Republican state Rep. Ron Hanks is focused on immigration, voting security and abortion in U.S. Senate primary

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ron Hanks speaks at a Western Conservative Summit forum on Friday, June 3, 2022.

America is facing problems on multiple fronts, according to Ron Hanks. Energy independence, national security and inflation are issues he says he’s ready to help fix by being elected to the United States Senate.

Hanks, currently a member of the Colorado House of Representatives from Fremont County, is running in the June 28 Republican primary against Joe O’Dea

During Colorado’s last legislative session, Hanks said he made election integrity a priority, sponsoring bills to limit voting to in-person and only on Election Day. He also wanted to reduce the use of electronic voting machines. Another of his bills would have required ballots to be printed on paper specialized with features he said would prevent fraud.

Amid a national conversation by the conservative GOP base decrying the results of the 2020 Presidential election, Hanks has taken up the mantle of that movement’s standard-bearer, former President Donald J. Trump. He was in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021 and said the events of the day were part of a peaceful rally of patriot Americans raising concerns about the future of the government. 

Hanks advocated for prosecution of anyone who could be proven to have caused damage inside the U.S. Capitol. He added that part of the blame should be assigned to the police, “who did perhaps the worst event control I have ever seen for a major event.”  

In a wide-ranging interview with Colorado Matters co-host Chandra Thomas Whitfield, Hanks went on to say that no one person should be held up for “hero worship,” including Trump. He added that should the former President offer an endorsement to his campaign, he would gratefully accept it.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Chandra Thomas Whitfield: Welcome Representative Hanks.

Rep. Ron Hanks: Thank you, Chandra. Glad to spend a little bit of time with you today.

Whitfield: No Colorado Republican has held a statewide office since 2019, with the exception of University of Colorado regent, Heidi Ganahl. Democrats hold both U.S. Senate seats and the offices of Governor, Attorney General, State Treasurer and Secretary of State. Why are you the person who will convince Colorado voters to go red?

Rep. Hanks: That's an interesting question because I've never really looked at the situation in the way you framed it. I think we are in the worst national security crisis that I have seen in my adult lifetime. As you may know, Chandra, I started in the Air Force, right out of high school, and I put in 32 years as an intel analyst and researcher. Including all of that time as an adult, I've never seen a worse situation from a national security perspective. And now we have an inflation disaster and an energy crisis, a recession on the way, and frankly, I think the voters of Colorado are going to realize that the Democrats aren't doing this right. They aren't doing us any justice.

People’s personal income is stagnating, and frankly, stagflation could be on the horizon and people's discretionary income is waning. We put family budgets in a real ditch here with leadership and [the] direction we've gone in. I think people will be ready for a change, certainly by November.

Whitfield: What do you mean by a “national security crisis”?

Rep. Hanks: I look at the border as a national security crisis. It is stressing our social systems and causing inflation and high crime to have two-and-a-half million unvetted people coming across our border. We have Chinese fentanyl coming across our Southern border that is not being secured, and that fentanyl is killing people in record numbers. Then we have the human trafficking and the sex trade trafficking of perhaps as high as 60,000 people that have been brought across the border. That truly is a moral tragedy of our current times, in my view.

Editor’s Note: According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, “The Department of State estimates that in 2016, 57,700 victims had been trafficked into the U.S. annually. The true number is likely much larger and impossible to determine.”

It’s not clear if these victims (which would be higher in 2022 compared to 2016) are all entering the U.S through the southern border.

Rep. Hanks, continued: We had energy independence until Joe Biden showed up; On the first day, he destroyed that. As you may know, Chandra, I worked in the oil fields. I fracked in North Dakota while we were building toward energy independence. What we have now is unsustainable. The fuel prices that are running up the inflation on everything that Americans consume is completely unsustainable.

Whitfield: Looking at your run for Senate, what do you intend to do about these issues you described?

Rep. Hanks: We finish building the wall. I went down there in 2018, and again in 2021. I had just retired from the Air Force, and I felt like we weren't getting the full story of what was happening on the border. I went down there in 2018. I started in El Paso and drove every point-of-entry road and along the border until I got to Yuma, Arizona. I went back in 2021 and there was more wall up. It's about 22-feet-high of the steel balusters with plate steel at the top, but we weren't building it anymore. There was a lot of wall sections laying on its side; We could stand [those balusters up] in a minute and re-empower border patrol to arrest, detain and return.

