The man appointed to the U.S. Senate from Colorado last year is fighting to hold onto the seat. Democrat Michael Bennet faces a stiff challenge from Republican Ken Buck-- who’s currently the Weld County District Attorney. Today, as part of our Election 2010 coverage, we begin a week of conversations with the Senate candidates... and with the gubernatorial hopefuls. We start with the Senate and Ken Buck-- who won the GOP primary back in August partly because of tea party support.
Listen to our interview with Michael Bennet.
Transcript of Interview:
RYAN WARNER, Host: From Colorado Public Radio, I'm Ryan Warner and this is Colorado Matters. The man appointed to the U.S. Senate from Colorado last year is fighting to hold onto the seat. Democrat Michael Bennet faces a stiff challenge from Republican Ken Buck-- who’s currently the Weld County District Attorney. Today-- as part of our Election 2010 coverage-- we begin a week of conversations with the Senate candidates... and with the gubernatorial hopefuls. We start with the Senate and Ken Buck-- who won the GOP primary back in August- in part-- because of tea party support.
Ken Buck, thank you for being with us.
KEN BUCK, Republican Candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado:
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
WARNER: Let’s start with a question from David Steiner of Allenspark, Colorado. He’s a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. He used to teach public speaking and Steiner contacted us through our Public Insight Network.
DAVID STEINER, Listener:
All I’ve heard are the negatives, just plain negatives. I would just like to hear from you one specific thing you hope to accomplish if you’re elected.
WARNER: Ken Buck, how do you respond?
BUCK: Well, I think it’s a fair comment on the campaign. There are a lot of outside groups running negative ads. We’ve done our best to run positive ads.
But the biggest issue I think we face in this country is spending and I think that the way to deal with that, ultimately, is to impose discipline on Washington, D.C., with a constitutional balanced budget amendment and that’s what I’m going to D.C. to do is to work on the spending issue and, obviously, we won’t have a balanced budget amendment or a spending cap amendment or some sort of constitutional amendment in the near term, but I think it is something that, given the nature of where we have come with this issue and the amount of anxiety that people feel in this country, it’s something worth working on and I will be working on that.
WARNER: If it doesn’t happen in the short term, how long term are we talking and what does it mean to pave the way for it?
BUCK: Well, I think when I talk short term, I’m talking about the next-- you know, the first few months of the session. I think it can happen in a few years and it’s a great thing about being in the Senate is you have a six-year term. And so I think you have time to work on issues that take a little longer.
You know, I don’t know-- I don’t know exactly how-- there’s a lot of entrenched interests in Washington, D.C., and it’s a real puzzle how do you-- how do you sort of change the dynamics so enough of those interests see it as a positive to work on an issue like this.
WARNER: If a balanced budget amendment were to become law — and many states, of course, have this, including Colorado — would there be special provisions for times of war--?
BUCK: Absolutely, absolutely.
WARNER: --or times of great economic hardship or something?
BUCK: It would. I think a balanced budget amendment is sort of an umbrella term that’s used to describe a lot of different things and certainly a responsible balanced budget amendment would have to include a provision with, say, a three-fifths vote in Congress that they could overcome the requirements and deficit spend in time of war or depression or other times.
There are other ideas that sort of fit under that umbrella. One of them has been adopted in Colorado, which is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which is more of a spending cap type amendment than it is a balanced budget amendment. So we really have two different responsible-- or limitations on spending and growth in Colorado’s budget and I think those kinds of ideas are the ideas that are being discussed for this kind of an amendment.
WARNER: And you would favor both approaches?
BUCK: Well, I think that we’ve got to find out what’s politically possible, but I think it has to be something that is flexible enough to deal with the challenges that we face in our country and, at the same time, imposes discipline on an otherwise undisciplined system.
WARNER: Let us talk about jobs. It’s a big issue for folks.
WARNER: Unemployment. Do you have a plan to create jobs and how fast would it go to work?
BUCK: Well, again, there are-- there is a short-term plan and a long-term plan. And the short-term plan, really, is the idea that we have uncertainty in the marketplace. At the very time when we went into a recession, we had an activist government. And I’m saying that in neutral-- as neutral terms as possible, because I think what happened when we-- when the Obama Administration and the leadership in Congress put healthcare at the top of the agenda and put some other issues at the top of the agenda, it created an uncertainty in the marketplace.
