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 email on some of the heavy issues facing Coloradans. Below are excerpts, edited for clarity and length, from their answers; for full versions, click here.
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.
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 Coloradans 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 state senator.
Indy: Do you believe Colorado needs a statewide aerial firefighting force? If so, what will you do to ensure it becomes a reality? If not, why not?
Morse: 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 firefighting 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 firefighting 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.
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.
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 Amendment 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.
Indy: The Taxpayer 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 country. In the last 10 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 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. Coloradans 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 ... 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: 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.
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 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: 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 ... The ASSET legislation will allow top graduates from Colorado high schools to attend college in Colorado at in-state tuition 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 and Customs 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.