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September 15, 2005 08:00 AM UTC

Mark Couch Q&A

  • by: Colorado Pols

We’re pleased to present another Colorado Pols Q&A after taking a short break.

MarkCouch.jpgDenver Post political reporter Mark Couch will be answering your questions LIVE from 11:00 a.m. until Noon today, so fire away in the comments section. In the meantime, click on the link below to read our first 11 questions and answers with Mr. Couch.

Mr. Couch has recently completed a four-part series on TABOR and Referenda C&D, which you can see HERE. He was worked for the Post since 2001, first as a business reporter before moving over to the political beat in 2003 covering John Hickenlooper’s campaign for mayor. Couch was then assigned to cover City Hall before moving last year to covering state politics (he covered the U.S. Senate race in 2004).

Prior to working for the Denver Post, Couch was a business reporter covering insurance and workplace issues at The Des Moines Register between 1995-1997; technology at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1998; and real estate and economic development at The Kansas City Star from 1999 to 2001

As always, we only have one rule with these Q&As: You may disagree, but you may not be disrespectful. Rude and innapropriate comments and questions will be immediately removed.

And now, on with the show…

Q&A With Denver Post Political Reporter Mark Couch

1. Given the time and the focus to really dive deep into the discussion of Referenda C&D, what are the most persuasive arguments that you heard from each side?

The opponents say Referendum C is a tax increase and that government should be more efficient with taxpayer’s money. That seems pretty persuasive. Who likes to pay taxes? Who doesn’t agree that government shouldn’t waste money?

The proponents say services that are essential for a strong economy – good schools, universities and roads – will be damaged if the state continues to squeeze spending. Their case is more like saying Colorado is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. If strong companies, strong workers, strong families don’t have the support of a healthy government, everybody suffers.

2. Both sides tend to exaggerate their budget concerns, but what are the facts about Colorados budget? 

Voters have tied the hands of their elected leaders with votes that may have been right at the time, but can’t change with the times.

Spending caps on government are swell when the economy is growing, but during hard times those same spending caps limit leaders’ flexibility to propose changes. The opponents’ belt-tightening argument makes sense: “When your family experiences a hard time, you cut back on spending.” But the proponents have a ready reply: “When your spouse gets a new job, you usually don’t live as if you’re on one income anymore. You fix the stuff that broke when you had only one income.”

Lawmakers face fewer choices on the budget because Coloradans like to write the budget by ballot – TABOR, Amendment 23, Amendment 35. That process isn’t likely to change because it’s relatively easy to amend the constitution in Colorado, compared to many other states.

The basic facts of the budget are pretty clear: About two-thirds of the spending in the general fund go toward Medicaid and public schools. And the costs of those programs continue to rise faster than state tax revenues. That means other programs in the general fund will be forced to take deeper cuts if the TABOR spending limits continue to cap government.

3. If C&D fails, what do you think will happen next in regards to dealing with the budget?

Deeper budget cuts, most likely to the state universities and community colleges. The state likely will sell bonds backed by proceeds it expects to collect from tobacco companies. Last year, Gov. Owens called for “tobacco securitization” and expected to raise about $800 million. Now, the governor warns that such a move is a temporary patch to the budget and would only postpone an inevitable reckoning with a growing gap between revenues and the cost of providing government services. Republican Rep. Joe Stengel has called for selling state-owned property as an alternative to passing Refs. C and D. That’s also a possibility.

4. Democrats still dont have candidates for Attorney General, State Treasurer or Secretary of State. Why do you think there has been such a lag in these races when Republicans have long since found candidates?

Because the Republicans have strong incumbents who will run for those jobs and Democrats say they are focusing on passing Refs. C and D.

John Suthers and Mark Hillman will be able to say they know how to do the jobs of Attorney General and Treasurer, respectively, because they’ve served the state in those roles. Hillman, as the interim treasurer, will have time to campaign after Mike Coffman returns from Iraq and returns to his job as treasurer. And Coffman, making his case to become secretary of state, will be able to say that if he can run an election in war-torn Iraq, he can do it in Colorado.