I talk to business people all across Colorado and they tell me that they are-- they don’t know what their healthcare bill is going to be in three years. They don’t know what their energy bill is going to be in three years, because of the conversation about cap and trade and the carbon tax.
They don’t know what their tax bill is going to be in three years and so this kind of uncertainty is really stifling the job growth that we could have in this economy. It’s not necessarily the after effects of the recession as much as it is people want to know if they risk capital what the true risk is going to be.
In the long term, I think we’ve got a much more challenging issue for America and it is, are we going to try to become a manufacturing country again? Are we going to try to either bring back some jobs from China, India, other countries — which I think is less realistic — or at least retain manufacturing jobs as we innovate in this country?
And I think that’s more realistic and I think we’ve got to find ways to do that. And, again, I think we are putting barriers, regulatory barriers, in our way, tax barriers in our way of being able to achieve that longer-term goal for really creating the wealth in this country that helps us maintain the standard of living that we’re used to.
WARNER: So a couple of follow ups. First, on the short-term plan, some will say it’s preposterous to think that the reason people aren’t hiring is because of government and not because of the bad economy. What would you say to that?
BUCK: I think it’s preposterous to think otherwise. It is clearly-- there is capital. There is-- the banks have money to lend, but they’re not lending. The businesses have, you know, money that they have set aside to expand, but they’re not expanding. And the reason they’re not expanding and the reason they’re not lending is because they just don’t know what the future holds.
WARNER: Businesses have set-- they have reserves of money? I mean, lots of businesses have been laying people off. People have been reduced in their hours at work. They’ve taken pay cuts.
BUCK: Absolutely. And businesses have done that because they are not expanding and they don’t have the demand for their products. It’s not that they don’t have the capital in reserve to expand. But until they know what the business plan is to make a profit in the future, they’re not going to expand.
WARNER: You’ve just said people aren’t buying their products. That’s a function of the economy, isn’t it?
BUCK: It is a function of the economy. It’s also a function of other businesses expanding and other-- you know, I’m not going to build a new expansion on my building or I’m not going to improve my infrastructure until I know what the future holds and so, in some ways, it’s a chicken-and-egg issue. In other ways, it’s really, especially with small businesses, an uncertainty in the marketplace.
WARNER: And then on the longer-term question, you say the future of better employment is in manufacturing in this country. There are some in this state who point to alternative energy as an industry that will represent that. What industry or industries do you point to?
BUCK: We’ve got to move towards energy independence. We’ve got to move in that direction and my opponent talks about, you know, why are we importing solar panels from China. Well, the reason we’re importing solar panels from China is because we don’t have the manufacturing capacity in this country because we have over-regulated and stifled manufacturing in this country. And we will continue to import things, even if we are moving towards a green economy, we are going to continue to import things.
If we can’t mine for the metals that we need for those solar panels, we have to rely on other countries to produce those for us. If we have a wage scale that isn’t competitive with other countries, if other countries are pegging their currency below our currency rate, if we are taxing our corporations at a much higher rate, we set up an environment that is counterproductive for the very types of things that we’re trying to move forward on.
I’m not suggesting that we want to manufacture Barbie dolls in the future. It’s not Barbie dolls. It is really the essence of American business. We need to manufacture those computer chips and hard drives and other big ticket items if we’re going to maintain wealth in this country.
WARNER: You’re listening to Colorado Matters. We’re covering Election 2010 and our guest is Republican Candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado, Ken Buck, now the Weld County District Attorney.
The Administration wants to do away with President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, families who earn more than $250,000 and continue the tax cuts for folks who earn less than that. What do you think?
BUCK: I think the tax cuts should be continued for all Americans. The very people who are making over $200,000 a year or a family making over $250,000 a year are the folks who hire the rest of us.
And many of the people that make over $200,000 a year are owners of sub-S corporations and the revenue from the corporation flows through to their individual return. Taxing them at a higher rate means that they have less money to expand, less money to hire new employees and that, in my view, during a recession is counterproductive.
WARNER: The Obama Administration argues that the tax breaks for the wealthy will mean $700 billion in lost revenue over 10 years and there are some experts, including, most recently, Moody’s Analytics, that say historically wealthy people save money they get from tax breaks rather than spend it. What evidence do you have that the tax breaks to the wealthiest create jobs, that that’s not more than just an academic argument?
BUCK: I don’t have with me any studies that show that. I do intuitively believe that people can’t spend money that they don’t have and if the government takes that money, they can’t use that money for their business.
