Election 2010: Tom Wiens
Former state representative and senator Tom Wiens, 58, is mounting what some might call a dark-horse bid to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, putting up $500,000 of his own money to fund his campaign. The Castle Rock rancher faces Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (featured in our May issue) and former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton.
We talked recently with Wiens about the campaign at the ColoradoBiz offices in Greenwood Village. Watch video segments from the interview and read the full transcript at www.cobizmag.com. The following was edited for space and clarity.
ColoradoBiz: You're in a hotly contested primary, with Ken Buck and Jane Norton thus far running neck and neck. What are you doing to set yourself apart?
Tom Wiens: Being a rancher and being in the horse business, I kind look at it like a horse race. Coming into the final turn, seldom is the leading horse the winner. I think we're just working hard to position ourselves in the right place so that when the finish line comes up on the August primary we will be there and we will cross the finish line first.
ColoradoBiz: Nothing says "serious candidate" like someone who is willing to put up a half a million dollars of his own money.
Wiens: This election is really going to determine what it's like to live in this country for a long, long time. I am a student of history. You read the founding documents and you read how the founders signed the Declaration (of Independence). They said they risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. I really think it's that kind of time again, and that people really need to make sacrifices to stand up and try to move forward the republic in a way that the founders had determined.
ColoradoBiz: Like some other candidates in this race, you're using the petition process. Tell us about that decision.
Wiens: I decided to petition some time ago. We were the first to announce that. And we really didn't participate in the precinct caucuses. We have been focused on getting organized to get our petition signatures in, and we are organized, and we're doing that very, very successfully. I think it's highly likely that I'll be the first person to qualify to be on the ballot.
ColoradoBiz: How has your experience as legislator and small businessman and rancher prepared you to be a senator?
Wiens: I'm not a career bureaucrat. I've never worked for the federal government. The two other candidates, the primary hallmark of their careers is working for the federal government and the federal bureaucracy. I'm not an attorney; I'm a small businessman. When I voted on legislation in the business affairs committee at the state Legislature, I knew what I was voting on; I know the effect of taxes, the effect of regulation.
ColoradoBiz: You probably have some agreement with your competitors in the primary about small government, something that neither Democratic nor Republican administrations have championed in recent years.
Wiens: Both parties are really to blame. If you look at when the Republicans took over in the early '90s and the number of earmarks that they had at that time and the number of earmarks that they had when they left, it was an exponential growth in the thousands.
ColoradoBiz: You are among the Republicans who have said the health-care reform bill that just passed should be repealed. Is that realistic?
Wiens: Fortunately, the Congress has the power of appropriating money. And I think there are going to be some serious showdowns in Washington after this next election. In this new legislation, we're doing the same thing we've been doing for years and years that hasn't worked. We're just doing it bigger and having the government do more of it. The whole concept of getting your insurance from the government or from your employer is really not founded on economic principles.
Most people don't even know where that came from, that we get insurance from our employer, and it came from wage and price controls in World War II. It was the only way employers could compensate employees enough to do the kind of production we needed to have during the war. Insurance became part of your employment. There's no economic reason for that. We need real reform, but it needs to be patient-centered, not payer centered.
ColoradoBiz: We have 10 percent unemployment, rather anemic job growth, tight credit for small business. How do we fix the economy?
Wiens: One thing for sure that you don't do is you don't raise taxes and you don't spend more than you take in on incredibly wasteful projects. Even in the health-care program, there is some $65 billion of special gifts. We can't continue to waste the taxpayers' money. We need to be cutting taxes and cutting regulation and turning loose the entrepreneurial genius of the American people so that we can grow our economy and create jobs.
ColoradoBiz: How much support should the government give to renewable energy initiatives?
Wiens: Energy independence is important for a lot of different reasons, not only economic but for the long-term safety of our country. We're doing the largest wealth transfer in the history of humankind from the American people to people who don't really care for us. That's why alternative fuels are so important and the ability to have choice and competition at the gas pump with biofuels, with natural gas or with ethanol fuels.
ColoradoBiz: The state of Colorado is about to force its largest utility, Xcel, to convert some older coal-burning power plants to natural gas. What do you think of that move?
Wiens: Natural gas will be very competitive in the generation of electricity and even in our transportation sector. But I am not a proponent of the Legislature getting involved in picking one industry over another.
ColoradoBiz: Immigration has come to the forefront again, due to the new law in Arizona. How can government maintain secure borders and still meet the needs for labor?
Wiens: The substantive legislation about immigration in Colorado I wrote and passed and carried a couple of major pieces of legislation. One was Senate Bill 90, which is somewhat similar to the Arizona law. It requires that once an arrest is made and someone is in custody, our peace officers in Colorado inquire as to the legal status of that individual and reports that to ICE, which keeps track of it.
We're dealing with the failure of the federal government to do their job. The Arizona law, which I've read, has the law, the amendments that have been recently passed, and it has an executive order. I really don't think it's the kind of onerous legislation that people think it is. We need to have economic sanctions and checks so that we can create a system that will actually allow labor to flow back and forth across borders.
ColoradoBiz: How does Colorado satisfy the demand for water for both agriculture and its growing municipalities?
Wiens: I own water rights; I'm an irrigator; I understand water; I used to live in western Colorado; I served on the board of Club 20 for many years; I served on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee. The key to our future is water storage. We have technology available to do it. We just have to have the political will to do it.