We are pleased to present a LIVE Q&A with Congressman Mark Udall. Congressman Udall has agreed to answer your questions live from Washington D.C. between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m.
Democratic Congressman Mark Udall is serving his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1996 and served one term before running for Congress in 1998 in CD-2.
Congressman Udall was considered a top Democratic candidate for governor before he announced last spring that he would run for the U.S. Senate in 2008. We asked him about the pros and cons of such an early announcement, and you can see his answers below.
You can ask your own questions of Congressman Udall in the COMMENTS section, but remember -- he will only be answering questions between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. For a full hour, he'll be live and direct from Washington D.C.
Our only rule in these Q&As is the same as always: you may disagree, but you may not be disrespectful. Please be courteous and appreciative that Congressman Udall has taken time out of his day to take part in today's Q&A. And now, on with the show...
Colorado Pols Q&A with Congressman Mark Udall
1.You’ve been involved in politics in Colorado for a long time. From your perspective, what has changed in Colorado politics since you first ran for the state legislature in 1996, and what has remained constant?
Five years ago, I was at a Park n Ride in Louisville when I approached a woman and asked her if she’d vote for me, a first term incumbent in the U.S. House, in the upcoming election. She said, “Sure. Anything would be better than what we have now.” It’s not just a story from my Dad’s book; it is a true story from my 2000 campaign.
Some things about politics in Colorado have remained constant. Running every two years means that it is important to do the retail politicking of traveling the district, knocking on doors, and doing Main Street walks. There have only been a few parades where people didn’t wave at me with all five fingers, and only a few times when people chased me off their property. The vast majority have been very interested and willing to listen and engage.
So what has changed? It is more expensive to run for office and the new campaign finance laws give a lot of power to independent expenditure groups. Advances in technology also have changed campaigns, including the use of websites for fundraising, email to contact voters, sophisticated consumer marketing techniques to reach very specific type of voters. Finally, blogs are going to change the way the press reports on politics and races. We’ve seen some of that with the South Dakota Senate and Presidential races in 2004.
Congress has grown more partisan than when I arrived in 1999. The debate is coarser and the tactics more ruthless. We have seen the leadership hold open the voting machines beyond the time limit until arms are twisted to get members to switch their votes (as we saw on the Medicare vote). Democrats are given little opportunity to amend bills or even debate. Committee chairs gavel meetings shut in order to keep Democrats from asking questions or calling witnesses; there was even an instance when a committee chair called the police on Democrats in order to keep them from meeting. I understand that the majority party has the power and controls the House, but it’s gotten to a point where the fundamentals of democracy are at risk. I think there is something to be said for divided government, because when one party is in total control, there is a tendency to overstep and abuse power.
That said, I love the job. There are many good people serving in Congress and I enjoy the challenge of reaching across the aisle to get things done.
My friend and long-time adviser, Rick Ridder, has said that the old adage, ”all politics is local” has gradually evolved to now mean that “all politics is personal.” I think Rick has that right.
2. Why did you announce your candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2008 so far out in advance, and what do you see as the positives and negatives to announcing so early?
It may have been unconventional to announce my intentions so early, but I wanted to be very clear with people. I considered the opportunity of running for governor, but came to the conclusion that one of my deeper interests is national security, and with a war still underway in Afghanistan and Iraq, I believe my skills and voice can be put to better service in Congress and potentially as a member of the Senate. The timing is also right for my family. I have two teenagers and I want to be as involved in their lives as I can before they set out on lives as adults.
Naturally, making my intentions known early puts a bulls-eye on my back, but I think it’s already there. I fully expect the Republicans to come at me with everything they’ve got but I’m prepared for it. I’ve always believed that people will elect you if you work hard in the job you currently hold, so I’m focused on winning re-election in 2006 and I’ll keep working hard on behalf of the people in the Second Congressional District.
3. Why was running for the U.S. Senate more appealing to you than running for Governor?
It’s been flattering and an honor to have so many people urge me to run for higher office. Some urged me to run for Governor in 2006 and others urged me to run for the Senate in 2008. I was very grateful for the support and advice I received.
