Last week former state senator Tom Wiens announced the opening of an exploratory committee to join Colorado’s large and growing Republican primary field for the 2010 U.S. Senate race. On Friday I had the opportunity to interview Wiens by phone. Below are some highlights of our conversation (please note that the quotes are transcribed and may be slightly paraphrased in places):
1. What strengths do you bring to the table as a candidate?
I’ve been around for a long time. I think I understand Colorado, I understand the state. I’ve written laws and voted on laws, passed legislation, and stopped bad legislation. I have business experience from all over the state. … I’ve been on the ballot eight times in my life, and have been successful in six of them …
Wiens’ political experience spans work on the staff of former U.S. Senator Peter Dominick, party nominations for state treasurer (1978) and U.S. Congress (1982), and six years of service (one term in each house) of the state legislature.
2. Why this race and why now?
2010 I think is going to be a pretty pivotal year in the history of our country. The phrase “most important election” always gets asserted. But with what’s happened in the past eight months, dramatic changes of things that will be pretty hard to unravel, the burden on our kids and grandkids is unconscionable. … I have a record as true fiscal conservative. I did not support Referendums C & D. I regularly received high CUT [Colorado Union of Taxpayers] ratings when I was in the legislature. I take waste in government seriously….
3. How do you distinguish yourself in a crowded primary field? What do you add?
I have been able to get elected to office on my own. I’ve served in the legislature. I’ve been a rancher and a small businessman. I know the impacts of regulations and laws on people who are trying to meet a payroll and build a business. Because of my deep experience, there is no one who knows the state of Colorado as well as I do, and how legislation in Denver and Washington affects the people of Colorado….
4. Are you committed to keeping the primary process positive and staying focused on beating Michael Bennet (or whomever the Democratic nominee will be)?
People want results, they don’t want excuses. We need to help people, rather than take from them. We need to communicate a vision for the future and specific reform plans for the U.S. Senate. You’ve got to convince the people you can produce results, and I think I have a record of doing that in the public sector and the private sector….
5. What do you see as Michael Bennet’s biggest weakness?
He does not know the state. There’s only one person in the state of Colorado that’s ever voted for Michael Bennet, and that’s Bill Ritter. He’s just another one of the long list of mistakes that Bill Ritter has made….
[Bennet] hasn’t exhibited any leadership or any ideas or any ability to produce results for the people of Colorado. In fact, he has not been able to show he has the ability to make a decision. If you study what’s on YouTube, on his website, and his speeches on the Senate floor, there’s nothing there. The people in Colorado need someone in Washington who’s going to be a producer….
With Michael Bennet and people in Washington, it seems that all they’re really interested in doing, is that if you’re on top (from Washington or Wall Street), you get a bailout. If you’re on the bottom you might get a handout. But what about the people in the middle? It’s as if they completely have forgotten us, except for paying the bill….
6. The Denver Post‘s David Harsanyi poked fun at your campaign’s initial announcement email for being heavy on populist rhetoric. How do you respond to that?
Maybe it sounds populist. But that’s what needs to be done. The people in Washington, they’ve forgotten everybody else in the middle. You can’t make America work, you can’t make our economy work, if those people aren’t healthy, and those people are us…. If Main Street’s not healthy, the country isn’t healthy. Maybe, if that is a bit of a populist approach to things, maybe that’s what the Republican Party needs to propose rather than the same old tired approach to political campaigns that’s been unsuccessful….
7. What do you diagnose as the problem for Congressional Republicans that led them to squander their majorities?
We’ve had waste and we’ve had a lack of respect for the taxpayers and the people of Colorado from both sides of the aisle in Washington. The disrespect today is at an all-time high….
When we’ve had trillions and trillions of dollars wasted, people are justifiably upset about that. It’s not only the issue of wasteful spending and not producing results, it’s a mindset that is a sickness in Washington. It’s taken on such a life of its own in the last eight months, Washington is disrespectful of the people who are their bosses. In the last several months, we’ve had a shift in Washington of unprecedented proportions that’s been building for a long time, and recently we’ve gone over the precipice….
The federal government has taken on a life of its own. I think the leadership in Washington now believes that the people are actually the servant of the government. If you’re looking at all the things they’re planning for the government to do, in order for that to be sustained, the people will have to be in service to the government for the government to do that. It’s a major, major shift that’s taking place in the history of the Republic….