WARNER: So is it a question of faith? I mean, it’s sort of give them the money and hope they spend, hope they hire.
BUCK: You know, hope they hire. If they invest, if they put that money in their bank account, the bank has money to invest. If they put that money in the stock market, the corporation has money to invest.
So in my mind, you either are asking a family to do without or you’re asking a family or a business owner to invest that money. Sending money to the government is not the way to improve employment in this country or to get ourselves out of the recession that we’re in right now. I think individuals need to have that discretionary money.
I believe that business owners in this time will see advantages to invest, because I think many of the investments are at a low point in our last decade. So I think that there are investing opportunities for expansion right now.
WARNER: You have said that the federal stimulus plan was a failure. Why do you think it failed?
BUCK: We were promised by the Administration unemployment wouldn’t rise above 8%. Unemployment went up to 10%. It’s hovering right now at over 9.5% and the stimulus bill, really, was aimed at other issues than just the unemployment.
The original stimulus bill that Sen. Bennet voted for was a $900 billion stimulus bill, as proposed by Sen. Reid. He voted against a $462 billion stimulus bill that was offered by Sen. McCain and this $787 billion stimulus bill that’s actually grown into an $862 billion stimulus bill didn’t accomplish the goals that was set out for it.
It didn’t reduce unemployment. It didn’t really deal with the structural problems that we had in our economy and the only way to do that, in my view, is to start to deal with some of the certainty issues that I mentioned earlier.
WARNER: The stimulus money that has come to Colorado, almost $700 million of it, has gone to the state’s colleges and universities. With that money gone, expired, and likely cuts in state spending, the schools are talking about tuition increases of 9% to 25% this year. Stimulus money also back-filled cuts at the local school district level for K through 12. Was that money worth it?
BUCK: You know, did it produce a benefit? Certainly. Is it the role of the federal government to fund state colleges and universities? It’s a tough question. We have $13 trillion or $13.5 trillion of debt right now. The question about whether something is beneficial is only part of the real analysis that we need to have.
Who is going to end up paying that $13.5 trillion? The very students who are in college right now who got a break on their tuition are going to end up paying much of that debt. And it is a huge debt. I don’t think we can fathom the price that we’re going to have to pay as a result of the, in my view, irresponsibility that’s gone on for a long time now. Republicans and Democrats are guilty of the spending spree that we’ve been on.
Is it a good thing that the federal government spent money on universities and colleges? Perhaps. It’s a tough analysis. I understand the immediate reaction is that, great, we were able to hold down tuition for some very well-deserving young people to get an education. On the other hand, someone’s going to have to pay that money off.
WARNER: It sounds like you’re on the fence about it. Or are you saying, pretty plainly, it isn’t worth it in the end, because of the debt?
BUCK: It’s not the federal government’s role, because of the debt. And while it produced a benefit — I’m not trying to minimize the benefit that it produced — we’ve got to be realistic about what the federal government can do.
If you take your wallet out right now, I can find a lot of good ways to spend your money. That doesn’t mean that you would have spent that money in the same way.
WARNER: You’re listening to Colorado Matters. I’m Ryan Warner and our guest is Ken Buck, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado. We’ll hear from his opponent in the race, Michael Bennet, the Democrat, on tomorrow’s program.
To Social Security and you have, as I understand it, a three-tiered proposal for keeping it solvent. Would you outline that for us, briefly?
BUCK: Sure. My proposal involves maintaining the benefits that seniors and folks that are close to being eligible for Social Security now have. I believe that they have paid into the system for years and they are entitled to maintain that retirement plan that they’ve created.
WARNER: So sort of the group with the highest expectations?
BUCK: Well, and the least flexibility to do something about a change. The next group — and it’s hard to put an exact year range on this group, but somewhere between 30, 35 and 55 years old, the middle-aged workers — I think we need to find ways to save money in the Social Security program with that age group and yet still make sure that the Social Security plan is in place for them.
And so I would suggest that we link the retirement age, the age at which they would receive benefits, with life expectancy. So as life expectancy increases, the retirement age is going to increase.
I think we need to be realistic about who gets Social Security. The very wealthiest in our society aren’t going to receive Social Security. Even though they pay in to Social Security, they’re not going to receive Social Security. So the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets of our country aren’t going to get Social Security.
I think we’ve got to be very careful and not allow that bar to drop too far where it does affect people who really do need Social Security and certainly are entitled to Social Security. But if we can save money with folks that it wouldn’t affect their lifestyle and retirement plan, I think we should do that.
