An Interview With Senate Candidate Ken Buck

Buck's a Republican -- but that doesn't mean he isn't in favor of passing regulations to prevent medical insurers from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions.
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I got a chance to interview Ken Buck this morning. Ken is one of the two frontrunners for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate race in Colorado.

Speaking as a Democrat I have to admit Ken is worrisome – he is a thoughtful, intelligent, personable candidate. And he makes credible arguments for his views on the issues. I think he will be competitive with Senator Bennet. He also was faithful to the 11 commandment, never mentioning his opponents by name or even calling them out indirectly.

I first asked him what he thinks the big issues in the primary will be. That got a laugh with the comment of who knows what will come up as the major issues. But he thinks it will fundamentally be who will best advocate for smaller government. On one hand this is a predictable major issue. But what is interesting is what he did not bring up – not a word about social issues. Not here or elsewhere in this discussion.

Note: I’m a firm believer in separation of church & state and so, if a candidate does not bring up religion or social mores in their campaign, I respect that and don’t bring it up in the interview. It will be interesting to see if that continues in the GOP primary across all the candidates. I also in this interview focused on questions that I think will be key issues in the primary – not the general election.

I then asked if now, in hindsight and in our present financial situation, are we better off because Ref C passed. Ken’s reply was that he opposed Ref C at the time and he still thinks it was a bad idea. He thinks the state needs to cut out waste and inefficiency and brought up a specific case in Weld County where they have reduced cases in the county courts by ¼ and he proposed eliminating one of the 4 county judgeships.

I then asked Ken if he thought the financial rescue and/or stimulus bills were a good idea. If they had helped us get through the recession. He thinks both were counterproductive in that they had a bunch of unnecessary pet projects. And that we have a system in place to handle companies that go bankrupt. He also sees all the debt as saddling us with higher interest rates for a long time.

Note: I’ll agree that the state wastes funds here and there. And I’ll agree that the bills that went through had some major problems. But we’re also a government of imperfect human beings and so we get imperfect systems. But I think while we’re going to have the Republican candidates all proposing lower taxes, I think they’re taking a free ride on American’s propensity for wanting government services – but not wanting to pay for it. And because there are significant elements of truth in their criticism, it works for a lot of voters. And to be honest, we Dems do it too – but I still don’t like it.

Ok, back to the interview. I then asked how do we make sure we don’t have this happen again. Ken wants to see the federal regulation improved. He brought up the case of New Frontier Bank where they asked the feds to come check it out three times and each time the feds said there was nothing they could do. Then it went belly up. He also talked about how Alan Greenspan heard a discussion of a new derivative and he had no idea what it was – how can you be regulating properly when you don’t even know what people are trading.

So Ken sees a need for better regulation. He also is in favor of the idea of not allowing banks to be too big to fail and thinks we should look at using the anti-trust laws to break up the ones that can take the entire economy down with them if they fail. What’s really interesting here is Ken is not a no government candidate. Where he sees a need for the government to be involved, he wants that involvement.

I then asked him if he thinks global warming is occurring, is that bad, and what should we do about it. He definitely sees it occurring (although he thinks just how much is due to human beings is arguable). On the is it bad question he had a very interesting answer in that he listed a number of the pros and cons of warming from longer growing seasons in places (good) to increased disease (bad). I think it speaks well of him that he has a decent grasp of the ramifications of warming – that generally leads to better legislation.

On what to do he immediately jumped on to numerous steps we can take to reduce warming. So while he was somewhat equivocal about is it bad, he is in favor of reducing it. He dove in to all the alternative energy sources – wind, solar, etc. I asked about nuclear and he replied that he thinks nuclear is one of our best sources for non-carbon energy and that people need to get over their illogical fear of nuclear. So while Ken may be equivocal about global warming, he’s definitely in favor of addressing it.

Next I asked Ken about our evolving economy where we have cases of a new system eliminating rather than replacing hundreds of thousands of jobs (I used the Craigslist example). He clearly sees this change in the economy. And he does think it will be disruptive. But he thinks people will learn new skills required by the new economy and that will shake out okay. I worry about this but he has a very valid point that we have historically done this and so we may be okay.

