Dan Grossman is a Denver native who was elected to the State House in 1996 and later became the youngest House Minority Leader in Colorado history in 2000. In 2002, he was elected to his first term in the State Senate. Should he leave his seat to run for attorney general, a topic he discusses below, the race for his open senate seat will be one of the more hotly contested Democrati primaries in the state.
Senator Grossman will be answering your questions throughout the day; to ask a question, simply click on the COMMENTS link below. Senator Grossman has graciously agreed to take time out of his day to answer your questions, so please be respectful. You can disagree with him, but you can do it in a respectful manner.
And with that, click below for our first 11 Questions with Senator Grossman...
Q&A With Democratic State Senator Dan Grossman
1. How do you feel about how Democrats ended the 2005 legislative session? What surprised you about being in the majority in both chambers?
Of the nine sessions in which I have participated, this last one was the most productive and most efficient. And I am not just saying that because the Democrats were in the majority (although that was nice, from my perspective). But I think it can be said objectively that we were able to accomplish more in less time than previous legislatures. For example, we were able to craft a bipartisan solution to the challenges posed by the TABOR Amendment and are referring that solution to the voters this November.
We balanced the budget without raiding the state education fund and without kicking old people out of nursing homes. We have scheduled the return of the seniors' homestead exemption from property taxation and we even put in place a tax cut for all Coloradans assuming the TABOR proposal passes.
A lot of the big worries that Governor Owens and some of his Republican colleagues fretted about at the beginning of the session simply did not materialize. Appropriately, there were no efforts to roll-back accountability measures for K-12 education. Charter schools were not harmed. There were no tax increases proposed by the Democrats and there were no decreases in criminal sentencing. But there was an effort to increase investment in the state's transportation system as well as the capital infrastructure, including higher education.
In short, we Democrats accomplished everything the Republicans said we couldn't. And the state is better off for it.
2. You sponsored the contentious anti-smoking bill, which was one of the pieces of legislation that drew the most attention in 2005. Why did you carry that bill, and what happened to it? Will you propose it again?
Anyone got a smoke? The Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act came two votes shy of creating a smoke-free workplace for the vast majority of Colorado's workers. I agreed to carry the legislation only if (1) the business community, including the Colorado Restaurant Association agreed to support it, and (2) the health advocates agreed to the content of the bill. When those two things happened, I became confident that we would get it passed.
And then the Republicans in the Senate locked down against the bill. I knew I was going to lose some of my Democratic colleagues (two of them are smokers and have opposed anti-smoking legislation in the past). But I guess I underestimated the Senate Minority Leader's ability to obtain binding commitments from his caucus, even before the bill was introduced.
When it became clear that I could not find 18 votes in the Senate to pass a bill that covered all restaurants and bars, I fulfilled a promise I made to the groups that supported the legislation and I allowed it to die with the expiration of the session. It was a very disappointing defeat.
In addition to the business and health advocates, I heard from individuals whose lives were changed (and likely shortened) by exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke at work. One witness told the Senate State Affairs Committee that he had less than six months to live because of lung cancer that only could have been caused by exposure to cigarette smoke or radon in his home.
His home tested negative for radon, but he had worked in an establishment that allowed smoking.
When we know that passive smoke can cause health problems, it is incumbent upon government to act to preserve the public health. Opponents of the bill said it infringed upon the "rights" of property owners and individuals, as if electing to smoke is some benign and legally protected choice. In fact, it is neither benign, nor legally protected and people should not be permitted to smoke in indoor spaces where their choice will adversely affect the health of others. Just one guy's opinion.
I am not sure if I will bring the bill back next year. There may be an effort to bypass the legislature and take the issue directly to the voters in 2006. A poll commissioned by the American Cancers Society indicates that 67 percent of Coloradans favor a smoking ban in most indoor places, including restaurants, bars and casinos.
3. You carried a bill dealing with Homeland Security grant money and how spending is reported, which was ultimately signed by the governor. What was the reasoning behind this bill, and why did it pass?
I was pleased to be able to craft the compromise with regard to disclosure of public records pertaining to homeland security. The Owens administration had pushed two bills through the legislature in past sessions that draped ALL records produced by or to the Department of Public safety and having to do with homeland security in a cloak of secrecy. The result has been that even records that document how state and local governments are spending homeland security grant money were shielded from disclosure, notwithstanding the fact that they contain no sensitive information in them. This situation led to even less accountability of state and local officials on the issue of homeland security in an administration that has already diffused responsibility and accountability for security among several departments and cabinet heads.
It was difficult to come up with language that the Owens administration, local governments, law enforcement and the Colorado Press Association could agree to, but we succeeded in the end. This was a victory for fiscal responsibility as well as security.
4. You helped push through HB 1014 (Substantive Changes to Criminal Law - noteworthy for adding homosexuals to the hate crimes list), which Governor Owens controversially allowed to become law last week. There was a lot of work done behind the scenes on this bill from a number of people; can you help explain the effort that went into letting this bill become law, and why you supported it?
I was the Senate sponsor of HB 1014, which was the annual omnibus bill concerning changes in the substantive criminal laws. The bill is initiated each year by the Colorado District Attorney's Council, and it is the result of nearly a year of debate and deliberation among DAs throughout the state. As the bill was introduced, the bill was important, but not particularly controversial.
