Getting to know Dan Maes
I had the opportunity to meet with Dan Maes for about 90 minutes on Wednesday evening, Dan graciously honoring our prior agreement to meet even after my rather large error regarding where he went to college, an error for which I apologized (again) directly to Dan. Dan's wife, Karen, also sat down with us for some of our meeting but, except for just one or two sentences which I got specific permission to write about, Mrs. Maes' conversation with me will be held in confidence.
Following is the write-up of our meeting, based on 8 pages of notes I took (and filling in a bit more from memory.) In the interest of not overly coloring this interview, and not laboring under the assumption that many people are anxiously awaiting hearing the Word of Ross, I will not post my endorsement in the Colorado GOP governor's primary race until Saturday morning, 24 hours after posting this note. That said, I will still offer occasional commentary within this note, as I did with my write-ups of meetings with Jane Norton and Ken Buck. I hope you find the interview informative.
My meeting with Dan Maes could hardly have been any more different from my meeting with Scott McInnis. Indeed, meeting with Scott left me so uninspired that I didn't even write it up for these pages. Most of the time was spent with Scott asking me questions, the answers to which I don't think he really cared about, in what struck me as an attempt to get through our short time together without having to answer many of my questions and while trying to make me feel like he really cared to know me. I felt like I was talking to a wind-up wax figure of a politician.
Dan Maes, for better or worse from a political point of view, answered -- at least to some degree -- every question I asked him. It's a mark of a political novice, perhaps both part of his appeal and one of his Achilles heels. Similarly, there is a refreshing earnestness about him, with the potential downside of being more frank than a candidate should.
Before Dan arrived at our meeting place, I wrote down about 20 questions. Following is our discussion as we had it, which was roughly in my original question order. I will put direct quotations in quotes. Dan spoke pretty fast so I might have a word or two wrong, even in direct quotes, but nothing that would change the meaning or intent of his statements. Where I do not use quotes to convey something Dan said, I am probably still using quite a few of his own words, but I missed enough that I do not feel comfortable saying it's a direct quote.
I'll put my questions in bold, with Mr. Maes' response (quote or my description) in regular text immediately afterward.
Question: What do you see as the pluses and minuses (if any) of the Tea Party movement, and are you the "Tea Party candidate"?
DM: "I never claimed the 'Tea Party' label, but every Tea Party which has endorsed in this race has endorsed me." "People are sick and tired of what the 'machine' is trying to do in this race." Maes believes people are passionately involved and organized, "more so than the media understands", and that "their motives are good and right." He couldn't think of any negatives regarding the Tea Party movement as it exists in Colorado and says he's yet to see anything radical about it. He also noted that over 40% of the audience at the state assembly was there for the first time, and figures he got 90% of those delegates.
Question: What do you think the chances are of the GOP taking back either part of the state legislature?
DM: 70% chance of taking back the State Senate, 80% chance of taking back the State House, though he admits he's a naturally optimistic guy. So far, no quantification of impact of Democrat "Four Horsemen". Maes also noted that "their portfolios have dropped like everyone else's", so they may be less willing to throw money around.
Question: What's your view of the State Supreme Court and Clear The Bench Colorado?
DM: After twice complimenting Matt Arnold on the remarkable job CTBC has done so far, including forcing the retirement of one liberal justice, Maes gave an amusing analogy: "Bill Ritter mugged us several times in an alley. At each end of the alley were two liberal State Supreme Court Justices watching the alley for Ritter."
Question: What would you look for in a justice if you got to replace one or more?
DM: "Experience balanced with a conservative viewpoint, someone who would apply law rather than perform judicial policy making." On this answer, it seemed to me that Mr. Maes had a few good conservative buzzwords but really hadn't thought about it much.
Question: What are your thoughts on redistricting?
DM: "My opponents are trying to make it an issue of experience, trying to use it against me." Maes said that it's just a "numbers game" and that he could manage the process as well as anyone despite never having dealt with the issue hands-on. He added that he is "not in this to manipulate things to the Republicans' advantage. I realize that may be heresy with some conservatives." My problem with Maes' answer is that it didn't really convey an understanding of how redistricting works nor how critical it is. I also wish he had said that if he were governor and the Dems had the legislature that he would make sure they didn't manipulate the outcome to their advantage.
We drifted to the topic of Roe v Wade (I can't say I precisely remember the transition to that topic, but it came from Mr. Maes, not from me). He said he "won't fight Roe v Wade" (because it's a federal issue and he's running for a state office, and therefore it's a bad use of his time) but also emphasized that he supported and voted for the "personhood" amendment.
Question: What do you think of Tancredo's entrance into the governor's race?
