This is the second Q&A in what we hope make be an ongoing feature here at Colorado Pols. We have asked State Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Mike Coffman 11 questions, and he has agreed to check in throughout the day to answer your questions. You can read the Q&A from Marc Holtzman, the other Republican candidate in the race, by clicking HERE. Be sure to check back next Tuesday, Feb. 22, when State Democratic Party Chair Chris Gates will be answering questions.
To ask a question of Mike Coffman, click on the COMMENT link at the end of this post, and Mike will check in throughout the day to answer as many as he can.
We only ask that you keep in mind two things:
1. Please be courteous. This is a great opportunity to be able to directly ask questions of a candidate for the biggest office in Colorado, and whether or not you agree with Mike or like his policies, please be courteous and respectful.
2. Remember that we’re more than 18 months away from the November 2006 elections. We can’t expect any candidate to have a fully articulated plan on any issue this far out, so try to stick to questions that are fair to ask him to answer TODAY. If this were October 2006, it would be a different story. But it’s not.
And so, without further ado, 11 Questions with Mike Coffman. Answers are completely unedited.
1. You’ve had opportunities to run for higher office before (Congress, in the 6th and 7th districts, and U.S. Senate in 2004) and demurred. Why did you wait for this race?
I felt it more important to stay focused on the job Coloradans elected me twice to do - serve as their State Treasurer.
2. What are the three issues that interest you most that make you want to be Governor?
At the top of my list is improving the quality of our education system. There needs to be a greater emphasis in math, science and technology at the K-12 level and in higher education in Colorado. Parents should have a choice in determining the education of their children whether that is through charter schools, home schools or a voucher at a private school.
A close second is lowering the cost of health care while expanding access and improving quality. To do this, we need to focus on lowering health-care costs through regulatory reform, by eliminating all mandates detrimental to consumers and stimulating market-based competition between health-care providers and between insurance carriers.
Strengthening and securing Colorado’s economy through regulatory and tax reform will be another top priority for the next governor. Government regulations over business and the economy should only exist to protect consumers and stimulate competition. They should never be used to shield businesses or industry groups from competition. Taxes on commercial property and capital equipment are too high. We have one of the highest tax rates in the country on capital equipment and that tax must be eliminated in order for Colorado to be both nationally and globally competitive.
3. Yes or No: Will you seek Bill Owens’ official endorsement for your candidacy for governor in advance of the Republican primary?
I don’t expect the governor will endorse any of the Republican candidates in a primary, but I fully expect him to strongly support my candidacy in the general election.
4. Have you hired any consultants and/or staff to help you out? If not, who are you sounding out for advice?
I have always enjoyed the support of average Coloradans and grassroots activists, and it is these folks who I am spending a lot of time talking with about the race and about my vision for Colorado. But Colorado is a large state and there is a lot of ground to cover, so I’ve hired Brian Anderson to provide staff assistance for the exploratory committee.
5. Does TABOR need to be altered? Why or why not?
TABOR is the greatest economic development tool in the history of Colorado. I believe that the growth limit imposed on government by TABOR is reasonable and forces government to become more efficient. I strongly support tax- and spending- limitation measurers, and I feel they should be placed in the state Constitution in order to mandate fiscal discipline so that the Legislature cannot change the rules at will.
However, I feel that the TABOR Reserve is not large enough. Government needs to further restrain spending during the good times in order to stabilize the budget during bad economic times. This needs to be a part of TABOR because government will never restrain itself from spending every dime - unless mandated to do so.
TABOR needs some mending since the Legislature has found and creatively exploited every imaginable loophole. The reserve, mandated under TABOR, is being maintained not by cash assets but by illiquid assets such as the value of buildings. The Legislature hasn’t lived under TABOR; spending has exceeded available TABOR revenues for the last three years. Legislators have found ways to massively increase taxes without going to a vote of the people. They have used accounting gimmicks to defer liabilities in order to balance the budget. They have given away the surplus in the form of targeted tax credits. Within the next four years, 73 cents of every surplus dollar will go to one of 18 targeted tax credits that the Legislature has passed.
State government needs to be forced to restrain spending and maintain and further expand the TABOR Reserve to make it available to stabilize the budget in an economic downturn. TABOR needs to be amended to ban the Legislature’s abilities
to raid cash funds and then increase fees to make up for the difference. This is a tax increase by my definition. TABOR needs to be amended to give the right to the taxpayers of Colorado to decide under what circumstances they want to give up all or part of their surplus.
Right now, if the Legislature wants to retain the surplus for its use, they have to go to a vote of the people. However, if they want to give your surplus dollars away to someone else, they can do that without a vote of the people - and that is wrong. If this trend continues unchecked, 100 percent of the TABOR surplus will soon go to targeted tax credits, and nothing will be available for broad-based tax cuts. We need to amend TABOR to protect the surplus and return it to the taxpayers - unless they are willing, by a vote, to give it up.
It’s important in this debate that we stand strong in defense of the taxpayers, and remember that there are two sides to this equation: revenue AND spending. Amendment 23, as I predicted in 2000, has been a fiscal train wreck for the state with its mandated spending requirements. Any reform proposal must include changes to Amendment 23 if we are going to secure the state’s long-term fiscal health.
6. What do you see as your biggest strength RIGHT NOW as a candidate for Governor and how to you plan to highlight that strength?
This race is about leadership, and I have clearly demonstrated throughout my career that I have the courage and determination needed to be a strong leader. My leadership experience includes the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, building a small business and state government. I was a member of the State House of Representatives, where I took an unpaid leave of absence to return to the Marines so I could fight in Operation Desert Storm. I later was elected to the State Senate and then was twice elected to the office of State Treasurer.
7. What do you see as your biggest weakness RIGHT NOW as a potential candidate for Governor and how do you plan to address it?
The biggest challenge is that current campaign-finance laws in Colorado favor wealthy candidates. Candidates without unlimited resources are severely restricted in their ability to raise money and their ability to reach out to voters.
I come from a working-class background, and I am proud of it. My father was a career enlisted soldier. I entered the U.S. Army after my junior year of high school, and I earned a high school diploma through an Army program and went to the University of Colorado under the G.I. Bill. I have always worked hard, and I will continue to draw on that same work ethic while Governor of Colorado.
8. Looking into your crystal ball, do you foresee one issue that the governor’s race could hinge upon 18 months from now?
I believe the central issue in this election will be leadership. The next governor will be the candidate who has the courage and determination to tackle Colorado's toughest problems.
9. What do you think was the primary reason for Democrats’ success in 2004, and what lesson did you take from last fall that you will apply to your campaign for governor?
The Democrats were able to manipulate a flawed campaign finance system that has shifted the influence of grassroots party activists to a handful of millionaires. It’s bad public policy, and it needs to be reformed. The 2004 election also illustrates the need for strong, experienced leadership at the top of the ticket, with a candidate that can effectively articulate a vision for the future of Colorado, and that is what I bring to the race.
10. If you had the ability to snap your fingers and make one Colorado sports team win a championship this year, which team would it be and why? (assuming the NHL still existed, of course)
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Broncos. 2005 is their year.
11. If elected, do you promise to put Hawaiian Punch in all of the drinking fountains in Colorado?
If it’s produced in Colorado, we’ll talk.
Do you have a question for Mike? Click on the COMMENT link below and fire away. Mike will answer your questions throughout the day as he has time.