Posted: May 01, 2010
Election 2010: U.S. Senate candidate Tom Wiens
The complete transcriptBy Mike Cote
Election 2010: U.S. Senate candidate Tom Wiens
The following is a transcript of a video interview conducted on May 11 with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Wiens. Watch video segments from the interview on ColoradoBiz TV.
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 in this race?
Tom Wiens: We're working hard. We're talking to a lot of people. We're using a lot of new media. We're doing the kind of work you would expect if you're taking on a big project like this. Being a rancher and being in the horse business, I kind of look at it like a horse race. Coming into the final turn of the stretch very seldom is the leading horse the winner of the race. 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 be winning and cross the finish line first.
I petitioned on the ballot, and we already have more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot so we know we're going to be on the August primary. I think we're in pretty good position.
ColoradoBiz: Nothing says "serious candidate" like someone who is willing to put up a half a million dollars of you're his 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 kind of 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. I'm committed to this race, and we're working as hard as we possibly can. I'm certainly not comparing myself to the founders, but I think I certainly have the same spirit about this election, that the founding principles of this country brought to us.
ColoradoBiz: Like some other candidates in this race, you're using the petition process. Tell us about that decision.
Wiens: I've been through the convention process several times. And I've won every time. And I understand the process. I know the process. I know most of the people who will be delegates and alternates to the state convention; they know me. I think we could have been very successful at the state convention, as I have been in the past. But this is a very different year. I decided to petition on 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. We'll have communicated with that larger group of people around the state that maybe aren't so enfranchised, or feel disenfranchised, and I think that's what the Republican Party has to do. This election is really about the future of the Republican Party. If you really feel like we're in a situation where free enterprise is under attack, and we've got to make real changes in Washington, like it or not, the only real vehicle we have to do that right now is the Republican Party.
So we have to take back the Republican Party. We have to be differently. And this election is really about whether we want to have the same Republican Party that we've had over the last 10 or 12 years or if we want to go in a new direction. That's what our campaign is about, and that's why we've made some of the decisions we've made.
ColoradoBiz: How has your experience as legislator and small businessman and rancher prepared you to be a senator?
Wiens: Well, there really are differences between the candidates. I'm not a career bureaucrat. I've never worked for the federal government. The two other candidates; it's been the primary hallmark of their careers, 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.
Government taxes are not just taxes on money but on time, and it has effects on family businesses. It hurts the ability to create jobs. I know what that's about. I know how difficult it is. I know successes and setbacks, and I've got that real experience that others don't have. I'm the only person in the race that really has that. When I to Washington I will know how legislation affects Main Street, Colorado, and the small business that are the real engine of our economy and that made us the greatest country in the history of humankind.
ColoradoBiz: You probably have some agreement with your competitors in the primary about small government, something that neither Democrat or 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. We have to be accountable for that. And we have to elect people to Washington who are interested in producing results not excuses. People are expecting results. People are not going to put up with the kind of waste that Washington that has given us.
And I have a real record in the Legislature of voting and producing results and being a fiscal conservative and, again, understanding how public policy, understanding how legislation, how regulation affects business. Because small business is how we really are going to grow the economy. We have to efficient delivery systems. And nine times out of 10 those efficient delivery systems are the things the people of the United States and the people of Colorado need. It's not going to be delivered by government.
ColoradoBiz: You are among the Republicans who have said the health-care reform bill that just passed should be repealed. Is that realistic? How do you go about doing that?
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. And we're going to do something that will actually work for the American people that will really be reform. Right now, we're still doing 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. This has not been reform.
In every consumer transaction we have someone who is selling a product and someone who is buying a product, a provider and a purchaser. And the value proposition is created between those two individuals - except for health care, where you have the payer that inserts itself into the system and who is the payer? The payer is the government or the insurance companies. This system that they are perpetuating and in fact have expanded and are mandating really is a payer-centered system.
And it really is focusing on making the payer happy, not the patient happy. And until we have patient-centered reform that focuses on the patient, where the patient owns the policy, the patient understands what things cost and is in that value proposition, we aren't going to have real reform. 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 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. And what's what we have now.
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 have a first-world economy, which we do, even in this economic downturn. But we have to be the most competitive in the years ahead. Our kids and grandkids will have to be the most competitive Americans we can possibly be. And we can't do that, have that first-world economy and that first economy in the world, if we have a third-world regulatory system and tax system.
Our tax system provides disincentives. It's getting worst all of the time. Taxes have been raised dramatically as a result of the non-renewal of the 2003 tax cuts and the health-care program. Now we have dividend taxes at 43.4 percent that will be at the end of this year, and capital gains going from 15 to 23.8, I think it is. These are steps in the wrong direction that will really, really hurt our economy.