DM: "I don't know what his motives are. He rattled his saber in November but then didn't get in. Something similar might happen again this time, though that may be a bit of naive hopefulness. I told Tom "You told me how to do this, to use e-verify, and you put me in touch with others" for several discussions on immigration issues.
One person "made a case about sustainability of immigration -- environmental and economic". Maes was also told about the issue if verifiable identification.
[This led to a somewhat broader discussion of immigration, including my asking Maes why his policy changed from what was essentially amnesty in early 2009 to a much more hard-line anti-illegals position now.]
"When I used the phrase 'path to citizenship', I didn't know it was common terminology for amnesty." Maes described his current 3-point plan on the subject of immigration:
2) maximize SB90 enforcement, i.e. report likely illegals to ICE
3) verifiable identification at social services gateways
He does support an Arizona-style law. From the Arizona discussion, and after I told him about the judge's ruling a couple of hours earlier overturning part of Arizona's law, Maes brought up the 10th Amendment: "A new movement around the 10th Amendment will cause many lawsuits between states and the federal government, but we'll push and push and push. We'll win some and lose some but we won't give up" in an effort to recover legitimate states' rights within the concept of our federal republic. Maes believes it's "time states started taking action" to recover these rights.
Regarding his change in position on amnesty, Maes says it came from talking to experts. He named a few of the people he spoke to (presumably at Tom Tancredo's urging) and they are indeed people well-known around the conservative side of the immigration discussion -- serious thinkers whom I don't always agree with but serious nonetheless. (I won't name the people here.) Maes says that talking to experts is "what we do as public servants" and that regarding his initial pro-amnesty position he "wasn't married to it, but wanted something on the issue to put on the web site."
We had a related discussion about the 2nd Amendment. Maes said he is "all for gun ownership and possession." We talked about a questionnaire which he'd filled out after which the gun rights group who gave him the questionnaire got pretty upset with a couple of the answers. One was about a "Vermont-style carry law", which Maes described as essentially unfettered concealed carry with no permit required. He said that when he was answering the question, his "first reaction was 'I don't know what you're talking about' and his second reaction was "we're not Vermont or Alaska." Still, he answered the question "no" without understanding it; he explained elsewhere that he defaults to "no" on questions he doesn't understand. There was a similar issue with a question about repealing a Brady-related law, to which he also defaulted to "no" without really understanding the question. Maes also said that he "had very little time to answer" the questionnaire.
I asked him if he did indeed support unfettered concealed carry without permits. He said "If the people want it, if they vote for it by initiative or it passes the legislature, then as governor I will support it. But I won't champion it."
Regarding changing positions generally, Maes said "I am the new guy and I am learning. I was told by some people 'don't respond to questions or questionnaires from special interest groups' But I still believe people deserve straight answers.
[While I appreciate Dan Maes' apparently sincere willingness to sit down and listen to people who know more about an issue than he does, I was concerned about how a candidate for governor could have spent so little time thinking about an issue as important to the state as immigration (even before the Arizona law made the issue even bigger) that he could start at amnesty and end up at or near Tancredo. Maes tries to emphasize his open-mindedness but it's still hard for me to think that someone with more experience and having spent more time thinking about issues wouldn't need to be quite so malleable because he'd have a good grasp on a subject, even though it's always wise to listen to experts. Just the idea that he (says he) didn't know that "path to citizenship" was the leading code phrase for amnesty is troubling.]
Question: What are your best ideas for boosting employment in Colorado?
DM: "We need to take some medicine first -- meaning we have to shrink government. The economy in the state is based on energy first. We need to leverage that industry and bring it back better and stronger than ever. We need a lower tax burden with smaller government." He re-emphasized bringing back energy jobs "more than ever" as well as "lightening the regulation burden and cutting taxes." "We can't just click our heels together and say 'jobs, jobs, jobs' and have them fall from the sky."
Maes turned the jobs discussion toward a broader political point: "I'm a conservative first, then a Republican. It's time for Republicans to start acting like Republicans again, and that means smaller government and lower taxes."
I asked about balancing the budget through spending cuts. Maes said "Ritter did it because he had to. But I believe smaller government is just the right thing. It doesn't take a genius; it just takes the will to do it."
[My take on this, like much of the conversation, was that Maes understood and seemed truly to believe the basic conservative talking points -- and that's good as far as it goes, but I'm not convinced that his understanding of the issues is deep enough. That said, a solid foundational belief in small and inexpensive government is a good touchstone even, or maybe especially, for someone with no political experience.]
Question: What is your view on climate change?
"I don't believe in man-made climate change. Policy people at the federal level spend a lot of time debating it. But I think it's pretty arrogant for government to think they can impact something so immense and out of our hands as the temperature of the earth. With that said, we do have to be good stewards of what we have, and I do support conservation to a reasonable degree."
[I thought this was Maes' best answer of the evening...]