And there are other ideas along those lines on how to save money for that middle-aged group.
Then for the youngest workers, we have a program that we have a program that I call Social Security Plus. They pay into the Social Security program the regular amount that they would have paid and then they have an investment side where they can invest money, tax free going in, tax free coming out, and that money is-- they will be able to invest in safe investments and they will be able to pass on to their heirs when they die.
WARNER: And they would not be eligible for the traditional Social Security benefits that folks are today or they would be?
BUCK: No, they absolutely would be. Social Security would be there as a safety net. In addition, they would have this money that they have invested and they have saved over time.
WARNER: Is that a kind of tradeoff for reduced benefits, eventually?
BUCK: You know, at some point the Social Security plan will-- the payments to the middle class will start to shrink. We’ve got to make sure that we still have poverty programs for those that are in poverty and are in their senior years that weren’t able to put money aside in the Social Security Plus plan. But ultimately, the idea is that we will have more and more investment in it — when I say “ultimately,” I’m talking about 50, 60, 70 years down the road now — we’ll have more and more investment on the Social Security Plus investment account and less dependence on the Social Security fund.
WARNER: And what does the poverty program look like for seniors who weren’t able to save?
BUCK: I think we’ve got, you know, various forms that we have now for folks. We’ve got food stamps. We’ve got other means to help people out that are living in poverty. We can’t allow seniors that have worked their entire lives not to have that safety net.
WARNER: At the beginning of our conversation, you talked about the uncertainty you think business owners face these days and you mentioned that part of that is healthcare reform. You’ve called for the repeal of the legislation passed earlier this year.
The first of the reforms took place a few weeks ago, among other things requiring insurers to accept children with preexisting conditions, ending the practice of recession, dropping people all together, canceling a policy, allowing parents to ensure their kids up to age 26. What do you think of those parts of healthcare reform?
BUCK: I agree with the preexisting condition requirement. I agree with the requirement that when someone becomes sick, an insurance company can’t just drop them. I don’t agree with the 26-year-old provision. I think the government is interfering too much in the marketplace.
Frankly, I love my kids, but at age 26 I want them to have moved on by that point. Not that every family is in the same situation, but I do think that the government is starting to interfere too much in that area.
WARNER: So on the provisions you support, you would keep those in place, in some way?
BUCK: Yeah. I think, you know, when we talk about repealing the healthcare bill, there are two reasons why I think the healthcare bill should be repealed. Number one, it was passed in a fundamentally corrupt way. I don’t believe Americans have faith that their senators and their congressmen voted for the healthcare bill based on its merits.
The other reason is I think it just is-- fundamentally, we have created a bad healthcare system over the years and we have made it a bigger bad healthcare system with this bill. We need to introduce more free-market approaches to healthcare than what we’ve got here.
WARNER: Give me an example of one.
BUCK: You know, I think what we have to do is we have to give individuals the same type of tax incentive to buy insurance that employers have. I think we have to give individuals more ability to create health savings accounts, where they would have insurance for anything that happened with a cost above $10,000 and they would be setting aside money in a health savings account to pay for regular checkups with a doctor, thereby reducing the kind of paperwork that is a drain on the system.
I think we need portability of insurance. I think we need to make sure that there are more insurers in the marketplace and driving down insurance costs by having more insurers. So I think there are a lot of ideas out there on how to increase competition and this healthcare bill really doesn’t take those into account.
WARNER: You say you like the idea that people cannot be denied insurance for a preexisting condition, but the tradeoff in healthcare reform is that there’s a requirement, eventually, that everyone have health insurance. That’s the tradeoff. In other words, okay, insurance companies, you can’t deny people. Here’s the good news, everyone’s in the pool.
So if you like the idea that people can’t be discriminated against because of their health history, do you also, then, support the individual mandate, the requirement to have health insurance?
BUCK: I don’t support the individual mandate and I don’t think it’s constitutional. I think there are other ways of pooling the insured together to take care of the costs of some people with preexisting conditions.
WARNER: How do you that without requiring health insurance?
WARNER: Because if you don’t, then as we see today, lots of healthy people don’t buy insurance.
BUCK: Right. And there’s got to be a carrot and stick approach to the folks that don’t buy insurance. We have this-- and I don’t know, you know, what the percentage is. Some people can’t afford insurance. Some people don’t get insurance because they’re rolling the dice that can afford insurance.