[Border Patrol officers] are referring everybody back to their headquarters or their field office for any questions. I can see they have been demoralized and we have taken away their mission; We need to re-empower Border Patrol. 

As far as energy independence, that's an easy fix. That lands squarely on the shoulders of blue collar America to fix.

As I have mentioned in this campaign, I fracked up in North Dakota. I hammered iron with blue collar America. It's going to be up to them to fix it. What we need to do is get the federal government out of the way and start signing permits, and opening up the oil leases. Once the drilling companies and the fracking companies fully understand that the government's not going to get in the way and shut them down again, the oil production can come back in a matter of months and that will drive inflation down almost instantly.

Whitfield: Are these things you would do as Senator?

Rep. Hanks: These are things I would push forward on, yes. If we have a conservative victory in November — which, given the economic disasters that we currently face, we ought to. We should have influence enough to bring to bear the opening up of the oil fields. We're going to need that energy, Chandra, because we ought to be bringing American manufacturing back to the United States; We have off-shored way too much of it. And again, that's a national security risk. We are at the mercy of the foreign producers and countries that might wish to impact our supply chain, either through blockades or interdictions. And frankly, it would be good for America. Good-paying blue collar jobs in the United States, once again.

The final pillar of my strategy is education: Our kids are being indoctrinated, not educated. They are being taught that this is not an exceptional country, and I believe that we need to teach them once again, the values of this great country. To that end, as a U.S. Senator, I would work to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education.

Whitfield: How would you go about doing that?

Rep. Hanks: The Senate and the House obviously have the power of the purse strings. What we have been doing is completely inappropriate, as far as passing omnibus spending bills and continuing resolutions, and doing these emergency spending efforts that are questionable and certainly inflationary. So, the House and Senate should work the budget to bring the Department of Education to zero.

Whitfield: Let's turn now to the issue of gun control. It's an issue that is proven to be of immense importance to a lot of Colorado voters. You have previously described yourself as a staunch defender of the Second Amendment who is against any restrictions on gun purchases or possession of firearms. What is your policy on guns?

Rep. Hanks: I think you've stated it inaccurately, Chandra, right from the start. My record is clear: Felons and those judged dangerous by a lawful process should not be allowed to have firearms. However, the average American should have their Second Amendment rights without restriction from the Federal Government. One of the worries we have now is with the red flag law that the Senate appears to be drafting. Somehow they have managed to get 10 or 11 so-called Republicans onto the bills so far, which I find remarkable that anybody would sign up to be a sponsor on something they haven't seen, but that's what they're doing. Those are problematic bills and the improper way to be looking at the Second Amendment.

It sounds like a dangerous direction to me. That's why I would encourage Colorado conservatives and defenders of the Second Amendment to look very closely at their Republican options in this primary. I can tell you that my record at the statehouse as a defender of the Second Amendment — and including a bill this session for constitutional carry — ought to weigh heavily on the minds of those that are concerned about their Second Amendment rights.

Whitfield: Colorado, of course, has not been immune to gun violence. We recently spoke with Sandy Phillips whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. Phillips said, “It's very frustrating because we know that when we had an assault weapons ban in place, we didn't have the same amount of mass shootings that we have now. We know that this is a country that is far and beyond any other civilized country in the world when it comes to gun deaths overall.” What is your reaction to her comments?

Rep. Hanks: I don't think her facts are correct. Her numbers are correct, but she's certainly suffered a loss and I am sorry for that, but I don't think she's got the data points correct. That being said, we have a serious crime problem in this country, and it has only gotten worse in the last two years. Frankly, there are many people out there that believe that they should have the right to defend themselves, their families and their homes. What we ought to be focusing on is reducing the crime and not reducing people's ability to defend themselves from it.

