In the classic Adam's Rib Spencer Tracy plays a D.A. and Katherine Hepburn plays an attorney. You know that Spencer Tracy is a Republican (old school) where the law is the law. And you know Katherine Hepburn is a Democrat where the situation and background are as important as the law. Ken Buck is a D.A. through and through and comes across like Spencer Tracy in Adam's Rib – including the likability.
This had to be my fastest request to interview ever. I emailed Ken yesterday and got a call this morning. We ended up meeting at a McDonalds (you deserve a break today) along I-25. (And because I was already at work with no interview scheduled, I was dressed very casually.) He's definitely enjoying the campaign so far – very relaxed and low key.
Most unexpected part of the interview – Ryan Frazier's name was never brought up by him. I brought it up a couple of times in questions and he always responded more generally. He compared himself to Michael Bennet some. He compared himself to "Democrats" a bit more. But mostly he compared himself to the way things have been run "for some time." He did not single Republican policy out as a problem so much as he would say there was plenty of blame to go around and both parties had gotten us in to this mess.
So what does Ken want to bring to Washington? His core desire is to bring the interrelated elements of lower spending, less government, a balanced budget, and more freedom. And this combined thread came up time and time again as he was discussing issues. But here's the amazing thing – he was willing to discuss specifics and to do so honestly. It wasn't cut waste, fraud and a vague un-needed programs. Instead he discussed…
That our military should be used for protecting the security of the United States – and that's it. So if military action is needed to protect our country, and only in that case, we then go to war. As he says, this drastically reduces the military budget and that is a substantial savings. He was also adamant that when this is necessary, it requires a declaration of war by the Congress. This was probably the most emotional part of the conversation where he eloquently laid out why this is required by the constitution and is necessary to restrict our actions to true military threats. And on this he's both right (the constitution requires it) and correct (we will be better served by following the law).
He then discussed healthcare. On this he talked quite a bit about bringing efficiencies to the system. That led to a discussion about a really interesting software system they are about to take live up in Weld County that ties together everyone from the DMV to every police force with jurisdiction up there, the courts, DA, etc so that everything moves through the legal process electronically with all needed information tied to it. What's interesting here is he drove this improvement and so he comes at this as someone who knows in his gut the improvements that we can bring about in healthcare.
I asked about systemic changes other than improved I.T. for healthcare and he discussed some of the issues, but did not push a specific solution other than to say single payer was not the answer and we do need to keep it in the private sphere. I think this is reasonable as this is a really hard problem and I'm glad to see he doesn't trot out some simplistic pabulum. He did bring up the example of the hospital up in Greeley that opened an urgent care center next to the E.R. so that people who come to the E.R. as their primary care can be directed to urgent care (which is a lot cheaper) if that was sufficient. This again goes to his response which is pointing to specific working solution.
He also volunteered that we do need healthcare for everyone – that it basically has come to be seen as a right and as such we need to come up with a way to make sure everyone has insurance. What is really interesting about this is repeatedly in Ken's comments it was clear that he sees a necessary and needed role for government. It's a smaller role than a lot of us on the other side of the aisle prefer, but he does not want to shrink the government down to nothing.
He mentioned immigration in passing so I then asked him if he thought it would be a major issue and he got a pained look on his face. He then talked at length about how his job is enforcing the law and it was not a liberal vs. conservative thing but much more trying to reduce the rampant identity theft Weld County faces. This is clearly a sensitive topic for him – I think in large degree because he feels his motivation is misunderstood.
He then discussed what we need to do. He would like to see us permanently fix the problem with a law that brings in the people we need so there is no great incentive to sneak in. I mentioned that the country seems to go nuts about this every 16 – 18 years and his observation was we keep creating a band-aid that lasts for 16 – 18 years and he wants to see a permanent fix. And on the topic of will it matter in the election, he doesn't think it will (I agree).
We talked about the economic mess and he started off with the "selling houses to people that can't afford them" (which is a tertiary issue at best). But when I asked if that was it he said no and then dove into the lax regulation and selling things like CDOs in ways that made no sense. He said that numerous people up in Greeley repeatedly told him that New Frontier bank had to go under the way they were operating, yet apparently the FDIC missed what was so obvious to the business leaders in Greeley. That definitely was a major screw-up.
He also was very direct about the greed on the part of bankers and others in the system that ran the system for their own personal profit. He definitely sees the full picture here and talks directly to all of it. (And hey, it's not like we Dems don't ever order problems based on politics rather than order of magnitude.)
So then we discussed how he would have like to see the crash handled. And this was refreshing. For the car companies, have them go through bankruptcy. As he said, if they cannot be profitable we can shut them down now, or we can shut them down in 5 years after spending hundreds of billions. But the end result is the same. And if they can be made profitable, then bankruptcy will get them there.
On the banks, if they are underwater, have the FDIC take them over, clean them up, and sell them. Again, he sees it that we can do it now, or we can do it in 5 years. And truth to tell, do any of us think Citi will do any better after they know that the government will always step in and rescue them and their stockholders? So on this issue we have Ken Buck in agreement with Paul Krugman (it's a weird world right now).
He also discussed working to find common ground. He brought up a number of specifics such as at least having Education money go straight to the local school boards rather than through the Dept of Education. So he gets the feds out of what he thinks should be a local issue. And the money remains. He was also upfront that he would prefer the federal government not even be involved in this (that whole less spending/balanced budget thing). There were 5 or 6 items where he hit it like this.
At the end I asked him if he could have one bill passed what would it be and he said a requirement to balance the budget. But again his full response was indicative of the fact that Ken is not into simplistic answers. I asked if that had to be a constitutional amendment and he said probably to actually work, but clearly would prefer to do it via statute if that would work. He also added that there should be an out for war and other major problems where a 60% override would allow for deficits. And he stated that 60% could be met with the current congress, but still the exception was needed. He definitely looks at how best to structure the system, not what will work best today for political advantage.
What I find really interesting about Ken is he's one of the top 2 GOP candidates for the Senate and while both nationwide and in Colorado we see a lot of far-right posturing and speeches, Ken is a candidate that is thoughtful, open-minded, and dare I say it without destroying his chances in the primary – moderate. And he speaks directly to the issues with a willingness to discuss all the causes. Definitely a candidate the GOP can be proud of.