Updated 12:23 p.m.
Democrat Andrew Romanoff is doubling down on his progressive platform in Colorado's Democratic U.S. Senate primary, saying the Green New Deal can guarantee jobs for all Americans, and that government-paid Medicare for All can include everything from mental health services to long-term care.
He also told Colorado Matters he backs less funding for police departments in favor of paying for other community services. Furthermore, he would dismantle Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that enforces U.S. immigration laws, and transfer its duties to what he thinks are more appropriate agencies.
Romanoff, the former speaker of the Colorado House, is viewed as the underdog in the June 30 primary, where he’ll face former Gov. John Hickenlooper.
While Romanoff last held office in 2008, Hickenlooper finished two terms as governor in 2018. He mounted a short presidential campaign, but quit at the urging of national Democratic leaders to run for incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner's seat.
Gardner and Hickenlooper both oppose the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. In fact, when Hickenlooper ran for president, he labeled them “socialist.” Romanoff rejected that charge, and said the COVID pandemic and resulting economic downturn make both programs more urgent.
“The biggest fear we face right now is a loss of our jobs, our health insurance, our homes, our savings, our loved ones," he said. "There are 35,000 Americans each year in the richest nation on Earth dying because they can’t afford to see a doctor. That was true even before this pandemic hit."
“I don’t know what you tell a family in those circumstances — that you were too scared of Republican attacks to stand and fight for the ground we ought to win? No," Romanoff continued.
Note: Colorado Matters will air an interview with former Gov. John Hickenlooper next week.
On how the Green New Deal contains a guarantee of jobs for all Americans:
"We could put millions of Americans back to work building a clean energy infrastructure, transforming our electrical grid, our building codes, our transportation system. We ought to include fossil fuel workers whose jobs are already being displaced.
At this point in American history, not a unique point but certainly the greatest downturn we’ve seen since the Great Depression, there may be 50 million people out of work. Yes, I think it’s incumbent on us — not just the public sector but working hand-in-hand with the private sector — to boost employment."
On less funding for police departments:
"America’s original and persistent sin of racism hasn’t ended and it’s infected every walk of life. I believe reform is not enough so I say yes to restructuring our police forces … I support efforts to shift resources from police departments to community services.”
More coverage of Colorado's Democratic U.S. Senate primary
- Amid Protests In Colorado, Democratic U.S. Senate Candidates Explain Where They Stand On Race
- US Senate Candidate Andrew Romanoff Imagines A Climate Change-Ravaged Hellscape In A New Ad. Is That Good Politics?
- National Climate Activists Kick Off US Senate Effort By Trying To Take Down Hickenlooper
- Hickenlooper Releases 1st TV Ad As Romanoff Releases Video On Social Media
- Gardner Leads The 2020 Colorado Senate Race In Cash
- What Is John Hickenlooper’s Ethics Complaint About?
On abolishing ICE:
"I believe the agency, yes, should be dismantled and, I’ve also said, its lawful responsibilities transferred to other more appropriate departments like the Department of Justice, for example, because the work of combatting human trafficking or drug trafficking or terrorism is important work. I just happen to believe that ICE’s effectiveness has been hopelessly compromised by corruption and a loss of integrity."
On how private insurance could supplement Medicare for All::
"If people want to supplement the Medicare program that I’m proposing in the private market by buying a supplemental insurance policy, they should be able to do that. I’d like the package of benefits to be robust enough that folks won’t have to do that but there clearly are some benefits that won’t be included and there’s a role for the private sector in that sense."
Andrew Romanoff and John Hickenlooper will meet for a debate at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16, sponsored by Colorado Public Radio News, Denver 7 and The Denver Post. The 90-minute debate will be broadcast live on CPR stations and streamed at CPR.org.
We're soliciting your questions for the candidates. A couple of ways to get those in: email us a voice memo: firstname.lastname@example.org. or leave your question as a voicemail at 303-871-9191, extension 480.
Read The Transcript
Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, Andrew Romanoff, has already brushed his teeth; now he's shaving ahead of a virtual town hall. He's hosting the event focused on policing and justice from his third-floor apartment in Aurora. His camera, a smartphone, leaning against some books and boxes stacked on his kitchen island. His guest, an ACLU attorney. Romanoff has just a few minutes before he goes live to make sure she's on the line.
Andrew Romanoff: Is Denise on yet?
Man: Not yet.
AR: What time did you tell her?
Man: 11: 40.
RW: This is what campaigning looks like during a pandemic: no chanting crowds sporting your name on their t-shirts, babies unkissed, hands unshaken, Romanoff does these virtual forums twice a week. He interviews guests while letting the digital audience know where he stands on the issues. He is also trying to increase his name recognition. Romanoff hasn't held political office since 2008 when he was speaker of the State House. His opponent in this democratic primary is John Hickenlooper, governor as recently as 2019, presidential candidate until last August. It's approaching noon, nearly start time, and on this day in late May, Romanoff's aid has some news.