Maes spoke about a UN program (which I can't find, but I'll take his word for it) which he says "is being implemented by city mayors" and which includes things like the "free" (shared) bicycle programs popping up in Denver and elsewhere. Maes' big objection (which I share) is that an "argument can be made that pledges (by mayors to implement UN policy) are replacing our Constitution."
He added that "biking to work and things like that sound fun and green, but we're losing our freedom under the guise of 'living green.'"
Question: Would you rescind Governor Ritter's executive order allowing collective bargaining by state employees?
DM: "Yes, week one, maybe day one, as well as eliminating state funding for Planned Parenthood." Maes continued: "People are desperate for moral leadership, for character and integrity. I want to be a moral leader, but not dictating morality."
Question: What should be done to balance the state budget?
DM: "Start with head count reductions. We have to examine closely where we have the right to do that. Also, can we consolidate or eliminate any departments? We have to be able to reduce costs and grow revenue."
Again, this answer showed me an understanding of one good idea, but not a deeper understanding of the issue or the budgeting process.
Question: Would you support a tax hike to balance the budget?
DM: "I have pledged not to raise taxes. In fact, my goal is to cut the state's income tax rate by 1/10th of one percent in my first year in office."
Question: John Hickenlooper will undoubtedly make experience an issue in the race. How will you respond?
DM: I'd tell the story of John Love versus Governor McNichols. Love was the new guy, a complete outsider, who ran against the incumbent insider, McNichols. "Love was a small-office lawyer from Colorado Springs who became the first and only three-term governor in Colorado history."
"It's about integrity, character, leadership. Business-to-business experience is more important than selling beer over the bar."
Maes said something about sitting in the board room with Fortune 500 CEO's, but when I pushed on that question a bit, he changed it to "what we call C-level" executives, such as CIO and CFO, people to whom he was trying to sell expensive telecommunications equipment. I understand his wanting to emphasize interaction with big business, but I thought his gambit fell short when his "board room" meetings with CEOs turned into sales meetings with other executives. I had hoped that he meant -- as it sounded at first -- that he had served on the Board of Directors of a big company. But that wasn't the case, or at least he didn't say so.
"I've never claimed to be a big businessman or millionaire. I've been a small to medium-size businessman but have interacted with small, medium and Fortune 500 companies throughout that business."
When I suggested to Maes that the Love versus McNichols thing was a nice story but wouldn't really answer the question of experience when Hickenlooper pushed it, Maes said in a typical moment of perhaps-rookie candor that he would try to move away from the experience issue quickly. I would too in his situation.
Question: If Hickenlooper tries to make a campaign issue of your mileage reimbursements, will you provide the records to prove that the reimbursements were properly calculated?
DM: I'll show our records if Hickenlooper shows his charitable contributions.
I pushed pretty hard on this one, suggesting that if he put it like that, it would suit Hick just fine because he'd then say "Good, I won't show mine and you don't show yours." Maes then seemed to say that he'd be willing to show everything, but I wouldn't go so far here as to say he promised that. And he made it clear that he is "not here to be used. I'll do it (show records) when I believe it's the right time." He noted that he's given his tax returns even though as a matter of privacy they didn't really want to.
I pushed more about the mileage issue, asking about the mileage records which back up the reimbursements. Maes said that "some cars were used for the campaign only" and that all the miles on the vehicle, starting with the odometer reading when they were first brought to use in the campaign, are reimbursable. For other vehicles, such as his daughter's and wife's records have been kept. Maes certainly puts a lot of miles on vehicles, getting around the state as much or more than any other politician I'm aware of. He says he has 60K miles on the second truck he's used during the campaign. I was somewhat concerned when he said that it would be a lot of effort to "recreate mileage records" from his schedule but that he'd do it if he had to.
Question: Why did you pay yourself reimbursements instead of hiring staff?
DM: "From March '09 through January 2010, we advanced funds and resources to the campaign with little or no reimbursement. Most candidates would have put $50,000 or $100,000 in their campaign up front. We did it differently. We still weren't getting a lot of contributions. As revenue started coming in, we took reimbursements. We haven't gotten a paycheck since February, 2009. We've been living off savings and the profit from selling the business."
Dan and his wife said almost simultaneously, "We've made major sacrifices." Karen added "There's a reason only millionaires run for office."
When I pressed again on why taking reimbursements instead of hiring staff, Mr. Maes said "we made what we thought were fair reimbursements; a balanced approach."