And we've got to have a clean break with this kind of thinking in Washington, and that's what I intend to do when I go back. 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. You're not going to create jobs that are sustainable from the government and someone ultimately has to have money taken from them to provide those jobs, and it's just a completely inefficient way to do it. And it has failed.
ColoradoBiz: Cap-and-trade has appeared to have faded from the table. How does the U.S. balance its energy policy so we're not dependent and foreign fuels, and how much support should the government give to renewable energy initiatives?
Wiens: The energy policy for the United States has probably been the biggest public policy failure of our lifetime. Remember the Department of Energy was created in order to make us energy independent. Well, that hasn't happened. 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.
And we have to realize that we have to deal with the energy situation differently because we are not dealing with market forces in the petroleum sector, in the transportation sector. We're dealing with a cartel, and we don't have choice and competition at the gas pump. And we have to have that. We can develop more oil in the United States, but OPEC will just cut back their production to control the price, and they've done it time and time again. They bring more countries into OPEC; they bring another 2 million barrels or so of oil into OPEC, and all the members cut back.
In 1974, when OPEC was formed, I think they produced approximately 32 million barrels a day. Now they produce about 34 million barrels a day. So we're not dealing with a market. We can't deal with this if we are trying to go head to head with just petroleum. 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.
We can produce these products. OPEC spends about a billion and half dollars a year on disinformation on alternative fuels in the marketplace. We have to have alternative fuels in order to break the back of OPEC. That will be a very important day in American history when we actually do that.
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: Certainly we have a lot of natural gas. The technological advances over just the last three or four years of almost tripled our known reserves in the United Sates because we now have the ability to recover natural gas in ways we didn't have before. That's very, very encouraging. I think natural gas will be very competitive in the generation of electricity and even in our transportation sector.
But I am not a proponent the Legislature getting involved in picking winners like that, picking one industry over another. That's one of the things that I think we should really refrain from as a legislative body or as a legislator. I think the market can sort those things out. There are incentives for both of those, and I find it somewhat disappointing that we passed legislation that really took two energy sectors, energy industries, and pitted them against each other like that. You have to have all kinds of energy in the United States. I think markets need to help sort that our more than one technology or one source over another in a legislative arena.
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 and keeps track of it.
In almost every issue in this campaign, we're dealing with the failure of the federal government to do their job. And that's at the core of the immigration issue. These issues really need to be dealt with at the border, not in the workplace and not up in states like Colorado. I think it's a credit to Colorado, though, that when we passed Senate Bill 90, for instance, that outlaws sanctuary cities, that has some real teeth in it - this governor (Bill Ritter) has not really enforced that law as well as I think it might be in the future - but we didn't have the kind of rancor and the kind of debate, the kind of hysteria, that's been going on about the Arizona law.
And the Arizona law, which I've read, has the law, the amendments that have been recently passed, and it has an executive order. There are a lot of pieces to it. I really don't think it's the kind of onerous legislation that people think it is.
In Colorado, we've had a healthy debate on this. My legislation required every municipality, every county in the state, to have a debate about that, have a discussion about that, because they were required to inform in writing all of their police officers, all their peace officers, that they must cooperate and help enforce all state and federal immigration laws. We can't have selected enforcement of law if we're going to be a constitutional republic. And of course we have to secure the borders.
We have to have a physical fence, and we have to have an economic fence. So 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. But we also have to have that physical fence.
ColoradoBiz: How does Colorado satisfy the demand for water for both agriculture and its growing municipalities?
Wiens: At the core of every issue in Colorado is water. It doesn't matter what the issue is. That's an area that I've been very involved in. 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. If everyone on the Western Slope woke up tomorrow and said "You can have all the water in western Colorado," or the people in California said "We don't need any more water from the Colorado River; you can have it," What would we do with it? We have no place to put it. And the days of damming free rivers are over. We have to have other alternatives.
One of the pieces of legislation that I sponsored was to really do an accounting of underground water storage in Colorado. And we're blessed with the natural ability to store water underground, particularly in the South Platte Basin. We have naturally occurring areas where we can store water underground.
For instance, on the South Platte, the senior water rights on the South Platte are the old ditch companies. When it gets cold, the ditches are the first thing to freeze so they can't call on their water. So that makes the South Platte a free river, and there is still water we can claim on the South Platte. It's true all over the state.
