We tend to get locked into our political arguments and in so doing paint a one dimensional portrait of our opponents as evil Sith lords who, if only they would listen to our arguments, would realize that we are right and what they propose is wrong. And then you talk to them in detail and…
Senator Brophy is a an intelligent, thoughtful guy with a strong understanding of the issues the state faces. He also speaks directly to the issues giving clear answers, and then the details as to why – something I think is highly commendable in an elected official. So while I strongly disagree with the Senator on a number of fundamental issues, I also appreciate having him in the legislature because we want strong, intelligent, thoughtful voices from both sides to craft the best legislation. We get that with Greg Brophy.
The other thing that came through loud and clear throughout the interview is that he loves this. And what I think he loves most of all is the war of ideas that occurs. He also likes crafting the legislation to make the state run better – he knows the details and talks well about them. But he really likes working through the philosophical basis about how to resolve issues. If the legislature had an overwhelming Republican majority I think Greg would be miserable – no discussions of basic political philosophy.
So on to the interview…
We started with what brought Greg Brophy into politics. There's always multiple things but to him the key item was when the state brought in some additional pesticide regulation and he saw that as increased work & expense for the farmers – but that nothing useful came out of it. My guess is this keeps him focused on minimizing the government's impact on business. (As a business owner, I do appreciate this focus.)
I asked for an example of a bill where the GOP is working with us Dems on a bill, and while they won't like the final bill, they will have a better bill because they worked on it rather than just opposed it. He had an immediate answer – the PERA bill. He sees it as a much better bill because of the efforts from his side. He sees the final bill they voted out as a good (not great) solution. His effort is also indicative of his taking his job seriously.
(He also thinks this will be one of the most visible bills this session because it's so important. I disagree – because they have crafted a good bill in a bipartisan manner, there's no conflict, there's no concern, and it will quietly be passed. When everything goes smoothly – there's no news value.)
He also thinks the medical marijuana bill will be a bipartisan effort. (This one, even if it gets a unanimous vote in the legislature, will be in the newspaper. Sex & drugs always sells papers.)
I next asked what will be the major GOP accomplishment this session. Senator Brophy's reply was interesting – "to establish that there is a significant difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to a philosophy towards fiscal stability …"
Major editorial aside: This response is key to what I think hurts the GOP and hurts the state. You do nothing for the state when your contribution is "well we would have done it differently." And you do not sell yourself to the electorate when you say that you're not going to play if you don't get to rule the roost. If Greg's reply was "a major thing demonstrated in the course of their accomplishments" – great. The GOP needs to view accomplishments as doing, not posing. (Yes I'm being harsh here – but I think this is a key issue the GOP needs to address.)
I pushed back asking for a specific piece of legislation that will occur because of GOP efforts. He first brought up the good point that being in the minority, they don't get to move the dial a lot. And he then used the example of school choice. We discussed that some and Greg does think he could get it through the Senate (if he can get it to the floor), but that it would die in the house. (I think that would still be a major accomplishment – changes like that tend to require a couple of attempts.)
I then asked about the party-line votes on the two recent appointments. He said in the case of Mr. Martin that his vote was a vote against the continuation of the present course of the administration and that he thinks the present course has been disastrous for his district (and a lot of the rest of the state). He does see it as the Governor's appointments and so that does not mean he needs to agree with the appointees – but that he does need to register his disagreement with the approach.
Now here's the interesting part – on the 2nd appointment, Greg said "there are about five votes in my legislative career I wish I had back." I think it speaks very well of Senator Brophy that he stated he made a mistake and he would have voted for her. (Note to both sides, when you have a contentious appointment – send them up to the Senate ALONE.)
We next discussed the education bill that was quickly passed, including the lack of tenure reform. On the issue of tenure reform he saw that as too contentious an issue to jam through fast, regardless of the reason. This is an interesting answer as Brophy clearly supports tenure reform. (While he spoke mostly about how it would not be fair to all the parties interested in this to do it quickly, I wonder if there was more to it than that.)
We then got in to why he opposed the bill that was passed. Greg Brophy is 100% philosophically opposed to federal involvement in education. He believes that this absolutely should be the purvey of the states. That philosophical opposition is why he voted against a bill that he by and large agrees with. (Ok Dems, here's the secret to bringing Senator Brophy onboard on issues like this. Pull any mention of the federal government out of the bill and say "we all have different reasons for why we support the bill – but the bill itself is a good thing." You do this right and you will have his support.)
As he opposes federal involvement in things like this, I asked what about bringing 3.2 beer back for 18 year olds. He loves that idea. Senator Brophy says there is a lot of thought going in to changing this, but it's being done quietly because many people are opposed.
I next asked about the increase in Higher Ed costs. I postulated that the only difference between C.U. when I went there and today when my daughters go to CSU, is that you can now get mocha frapachinos and wireless on campus – yet costs have increased way beyond inflation. He agreed. But he took it further saying "in Higher Ed and in K-12, and for that matter in Medicaid we are on an unsustainable path." (This is a hard truth that a lot of people, especially on the left, do not want to acknowledge. We can't increase the costs of anything beyond the rate of inflation indefinitely.)
