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Extended Q&A with Morse and Herpin

Senate President Morse and recall challenger Bernie Herpin weigh in on myriad issues



The campaign to recall Colorado Senate President John Morse has been all about gun control. But let's face it: serving in the Colorado Senate is not.

On Sept. 10, voters in Senate District 11 will either choose to retain Morse, a Democrat, or elect former City Councilor Bernie Herpin, a Republican. Herpin or Morse will then be charged with working with fellow legislators to help direct the state government.

From budgets and taxes to civil rights and environmental protection, the person who sits in that office will have a chance to make a big impact on the state. We asked Herpin and Morse to weigh in via e-mail on some of the heavy issues facing Coloradans; here are their unedited responses.

Indy: What is your relevant experience which you feel qualifies you for this position?

Morse: As a paramedic, police officer, detective, [Fountain] chief of police, CEO of Silver Key Senior Services, and now a state senator, I have spent much of my career in service to the community. My experience in each of these positions has led me to be a passionate advocate for enhancing public safety, strengthening the economy, creating jobs, caring for seniors, and helping our veterans and their families. My previous experience, particularly as a Chief of Police and CEO, provided me with valuable leadership skills that have allowed me to serve my constituents with honesty, integrity, and an open door.

Herpin: As a former Naval and Air Force veteran, I took an oath to defend our Constitution. I have also spent most of my adult life working to improve our community. From my work on numerous community boards to my service on city council, I made it a point to listen to people from all points of view to understand their beliefs so I can represent all citizens well. Unfortunately, Senator Morse has been working in Denver to take away the rights of law-abiding citizens and ignoring us in the process. That's why this recall is happening and why I am running to replace him on September 10th.

Indy: What is your stance on the state's civil unions law? Will you seek to repeal it?

Morse: I was proud to stand with my colleagues this session as we passed the civil unions legislation — it is time that all Coloradoans are afforded the rights they deserve. Civil unions will afford basic rights to gay couples such as visiting a sick spouse in the hospital, adopting a spouse's kid, having the same surname, and inheriting property. Civil unions are not only about making a loving commitment, but also about making a legal commitment to be financially responsible for one another.

I will fight hard against any attempt to repeal it.

Herpin: The Constitution is clear that all men are created equal. I believe in equal rights but not special rights. We have to stop labeling people and start treating people the way we want to be treated. I have spent my whole life trying to treat people fairly and with respect and I will continue to do so as your state senator.

Indy: Do you believe Colorado needs a statewide aerial fire fighting force? If so, what will you do to ensure it becomes a reality? If not, why not?

Morse: This past session, the legislature fought to ensure that those Coloradoans who had homes damaged by wildfires received the compensation they deserved. This was an important step, but I believe that the time has come to take a more comprehensive look at what we can do to prevent and fight wildfires in our state. An aerial fire fighting fleet may very well be a part of that strategy. I worked with Senator [Cheri] Jahn and Senator [Steve] King on finding a funding source for the aerial fire fighting fleet. However, because the legislation was introduced late in the session, most available funds had already been allocated through the budget process. I am committed to working with my colleagues next session to determine the best path forward for preventing and fighting wildfires in Colorado.

Herpin: Colorado needs to be looking for the best ways to be prepared for the forest fires that hit our region regularly. I look forward to the opportunity to work with fellow Colorado legislators and state legislators all over the West for the best way to plan for and tackle forest fires.

Indy: What is your stance on the proposed tax to fund education in Colorado?

Morse: Senator [Mike] Johnston and an extensive group of stakeholders worked hard this past session on a long overdue overhaul of our state's school finance formula. I was proud to support Senate Bill 213, and I am also proud to be supporting the proposed tax increase that will help make our education system more adequate and equitable and benefit all Colorado Schools. Education is the foundation of society and the only known cure for poverty, and until we can provide our children with the education they need to succeed, we are not doing enough as legislators or as citizens.