Man: Andrew, did you see the update in the George Floyd case?
AR: No what happened?
Man: They arrested the police officer this morning.
AR: They charged him?
AR: With what?
Man: I haven't seen the charges. I just know he's been brought in.
RW: Of course, we now know the officer who had his knee on Floyd's neck has been charged with second degree murder. The others on scene are charged with aiding and abetting.
Man: All right, sounds good. Just some obligatory reminders. You all will be on the screen the entire time. So just keep that in mind. Everyone can see you.
RW: For Andrew Romanoff, it's almost show time.
Man: Three, Two, One.
AR: Well, good afternoon, and thank you very much for joining us today. My name is Andrew Romanoff. I'm a candidate for the United States Senate.I was the Speaker of the House -.
RW: For the next hour, Romanoff and his guest discuss racism, policing, and incarceration. As they speak, I check Facebook Live on my phone where the audience hovers around forty. His campaign says many more were watching on other platforms. Once it's over, I asked Romanoff how it is to campaign this way.
AR: It's different. It's the first time anybody's ever experienced this. But I want to be clear not to exaggerate the difficulty of campaigning. I figure politicians are probably the least essential workers in America right now. Democracy is essential, so we've adapted. And in some ways, it's been easier to reach folks because many people are home and they're going stir crazy.
RW: Still, it's a tough change of gears for a candidate trying to build name recognition.
AR: We've had over the last - gosh, the first thirteen months of the campaign, in hundreds of events: backyards, living rooms, coffee shops, brew pubs. I used to tell folks I was available for weddings and bar mitzvahs. Like, we were determined to get to as many voters as we could. And it was a really meaningful experience. In some ways, a couple things have changed. So we're not doing those events, obviously, in person anymore.
We are reaching more folks, several thousand each week, through these virtual town halls, and also virtual house parties we're holding almost every night now. One thing, I think the most striking part of the experience for me and I mentioned it in passing in the town hall just now, is texting voters. We have an app for that. So, I have personally texted 600,000 people over the last two months, one at a time.
RW: Meaning you've composed the text?
AR: Well, yeah. I compose a text, and then sent it to each of these folks, and then have exchanges with the people who reply. And it has been a really emotional and educational experience because people are going through so much pain right now. I've spent the last several nights now for the last couple weeks talking to a fellow who is living out of his car. Doesn't know where he's going to be able to sleep, doesn't know where he can get something to eat, doesn't have a job to go to when he gets up in the morning, doesn't want to go to a shelter because he feels like that might be more dangerous, can't get a stimulus check because he doesn't have an address to which it can be mailed.
So, we're trying to connect him to all these sorts of resources to housing and other cases connecting folks to mental health resources, which is priority for me. At the end of one of our conversations by text, it was getting pretty late at night, he said to me or texted me, "It feels like I don't exist," because nobody was giving him the time of day and he didn't count. I couldn't see him because we were just texting, but I said to him like, "You exist. I see you. And you matter to me."
(live interview segment begins)
RW: Most recently, Romanoff ran the advocacy group, Mental Health Colorado, and he joins us in the studio. We are scheduled, by the way, to speak with his opponent next week. Mr. Romanoff, welcome to the program.
AR: Thank you, Ryan. Please call me Andrew.
RW: Andrew, we'll circle back to racial justice issues, obviously top of mind right now. But I think it's really important to establish some of the biggest differences between you and former governor, John Hickenlooper. So, let's start with climate change and your support for The Green New Deal which Hickenlooper does not endorse. What do you want that Green New Deal to be?
AR: I look at The Green New Deal as our last best chance to rescue life on Earth. We have run out the clock on incremental reform. It's just too late for that. We've already emitted more pollution in the last forty years than in all of human history. So I want The Green New Deal to include a jobs guarantee. We could put millions of Americans back to work, building up clean energy infrastructure, transforming our electrical grid, our building codes, our transportation system.
We ought to include support for fossil fuel workers whose jobs are already being dislocated as the market shifts from oil and gas to solar and wind. This is a chance for America to lead. And that won't happen if we replace Cory Gardner with a Democrat who not only opposes The Green New Deal, but also somebody who presided over a record increase in oil and gas development. A governor who sued communities that were trying to restrict fracking and literally drank the fracking fluid.
RW: Although I think that he would say the law tied his hands to some extent about what he could do as governor. You mentioned a Green New Deal that has a jobs guarantee. That is part, by the way, of The Green New Deal as described in a congressional resolution sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Is it the government's job to guarantee jobs?