While taking a break from his across-the-state walk on Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Ken Gordon, who has been considered a candidate for secretary of state, said he’s concentrating on the ballot measures.

5. There is a lot of talk about whether or not another Democrat will enter the race for governor. Do you expect another candidate to emerge, and whats your read on who it might be?

Somebody probably will challenge Bill Ritter for the nomination. Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald seems like the safest bet to get into the race, but it depends on the vote on Referendums C and D.

6. How do you think each party will approach the 2006 legislative session? What political lessons do you think each party learned in 2005?

Both parties will probably try to overcome rifts in their ranks. Republicans split this year on Refs. C and D, but they may work together better to try to reclaim the statehouse. The Democrats struggled last year on business-related issues. Some Democrats pushed issues like workers’ compensation reform and parental leave for their children’s school events, while others were cool to the ideas. I’m curious to see how they handle that split in their party.

7. What issue, or issues, are coming in the 2006 election that are not on most peoples radar right now, and how do you see them playing out in the election?

Guns and waffles. I’d be watching the law-and-order Democrat, Bill Ritter, for his position on gun issues and his handling of fatal shootings by Denver police officers during his tenure as Denver D.A. Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez seems testy about liberals calling him a waffler on issues like Social Security reform; we’ll see if they can make the charge stick.

8. What political stories this year particularly surprised you, and why?

The lack of Democrat candidates officially running for governor. With an open office and after the Democrats scored a surprising takeover of the statehouse, you’d think Democrats would be clamoring to take over the governor’s seat.

9. Extremists on both sides of the political spectrum like to claim that the media is biased. What is your response when somebody says the Denver Post is too liberal or too conservative?

I thank the Framers of the Constitution for giving us freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Readers are entitled to their opinions.

10. We asked Lynn Bartels of the Rocky Mountain News this question: how do you think political coverage differs from the News to the Post?

I’m not much for making such comparisons. I prefer to concentrate on my job and leave the critiques to the readers and to my bosses.

11. What is the strangest thing you have seen while covering politics?

Gov. Bill Owens flanked by Democrats Andrew Romanoff and Joan Fitz-Gerald announcing the deal that led to Referenda C and D. Lurking in the background of the crowd was Republican Joe Stengel, the House Minority Leader, showing his support for the deal. Since then, Stengel has become one of the most outspoken critics of the deal.

Have a question for Mark Couch? Click below and ask away in the comments section. Mr. Couch will answer your questions LIVE from 11:00 a.m. until Noon.


45 thoughts on “Mark Couch Q&A

  1. You said that Joan Fitzgerald is waiting for the November vote to decide on running for governor. Do you think that if it doesn’t pass she won’t run, or vice versa?

  2. Mark, both sides seem to be doing a good job of presenting doom and gloom scenarios.  ie, if we don’t vote yes our roads are going to crumble.  Or if we do vote yes the government is going to use our extra tax dollars for out of control spending.  Assuming the truth falls somewhere in the middle can you expand on your response to what the truth is?  In other words is there any validity to either statement, can we expect all or part of either doom and gloom scenario to come true?

  3. I saw a story this morning about Rick O’Donnell’s have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too position on Referendums C and D — he said he is loyal to the Administration so will tow the line on the measures even if it is not what he personally believes.  Do you think coming out in support of these measures will make it more likely that conservative Republicans will get behind Mark Paschall? I heard a rumor that Club For Growth got a pledge from O’Donnell that he would oppose C&D.  Do you think their endorsement could be withdrawn from O’Donnell now?

  4. Hello ColoradoPols. I’m joining a few minutes early because I will have to leave a few minutes before noon.
    Joe Pa, regarding Joan Fitz-Gerald: I’m not sure what she will do if it doesn’t pass. She has hitched her wagon to getting Refs. C and D passed. If the ballot measures fail, that position could be a liability to a campaign.