Editor’s Note: Hanks is correct that the U.S is not number one in the world when it comes to gun deaths overall. According to Pew Research Center it’s high for developed countries 

“The U.S. gun death rate was 10.6 per 100,000 people in 2016, the most recent year in the study, which used a somewhat different methodology from the CDC. That was far higher than in countries such as Canada (2.1 per 100,000) and Australia (1.0), as well as European nations such as France (2.7), Germany (0.9) and Spain (0.6). But the rate in the U.S. was much lower than in El Salvador (39.2 per 100,000 people), Venezuela (38.7), Guatemala (32.3), Colombia (25.9) and Honduras (22.5), the study found. Overall, the U.S. ranked 20th in its gun fatality rate that year.” 

Whitfield: Just to be clear, what are your thoughts about an assault weapons ban?

Rep. Hanks: I would oppose an assault weapons ban. And by the way, that's really a term that has no definition; It's more of a moniker put on by society and a media that doesn't quite know what it's talking about. Semiautomatic rifles are one thing, a full-automatic military weapon can look very much the same, but they are different pieces of equipment. So when they say “assault weapons ban,” it's a useful marshmallow term for those that don't really know what they're talking about.

Whitfield: Recently, the Congressional hearings looking into the January 6th rally in Washington, D.C. has been in the news. You were there that day at the protest, which ended in a melee with protestors storming the nation's Capitol. Since then, more than 800 people have been charged with breaching the Capitol, a number of them, including supporters of former president Donald J. Trump, have pleaded guilty. You are a vocal supporter of Trump. How do you view those who overran the police presence and entered the very epicenter of the American government? Should they be prosecuted?

Rep. Hanks: Well, once again, you have mischaracterized the entire event. What I would say in response is there were at least a million concerned patriotic Americans that formed in Washington, D.C. in a peaceful rally to voice concerns and to see what was going to happen next with their government. We met some remarkable people when we went out there; That was an event that occurred between the White House and the Washington Monument. There was, at about 1:00 p.m., supposed to be a second event on the East side of the U.S. Capitol by the Supreme Court building. As people made their way up there — and we were among them that walked straight up the grass mall — we noticed by the time we got there — and we were reasonably quick about it, even though it was cold and everybody was pretty stiff after standing for seven hours. But, a little surprising to see people up on the scaffolding. So, we went around to the East side where the next event was supposed to be. At that point, probably within 40 minutes, I would say, there started to be reports of some events on the inside that were extremely unclear to any of us that were waiting for the next event.

But, I will also say, Chandra: the police that were there did perhaps the worst event control I have ever seen for a major event. I say that as a man with 32 years of military service; A lot of it was in physical security, force protection and threat assessment reporting. 

I remember looking at them trying to make eye contact to see if they were going to do any type of crowd control. They were standing behind their vehicles with their arms crossed [and] talking to one another, completely ignoring it. I guess, Donald Trump offered up quite a few thousands of National Guard troops for the day, and it was refused.

Editor’s Note: According to the Washington Post, “Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said officials checked the records after Trump’s remarks about ordering 10,000 National Guard troops. ‘We have no record of such an order being given,’ Kirby told The Fact Checker.”

Whitfield: Let me just interject real quick here. Let's talk about those folks. There were, in your view, millions of those who gathered peacefully, but what about those who did not? They breached security, went inside the buildings. What would you call those people? And should they be prosecuted for those actions?

Rep. Hanks: As I started to say, I think anybody who went into the Capitol was ill-advised to do so, just on a common sense approach.

Whitfield: Who were they ill-advised by?

Rep. Hanks: What I am saying is, it was not a good idea for them, and common sense should have prevailed that they should not do something like that. I'll tell you why. It's one of the bigger events in history: the certification or non-certification of an election that was very contentious. Frankly, for the police to have allowed anybody to enter was the first flaw that I could see. But I think anybody that was allowed to enter and did, made a fundamental error in judgment because we've all been to public events. Even at a concert, you don't get to go inside doors and back doors, and if you do, you would have to expect that ultimately you're going to be in the wrong place.

Editor’s note: Both in court findings and in the House committee's hearings on the events of Jan. 6th, it has been proven that the 2020 election was accurate and secure, and Joe Biden is the elected president.

Whitfield: In your view, were those who were not gathered peacefully and who entered the building driven by statements from President Trump that the election had been stolen?