AR: At this point in American history, not a unique point, but certainly the deepest downturn we've seen since the Great Depression, there may be fifty million Americans out of work. So yes, I think it is incumbent on us, not just the public sector, but working hand in hand with the private sector to boost employment. And -.
RW: And so, is that a job for every American who would want one -?
RW: - In this new economy?
AR: Yes. And look, I've had this conversation with fossil fuel workers too. They're quite fearful for good reason, because they can see the market shifting under their feet. They know that the climate crisis is not a hoax. They know that at some point soon, solar and wind will overtake fossil fuels. But they also want to know that we're willing to invest in them to help them get the jobs they need and the skills those jobs require so they can continue to feed their families and put a roof over their heads. I think that's a reasonable request on the part of fossil fuel workers.
RW: So, is it that the federal government would do the hiring? That the federal government would do the paying for these salaries and encourage the hiring in the private sector? What does that look like to you?
AR: I think reasonable people can differ on how we get from here to there. I'd suggest a combination of public and private sector employment, a combination of state and federal investments. There's a role for local government as well. But the point is, we face an existential threat in the form of this climate crisis. We face mass unemployment. We ought to seize this opportunity. This is a New Deal moment for America, not a time for timidity.
RW: So, you see a connection, just to be clear, between climate change and, frankly, recovery from the economic ravages of COVID-19. Those go hand in hand for you.
AR: I believe so. And look, I supported The Green New Deal obviously before this pandemic hit. But now, the economic consequences of the pandemic make a Green New Deal even more urgent. There's another lesson we can draw too, Ryan. A couple lessons here. One, we can reduce greenhouse gases including carbon pollution. We're doing that right now because we're not driving as much. So the climate crisis is the kind of challenge we can solve if we have to.
RW: But isn't another dynamic of this, that gas is very cheap right now. And when gas is cheap, renewables tend to suffer.
AR: That's true. Although the market before the oil industry plummeted here in the prices that you're describing, the market itself was making renewables cost competitive with oil and gas. Look, at some point -.
RW: But that may not be true anymore is what I'm saying.
AR: What is true though is that these non-renewable resources like oil and gas and coal are just that, they're non-renewable. You can debate how long we have. But I'd suggest that unless we shift as rapidly as possible toward a clean energy economy, we will continue to see storms and floods and heat waves and droughts and wildfires become even more frequent and more destructive. And millions of people, hundreds of millions, a billion, by some estimates, by the middle of the century, uprooted from their homes because of this crisis.
There's one other connection I'll draw, since you're asking about the pandemic, Ryan, and it's this, warmer temperatures are driving the spread of disease-carrying species around the earth. So outbreaks like this one, if not the Coronavirus itself, are going to become more common as well. This is a chance, in other words, for us to protect our public health, our families, our environment, grow our economy, and fight the single biggest threat we face.
RW: So, you don't just see the economic connection, but the health connection here.
AR: Yeah, this is -.
RW: Okay, I'll ask this question a lot I think as we go, how do you pay for this?
AR: Well, we're paying for it right now. If you add up all the money we're spending today in direct and indirect subsidies on oil and gas and coal, it amounts to about $650 billion per year. That's roughly the size of the Federal Defense budget, ten times the size of the Federal Education budget. So I'd rather shift those dollars towards renewables, towards the sorts of jobs programs that we've described, protections for frontline communities, including many low income communities and communities of color, that have borne the brunt of runaway oil and gas development.
RW: So you are proposing that there be a shift in government focus and funding. Where else, how else do you pay for this?
AR: Well, I mentioned one place: with the subsidies that we're providing now for oil and gas and coal. I don't think we should be subsidizing pollution.
RW: Is that enough to get you there?
AR: Not entirely. No. So that's a fair question. And the good news is the economic advantage of making these investments through tax dollars, to be clear, are more than enough to offset the costs. Combating the climate crisis is cheaper than ignoring it. And ignoring it is essentially what we've been doing.
RW: So over the long haul, you say, this will have an economic benefit, but it requires upfront investment, no doubt.
AR: That's true.
RW: OK. What about a carbon tax?
AR: That has to be part of the solution. I said so ten years ago. I was proposing a Revenue Neutral Carbon Tax. The idea was we would raise the tax on pollution, but lower the tax on income. So you would pay more on what you burn and less on what you earn. Can I just -?
RW: Yeah, go ahead.
AR: Just one other point. It's important for us if we're going to end the subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, to get there, we need to stop the fossil fuel industry from subsidizing congress. Cory Gardner takes more money from oil and gas companies than all but one other member of the US Senate. And it's no surprise, he sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Both Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fossil fuel industry throughout the course of their career. You're essentially putting lawmakers in the position of regulating the industries that are paying for their campaigns.