But there’s got to be a system in place for those that can afford insurance but don’t get insurance that on the way into the emergency room they don’t sign up for insurance and get things covered. They have to have a carrot on the one end, which is lower insurance rates and other benefits, and a stick on the other end, which is some penalty. They will-- they are risking their assets. If they-- you know, if they have equity in their home or whatever, they’re taking a risk by not getting health insurance.
WARNER: Isn’t that the system under healthcare reform? In other words, the stick is, you pay a fine if you don’t have health insurance. The carrot is you’ll presumably have cheaper insurance if you do.
BUCK: But the fine is so low that people are not going to pay on the way in. And I’m not suggesting a fine. What I’m suggesting-- and I’m not suggesting a mandate. What I’m suggesting is, again, allowing the market to deal with it. If you want to have-- if you don’t have insurance and you have a condition, you get in an automobile accident, you are going to pay the first $10,000 or you are going to pay some amount. It’s not going to be an insurance policy that is the same as someone that buys an insurance policy knowing that they are going to have-- or that they don’t have an impending medical need.
WARNER: You’re listening to Colorado Matters. I’m Ryan Warner. We are covering Election 2010 this week, conversations with the candidates, and Ken Buck is our guest. He’s the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Colorado.
The latest estimate on Medicare says that system can only pay its bills through 2029. How would you change Medicare to make it stay solvent?
BUCK: Medicare is really a combination of two dynamics that are occurring in this country. One, we have an aging baby boom population and the other is that we have increased healthcare costs in our country. And so we’ve got to deal with Medicare in some of the ways that we talked about with healthcare and in some of the ways we talked about with Social Security.
We’ve got to encourage people to save to deal with some of their medical expenses as they get older. We’ve got to also deal with the healthcare issue, get away for the fee-for-service model that we have in this country and move towards a quality-of-care model.
We see in Grand Junction some great advancements that they have made in reducing costs and that model isn’t necessarily amenable to every community like Grand Junction, but the concept, I think, can be applied across the board in this country.
WARNER: President Obama traveled to Grand Junction and cited some of those reforms as inspiration for healthcare reform and says healthcare reform does that, it changes that fee-for-service model.
BUCK: Yeah, it’s nonsense. It doesn’t. We have created, again, a bigger system of the same type that we now have.
What it does do is it allows certain pilot projects around the country to examine whether a quality-of-care system would be beneficial. But the system that was passed, the healthcare bill that was passed, is very much a fee-for-service model.
WARNER: On the issue of abortion, you’ve said you oppose abortion including in cases of rape or incest. Would that make the doctors who perform abortions and the women who have them liable for criminal prosecution?
BUCK: You know, I haven’t gotten to that. I think-- and I think we get caught in the weeds with issues like birth control, issues like criminality. We now end the life of approximately 1 million unborn children a year and we have got to deal with that issue in a responsible way.
What we keep talking about is criminalizing doctors’ behavior, criminalizing the behavior of a woman. We’ve got to find ways to reduce abortions in this country and I am pro life and that is the, really, the motive for where I think we need to go.
WARNER: So you would not criminalize abortions?
BUCK: I’m not saying that. You know, obviously, we’ve got-- to end abortions there has to be a law saying you can’t have an abortion and there’s got to be some sort of penalty for doing that.
But the bigger question is, really the question that U.S. senators are going to face is, whether we have federal funding for abortions. But the-- again, I think the major issue that we’ve got to come to grips with in this country is what do we do about 1 million unborn children.
WARNER: But I think voters who are trying to figure out your position are going to say, “Well, listen if I elect this guy, is he going to work to make it illegal?”
BUCK: I will make-- I will work to make it illegal. Now, realistically, where we are in this country is we don’t have the public opinion to create a law in this country to ban abortions and I am realistic about that. What we need to do is we need to change the hearts and minds of people in this country to make sure that they are aware of the-- what I see as the wrong that is being committed in the abortion sense.
I feel, you know, terribly compassionate for women that have to go through that choice. I don’t want people to think that it is a black and white issue to me. It is something that must be terribly difficult to make that decision and I don’t want to minimize that, at all. But I think that our society has an interest in that unborn child and we need to protect that interest.
WARNER: You’ve been in the news lately because of a rape case that you considered as Weld County District Attorney and you decided not to prosecute, citing circumstances that you said made a conviction by jury unlikely.
BUCK: Let me give you the background on the case, if I can. Then I’ll explain what I’ve said.
WARNER: Please do.