If we had a way to store it. One of the legislative things that I did was require that we pulled all the information together so we actually know where we can do underground water storage all across the state, and it can be done. We have technology available to do it. We just have to have the political will to do it. But that really is the key to the future of Colorado, that underground water storage, particularly along the Front Range but all over Colorado.
ColoradoBiz: What need to happen with Iraq and Afghanistan?
Wiens: We're in Iraq and we're in Afghanistan. We need to provide our troops with the best possible equipment, best possible support, so we can bring those conflicts to a positive end for Western civilization. There is no mistake that we are in a clash of civilizations worldwide. Iraq and Afghanistan are symptoms of that terrible clash that we're in. And it's a serious, serious issue. It's not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it's here domestically.
We've seen it over and over and over. I'm sick and tired of political leaders saying well, "Gee, it's just a one-off thing here and a one-off thing there." Pretty soon we're talking about everything is a one-off deal. But it's not. These are connected in terms of the struggle and the clash of civilizations that we're seeing. And our kids are going to be dealing with this. I served on the homeland security and emergency preparedness committee and so I did quite a lot of work on this. I understand emergency response as well as anyone.
Our best people in Colorado and in our nation are in the Forest Service surprising enough. The incident command teams and the model that we respond to these incidents, all are modeled on how we fight fire. The entirety of the (2002) Hayman fire was in my district and the heli-base for the fire was on my ranch. I got up very close and personal on how we respond to emergencies during that time and have carried that interest on and really feel I've developed a unique expertise in that area that I think will be helpful in the United States Senate.
ColoradoBiz: This is one of the most hotly contested seats in the country. USA Today not long ago named it one of the top four. What's at stake?
Wiens: Everyday I tell a story about of when our founders were finishing the Constitution. And a woman yelled out to Benjamin Franklin: "Franklin, what kind of government did you give us?" And he replied by saying: "A republic, if you can keep it." I think that's what's at stake. The republic is at stake. We have drifted so far away from the founding principles and the founding economic tenets of our country that made us the greatest nation in the history of mankind.
We are moving away from that. We are making the same mistakes that Europe has made. It's as if nobody in Washington has every read a history book. And we're repeating the mistakes of the past. And it is very, very clear. I really do think the republic itself is in play. And if we continue to have this kind of attack on free enterprise we may not be able to recover from it.
When you attack free enterprise, you're attacking our right and our ability to dream because that is what America is about. I know many seasoned entrepreneurs in Colorado who aren't dreaming about the next deal or the next way to improve their business or to create employment or grow their business. If we allow this go on our kids won't even know how to dream. And you lose that in a society like the United States, that's a huge problem and maybe the biggest problem we've ever faced. I think the stakes have never been higher than they are in this election.
ColoradoBiz: Are there any other issues we haven't talked about that you want to address?
Wiens: I think in terms of our economy, the government intervention at virtually every level of our economy is a formula for disaster. And the regulatory uncertainty that we have in Colorado - you're a business magazine and your readers are interested in business and living business every day - they would all agree, and this is something that I see in my business, it's something I see when I talk to business people all across the state. Uncertainty about what rules are we playing by is killing our economy. And that's the same thing that caused the Great Depression to be a decade-long depression.
It didn't need to be that way, but regulatory uncertainty, people not knowing what rules they play by, caused a freezing of the economy. And it's the exact same thing that is going on right now. The best thing we can do is take the air conditioning out of the Capitol and then they wouldn't go back there anymore, and maybe we'd have some certainty as to what we're doing in the future. But we have to stop this regulation and re-regulation, increasing in taxes and more government intervention at the very heart of our economy, which is our small businesses and our business community.
It is not only an issue about jobs and economic growth and the future for our kids; it's a national security issue. We are, as I said earlier, in a clash of civilizations. There are people who want to kill Americans and American society. And they can't do that because we have the strongest military in the world. Well, why do we have the strongest military in the world? The reason we have the strongest because we have the strongest economy.
The reason we have that is because we have free enterprise and we have small businesses that generate all the jobs, generate the tax income, and generate the opportunity for the future and pay for the greatest military in the world. These are really serious issues that we're facing. And it takes people who have the kind of background that I have of real business and knowing what it's like to meet a payroll, knowing what it's like to struggle in business and how difficult it is, and also knowing how the regulatory environment and how legislation actually really affects business.
Because I have done it; I have been on the business affairs committee in Colorado for six years. And I've been on both sides of that table. And I think that is something that we really need in Washington. We have too many lawyers in Washington; I think we have enough of those. We have too many career bureaucrats running our government, and we need people who have real Main Street experience to be in the United States Senate, and that's what I'm offering in this campaign.
Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.