RW: John Hickenlooper, while he was governor, helped capture fugitive methane emissions. That was a big priority for him. And methane is an incredibly powerful greenhouse gas. He did that with industries buy-in. Doesn't that say something about his ability to work across, if not the aisle, across to an industry?
AR: This governor, John Hickenlooper, never met a fracking permit that he wouldn't approve. And so, look, I'm all in on every effort we can to restrict the emissions of these deadly greenhouse gases, including methane. But these efforts don't go far enough and the prospect of leakage. Frankly, the increase we've seen in birth defects among families who live in or near the fracking zone, the impact on respiratory problems, I think all of those lead us to conclude that we need to get out of the business of subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and, frankly, out of the business of drilling altogether.
I recognize, by the way, Ryan, that we can't do that tomorrow. I think it would be irresponsible for me or any candidate to suggest that you could flip a switch in the morning and power the whole economy from solar and wind instead of oil and gas. But we need to get there as swiftly as possible.
RW: Another significant difference between you and Governor Hickenlooper is that you support Medicare For All; he does not. So I want to dive into your proposal. You'd provide a single payer system for all Americans, and the federal government would pay to provide health care for everyone. Fill in the details.
AR: Sure, what we're talking about here is a public insurance plan while the delivery of health care, the provision of health care, remains largely in private hands. Obviously, we have public hospitals in America, but I'm not suggesting the government employ all the doctors and nurses and run all the hospitals themselves. But yes, I believe that we ought to strengthen Medicare by adding some benefits that aren't part of the package now, like dental and vision and hearing and long-term care.
And we ought to make sure that mental health and substance use services are part of the package too. I think we ought to increase reimbursement rates for Medicare providers, particularly in rural Colorado and other parts of the country where the reimbursement rates are too low. And then yes, I believe we ought to lower the age of Medicare eligibility to zero.
RW: In The Green New Deal, you promise everyone a job; now you promise them a Cadillac health care plan?
AR: Well, we're paying for it right now. So to be clear, the United States is spending about $11,000 per person per year when you add up all the costs of existing taxes, premiums, co-pays deductibles, and other out of pocket expenses. Other countries are spending about half that much. If you look to Switzerland, Germany, Taiwan, France, Canada, for that matter, you'll see their health care expenditures at about $5,000 or $6,000 per person per year.
RW: You think we could be getting a lot more for our buck?
AR: I sure do. And the evidence suggests it as well. It'd be one thing if we could afford to spend twice as much as these countries, but we can't. Healthcare costs are the single biggest source of bankruptcy in the United States. It'd be another thing if we were getting health outcomes that were twice as good, but we're not. Our life expectancies aren't longer; our infant and maternal mortality rates aren't lower. We're just leading the world in spending and we're going broke, driving half a million families into bankruptcy each year, because they can't afford their medical bills.
RW: Is there any role for private insurance in this model? If there are people who, I'll just say that more than half of Coloradans currently get their insurance through their employer. But what if they want to keep those plans?
AR: Well so, if people want to supplement the Medicare package that I'm proposing in the private market by buying, in other words, a supplemental insurance plan, they should be able to do so. I'd like the package benefits to be robust enough so that folks don't have to do that. But there clearly will be some benefits that aren't included and there's a role for private insurance in that sense.
RW: So, do you think that Obamacare was a band-aid on a gaping wound? Is that what I hear you saying? There's a lot of folks who refer to Obamacare as insurance reform more than health care reform.
AR: Well, I think we need both. I'd say the Affordable Care Act was better than a band-aid. It doesn't fix the structural problem that I'm describing - the system of employment based insurance. And I think by the way, this is a time for us to acknowledge that model isn't working. When not only 28 million Americans are uninsured and 44 million are under insured, but when as many as 43 million more Americans may lose their employer-based coverage because of this downturn.
Surely, that's a time for us to say, "Your health insurance should not depend on your job." I'm glad that we've made progress over the last ten years. Please don't misunderstand. But the plain truth is, the Affordable Care Act is simply not affordable enough.
RW: So, a well-known think tank, the Urban Institute, estimated the costs of several Medicare For All packages last year. And the idea here is that the cost of healthcare would shift from families and employers and others to the federal government. And so the Institute compared the additional costs to the feds and the savings to everybody else and came up with a net cost. At the high end, for a program similar to what Senator Bernie Sanders has, the Institute figured Medicare For All would add $8 trillion in medical costs over the next ten years. So I want to go back to whether the current spending you think could meet that increased cost? Or you'd need to raise money somewhere else?
AR: Well, the net savings that come from this plan are substantial. Every single study I've seen suggests that we would save more money by adopting a system of Medicare for All than we're spending now. The trouble with some of the more ideologically-driven estimates is that they fail to account what we're spending now, in premiums, co-pays deductibles, and other out of pocket expenses to the for-profit insurance industry. To be clear -.