At the end of the day, the answer to the question is that between the money the Maeses put into the campaign and the lack of income during the campaign, running for office has been a significant financial hardship for them and they needed the reimbursements to reduce some of that pressure. I don't begrudge them that at all. Nevertheless, the fact that they needed the money and didn't use it to hire staff has probably hurt them, not least if that staff could possibly have helped them avoid $17,500 in fines for improper campaign finance reporting. (Dan Maes pointed out to me when he read this interview write-up that he actually had a paid accountant to do the campaign reporting, but the person left 2 days before the report was due. So, that particular fine might not have been alleviated by having cash to spend on staff.)
Maes added "Another amateur mistake we made" was repeatedly taking $5,000 at a time in reimbursements. The repeated round number caught the attention of Erik Groves, the attorney who filed the complaint with the Secretary of State, and the round number allowed people to charge that Maes was "paying himself a salary" from campaign funds. Maes argues that he just picked a convenient number that seemed close to what he was due to be reimbursed monthly, for mileage, campaign office rent (office no longer being rented), telephone, etc.
I asked Karen Maes if she would still encourage Dan to run if it were two years ago but she knew then what she knows now. She answered "I knew when we were dating (that he'd run for office). If I don't like it, I have only myself to blame."
Dan added "I'm a Christian. I believe things are meant to happen when they are meant to happen. When I started the business it was with the intent of selling it and running for office." He added that this run is therefore part of his plan even though they didn't sell it for as much as they had hoped for.
Dan noted again, with Karen nodding in agreement, that the delay in showing their tax returns "was truly about privacy." I asked if there was at least some concern on their part that the low income numbers would be held against them and they did acknowledge that fear: "We did talk a little about 'bad numbers.'" Part of the reason they say they disclosed the information was that "we did believe it would cause others to have to show theirs."
I told Maes that in my opinion he had played it very badly, that people would not have held low incomes against him if he had positioned himself as an ordinary guy, a man of the people, in an economic sense, from the beginning rather than implying or at least letting people infer that he was a bigger business success than he was. I made it clear that in my view the political problem is not the numbers themselves (though some might argue that's an issue in itself) as much as the fact that many people believed -- and he didn't correct them -- that the numbers were substantially larger. People don't mind modest success; they mind being misled.
Question: What do you make of the recent (Rasmussen) poll numbers showing you doing no better against Hickenlooper than McInnis does, even after McInnis' plagiarism problem?
DM: "I was excited because it showed us pretty much head to head. Even after the snafus, we were only down 2 or 3 points. For months we've only heard about 'Maes can't win' but this poll shows we can." In terms of showing McInnis doing 1% better than Maes against Hickenlooper, Maes also took a jab at Rasmussen as a tool of the Republican machine, though he offered no basis for that charge.
I pressed Maes on whether he thinks he's more electable than Scott McInnis to which he said "absolutely."
Question: What was your reaction to the Denver Post's basically saying you aren't ready for the job of governor?
DM: "They've gotten into this routine of what a politician is supposed to look like...but the revolution is telling them otherwise."
We drifted back into the electability question.
Questions: Will establishment Republicans who leave McInnis will go to Dan Maes? And how much money do you think you can raise?
DM: "The Denver-proper business community might go in part to Hickenlooper. But two miles outside Denver, nobody wants Hick." As far as how much money he needs, Maes said he thinks "we can do it on $500,000 to $1,000,000." I suggested he might need to raise half of what Hickenlooper raises to win. Maes noted that Hickenlooper has already raised $4 million; he did not seem confident that he would be able to raise half that much.
When asked how he could win if he is massively outspent, Dan Maes said -- and clearly believed -- "Nobody knows the hearts and minds of the Colorado voters like I do. Several of them have told me 'Dan, don't worry about the money...we'll take care of that.' Of course, I still do take raising money very seriously."
And finally, when it came to potential further bombshell sort of news (regarding any potential candidate) and how that might play into the race, Maes ended the interview with one of his best lines of the evening: "Hey, my baggage is unpacked."
My reflections on the interview:
Dan Maes is, in his own way, a breath of fresh air after interviewing so many more experienced politicians. He's earnest and direct, perhaps more than he should be. He seems to care about the state and has a certainly-conservative fundamental make-up.
That said, the fact that he's never run for office -- never even been particularly involved in politics or the political process -- also shows through in his less-than-deep answers to serious policy and nuts-and-bolts politicking questions.
I understand why he would appeal to many Tea Party activists, especially those many people who are new to political activity. I also understand why many people think that Dan Maes has bitten off more than he can chew here -- although he would be the first to disagree.
I'm going to end my commentary here as my primary purpose with this note is to inform, not pontificate. I'll ponder this as well as the McInnis situation and come up with an endorsement (or not) within 24 hours. Again, I don't say this trying to sound as if I think people are waiting with baited breath asking "What's Ross going to do?" I don't think I'm that important. I do know, however, that there is at least a small handful of folks who find my views interesting and for them (and for me) I'll come to some sort of conclusion post haste.
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