Herpin: My biggest concern about the proposed "education" tax is that there is no guarantee that it will be used for education. This is a typical ploy of Denver politicians to push for more palatable taxes and fees while shifting the money to their pet projects in state government. That is a bad way to govern.

Indy: Petitioners are once again seeking to put a Personhood issue on the ballot, which would declare a fetus to be a full citizen. What is your stance on this issue and reproductive rights in general?

Morse: I believe in a woman's right to choose. The Personhood Amendment represents a dangerous infringement on an individual's privacy and those decisions that should remain between a woman and her doctor. As a former medical professional, I am also well aware of the slippery slope of the Personhood Ammendment that could make it difficult for a woman to receive appropriate medical care in the case of a miscarriage and even ban some common forms of birth control.

Herpin: The Personhood issue has been decided by Colorado voters before. Under state law, people can choose to petition for it to be on the ballot again. If they do, it will be in the hands of the voters much like this historic recall that will happen long before any statewide ballot issues are set.

Indy: The Taxpayer's Bill of Rights has eliminated the Legislature's ability to raise taxes while also causing its coffers to shrink over time. What is your stance on TABOR? Will you take any action to see it changed?

Morse: While some tax and spending limits are reasonable and can help provide for a more stable economy, Colorado's TABOR amendment is the most restrictive in the county. In the last ten years, the combination of the recession and TABOR's limits have led to hundreds of millions of dollars in state budget cuts restricting our ability to provide the public goods that keep our economy moving. I believe it is time we reevaluate TABOR in the hopes of putting in a place a better system that reins in government spending while allowing for better and more rapid government response to crises, such as the recent recession.

Herpin: I support TABOR.

Indy: What is your stance on recreational marijuana?

Morse: I believe that implementation of Amendment 64 is about finding a balance between personal freedom and government regulation. Coloradoans voted to legalize marijuana and should therefore have access to it for recreational use. At the same time, I believe that we need to put in place an adequate (and well-funded) system of regulation that provides for safety and sufficient oversight to keep marijuana out of the hands of those under age 21.

Herpin: This issue is settled. The voters approved it last November. I personally don't support drug use.

Indy: What is your stance on the death penalty? Was Gov. John Hickenlooper correct to intervene in the execution of Nathan Dunlap?

Morse: While I am generally supportive of the death penalty, I recognize that there are some seemingly valid concerns about how it has historically been applied, particularly to minorities. I think I may have made a decision different from that of Governor Hickenlooper, but I respect his choice and believe he made a good faith effort to weigh the options and consult with those directly impacted, such as the victim's families.

Herpin: I support the death penalty and clearly don't support repealing the death penalty as Senator Morse said he was "likely" to do. Governor Hickenlooper was wrong to kick the can down the road in regards to Nathan Dunlap.

Indy: How would you draw more jobs to our state?

Morse: I believe that the key to creating jobs lies in building strong communities across our state. If we focus on creating strong communities, businesses will want to be a part of them and job growth will be a natural part of that process. Strong economies cannot be built only from the top down or the bottom up. It must be a combination of both that relies on public, not-for-profit, and for profit businesses to provide the goods and services we need.

Herpin: This is a great question. I will focus on empowering job creators and eliminating burdensome regulations that kill jobs. Unfortunately, this last legislative session was dominated by the majority doing the bidding of special interests or big donors in New York and Washington instead of focusing on getting our economy back on track. That's why people are so frustrated with our leaders in Denver and initiated this recall effort.

Indy: What is your opinion of the Make My Day law? What about Florida's Stand Your Ground law?

Morse: I believe in an individual's 2nd Amendment right to own a gun, I own one myself, and that, if necessary, people should be allowed to use that gun to defend themselves in their own home. At the same time, as a former Chief of Police, I believe that law enforcement officials with proper training are our best source of protection to Colorado residents. If there is evidence that Stand your Ground laws lead to unnecessary loss of life, I believe it is the responsibility of the public and the state legislature to reevaluate the laws of the land and ensure they are doing more good than harm.