Serving as Governor would have been rewarding, but I have a stronger personal desire to serve in Congress and work on very critical issues that affect us at the federal level, including Iraq, national security, energy independence, and terrorism. I’ve taken a lead and established a voice on these issues and running for Governor would have set me on a different path.
I represent one of the best districts in the country, which is like a smaller version of Colorado, and leaving this job to run for Governor – however tempting – was a hard sell.
4. The old conventional wisdom in Colorado is that a Democrat from Denver or Boulder can't win statewide. Even though you don’t live in Boulder, you’re probably going to be portrayed as a Boulder Liberal by your opponents. As a Democrat representing Boulder County, how do you plan to counter this thinking in 2008?
Contrary to popular belief, the 2nd CD is a swing district. The right kind of Republican could do well. The district straddles the Continental Divide. It includes ten counties (Adams, Broomfield, Boulder, Clear Creek, Eagle, Gilpin, Grand, Jefferson, Summit and Weld) that include suburban, rural, rural resort and urban communities and is a great cross-section of the state. It’s an interesting balancing act to represent both the Western Slope and Front Range, but that is also what I love about the job.
My record also shows that I work with members on both sides of the aisle. In fact I’ve worked with every member of the Colorado delegation on various issues: Rep. Musgrave on agricultural research; Rep. Tancredo on public lands and transit issues; Rep. Beauprez and Sen. Allard on Rocky Flats; Rep. DeGette on health care; Rep. Salazar on water issues; Sen. Salazar on rural internet access, and I serve with Rep. Hefley on the House Armed Services Committee, and have learned a great deal from Joel (who is the “Dean” of the Colorado Delegation). I’ve even worked with the conservative/libertarian Rep. Butch Otter (R-ID) on a law that now preserves in-state preferences for hunting and fishing licenses. And I’ve worked with the Colorado Farm Bureau on promoting renewable energy and rural economic development.
Colorado is not a red state; it’s an independent state and our people want leaders who are visionary, problem solvers, and who keep their word.
In the end, no matter where we get our mail delivered, we are all Coloradans and we are all in this together. We need to reach beyond labels and work together to meet the challenges we face. Besides, I often tell folks that Boulder and Colorado Springs are remarkably similar communities; they are both nestled in the mountains, both rely on a high tech economy and share University of Colorado campuses. The only difference I’ve ever noticed is that Boulder sometimes has its own foreign policy.
5. What role can the Federal government, or a member of Congress, play in helping Colorado solve its regional water disputes, and what are you doing in that regard?
I have promoted a series of steps that we should take to help address water supply needs. These steps are state-focused because water policy should be primarily a responsibility of the states. In Colorado, the federal government should take a supportive role, but not a primary one. Those actions that Colorado can and should take include: expanding existing dams and reservoirs; repairing many small dams so that they can hold water to their capacity; developing conjunctive use of surplus surface flows with groundwater aquifers; promoting and implementing greater conservation measures; building new dams where that can be done responsibly and with support of impacted areas; providing for the safety and security of existing supply facilities—especially in these times of terrorist threats; and providing financial assistance to farmers and ranchers impacted by drought.
I have also introduced legislation to explore weather modification techniques (such as cloud seeding) can help increase the snow pack, supported legislation to help better coordinate federal planning and response to drought conditions, and I have included language in public land bills to protect existing water rights and supplies of local communities.
6. What was your reaction to Indiana Congressman John Hostettler’s accusation last week (when this is published it will be last week) that Democrats are waging “A war on Christianity”?
My Mormon ancestors came West to pursue religious freedom and in the process discovered how inspirational our landscapes could be. I have a strong respect for people of faith and religion’s role in establishing commonly held values. Mr. Hostettler’s remarks were completely contrary to my experience as a Democrat and out of bounds for most Americans.
