This week, Colorado voters start to receive ballots for the June primaries in the mail. This year, two candidates for U.S. senate — Andrew Romanoff and John Hickenlooper — face off in the Democratic primary for the chance to take on incumbent Republican Senator Cory Gardner in November.
Colorado Edition spoke with both candidates. Andrew Romanoff discusses his candidacy below. The conversation with John Hickenlooper can be found here.
These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Henry Zimmerman: To start, could you briefly give us a sense of your background?
Andrew Romanoff: I led the Democrats in Colorado to our first majority in 30 years – our first back-to-back majority since 1960. I became Speaker of the House and got recognized as the most effective legislative leader in America. And then I got termed out of the legislature.
I spent the past four years as the president and CEO of a group called Mental Health Colorado, leading the fight on behalf of families, like mine, who have faced mental illness, drug addiction or suicide. I spend a lot of time in Northern Colorado talking to folks who have been devastated by these diseases. And I am determined that nobody in this country should have to struggle or suffer or die on account of problems we can fix. That’s why I’m running for the Senate.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Coloradans at this time?
The pandemic obviously dwarfs just about every other issue. I’ve met so many folks around the state who are worried about getting sick, or who have lost loved ones to this disease — people who are also losing their jobs and the health coverage that comes with it.
I’ve talked to a number of folks who are facing eviction or homelessness. That’s a set of issues that we ought to tackle — in fact, we should have resolved many of these problems before the pandemic hit.
I’m gripped as well by the horror of police violence, not only the murder of George Floyd, but the brutality that we’ve seen unfold across the country. Racism represents America’s original and persistent sin. I am determined to do everything I can to combat that epidemic as well.
Now we’re going to zoom in on a few issues important to Coloradans, beginning with climate change. Do you have a number one priority for legislation related to climate change?
There are dozens of things we ought to do. I support Green New Deal – a bold plan to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, to increase energy efficiency, to transform our electrical grid our building codes and our transportation systems. A plan to help fossil fuel workers take jobs in the clean energy economy, and to protect the frontline communities that have borne the brunt of oil and gas development.
My Democratic opponent, John Hickenlooper, sued communities that tried to restrict fracking — literally drank the fracking fluid — and just like Cory Gardner, takes money from the fossil fuel industry.
I think we ought to replace Gardner with a climate champion, instead.
Currently, we’re seeing protests across the nation against police brutality. How would you specifically address police reform moving forward?
We’re laying out a plan of reforms we can implement to eliminate police violence, because even a single incident is too many. George Floyd’s murder was not an isolated example. We need independent and effective oversight boards. We need more transparency, body cameras, comprehensive reporting. We need better training, recruitment and hiring of a police force that reflects and respects the community it serves. We need a ban on racial profiling, an end to chokeholds and strangleholds.
I believe there is a chance now for us to forge national consensus on this issue, in part because of the courage of protesters. It’s not enough for us to declare black lives matter when day, after painful day, we act as if they don’t.
Getting any gun-related legislation passed takes an enormous amount of political capital. What would be your number one priority there?
I have an aggressive plan to reduce the risk of gun violence.
There is not a single step we can take that will eliminate every shooting. And in fact, the gun lobby will tell you that we can’t stop every crime. That’s true. But, that is an idiotic and indefensible excuse for them to oppose everything and all. We need to implement universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons. We need to strengthen the enforcement of existing laws, like the ban on straw purchases that prevents you from buying a gun on behalf of someone else.
This is also a key difference in the race, not just between Cory Gardner and me, but also Mr. Hickenlooper and me. Cory Gardner has benefitted from $4 million in NRA spending – he’s the fifth biggest beneficiary of gun lobby money in the United States Senate.
But even Mr. Hickenlooper, who was prompted by the legislature to sign a ban on high-capacity magazines, later apologized to critics. He said something I’ve never heard from a governor before. He said “I only signed the law because one of my staff members promised that I would. We never expected it to pass.” He also said if he knew it would be so divisive, he might not have signed it in the first place. That’s not a profile in courage.
Healthcare became a central tenet of the presidential primary for the Democratic nomination. Briefly, summarize what you would do as Colorado’s senator to change America’s healthcare system. And how has the coronavirus pandemic influenced that?
I know it’s easy to get lost in a conversation about the 28 million Americans who are uninsured or the 44 million who are under-insured, or the half a million who are going bankrupt each year because of the high cost of medical care. So I’m going to tell you a story.
I met a dad when I was the president of Mental Health Colorado. A dad whose son had deep depression, then experienced a bout of psychosis. He needed treatment. The dad’s insurance plan was supposed to cover it. But when the dad submitted a claim, the insurance company said no. So, the dad appealed the decision, and the insurer said no. And the dad appealed again. And the insurance company continued to deny his claims, until his son killed himself, at the age of 14.
Three weeks later, his dad got a letter in the mail from the insurance company, reversing its decision and agreeing to cover his late son’s treatment.
Speaking not just as a candidate, but as a human being, it is profoundly painful to me to have conversations with moms and dads who have lost their kids — not just to a disease we can treat, but also to the indifference of an industry that bases its profits on its ability to deny as many claims and exclude as many sick people as possible. That’s the business model. It’s a terrific model if you’re an insurance company. It’s a pretty lousy model for the rest of us.
We need to get to a place in America where your health coverage — including coverage for the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders — does not depend on the whims of an insurance company, or on an employer.
This model we’ve pursued for the last 80 years — employer-based insurance — was never a terrific idea, but in the middle of a pandemic, it’s a disaster. By some estimates, another 43 million Americans may lose their employer-based coverage. That reveals one of the fundamental flaws in this system.
I support a plan, instead, to strengthen Medicare, by adding benefits, by adding things that aren’t part of the package now, like dental, vision, hearing and long-term care. To improve Medicare reimbursement rates, especially for rural providers and folks in other under-served communities.
And then I’d lower the age of Medicare eligibility to zero — in other words, create a plan for Medicare for all.
Both Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper not only oppose that plan, they parrot the insurance industry’s argument against it. In fact, Mr. Hickenlooper compares this plan — and you can look it up — to the discredited ideas of Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin. Stalin! Now that’s outrageous.
I know it’s going to be hard to pass this plan given Republican opposition, but it’ll be pretty much impossible if we have to fight Democrats who are using the same kind of demagoguery.
Why are you the best choice to go up against Senator Cory Gardner in November?
I believe I’ve got the best chance to beat Gardner, and better yet, to represent this state. I bring the strongest record of legislative leadership, the deepest sense of urgency, a compelling agenda to combat the climate crisis, to ensure healthcare for all, to build an economy that works for everyone, to reduce the risk of gun violence, to reform our broken immigration system and to advance social justice in America. I think we ought to send to the U.S. Senate someone who brings the courage of our convictions to this fight.
The good news is that even a generic Democrat beats Gardner by double digits — his approval rating is down to about 34%. But, I believe that we need more than a generic Democrat in this seat. We need to elect someone who acts as if our lives depend on it, because they do.
This conversation is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for June 10. You can find the full episode here.