Herpin: I support Colorado's Make My Day law because it's important to give law-abiding citizens the ability to defend themselves and their families. As to Florida law, I am running for the Colorado legislature and not the Florida legislature.

Indy: How dangerous is fracking to the public health? Are more regulations needed?

Morse: There is no question that dangerous chemicals are used in the process of hydraulic fracturing and that proper environmental protections must be put in place to ensure that our drinking water and other public resources are protected. I believe that natural gas is an important part of our state's energy future and can be used to replace dirtier fuels such as coal. However, we must make sure that safeguards are put in place to reduce risks to our health and resources as we extract the gas. We made strides at the legislature this past session with the passage of legislation such as Senate Bill 202, which put in place higher standards for inspections at oil and gas facilities. We must continue to move forward, striking a balance between expanding our energy economy and protecting our health and environment.

Herpin: I'm assuming this question is about hydraulic fracturing when it comes to oil and gas exploration. I support an all-of-the-above strategy when it comes to energy development. We need to stop our dependence on foreign energy sources and give ourselves the opportunity to create good paying jobs right here in Colorado. Energy production has allowed North Dakota's economy to grow exponentially and the same can happen in Colorado.

Indy: What is your stance on immigration reform and on recent law changes in Colorado affecting immigrants?

Morse: As a county and a state, we were founded in strong immigrant roots. Colorado has always been an ideal destination for those pursuing the American Dream and will continue to be so. Despite many philosophical objections, it is reality that Colorado immigrants play a role in the vibrancy our state's economic well-being. We must continue to pursue legislation that strikes a balance between managing the relationship between immigration and economic growth and ensuring safety and regulation of those who live in our state.

This session, we passed reasonable immigration policies that strike a balance between fairness, reform, and safety. The ASSET legislation will allow top graduates from Colorado high schools to attend college in Colorado at in-state tuitions rates while requiring them to begin their path to citizenship. The Community and Law Enforcement Trust Act, also signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper, garnered bipartisan and law enforcement support and repealed SB 90, which passed in 2006. SB 90 required law enforcement to report people suspected to be undocumented to Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE). Because Senate Bill 90 was written so broadly, we saw it increase law enforcement costs without increasing public safety. Additionally, it eroded law enforcement's ability to build trust with important segments of the community that are critical to public safety.

Herpin: Immigration reform is a federal issue and our federal delegation is working on this issue as we speak. But again, I support the rule of law, which means the enforcement of our current laws.

Indy: How did you feel about the expansion of Colorado's Renewable Energy Standard to rural areas? Please explain.

Morse: As a sponsor of Senate Bill 252, I believe that it will help ensure rural Coloradoans have access to sources of clean energy, such as wind and solar. Historically, Colorado has been a national leader in promoting clean energy, and we can continue to do so thorough legislation such as this.

The bill increases the renewable energy standard to 20% (from 10%) by the year 2020. Retail costs will be capped at a 2% increase (1% currently), costing the average retail customer an extra 60 cents a month in the short run and saving them many dollars a month in the long run. This investment ensures an appropriate investment in renewable without adversely impacting Colorado consumers.

Xcel Energy, Colorado's largest utility, has proven that 30% renewable generation is cost-effective and a benefit to Coloradans — rural Coloradans deserve increased access to renewable energy as well. Wind and solar can be expensive to implement, but are inexpensive to maintain since the fuel cost is renewable (provided at no cost by nature) while coal and natural gas is also expensive to implement and remains expensive to maintain as the fuel must be provided and paid for regardless of its cost or its increases in cost in response to supply and demand issues.

Herpin: The free market should dictate how we produce energy in Colorado. This mandate hurts local communities and forces energy rates to skyrocket. We should be working for responsible policies instead of our leaders simply issuing edicts that are sent down from Denver.

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