Greg also brings up the very good point that the Universities are run by and exist to benefit the faculty. And that K-12 is run by and exists to benefit the teachers union (and its members). I asked about how the legislature can address this and to sum up Senator Brophy's response – the budget cuts will starve the beast and return it to a sustainable level. (I was going to challenge him on this – that the legislature should be more proactive. But I then considered that these are very large organizations that should be able to manage themselves responsibly. And so telling them in essence "physician, heal thyself" is a fair way to approach this.)
I then asked what the legislature had done to increase jobs in our state. His answer – "damn little." He then discussed the "job destruction" he has seen come out of the legislature and administration. His first was oil & gas and like everyone else he had the stats that backed up his opinion. (The statistics available on oil & gas work are dependent on so many externalities that you can make them say anything.) He then jumped in to the administration focusing on fining businesses that didn't do something right rather than focusing on correcting their behavior. He brings up the very fair point that a business fined 50K then probably hires one less additional employee. (One nice thing about being a software company – very few government rules & regulations touch us.)
Next was TABOR, amendment 23, Ref-C, etc. I asked "are we better off that ref-C passes?" Senator Brophy answered "yes." He later, several times, discussed in passing the horrible train wreck we would be in if it had not passed. He also spoke of the problems in the constitution specifically 23 and "there is a ratcheting problem in TABOR." (For those on the right ready to get the pitchforks & torches – he's being honest and facing reality.) With that, he also discussed how what he predicted as what would happen with Ref C, did happen – that it merely put off resolving the rate of growth in state programs.
I then asked about my pet idea – you eliminate all fiscal restraints in the constitution and replace it with one that limits total state receipts to X% of the state GDP averaged over the previous 3 years. And that X% could be changed at any time by a ballot initiative. He had a couple of interesting comments on this. First that he wants government to be shrinking over time – that it should do what is needed, but nothing more. He used the example that we only spend half as much on food today as we did 40 years ago. What's interesting here is he's not talking about the state doing less, he's talking about the state doing its job more efficiently.
He found the idea intriguing (I told you he's a thoughtful guy!). When I pointed out that every election there could be an initiative to change the rate, his comment was "Doug Bruce would be back every year trying to lower it." But he did like the idea that as the state became more efficient, a lower rate could be put on the ballot.
Next I asked for a program he would like to end. He immediately replied Medicaid – he would like to privatize it. And in the process drastically shrink the funds the state puts in to the effort. (I don't know squat about Medicaid so I didn't ask follow-on questions here.)
He brought up an interesting idea next about eliminating state restaurant inspections and instead setting up something like the eBay rating system where individuals report on the restaurants. In that way you would have an ongoing large scale review. And get the restaurant association to set it up. I don't know if this would work, but I am leery of the restaurants setting up the system so I suggested if he proposed that in a bill – he suggest ProgressNow as the group to set up the system (partially because quite a few heads would explode if Senator Greg Brophy proposed ProgressNow to run anything).
I then asked about the creative destruction that is presently occurring in our economy (I call it the Craigslist effect). He sees this as an incredible powerful good effect long-term (he's right). He also calls out how this is identical to what happened when we got mechanized agriculture. But on mitigating the collateral damage that occurs in this transformation, he sees online higher ed as a gigantic help, but that's about it. (I don't know what else the state can do to help in this – but I sure wish someone would come up with something.)
Greg has a very detailed nuanced view of how society has evolved, how the acceleration of change has impacted civilization, how the market drives improvement and innovation. Summing this up would be a whole other article so if you want to hear Professor Brophy, listen to the audio starting about 50:00 – very interesting.
I next asked about the infamous Three Initiatives. He says he wants to read them first (what a concept) but thinks he will ultimately be against them.
This then also got into a discussion of the state impacting the market and how best to tax. Again a lot in there but the one point I want to call out is Brophy favors sales tax only (no income tax) so that profit is reinvested. And if there is an income tax, that it's flat. (This is where I fundamentally disagree as I favor a progressive income tax and no sales tax. However, that does not mean that Greg Brophy is wrong or stupid or evil – it's that we disagree on what is the least hurtful means to extract government money from the economy.)
When then talked about the future of newspapers. He had some very interesting points but like the rest of us, is unsure how it will turn out. He definitely sees the need for an avenue that makes enough money that it can afford to pay quality journalists full-time. He also at this time said one of the scariest things I ever heard – he listens to Rush Limbaugh's podcasts (just recalling that still sends shivers down my spine).
So there you go. Greg Brophy comes from the right but does so in a thoughtful open-minded way. Yes he's partisan (politics is a contact sport) but he's also trying to figure out how to move the state forward. And his disagreement with the Dems is mostly over how to achieve goals, not what the goals should be. It's a lot easier to work with someone where you both want to get to the same place.
podcast: Greg Brophy interview podcast