Rep. Hanks: Well, I can't speak to the motives of anybody other than myself. What I can say about those people that were climbing the scaffolding is that they hadn't been standing there among us with their skateboards and backpacks and elbow pads and knee pads and that sort of thing. We did have reports of people coming in on the Metro from Virginia. So it looked to us that there were people coming in that were not part of the first event that became part of the Capitol effort.

Whitfield: I want to make sure that this is clear. Should those who breached security and went inside the nation's Capitol be prosecuted?

Rep. Hanks: Well, that's where I was headed before the couple of interjected questions — you put a number of 800 people that have been prosecuted. I don't know if your numbers are accurate or not, but fundamentally, I think anybody that went inside was ill-advised if they did any damage. We ought to be able to capture that off of the video from all the different angles — then they ought to be prosecuted — but that is a public building that we hold in high regard. I have no respect for anybody that has taken a bat or a stick to paintings or statues or whatever damage might have occurred. I do think that anybody that there's evidence that they have done something wrong ought to be prosecuted.

However, at the same time, Chandra, what I might also say is we have a lot of people that seem to be held without due process and that's problematic, as well. Frankly, that ought to be a bigger part of the story: either they did something and they should be prosecuted, or they didn't do anything and they should be released. That's one of the fundamental problems I have with this whole issue, as it continues to drag on into the months ahead. I don't think that subcommittee hearing is capturing much interest, at least in the TV ratings, but I think the election integrity concerns still are.

Editor’s Note: According to The Washington Post, the defendants are being jailed pending trial at lower rates than federal defendants nationwide charged with similar offenses. The people being held pending trial are those charged with the most serious offenses.

Additionally, the House committee hearings on the events of Jan. 6th have each garnered viewers in the tens of millions, according to The New York Times.

Whitfield: You sponsored a bill in the State Legislature this past session that, with limited exceptions, would have eliminated mail-in balloting. The measure you backed also would have required voting to take place only on Election Day, and would require that ballots be counted by hand. Some would argue that those changes limit access to voting for many Coloradans. Why do you believe those measures would benefit Colorado voters?

Rep. Hanks: I think voters have very little confidence in their voting systems and based on what we have seen, and the evidence provided by multiple sources, they ought to have very little confidence. One of the comprehensive bills — I actually did two bills this legislative session on election integrity and cleaning the voter rolls — certainly ought to be part of our overall process. The mail-out balloting may be acceptable, provided that there are anti-counterfeit measures on the ballot. That's one thing: you could mail those out, but it is appropriate for people to bring them back in in-person and provide an ID. These drop boxes I think are fundamentally insecure. I also think that the multiple-day balloting allows for intrusion and the potential for vote counting.

I've mentioned this about the laptops used with the Dominion Systems that are made by Dell: they're made in China with foreign workers using off-the-shelf parts that are not secured like we secure our equipment and supplies to build a communication satellite or a navigation satellite. And they ought to be, because voting is the most sacred right of any American citizen. Any false ballot, any unlawful vote disenfranchises — all of us. This ought to be the most bipartisan issue in the legislature. 

And, of course, it is the state legislature's job to be proactive because it's their responsibility to handle elections, not the federal governments. The bills that I put forth were put forth in several states. I think they work as a benchmark for future general assemblies and legislatures to look at them.

Editor’s Note: There is no evidence that the state’s drop boxes have been breached or that the state has widespread fraud in its election system. That’s according to hand counts, audits, and machine tallies that match the paper ballot trails. 

Dominion Voting Systems is headquartered in Denver and supplies election equipment to most of the counties in the state. The company has been at the epicenter of false claims that its machines switched votes from President Trump to Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Dominion has filed a number of defamation lawsuits against pro-Trump media outlets and allies for their role in pushing these false claims.

Whitfield: Colorado has long been considered a purple state. You are known as a very vocal Trump supporter, but there are those nationally and locally who say it's time to move on from him. That seems to encapsulate what some call “a battle for control of the GOP.” On your website, you say the conflict is part of the "Long running rift between the Colorado Republican grassroots conservatives and the small, but influential Republican party leadership in Colorado." Should the party move on from Trump?