Democrats are not waging a war on Christianity and no political party has a monopoly on moral values or religious expression. Western Democrats respect and celebrate people of faith, but when it comes to civil liberties, Westerners want their privacy respected and value the right to be left alone. Our Western culture is rich because of our diversity, not in spite of it. Faith plays an important role in people’s lives and we should embrace that fact and not condescend to it, dismiss it or attack it.
7. You have spoken out frequently on behalf of the so-called “Denver Three” and their efforts to discover who kicked them out of a President Bush “town hall” meeting. What’s the latest on this investigation, and how would you respond to critics who say that this is much ado about nothing?
Rep. DeGette, Sen. Salazar and I have called on the Secret Service to conduct an investigation to determine if the individual who removed these three people unlawfully posed as an agent or a law enforcement official. The latest communication we have from the Secret Service informed us that once their investigation is over, the findings will be presented to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for “prosecutorial action.” Clearly, the Secret Service doesn’t think this is “much ado about nothing.”
I think we all understand that the White House must do some screening at public events for security purposes, but the Social Security town halls are public events paid for with taxpayer dollars and Americans have a right to know how these events are organized and whether citizens are being unlawfully or unfairly excluded. That doesn’t seem to me to be a partisan or even very controversial position.
Frankly, the president could help his cause if he reached out to undecided people rather than speak just to those who support his position. The issue has turned from a discussion on Social Security to a debate on whether or not the White House is paying for political rallies on the tax-payer dime. I just think the White House has mishandled the situation.
If this were an isolated incident it might be considered a silly nuisance, but there is a pattern. Similar incidents in North Dakota and Arizona have been reported. Taxpayers have a right to know what happened and if laws were broken. The fact that this investigation has gone on for more than three months suggests to me that we really have no choice but to see it to conclusion.
8. You serve on the House Armed Services Committee. Do you think we are moving any closer towards a significant change with regards to our presence in Iraq, and if so, what could we anticipate might happen in the next 6-12 months?
This is the most important issue our country faces, and while I am not given to emotional reactions, that we even have to ask this question makes me deeply angry about the Bush administration’s stewardship of our armed forces and future direction. I vigorously opposed the resolution authorizing President Bush to take us into war in Iraq because the country was clearly divided on the rationale and wisdom of doing so, and because I doubted the President was prepared for the civil chaos that would inevitably follow in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s removal. Most of my fears about a strategy that makes nation-building in Iraq the crux of our war against Islamic terrorists (and al Qaeda in particular) have been realized, but we cannot turn the clock back. We are in Iraq and we must now do all we can to promote Iraqi stabilization so that our troops can come home.
I have been to Iraq twice and will likely go again. While I do not rely on personal visits alone to draw conclusions, I think some significant progress has been made toward establishing a process for political stability in Iraq. The good news is that Saddam Hussein is out of power and a majority of the Iraqi people showed through their participation in elections that they want democracy.
The bad news is that insurgent attacks continue, and unless more rapid progress is made to train Iraqi security forces, our troops are the only force that prevents Iraqi ethnic and tribal groups from falling into civil war.
There is no short answer to your question, but my sense is that we will know by the end of this year whether the Iraqi people are making necessary progress to put aside religious and ethnic differences and support a national constitution. This political step is a critical milestone for measuring the potential for a successful withdrawal strategy. As I have said before, we cannot simply leave, nor can we afford to stay indefinitely. Senator Joe Biden (D-DEL) has proposed taking the Europeans up on their offer to send troops to train Iraqis and I think this makes sense. We also need to put more of the reconstruction effort in Iraqi hands. The problem is that we got into war without broad international support and it is hard to expect that support now. In light of what we face, I’d much rather have a Richard Armitage at the United Nations than a John Bolton.
I would encourage anyone who wants to better understand our limited options in Iraq to read a recent report posted on-line by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a respected non-partisan voice on international issues. It is a sobering document that makes clear all of the miscalculations and poor judgments that have led us to our current situation in Iraq. I would also encourage people to read a book by Marine Col. T.X. Hammes called “The Sling and Stone” that details the military challenge we face in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the end, I believe a military solution is not possible in Iraq; the solution to peace rests with a political process that needs broad international support.
9. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has taken a lot of criticism for benefits and gifts linked to lobbyists. With that in mind, we asked Congressman Bob Beauprez this question: “Do the rules need to be changed in regards to receiving gifts from lobbyists, and if so, what changes will you recommend?”
Beauprez’s full response: “Contrary to what some people believe, there are very strict gift rules in place for Members of Congress and their staff. Members and staff cannot accept any gift, including meals, with a value in excess of $50, and they can't accept more than $100 worth of gifts from any source in a calendar year.”
What is your response to this answer?
For the most part, I have found the House ethics rules and gift ban to be very straightforward and easy to understand, and if members and their staff follow them and practice a little common-sense they will stay out of trouble.
Along with members of my staff, I have participated in ethics review courses conducted by the Ethics Committee staff. These are important for new staff members as they explain not just rules related to gifts, but the ethical standards of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Unfortunately, some people, both Democrats and Republicans, have pushed the envelope and have given the impression that all of us in Congress are flouting ethical rules. It’s one of the reasons Congress has such low favorability ratings. Mr. Delay’s example only makes it worse.
A bigger problem is that with Rep. Joel Hefley’s untimely departure, we don’t have an Ethics Committee that is operating right now.
Rep. George Miller from California has a bill to ban the $50 gifts, but it leaves in most of the exemptions. I haven’t come to a conclusion about the merits of the Miller bill, but if I could change anything in Congress on this subject it would be for the Republican leadership to reinstate Joel Hefley as the chair of the Ethics Committee, and get this committee and staff operating in a bipartisan fashion.
10. Immigration reform looks like it will be a major issue in 2006, and perhaps again in 2008. How will you address this issue prior to the 2008 Senate race?
There’s a story about a wise Indian chief who traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit President Truman. After their visit, the chief told the president: “Watch your immigration laws very carefully -- we got careless with ours and look what happened.”
Immigration has proven to be a divisive issue, but I think we all can agree that our current system is terribly broken. There are an estimated 8-12 million immigrants currently in this country illegally. Bringing these people out in the open and identifying where they live and work is an enormous and costly, but necessary, task.
Beefing-up our border security is a critical Homeland Security priority that has to include more resources and improved technologies. I co-sponsored the law that restructured immigration control under Homeland Security and have also supported bills to crack down on illegal trafficking in human beings. The costs of improving our border patrol and coast guard services is enormous, and that is why I often find it curious that many who are the most vocal about illegal immigration control are also vociferous defenders of the Bush tax cuts. We need to balance the call for tax cuts with our growing national security needs, including stronger border security.
We also need to improve employee verification systems and I am increasingly open to the idea of a verifiable guest worker program that helps address labor shortages in those areas of our economy that rely on immigrant labor. This is a significant issue in agriculture and in certain sectors of the recreation industry.
Finally, I think it’s important to understand that immigration reform cannot be viewed in isolation from other issues, like trade and foreign aid. If we are serious about addressing the incentives for illegal immigrants to cross our borders, we may need to increase the economic and trade assistance we offer to other countries.
11. Your father, Morris “Mo” Udall, served in Congress for 30 years and ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1976. Your uncle, Stewart, served in Congress and as Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Your cousin, Congressman Tom Udall, is a four-term Democrat from New Mexico. How long will it be before American politics are overrun by Udalls?
Some would say we are well on our way! In the West you can’t swing a cat without hitting a Udall (of course, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to swing a cat; it might ruin my record with the Humane Society).
You forgot another Udall: Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) is my cousin (his mother, Jessica, was my father’s first cousin), so the Udalls serve on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol, but I’m looking to build the Udall Caucus on the Senate side! I have reason to believe my friend, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) would probably join because of his deep affection for my Dad.
Congressman Mark Udall will be answering questions from 10:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. MST only. Submit your questions in the COMMENTS section below.
For more information about Congressman Udall, visit http://markudall.house.gov/HoR/co02