In the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill, Sen. Bob Bacon offered the amendment to update Colorado's ethnic intimidation statutes to include sentence enhancements for crimes motivated by anti-gay and anti-disability bias. Current law already contains enhancements for bias crimes based on race, religion, gender and national orientation.
I supported the amendment because I have always supported the expansion of hate crimes legislation to encompass crimes motivated by anti-gay bias. Such crimes, just as those committed for racist or anti-semitic reasons, inflict a qualitatively more pernicious harm on the victims and on society, and should be punished more severely. I am pleased that the legislation
passed the legislature and that Governor Owens allowed it to become law.
5. Governor Owens has vetoed a record number of bills this year. Is there a lesson that Democrats will take from this in order to cut down on the number of vetoes in 2006, or is that just the way it goes when you have a governor and a legislature that are of opposite parties?
Just saying No. Obviously, it is the Governor's constitutional prerogative to reject legislation presented to him by bill from the legislature and prevent it from becoming law. This session he has chosen to exercise that prerogative freely. Such is our system of checks and balances.
However, I would be less than honest if I said I wasn't disappointed by some of Governor Owens' veto decisions. And his explanations have been less than persuasive. For example, he nixed a bill that I carried with Rep. Al White (R-Winter Park) that would have permitted counties to go to their voters and ask for permission to raise the county sales tax to preserve open space.
This is the process that TABOR envisioned. The bill passed with overwhelming majorities in both chambers. But the Gov. vetoed it, saying it was a tax increase. That was just flat out false and he knew it.
There are plenty of other examples, but you know how the saying about spilled milk goes . . .
6. Are you running for Colorado Attorney General in 2006?
I am likely to be a candidate for Attorney General in 2006. I am testing the waters now and I am encouraged with what I am hearing. I hope to make a final decision this summer.
7. What would make you a good candidate for Attorney General?
I am passionate about Colorado and I am absolutely dedicated to fighting to protect the opportunity and quality of life that is so unique to our state. The Office of Attorney General can be a tremendous tool with which to protect the environment, defend Colorado's water rights, fight consumer fraud and identity theft, protect children from exploitation and shore up our state's homeland security. That is precisely the kind of Attorney General that Coloradans should demand and I am confident that I could deliver.
8. Critics will say that you don't have enough experience as an attorney to serve as attorney general. How do you respond to that charge?
I have practiced law in Colorado for 12 years. I have worked in small, medium and large law firms and I spent five years as senior corporate counsel and executive director of employee relations for a global company with over 20,000 employees. I have litigated complex cases in state and federal courts and I have managed litigation involving the best lawyers in the country. And now I have my own law practice representing small businesses and individuals in civil rights cases. I am proud of the success I have enjoyed practicing law.
In addition, I have spent nearly a decade crafting public policy in the Colorado General Assembly. I have made my mark on the criminal code, strengthening sentencing laws for sex offenders and creating the state's DNA database for convicted felons. I have improved Colorado water law by passing legislation adding flexibility to water rights and valuing conservation as well as development. I have made Coloradans more financially secure by passing strong consumer legislation. Finally, my work on homeland security has made the state safer.
In short, I believe that my experience more than qualifies me to serve as Attorney General, should I choose to seek that office.
9. From The Rocky Mountain News: "Maybe it's because Grossman let it be known he might run for attorney general next year, but it seemed every time he got up to debate a bill, Republican Sens. Jim Dyer of Centennial and Shawn Mitchell of Broomfield raced to the microphone to disagree with him."
How is it different approaching your job as a State Senator when you are thought to be a candidate for higher office? How do you pass legislation when Republicans are looking to damage your hopes at statewide office in the process?
Having a target on your back because you may be a candidate for higher office doesn't really change things that much. Serving in the legislature is challenging and fighting for what you believe in makes that challenge worthwhile. You can't control other people who disagree with you or who just want to see you fail. All you can do is prepare, do your best and count your votes.
10. Republicans have already filled out the dance card for every statewide race, from Governor to Treasurer, and from Secretary of State to Attorney General. Why are Democrats taking so long to actively campaign for these posts and allowing Republican candidates such a head start? Obviously you can't speak for others, but why do you think there is such a lag time right now?
I think the Dems are going to field a very strong field for the statewide constitutional offices. I have nothing but respect for Bill
Ritter and Rutt Bridges and I think both have the potential to become Governor. As for treasurer, I hear Chris Romer is running and I think he will be more than formidable. I am confident of my chances in the AG race, once I decide to do it.
11. What’s with the bow tie?
Glad you asked about the bow tie. My grandfather, Henry Chorley, was a railroad man who moved to Colorado with his wife's family from North Dakota in the 1920s. They moved here because my grandmother (his wife) had tuberculosis and the clean and dry climate of Colorado were thought to be curative. Henry took a job as a bookkeeper for Public Service Company, where he worked until he retired. He wore a bow tie to work every day. He died in 1988 of emphysema, most likely from smoking.
I wear a bow tie every Thursday to honor Henry Chorley, a man who worked hard and knew all about sacrifice and the importance of family.
I know it looks goofy on me, but it didn't on him.
Do you have a question for Senator Grossman? Ask away in the COMMENTS section below...