BUCK: We were presented with the Greeley Police-- from the Greeley Police Department with a case involving a rape. The facts of the rape are real important.
A young lady went to a bar, had many drinks. She described herself as being drunk. She walked home, approximately 10 blocks. She called an ex-boyfriend, a boyfriend who she described as a bedroom partner. They didn’t have a relationship where they went to dinner or movies or anything else. They were bedroom partners. She called that boyfriend in Colorado Springs and asked him to come up to Greeley to visit her that night.
She then made several more calls to him describing that she would leave a door open and, you know, where she would be. She was, then, laying naked on a bed when he showed up to her house, approximately an hour and a half to two hours later. So there’s about a three-hour break between the time when she finished drinking and the time when this young man showed up.
When he arrived, they had sex. In the morning she claimed that she had been raped. Now the problem with her story was, number one, the alcohol analysis didn’t match. She said that she was too drunk to be able to resist. The alcohol analysis didn’t match, number one.
Number two, she had invited this young man up. They only had a sexual relationship. In his mind, he was being invited up to have a sexual relationship. All the indicia of her being naked on her bed when he arrived indicated that she was not declining a sexual encounter at that point.
When I was presented with the case, I had four people look at the case in my office. I had a male chief deputy look at the case, who is now on the Colorado Court of Appeals, appointed by Gov. Ritter. I had a female chief deputy look at the case, who is now prosecuting at the U.S. Attorney’s office. Another female chief deputy look at the case, who is now a district court judge or a county court judge appointed by Gov. Ritter and another, a male chief deputy look at the case who had been-- who had prosecuted rape cases all around Denver.
I met with this young lady. I explained the situation. I then sent the case to the Boulder District Attorney’s Office and the Boulder District Attorney’s Office Sexual Assault Review team reviewed the case and made the determination that the case could not be prosecuted. They agreed with our conclusion in this case.
After the victim made the case public, I talked to a reporter from the Greeley Tribune and explained to the reporter that we didn’t have a likely probability of conviction in this case because-- and I listed five or six different reasons. One of the reasons was that a jury could conclude that the victim had buyer’s remorse in this course, because of the prior relationship with this individual.
WARNER: In other words, you were speaking hypothetically on behalf of what a juror might perceive?
BUCK: Right. And our ethical obligation is to only bring cases that we have a reasonable likelihood of conviction. We concluded we didn’t have that likelihood and also the Boulder DA’s Office concluded we didn’t have that likelihood.
WARNER: The young women, was in college at the time in 2005 says that you told her, essentially, she was to blame for this. Did you indicate that to her?
BUCK: Absolutely not. She tape recorded the conversation without my knowledge. If she’d put a tape recorder on the table, I would have been glad to have her tape record the conversation, but she taped it without my knowledge. I never blamed her and I would never blame a victim.
We have a-- we take great pride in the Weld County DA’s Office with the outstanding record we have with prosecuting rape cases. Nobody in this state that is in law enforcement or a victim’s advocate would suggest that the Weld County DA’s Office is anything but an extremely aggressive prosecution body.
WARNER: I want to go back, for a moment, to David Steiner, who spoke at the beginning of the interview and his frustration at what he sees as negative campaigning. Others have also complained about the hostility between Democrats and Republicans in Congress — too many Senate filibusters too often, long delays in approving presidential appointments — that, simply, the system is broken.
Is the system in the Senate broken?
BUCK: I want to answer that in, maybe, a little broader way. You know, my opponent has said that he believes the system is broken and he wants to work to fix the system.
He then runs commercials about me that Channel 4 television station, Channel 7, Channel 9, have found to be false, misleading, deceitful. The Denver Post has editorialized a number of times about the fact that these commercials are just outright lies. And you don’t fix Washington, D.C., by conducting yourself in that way and it is really demeaning for a United States-- sitting United States senator to do that.
Is Washington broken? Sure it’s broken. There’s too much money involved in the process. People act out of self interest. We need term limits. We need other things to reduce the self interest in Washington, D.C.
There is really very little accountability for the actions of the individuals in Washington, D.C. When you pass a 2,400 page healthcare bill, we don’t know what’s in that healthcare bill. They didn’t give us time to read that healthcare bill and give them feedback. We find out now about 1099 requirements and independent contractor requirements that we didn’t know about before.
So there-- yes, it’s broken. It’s going to take a lot of work to fix it, but it’s not going to take work from individuals that continue to play the game.