RW: I think this one included the net savings and they still find a price tag.
AR: So to be clear, you can't have something for nothing. We've got to pay for this. But we're paying more than that now. I asked a team of health economists to explain to me what we're getting from the extra $5,000 per person per year we're spending on health insurance when you compare our costs to other countries, because the answer is not better health.
So we're getting insurance company overhead and administrative waste. We're getting drug company profits. We're not getting healthier. And I'd rather put the savings that come from Medicare For All back into the pockets of families and small businesses which are staggering under these expenses now and into the sorts of things that are likelier to improve our health.
RW: Andrew Romanoff, if Democrats wanted Medicare For All, wouldn't Bernie Sanders have won the Presidential Primary? In other words, the victor, former Vice President Joe Biden, supports building on the Affordable Care Act.
AR: Well -.
RW: So, let's just play this out. You're elected. Maybe there's a Democrat in the White House, maybe not. Maybe you're in the majority, maybe not. It doesn't seem like there's a real path forward for Medicare For All under just about any circumstance.
AR: Well, consensus on Capitol Hill doesn't magically materialize. It has to be forged. If you ask most Americans whether they're satisfied with the status quo, they'll say no. Medicare For All commands support from the vast majority of Democrats, the majority of independent voters in the United States, and about half of Republicans in spite of the fact that half the presidential field in my own party was trashing this plan. I think support would be even higher if we fought for it.
And to me at least, that's the challenge here: how you translate the consensus that exists among the American public into action on Capitol Hill. Part of that solution has to include breaking the grip that the insurance and drug companies hold on members of Congress in both parties. We find a lot of powerful corporate interests bribing members of Congress. I wish I could find a more polite term because I know this is a family show. But it amounts to a -.
RW: I think you can say bribery. It would have - it's fine.
AR: It amounts to a form of legalized corruption.
RW: Let's bring The Green New Deal and Medicare For All together here because as we mentioned, your opponent,John Hickenlooper, ran for president for most of last year, and left that race to run for the senate seat. And when Hickenlooper was still a presidential candidate, he spoke to the California Democratic Party, I'd like to listen.
John Hickenlooper (from tape): If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve these progressive goals, socialism is not the answer. I was reelected, I was reelected in a purple state in 2014. One of the worst fears for Democrats in a quarter century. I was - if we're not careful, we're going to end up helping to reelect the worst president in American history. We shouldn't try to achieve universal coverage by removing private insurance from over 150 million Americans. We should not try to tackle climate change by guaranteeing every American a government job. Hold on. Hold on. As the Democratic Party, we have to create a vision for this country.
RW: You can hear the boos from that crowd of Democrats. But, Andrew Romanoff, do you worry if you win the Primary that your Republican opponent, Senator Gardner, will stick that socialist label on you? It's a technique he's already used, and how would you respond to it?
AR: It's a technique the Republicans use against every Democratic candidate whether you're for Medicare For All as I am, or Medicare itself or Social Security. It does us no good to parrot the Republican talking points. So when John Hickenlooper uses the same demagoguery as Cory Gardner, it really undermines our cause. Look -.
RW: So what do you say if a Republican says, "Andrew Romanovs is a socialist. He pursues socialist policies"? You know, that word lacks nuance, but it does incite fear in people. How do you respond to it if you hear that?
AR: But I think the biggest fear we face right now is a loss of our jobs, our health insurance, our homes, our savings, our loved ones. And I just want to emphasize this point. There are 35,000 Americans each year in the richest nation on the face of the earth dying because they can't afford to see a doctor. That was true even before this pandemic hit. So for Cory Gardner or John Hickenlooper or anyone else to tell us, "We can't afford to cover all Americans," or that doing so somehow lands us in the Soviet Union, I think is reprehensible.
And I don't know what you tell a family in those circumstances; that you were too scared of Republican attacks to stand and fight for the ground we ought to win? No.
RW: On the question of overall government spending, I'd like to turn to Steve Lundgren. He's retired, lives in Aurora. And we met him as part of a series of conversations across the state called Voter Voices.
Steve Lundgren (from tape): We've got a $24 plus trillion debt. That's not sustainable. And it continues to rise and it seems like neither party is doing anything about it.
RW: What's your response?
AR: Sticking our kids with a tab for things that we're not willing to pay for is not sustainable or defensible. I do think there are occasions, and this is one, where borrowing money makes sense because we're fighting a global pandemic, a deep recession, if not a depression; we have a climate crisis. So the most expensive thing we could do is nothing and watch these costs continue to mount. In the long term, I'd suggest -.
RW: So there will be borrowing, just to be clear, that's what you're saying there?