This took us in to a discussion of our educational system including the abysmal graduation rates in DPS and other districts serving poor students. He thinks partially this is addressed by people deciding to go back later and complete their education. But he also thinks the federal government should get out of K-12. He brings up the point that the federal government has gotten more and more involved in K-12 over the last 40 years – and it has not gotten better.

Note: I’d like to disagree with him, but he’s got the facts on his side on this one. Maybe the best thing the federal government could do for education is butt out. I would love to see this become a major issue in the senate race so we can see it discussed in detail, especially in the general if it’s Bennet on the Dem side. Because continuing to do the same thing and expect different results is a form of insanity.

Next was healthcare. First I asked about coverage, specifically pre-existing conditions. This got the most emotional response of the entire interview where he said that insurance companies absolutely must stop this – and regulations should be passed to say so. This again speaks to Ken’s willingness to have the government step in where he thinks it makes sense.

We then discussed Medicare, Medicaid, VA, & TriCare. He sees Medicare, etc as a major cost shifter in that it’s set rates are below what the medical establishment needs to be profitable thereby pushing up the rates for people on private plans. He did not propose ending them but clearly thinks they have a negative impact on cost for the rest of us.

Ken then discussed how 85% of us are on an insurance plan and we get care that is as good as anywhere else through that plan. And we should be able to stick with a system that works well in terms of providing quality care.

Then we shifted to costs. He agrees that costs are much higher here and need to be addressed. He brought up tort reform and said that some say it could help a bit (which is a very fair way to put it). He also talked about how low-tech the medical system presently is and how much can be saved by improving the I.T. infrastructure used (very true).

I then asked about end of life care and he had a very thoughtful response. It was personal and so I am not going to repeat it – but very thoughtful.

He also touched on the issue of “death panels” and his comment was that some say some of the bills include something along those lines, but he does not know if they do for sure. But that if we go the Dick Lamn route (his words) he is totally opposed to limiting care based on criteria like that.

I asked next about Iraq & Afghanistan. He has a personal iron in this fire as his son is a junior at West Point and so his decisions on this will have a direct impact on his child. (I wish most in Congress had kids in the military, like WWII – it gets them very focused on is this worth our children’s lives.) He thinks we definitely need to continue a major effort in Afghanistan. And he pointed out that this is an effort that will take at least 10 years and will require both military for security and civilians to build the country (as Ken said, re-build is not the right phrase for Afghanistan as it has nothing).

His answer is not a go in and kick ass one. It’s not a retreat to our shores one. It’s that we need to go in for the long, difficult, complicated effort of trying to build up a civil society there. And he then went on to say we need to work to bring the Islamic world into the 21 Century.

I then asked Ken about immigration. He first wants to see us craft a guest worker program that is sufficient to meet the needs of our economy. He spoke quite well to the fact that if there is a lot more need than workers, then people will come illegally. He also is concerned about people having babies here which gives them a child who is a U.S. citizen. Next he talked about tightening up our border security – both borders (i.e. Canada too). To keep out both illegals and terrorists. He did say that the number of terrorists are few, but we want to get them.

I want to stress one thing on this part of the discussion because of how this topic has been handled in this state recently. There was nothing in Ken’s statement that in any way could be construed as nativist or racist. He wants to regain control of our immigration system appropriately. But in no way did it come across as an excuse to do anything more than that.

I next asked about getting us off oil from the geopolitical perspective (as opposed to global warming). He first commented that the largest transfer of wealth in human history has been the recent transfer from the industrial world to the oil-producing world. And that we have to stop that. He came back to the need to work on any and all kinds of alternative energy. He singled out natural gas for autos as a solution that can make a sizeable dent in our oil consumption.

I ended asking him about the estate tax. He laughed and said you mean the death tax? Needless to say he opposes it and thinks it should be abolished. He did speak specifically to the case of family farms that had to be broken up upon the death of the parents (which I thought had been exempted from the tax).

So what do we have with Ken Buck? A thoughtful conservative who would like to see the government do less in some areas. But also sees a very necessary role for the government in others. He also is a strong believer in the American system where people, companies, etc., if left to their own devices, will between everyone’s efforts, figure out how best to move forward.

I don’t think anyone knows how he will do in the primary because we haven’t had a real GOP statewide primary here forever (and this year we have two). But I think in the general election he will be very competitive. What he says will be compelling to the moderate middle that decides statewide races in Colorado. And if he’s elected, I think he would do a good job.

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