WARNER: You talk about term limits. Would you be willing to limit your own term, sort of unilaterally, if that doesn’t happen across the board?
BUCK: I’m not willing to do that. I think it is-- it defeats the purpose, ultimately, of term limits. I think the folks that are willing to limit themselves are not in the Senate and the folks that want longer terms sort of perpetuate themselves. I think the answer is to have a constitutional term limit that applies to everyone and pass that in Congress.
WARNER: That would be the Senate, House? Already there are for president, obviously, but--?
BUCK: Yeah. Yeah.
WARNER: Specifically, though, about the Senate, does it need reforms? I mean, we talk about filibusters. We talk about the delays in approving presidential appointments. Are those appropriate or is change needed there?
BUCK: I think the filibuster rule is appropriate and I think that the delays in judicial appointments are sometimes appropriate. You know, we’d have to look at example by example to talk about that, but the reality is that judicial appointments are lifetime appointments and I think that those positions are positions that take a lot of reflection and a lot of time and I don’t think that we should try to speed that process up.
WARNER: If the Republicans get a majority in the Senate, you would still feel the way you do about the filibuster?
BUCK: Absolutely. I believe that only good law gets through the Senate, based on the rules that they have set up. Some of those rules are frustrating, but I think they’re there for a purpose. They’ve been there for, you know, decades, since the beginning of this system as we know it in this country and I think that it’s appropriate.
WARNER: A philosophical view of the Senate here. Do you think the minority is there to slow down the majority’s initiatives or is it about common ground?
BUCK: I think it’s about common ground. I think-- I think-- I don’t think it’s-- you should act as an obstructionist body. I think there are roles for the federal government and I think we need to find a common ground to move forward on those roles.
WARNER: What is your common ground today with Democrats? What’s at the top of the list?
BUCK: I tell you. I read Sen. Udall’s statement not too long ago about finding ways to develop a nuclear energy strategy in this country. I think that is a great way to reach across the aisle and now, obviously, I might approach it a little bit differently, but we’ve got to find a way to achieve energy independence and when Sen. Udall talks about something like that, it’s an area that I think we need to work on.
WARNER: You’re listening to Colorado Matters. I’m Ryan Warner and our guest is Ken Buck, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado. We’ll hear from his opponent in the race, Michael Bennet, the Democrat, on tomorrow’s program.
According to the Sunlight Foundation, which works for transparency in government, out of state groups have contributed more money to this Senate race than to any other race in the country. Is it appropriate that so much money should be coming from out of Colorado into these races?
BUCK: It is legal. Is it appropriate? Probably not. I think Coloradans want to make the decision with Colorado resources.
The reality is that Colorado is a purple state. We have an important role to play in the future makeup of the United States Senate. The Republicans can’t get a majority without winning the Colorado seat. The Democrats can’t hold on to their majority without winning the Colorado seat.
So both parties have Colorado in their crosshairs. Both interest-- both, you know, conservative and liberal interest groups have an interest here.
WARNER: But would you change the system so that it wasn’t as easy or that it was illegal for so much outside money to come in?
BUCK: Would I take away individuals’ First Amendment rights? No.
WARNER: But you don’t think it’s appropriate. In other words, it’s legal, but it’s not appropriate.
BUCK: It’s legal. It’s not appropriate. And “appropriate,” in my mind, is, is it something that Coloradans want? And I think Coloradans want to have more control and say over the outcome of their political races and not make it, necessarily, a national race. It is a national race and people from other parts of the country are going to have the ability to spend money in Colorado to affect the outcome here.
WARNER: But there’s not much you could or would do to change that?
BUCK: That’s correct.
WARNER: Okay. Take us back to a time when--
BUCK: Let me just change a little bit of that, if I can. I think it’s important to recognize I am very much in favor of transparency in the process of campaign finance. I think that while individuals have the right to spend money in political campaigns, we should know who those individuals are and we should know why they’re spending the money in campaigns. They’re working for a particular corporation, they’re part of a union, whatever the reason is.
And I think that’s something that Colorado voters can take into account. So while I don’t believe in denying their individuals their First Amendment right to express themselves, I do think that it’s important for Colorado voters to understand who those individuals are and what their motives are.
WARNER: Take us back to a time when you changed your mind about a big issue and how that change came about.
BUCK: Yeah, I’ll tell you one-- and I have evolved in this campaign and I have learned a lot. You know, I’m a prosecutor by training and a district attorney in Weld County. One of the issues that I certainly have evolved on is Afghanistan.