AR: Yes, there is now, clearly. And there will need to be throughout the course of this pandemic. What I'd suggest is the best way to bring revenues and expenditures into better balance is to grow the economy. I also happen to think we should put the Federal Budget under greater scrutiny. And we ought to make the tax code more equitable.
RW: Early on in this campaign, former Denver City Councilwoman and current Parks and Rec Director for the city, Happy Haynes, endorsed you. But some months after John Hickenlooper got in the race, she switched her endorsement. And she says that is exceptional for her. But she and Hickenlooper worked closely together when he was Denver Mayor; she was his liaison to Council. But it wasn't just about her familiarity with his leadership.
Happy Haynes (tape): From just purely sort of political analytical perspective, I felt that his experience and political recognition and so on would make him the best situated candidate to win in a general election. And electability is always a key consideration. I mean, you first have to be all in for the candidate but then, you have to make a decision about the issue about electability. And so I concluded that he would have the best opportunity.
RW: Andrew Romanoff, it's been twelve years since you've held public office. You have lost in that time two elections. Why are you the man to beat Cory Gardner?
AR: Well, let me offer a few thoughts. First, I love Happy Haynes. I respect her decision. I know she worked with my opponent. I was glad to have her support through the caucuses. Second, there are a number of people who've worked with me - in fact, 375 elected officials: county commissioners, city council members, mayor's school board members and legislators, including some on the other side of the aisle. They recognize the leadership I brought to the Statehouse.So I'm proud of the coalition -.
RW: Why hasn't that manifested in office for you in twelve years, though?
AR: Well, in part because every election is different. And if you're holding out for a candidate who's never lost a race, I'd suggest you'd end up, I suppose, with Cory Gardner in this case. But what people want to know is, are you willing to fight for them? What makes John the riskiest bet now in this election, to be perfectly blunt, is the fact that he not only broke state law, but defied a subpoena, held himself above the law and became the first person in the history of the state to be held in contempt by the Independent Ethics Commission.
I know John wants to blame his staff or the Republican Party for initiating these complaints, but the truth is the commissioners who ruled against him include some of his own appointees. That means he has effectively jeopardized our chances to hold the seat and handed an argument to Cory Gardner. He already wrote the first ad last year when John Hickenlooper spent most of his time telling everyone who would listen that he would be a terrible senator and hate the job and wasn't cut out for it. I believe him.
RW: To immigration now. In 2006, while you were speaker of the Colorado House, the legislature passed immigration laws that were viewed as among the toughest in the country. Among other things, the package required local law enforcement to notify federal officials if they arrest someone they thought might be in the country illegally. This package also limited government assistance for undocumented immigrants. You talked about this at a recent event called the Colorado Racial Justice Forum. And I'll just mention that's entirely different from the webinar that we described at the top that I witnessed. This one was organized by several groups that focus on minority issues.
AR: I've made a grave mistake, one that will haunt me for the rest of my life, and one that for which I've apologized, and one that I'll acknowledge here today. We were trying at the time to stop a constitutional amendment from reaching the ballot that we believed would have done far more damage. And that's a risk I wish I had taken, instead of passing the compromise that we thought might be less harmful.
RW: Today, you call for a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally. You've said you don't want it to take decades. There have indeed been decades of debate and failed attempts to accomplish this, of course. What would you suggest? And how would you get it done?
AR: Well, first, it's not just today that I'm calling for comprehensive immigration reform. It's every day for the last fifteen years. Colorado's legislature sent a resolution to Congress back in 2006, urging our congressional delegation to adopt this reform. I support, as you said, "a path to citizenship". And it should not take decades. We ought to recognize the value that immigrants are contributing. What I believe we need and what most Americans support is a plan that no longer demonizes immigrants and refugees as the president has done. But instead invites people to contribute their talents to a nation that needs them. A plan that -.
RW: Didn't the president's view on immigration land him in the White House, though?
AR: Look, there are a lot of things that landed Donald Trump in the White House. But his support for some of the most racist and discriminatory immigration policies, the practice that he's pursued of caging children and tearing families apart, are at odds, not just with the sentiments of most Americans, but with our heritage, and with our moral standing.
And just to put this in more personal terms. I'm the son and the grandson of immigrants. We are better off not just as a family, but as a country economically, intellectually, culturally stronger because we have welcomed people to this nation. I know we describe ourselves as a nation of immigrants. But it's also clear that we didn't all come by choice. Some came in chains. Some were already here. I believe our diversity is a source of strength.
RW: There is another son of immigrants who's already in the Senate. That's Michael Bennet. He was a part of Gang of Eight, I think was the number, that tried to reach an immigration compromise and whose work shows just how difficult that path is. What would you do differently?
