are going just fine.
ColoradoBiz: You've served as both a state legislator and a U.S. congressman. How have those experiences prepared you to run the state?
McInnis: What we're looking for is the chief executive officer of the state of Colorado. It's not just a business; it's a complex operation. You have to have a governor who has the background. But you need a governor, too, who has backbone to stand up for Colorado. For example, is Colorado getting its fair share of energy revenues? We should have been in that race for the top.
ColoradoBiz: The Legislature just finished one of its most difficult sessions ever, and business took some hits during the budget slashing. What would you have done differently?
McInnis: I would have vetoed the tax increase on everything from net operating losses to Amazon.com. I would have had the Legislature and done what I could as governor to rewrite and bring the oil and gas regulations back into reasonable best-practice standards versus punitive right now. We have a great future in Colorado, and a lot of it is a product called natural gas, oil and coal. It provides a lot of jobs; those are great jobs; it provides money for our schools, etc. I would have been much more aggressive on the jobs front.
ColoradoBiz: Along those lines, you've talked from the get-go that you would cut costs, you would cut government down. What would you look at?
McInnis: I think you have to adopt the Sam Walton model. You go in and you look at your efficiencies, and there are a lot of efficiencies that can be realized out there with the work force, with the procurement process, with the budgeting process, even with the management of cash. But we're not going to be able to cut ourselves out of this thing. We're going to have to expand the job base. And we have growth engines out there that allow us to do it: energy, aerospace, software, medical.
ColoradoBiz: Gov. Ritter made the new energy economy the central focus of his term. How would you handle energy?
McInnis: What the governor did was just a little out of proportion. We want all forms of energy. We're going to have alternative energy. But as governor you can't make it your whole agenda. And it seems to me the governor made it his whole agenda.
ColoradoBiz: At 8 percent, Colorado's unemployment rate is a couple of percentage points lower than the nation, but we still have hundreds of thousands of people out of work. What would you do to improve the business outlook and create jobs?
McInnis: What we have to do in Colorado are a couple of things. One: Stay out of their way. We don't need excessive regulations, which is exactly what happens when you want to go get a gas permit. In Colorado it takes you 90 to 120 days; Wyoming it's 12 days; Texas it's 10 days. Two: We don't need our state agencies unionized; I will de-unionize our state agencies by executive order. Three: You can't raise taxes on business, not in a time like this.
ColoradoBiz: Arizona has brought immigration reform back to the forefront. You've said you would favor passing similar legislation in Colorado. How do we protect our borders and ensure we have labor for companies that need it?
McInnis: The federal government has the responsibility of protecting the border. They have neglected to do that. As a result they have put Arizona into a crisis. Our immigration policies in this country work very well as long as we enforce them. As governor of this state I would, like the governor of Arizona, insist that the federal government do what they should be doing all along.
ColoradoBiz: Colorado suffers from a low graduation rate. We import our college graduates from elsewhere because we're not sending enough of our own students to college. How do we turn that around?
McInnis: When you're talking about education you're really talking about a couple of different models. One is K through 12th grade, and in Colorado we have mandated spending for that. And about 44 percent of our budget goes to that. That's absolutely critical, and if you were to ask people next to their job what's the most critical thing we've got in Colorado, it's kindergarten through 12th grade. We continue to have a 72 percent graduate rate. We have to obviously improve that product. The percentage of first-time students who have to take remedial classes before they get to start their first college class is stunning. It's unacceptable, and it has to change.
ColoradoBiz: What steps do we need to take to have a sensible water plan for the future that balances the needs of agriculture and development?
McInnis: First, you have a governor that understands it. I chaired the water committee for years. My background is very intense in business and in water, and both of those mix. Water runs uphill if there's money up at the top of it. And so, long term for Colorado, water storage is still preeminent. Unfortunately, in Colorado while we get adequate water, we get it all at once, called the spring runoff. We get a few rains but not many rains comparatively. We have to have the capability when the water runs off the mountains to store it for the time period, which is most of the year, when it's not running off the mountains in that kind of quantity.
ColoradoBiz: I'll ask you the same question I asked (Republican gubernatorial candidate) Dan Maes. If you're voting in the Republican primary, you're looking at both whom you like more, whose policy and experience is best for governor, and who you think is the best candidate to beat (Democratic candidate) John Hickenlooper. Why do you think that person is you?
McInnis: Hickenlooper is going to have a lot of money. My (Republican) opponent has not been able to raise any money to speak of at all. I've out-raised the mayor, but that will tighten up. My focus isn't really (Maes); my focus is Hickenlooper. And I think while he may be OK, I constantly remind him that the state of Colorado doesn't start and end at the Denver city limits.
Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.