  5. Matt:
    You want the truth about what’s going to happen – always slippery business in politics. Officials who back Refs. C and D say the state will need to cut more than $400 million in next year’s budget if the measures fail. That’s probably true if the economy doesn’t change much between now and the next budget. Will there be spending on programs that opponents of C and D don’t like? Of course, so that’s true too. Will it be out-of-control spending? That depends on your definition of out of control.

  6. Roger:
    Rick O’Donnell’s position on Refs C and D and the Club for Growth pledge. I don’t know anything about such a pledge. Does it make it more likely that conservative Republicans will go for an opponent? Probably.

  7. Hey Coloradem:

    I asked a bunch of Dems about it yesterday and they all said they’re focusing on Refs. C and D. Sen. Ken Gordon previously has been interested in Secretary of State, but yesterday he wouldn’t say if he was running. Sen. Dan Grossman gave up his quest for attorney general, so I don’t know who’s next in line.

  8. I have a question about C&D. If it fails do you think the legislature would try another ballot measure? Assuming that something had to be done to make changes, what would they try besides just more budget cuts?

  9. Fraggle:
    You’re right. I don’t like to make predictions. If I was good at it, I’d be in another line of business, making more money. The chances of the Republicans gaining control of the legislature? Always possible. Dems have only a one-vote margin in the Senate. And the Republicans learned some lessons about funding last time from the Dems. Expect more money to pour in from Republicans.

  10. WilyCoyote:
    Something will be likely appear. I don’t know if it will be on 2006 ballot. In terms of other options besides budget cuts, lawmakers would likely sell bonds backed by tobacco proceeds and other state-owned assets.

  11. Mark,

    Enjoyed your TABOR feature.  Proponents point to mandatory spending, education and medicare, as one of the big problems. Even if C and D pass do you think eventually we will be right back in the same position we are now?



  12. d: Salazar has been busy. His office sends out a lot of news releases. To be the only first-year senator in the group of 14 that broke the filibuster impasse was a pretty high-profile move.

  13. We just got a big news release from Bill Ritter. He announced that he has received the endorsement of one of the biggest labor unions, UFCW (grocery workers). What’s your reaction?

  14. Mike:
    Good question. Some people think that the inflation-plus-population growth formula for state spending is flawed and that the state will eventually fall behind again because it doesn’t keep up with the costs of some of government’s biggest bills: health care and education. I don’t know if we’ll be back in the same position again, but some analysts think we will be.

  15. Mark: The government will always say they don’t have enough money and need more. That is why Tabor is so effective and why C will not pass. With all your “inside” contacts, you must know where there is budget fat. If you were budget director where would you look first?

    No on C Yes on D!

  16. Mark,

    I remember a lot of talk about the ratchet when we voted on TABOR.  Our Governor(then a legislator) knew about it then, in fact it was one of the core elements of Amendment 1 (TABOR).

    Would you agree Governor Owens refering to the ratchet as a “glitch in TABOR” in the TV AD is somewhat misleading?


  17. Please join us in thanking Mark Couch for taking the time to answer your questions today. Our next Q&A is this coming Tuesday with Attorney General John Suthers.

  18. FYI, Beauprez attended Club 20’s Friday night barbecue. He didn’t make it Saturday, however, because he was in the hospital after apparently throwing his back out.

  19. Just asking your personal opinion/prediction:
    1. Will Andrew Romanoff run for Governor?
    2. Will Joan Fitz-Gerald run for Governor?
    3. Will Beauprez stay in the race for Governor?
    4. After inaugural day 2007 will we ever hear of Bill Owens again?
    Thank you

  20. Bob and Vladimir:
    No predictions in either case. I don’t know what will happen in those cases. If I could predict the future, I’d spend more time at the racetrack.

  21. And then a second horror haunted possession of my soul. As those thoughtful debt reduction type their message into my ears I disbelieved the words of the child and furled back, down upon the all-time scene from which I condemned I had escaped.

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