AR: Well, I've got a record as a legislative leader of forging coalitions. And I don't want to kid you here, I was a good legislator, but I'm not a magician. I can't get Mitch McConnell to change his spots. So a better path in my mind means we ditch Mitch and then we build a coalition of lawmakers who support, as most Americans do, the principles that I've laid out.
RW: On your campaign's website, you state, quoting here, "I will do everything in my power to stop ICE or any other agency from abusing its authority and from engaging or allowing corporate profiteers to engage in inhumane detention practices." Answering a yes/no question from that Colorado Racial Justice Forum, you said that you support abolishing ICE. Do you indeed favor abolishing that agency? And if so, how would you enforce immigration laws that are on the books?
AR: Well, I believe the agency, yes, should be dismantled. And as I've also said, it's lawful responsibilities transferred to other more appropriate departments, like the Department of Justice, for example. Because the work of combating human trafficking or drug trafficking or terrorism is important work. I just happen to believe that ICE's approach has been hopelessly compromised by corruption and a loss of integrity. And that's why I believe it ought to be dismantled.
RW: You know, it's interesting because that word "abolish" has come up in recent days as it relates to police. We've seen activists say either 'defund' the police or 'abolish' the police. What do you make of those requests, those demands? Do you support them?
AR: I think those demands, to answer your first question, emerge from a great deal of justifiable rage at centuries of oppression. America's original and persistent sin of racism hasn't ended, and it's infected every walk of life. I believe reform is not enough. So I say yes to restructuring our police forces. We need to shift resources. This is also how I see this movement. And I support efforts to shift resources from police departments to community services.
I had a conversation last year, or even the year before, with Joe Pelle who is the sheriff in Boulder. He said, "I run the largest mental hospital in my community. It's called the County Jail." That cannot be the right approach. I lead the fight for mental health services, and I'd like to see more in our communities and other social services that improve public health rather than simply pursuing a strategy of militarizing our police or treating incarceration as the solution to every problem.
RW: You, Andrew Romanoff, you live in Aurora. Would you like to see the police budget, for instance, in your own backyard reduced and those funds shifted to the priorities you've laid out?
RW: Specifically, is that what you're asking for in communities across the state?
RW: Yes. Why do you think the George Floyd case has been such a catalyst? What's your read on that?
AR: We had a conversation along those lines with some young people last week. And I will tell you, in part, it's because the murder of George Floyd was captured on video in undeniable and graphic and horrific scenes that have played out across the country.
RW: Of course, many of these have been caught on video, right?
AR: In part, because there have been many. I think this also proved to be the straw that I hope will break the camel's back here because George Floyd's murder was not an isolated incident. And in part, because in the wake of his murder, instead of comfort that you might expect, at least the right noises that you might hope for from a President of the United States, you got instead a man like Donald Trump, who is inciting violence and fomenting division and demonizing the protesters themselves.
RW: What do you think is the biggest single step you as a senator could push in police - you've said reform is not enough but deep changes in policing?
AR: Among the dozen steps that I've suggested, we need to ban chokeholds and strangleholds. We need to pursue consent decrees to the Department of Justice, strengthen the enforcement of civil rights and laws.We need to think -.
RW: I don't think -I mean, I'm not sure most people know what a consent decree is. Just explain your thinking there.
AR: So in many cases, what you've seen are rogue agencies, not just rogue officers, but rogue police departments. And in those cases, it's not enough to subject the public to the whims of an agency that itself is no longer in a position to protect public safety or police itself. I think more to the point, we need independent, effective civilian oversight bodies with the authority to hold police officers accountable. We need a national database of police officer misconduct.
We need an obligation on the part of police officers to intervene and stop fellow officers from committing misconduct in the first place. And we need to train and recruit and hire officers who reflect and respect the communities they serve. We should not be having to have a discussion now about why it's unacceptable to put your knee on the neck of another human being for nearly nine minutes until he's dead. Because the truth is, the officer who committed that murder should never have been on the police force in the first place nor should the officers who stood by and did nothing and effectively abetted the murder.
RW: How do you do that? How do you clear the ranks as it were?
AR: Well, part of the solution, as the legislature in Colorado and Congress are now considering is to end the doctrine of qualified immunity that shields police officers from misconduct. I support that step as well.
RW: I'd like to circle back to the economic recovery, assuming there is one, and it's connection, of course, to COVID-19. Why don't we go to a question from one of the other folks we met as part of our Voter Voices Project. This is Catherine Gray of Denver, registered Democrat, retired and active in the local theater scene.
Catherine Gray (tape): There are small businesses in my neighborhood. And I just look at this little storefronts, little mom and pop shops and I go, "They're going to die if they have to stay closed." I mean, I look at what it's doing to the restaurant industry. If we're going to offer governmental help and support, it should be going to the small, locally owned businesses. What kind of help can you offer? And I would prefer specifics as opposed to talking large philosophical concepts.