Rep. Hanks: I don't think anybody should be an iconic cult figure, like a Lenin or a Stalin or Hugo Chavez or Castro. Donald Trump did some remarkable things under some very difficult circumstances, but I don't think anybody should hero-worship. And I don't think anybody should hang all their hopes on one man. The man is 74-years-old. He has the right to do whatever he wants to do in the future. If he were to run in 2024, that's his prerogative. If he chooses not to, I think he has earned that right. So, the idea of moving on from Trump, in the sense that he doesn't have to do [anything more], he's done plenty in the effort here. I would salute him and congratulate him in his retirement.

Whitfield: Now, let me ask you this, since we're talking about him, have you or any member of your campaign ever asked former President Trump for an endorsement in your race?

Rep. Hanks: No, but if we were offered one, I would accept it gratefully. Right now, I don't know if that's even viable or who is handling his endorsements. 

The previous question was on the establishment. I think there is a big rift in this Republican party about who ought to be in control of it. The establishment has held it for a very long time. And I have got to tell you, Chandra, my campaign is built off of concerned, patriotic Americans that are worried about the direction of their country.

I think the establishment is concerned that their positions are in jeopardy. I think a lot of these people that are in the establishment appreciate being the loyal opposition and the paid, old guard punditry, but they really haven't produced or provided anything. 

That is part of the reason there's so many unaffiliated [voters] in Colorado: the Republican party has offered them nothing except emails asking for money, so that they can be a member of an organization that doesn't do anything for them. It doesn't take a lot to figure out why somebody wouldn't want to be a member of that organization.

Whitfield: Let's talk about abortion. You have stated that you believe life begins at conception and that you have described abortion as “murder.” Tell us, what is your stance on abortion?

Rep. Hanks: I am pro-life, and frankly, that is a major decision point for the Republican party this year. I'm pro-life, my opponent is not. The issue has become a larger issue because of the alleged leak, or presumed leak, of the Alito draft to overturn Roe v. Wade. I don't think it would have been as high of an issue on the chart had it not been for that, but we don't get to pick the issues that we run on. My opponent says he doesn't want to run on social issues. Well, here's one, and we're going to have to talk about it. I'm pro-life, he's not. Life begins at conception, and the world, and the science and the medical advancements have made young babies viable — fetuses, if you prefer — viable at an ever-younger age. 

It's a horrible form of birth control, wouldn't you say? We ought to be not using abortion as a method of convenience when there's so many other options. Because once you've got something with a heartbeat, that's a grim moral tragedy that we're imposing on an innocent being.

Whitfield: In the last legislative session, you were one of the Republicans who filibustered into the night against the bill to enshrine abortion rights into law and expressed disappointment at the idea of the state being a so-called “safe haven” for those seeking abortions. How will you convince Colorado voters to change their minds?

Rep. Hanks: Well, a safe haven is one way of looking at it. I would say it turns Colorado into a destination location. I think people have — given the opportunity to discuss this widely in Colorado, and across the nation, at the state level — really bring home to bear what we are doing with abortion. Frankly, it's an unnecessary procedure when we could be looking at adoption. There are so many forms of birth control, and [Colorado] being a destination location for abortions up to the day of birth is really disgraceful to me, and actually morally deplorable. 

As we noted in that House argument, everyone deserves a birthday, and that was the longest floor battle in Colorado history. I'm pretty proud of being a soldier in the fight for life, because abortion is not the answer we need.

Editor’s note: An Associated Press fact check found that abortions in the third trimester “are extremely rare” and “typically occur because of a signficant fetal abnormality.” Abortions late in pregnancy typically happen through induced labor, not surgical abortion, and happen when a fetus has a low probability of survival. 

Whitfield: I would like to ask you something on the lighter side, as we close. We're asking candidates to share the name of a book that they're currently reading, or one they have read that had a great impact on their life. What would that be for you?

Rep. Hanks: Well, I guess the one that's nearby is “Tools of Titans.” I think it is an interesting story about people's work through their lives with different efficiencies and little different processes.

Whitfield: Representative Hanks, thank you for joining us today.

Rep. Hanks: Well, thank you, Chandra, and have a good day.