Fortunately, they haven’t spent all the money they’ve voted to waste. We can cancel a great deal of the bailout money. Look at the stimulus. That was a way to buy votes. There are other things that need to be done in terms of reforming the Senate. This is where my expertise in understanding the legislative process is helpful….
Wiens volunteered the following five-point reform agenda, including many changes of the U.S. Senate rules to model limitations on the Colorado legislature:
- Enact a single-subject rule on legislation that “would keep Washington from hiding all these other wasteful spending programs in bills that people know we need to have to pass…. It’s deceptive and disrespectful”
- Limit the length of bills to no more than 100 pages “so legislators can read it and have no excuse for not reading what they’re voting on”
- Mandate a sunset process on all Congressionally-enacted federal programs of at least every five years so Representatives and Senators would “be required to vote whether to continue those programs”
- Reintroduce a Constitutional balanced-budget amendment because “Congress has proven it cannot control itself”
- Introduce a Constitutional amendment for term limits on US Senators and Congressmen (Wiens himself said he would pledge to limit his own service in the U.S. Senate to two terms)
8. An issue has come up in previous election cycles in which your name has been floated as a statewide candidate. To what extent are you committed to self-funding your Senate campaign?
You’ve got to be able to put some resources into a campaign to get it going, and I’m prepared to do that. But you’ve also got to realize that you need to be able to raise money to organize a campaign and build a base. You have got to be able to stand that organization up, get it going, have the campaign operate in a way that can sustain it. It’s part of the process….
9. What did you make of the grassroots uproar concerning possible intervention by the NRSC on behalf of Jane Norton to get into the race?
I encouraged Ken [Buck] to stay in the race, even though it necessarily wouldn’t be in my best interest. I don’t know if it’s better to have more or less in the race. I thought it would be good to make a statement that he wasn’t going to be pushed around by Washington insiders. People need to run for office on their own, we need to see what they’re made of. [emphasis added]
I think this whole concept of endorsements and relying on the past, and relying on leadership that really has not been successful in leading us to victories or at least stemming some of the losses that we’ve had in the last two election cycles, I think people in the Republican Party are sick of that. They want a new approach and a respect for themselves that they deserve. The reaction we saw at the grassroots level to a few statewide politicians and the [NRSC]…I think it showed that people in Washington maybe didn’t do their homework….
I think it goes back to the issue of respect for the voters. It’s the same sort of flawed thinking we’re seeing in Washington. People aren’t going to take that, and people quickly stood up. And I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to have a fair and open primary with plenty of debates and discussions of issues, so people can make an analysis of the candidates all on their own. We have to have new people, new blood, new leadership, and new direction if we’re going to move Colorado in the direction we need to move in. A robust primary would be good for the party.
10. Have you been approached or contacted by the NRSC? Has the NRSC reserved web site domains for you?
No, but I’ve been in touch with them. And no web domains, either.
11. Do you read any Colorado political blogs and other new media sources regularly? What would be your top three?
Yours, of course; Face The State; a few of the other liberal ones. I’ll try once in a week and go through a bunch of them and get caught up on what they’re saying.
12. After your ranch was used for the film “NowhereLand”, do you have any more Hollywood plans?
It’s funny you asked me that…. Through my experience working in the film industry and helping the film industry find locations in the state of Colorado, I’ve met a lot of people who are really great technical people in terms of film and video, not only from production and writing….
We’ve put together a team of volunteers of some of the best media talent in Colorado and Hollywood to help me create a video presence, a media presence on the Internet. Part of that process has been getting some of the new approaches, new technical capabilities that Republican candidates haven’t been able to access in the past…. It’s something we hope to be doing in the not-too-distant future. We’re hoping it will be new and fresh and different, a totally different approach to campaigning….
Wiens also wanted to make note of three individuals with whom he is consulting as his campaign begins to unfold:
For the record, I neither endorse nor oppose the candidacy of Tom Wiens for the U.S. Senate. But I am interested in expanding and deepening the dialogue in Colorado Republican political races to help enhance and strengthen the fair and open primary process we believe will yield the best candidate for us.