AR: So to Catherine's point, when I've talked to small businesses, small business owners, I've heard a lot of people frustrated because the Paycheck Protection Program doled out too many of the benefits to those at the top. I've talked to some small business owners, for example, who applied for loans on the very first day, and found instead that somebody else had beat them to the punch because they were bigger and better connected to the banks, the large banks that were responsible for allocating these dollars. So that's not acceptable to me.
RW: Though small banks did play a role.
AR: Right. I just - the playing field seems tilted against folks like Catherine. That's why her frustration I think it's justified. There's not a single simple solution here as we emerge from this pandemic and put our economy back to work. One thing that would help is to accelerate the round of testing, tracing, isolation, and treatment, as well as the development of a vaccine. So more people are more comfortable working and shopping and rejoining normal life.
I would also suggest that going back to normal isn't good enough, because the gap between rich and poor in America was already wider than at any point in a hundred years. So to me, at least, part of the economic recovery plan has to break with business as usual, and make it easier for small businesses to get ahead. We've talked a little bit about the cost of health care, which is burdening so many families and small businesses. I ran effectively a small business myself for the last four years, an organization with eighteen employees that was forced to saddle the cost of rising premiums each year because we didn't want to lose good employees.
There's a pull out of small business owners, majority of whom believe that relieving them from that responsibility by creating a universal single payer plan would be a better approach and more consistent with the economy. So that's one step I'd like to pursue as well.
RW: You mentioned the fight against COVID-19. We know that there has been a lack of personal protective equipment. Testing and vaccines are a large concern and goal, of course. Some experts say there'll be a supply issue there that you have to ramp up manufacturing, for instance, for a vaccine or a therapeutic equipment like syringes that need to be distributed. How do you think the country could gear up now to handle that?
AR: Well, I don't want to overlook the point about personal protective equipment because part of this gearing up has to take place yesterday. When you hear doctors and nurses and other healthcare heroes begging for the gowns, the gloves, the masks they need not just to protect themselves, but all of us, you think, "What a barbaric approach. We're sending you into harm's way without the tools you need to stay safe or to keep us safe."
RW: So you see lost time here?
AR: Well, clearly. And I want to make sure as we emerge from this pandemic, we don't find ourselves back in the same boat when the next outbreak hits. In fact, I'd like to take steps to make the next outbreak less likely. But you're right, we need to mobilize the nation's manufacturers and there's a role for small businesses here as well, to produce the sort of equipment that you just described.
And we should have been quicker to utilize the Defense Production Act for that purpose. I also happen to believe that the workers who are taking on these risks now deserve hazard pay. Not just protective equipment, but time off of work. I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a young woman who works at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley. She's a brisket trimmer.
RW: This is where there has been an outbreak.
AR: Exactly, and deaths. So, Crystal, the woman's name, joined me along with a meat cutter from a local grocery store and a member of the union, United Food and Commercial Workers to talk about the conditions they were subjected to. Because while the president branded meat packing is essential, he forgot to include the employees themselves and their ability to survive, literally, just to come home at the end of the day, after working so that we can eat. That ability is jeopardized, both by a company that shortchanges their protection and by policies that fail to guarantee it as well. When we talked earlier about the role of law enforcement, part of that has to include funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
AR: Because the truth is, nobody should be subjected to unsafe conditions. And too many Americans are.
RW: As we head towards the end of the conversation, I just want to note that you've talked about canceling rents, even freezing mortgages as the state and the country recover from this. Is that a role Congress should play nationally? And what would be the implications for property owners?
AR: To your first point, this is the sort of policy that a number of local governments and states are considering. And that's where most of the authority lies. And part of that means if property owners are facing their own costs, because they still have mortgages to pay off of the buildings they're renting or leasing, you can build those payments into the back end of the mortgage or cancel them themselves.
So like, this is not going to be easy. What I'm suggesting to you, Ryan, is that this is an extraordinary time in American history. And we're going to look back generations from now and ask whether we did enough to protect the families who are struggling and suffering and to reduce the death toll. We're either going look like Herbert Hoover, who plainly failed to do enough, or we'll take a lesson from FDR. Not a perfect president by any means, but at least someone who summoned the courage of the American people to meet this threat head on. We need bold leadership, not just in the White House, but at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue as well.
RW: Andrew Romanoff, thank you for being with us.
AR: Thanks, Ryan.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to clarify Romanoff's position on funding for the police and his views of ICE.
You are one of the CPR readers who wants to know what is really going on these days. We can help you keep up - The Lookout is a free, daily email newsletter with news and happenings from all over Colorado. Sign up here and we will see you in the morning!