I came into this election 20 months ago believing that we needed to have a presence, a long-term presence, in Afghanistan. We needed to make sure that Afghanistan wouldn’t be a safe haven for terrorists, you know, into the future.
I now believe that Afghanistan is not the ideal place for American nation building, that it would just take too many resources and cost too many lives to be able to engage in that. And so I think we’ve got to do our best to make sure that we aren’t allowing a terrorist organization to take aim at this country, but we can’t be in Afghanistan for decades. It’s just going to be impossible.
WARNER: How do you ensure that terrorists don’t gain a foothold, if there’s not a decent government in place in Afghanistan, or at least one that the U.S. has helped form?
BUCK: Yeah, I think we’ve got to have-- the idea that we are going to create a centralized democracy in Afghanistan, I think, is wrong. It is a tribal country by nature and it’s going to remain a tribal country and we need to have relationships with the various tribes in Afghanistan and we need to have a-- we need to make sure that those tribes that are not willing to embrace our sovereignty understand that there will be a severe penalty to pay.
So, again, a carrot and stick approach. I think that we need to reach out and work with tribes in the future in humanitarian ways, have some military presence there. But at the same time, those parts of the country that want to harbor terrorists need to know that there will be a response and it will be a very painful one for them.
WARNER: A military response?
BUCK: A military-- if necessary, a military response. Yes.
WARNER: On the question of don’t ask, don’t tell, I want to have you bring in a little bit of the personal. Your son’s at West Point, right?
BUCK: Yes, he is.
WARNER: Yeah. And about to graduate or what--?
BUCK: He’s in his last year.
WARNER: His last year. So he will serve in the Army, presumably. What is it that he would-- you think he would have to deal with or contend with that he shouldn’t?
BUCK: Yeah, and I’m not going to talk about my son in the Army. I think it’s an unfair part of-- putting him in that situation. I don’t-- I’d be glad to talk about what I think--
WARNER: Sure, I mean, I think--
BUCK: --the effect of don’t ask, don’t tell would be, but--
WARNER: And I guess the reason I went to the personal, Ken, is not to be sort of cheap or something like that, but to say, what is that someone in the Army, your son or anyone else, again, would have to adapt to or would be compromised by if they were serving next to someone who says, yeah, I’m gay. I’m lesbian.
BUCK: The military needs to decide whether the ability to accomplish their mission on an individual basis, whether an individual would be distracted by those types of issues. Obviously, we have, at this point, segregation of living quarters for male and females. Would a soldier feel necessary to have further segregation? I don’t know and I don’t know what the military is examining at this point to make those kind of determinations.
So my overall view isn’t the 10-foot level, but rather than 40,000-foot level and does-- can the military achieve its mission in a better way with don’t ask, don’t tell, or by rescinding it?
WARNER: So if the report comes back-- when is that due, anyway? Do we know?
BUCK: After the election.
WARNER: After the election.
BUCK: Isn’t that convenient?
WARNER: If the report comes back and it actually doesn’t have much of an impact, you would say, repeal don’t ask, don’t tell?
BUCK: I would certainly look at it. I think there are other factors involved, but I would certainly look at that.
WARNER: What are the other factors?
BUCK: You know, I don’t know. I think that I don’t know at this point what-- I haven’t give that much thought-- It’s about the third time on this campaign that I’ve been asked the question and so I really haven’t thought about what other factors would be involved. I think that is a primary analysis would be the military’s analysis there.
WARNER: Besides being in the Senate, what is one thing you want to do before you die?
BUCK: Play with my grandchildren. I don’t have any yet, so--
WARNER: Is that a hint, or--?
BUCK: It’s not a hint to my 19-year-old daughter or my 22-year-old son. It may be a hint some time down the road for them, but not right now.
WARNER: Ken Buck, thank you for being with us.
BUCK: Thank you very much.
WARNER: Republican Ken Buck wants to represent Colorado in the U.S. Senate. He also joined us before the GOP primary in August. Buck shared his views on immigration, the environment, and energy. Hear that interview at cpr-dot-org. We’re also posting transcripts of this week’s conversations there.
As we cover this mid-term election, we’re interested in your thoughts on the role of government... what should your taxes pay for? Share your perspective through our Public Insight Network... also at CPR.ORG. We may use your comments in a story or ask you to join the conversation.
Now tomorrow... it’s the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado, Michael Bennet.