Getting to know Ken Buck, Part 1

Following is the first of a two part write-up of my interview of US Senate hopeful Ken Buck. For Part 2, click HERE.

Last Thursday (2/11/10), I had the opportunity to sit down with Ken Buck. Mr. Buck is the Weld County District Attorney and a candidate for the Republican nomination to replace Senatoflorr Michael “Who?” Bennet.

Ken Buck’s hardscrabble style is noticeably different from that of the first candidate I interviewed, Jane Norton. Whereas Mrs. Norton comes across as refined, Buck is more earthy. Norton more polished, Buck more directly confronting. On the surface, and probably below the surface as well, one can understand the occasional characterization of Ken Buck (not least by his supporters) as more “grass roots” versus Jane Norton’s “grass tops.”

Mr. Buck was understandably feeling good after an endorsement by Erick Erickson of the influential conservative web site RedState.com. (RedState is affiliated with Human Events, a magazine which I write for from time to time, but Mr. Erickson’s endorsement will not bias my eventual endorsement, if I make one.)

Like my interview with Jane Norton, I began by asking Ken Buck what motivates him. He answered that it is a combination of current political and personal events. Politically, he seems truly angered by the direction our government has gone in recent years (under both parties), in terms of spending as well as infringements upon liberty. Buck also noted that the politics of 2010 are likely to be far friendlier to a Republican than recent years have been and than future years might be. Combining that with the fact that he and his wife are now “empty-nesters”, Mr. Buck thinks it’s the right time for him to run for federal office. He noted that he had been asked to run for federal or state-wide office before and that he turned down those invitations in order to be around while his children grew up.

Before getting into broader policy topics, I asked Mr. Buck about two issues that people frequently associate with him because of high-profile cases he has prosecuted. Those issues are immigration and (less important to most people but interesting to me) “hate crimes” laws.

I asked Buck how he would respond to those who consider his immigration views to be…Buck helpfully interjected “Tom Tancredo lite?” to which I said “yes, exactly.” Buck had a two-part answer, much of which (like many of his answers) emanate directly from his experience as a prosecutor. He made the point that while he might agree with certain policy suggestions of Tancredo’s on immigration, he also disagrees with many, and his motivation is different. Whereas Buck sees Tancredo’s focus being on culture, Buck sees the real damage from illegal aliens coming in two main areas: Identity theft and the degradation of public (or at least publicly-available) services such as hospitals and schools.

A little background may be in order. Buck worked with Weld County Sheriff John Cooke in 2008 to implement Operation Number Games in which a “tax and translation” service in Greeley, Colorado was raided and many of its records seized on suspicion of conspiring with illegal aliens to commit identity theft. The Colorado Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling (yet another reason to Clear the Bench in 2010), ruled the record seizures illegal and thus invalidated more than 100 arrests and more than 1,000 likely future cases based on a privacy right even though illegal aliens specifically are excluded from federal privacy rights laws.

Buck told another story of a woman from Texas who lost her home and had to move to a homeless shelter with her children when she was denied welfare benefits – because an illegal alien in Weld County had stolen her identity and used it to claim welfare benefits in Colorado.

Given the presence of the Swift meat packing plant in Greeley and the agricultural character of the area, Mr. Buck has more experience with identity theft than most of us will ever have – or ever want to have – and he says he’s seen firsthand the damage it does.

He also made the insightful point – which I’ve never heard anyone make before, but then I don’t spend a lot of time on this issue – that an unintended consequence of employers implementing E-Verify is an increase in identity theft. In the old days, an illegal could simply make up a name, date of birth, and Social Security number and it was unlikely that the data would ever be checked for consistency. Now, with employers able to verify online that a particular name goes with a particular DOB and SSN, illegals have to steal verifiable data, causing much more damage than made-up combinations of data ever would.

As far as the cultural issues, Buck believes that he sees Hispanic children slowly but surely assimilating and noted pithily that “Mexicans assimilate much better in the US and come here for far better reasons than do the Muslims who’ve moved to France.” But he nevertheless sees the tremendous pressures that illegal aliens put on hospitals and schools, noting the difference just from the more middle-class west side of Greeley to the more working-class and Hispanic east side. On the west side, the schools are better (or people send their kids to private schools) and when people need a hospital they often go to Loveland (where average incomes are higher and there are far fewer illegals.) Further east, in central Greeley, the hospital emergency room is a nightmare with, for example, a parent recently having to wait hours for a baby with a 106-degree temperature to be seen. (106 is extremely dangerous and I would have harmed someone if I had been forced to wait several hours with my child having that temperature.) And the schools (despite any assimilation) are overburdened, ineffective, and sometimes dangerous.

We didn’t get into very specific policy questions as to how to deal with the problem, but it’s safe to say that Mr. Buck is strongly for enforcing existing laws against illegal aliens getting into America and is particularly focused on identity theft.

On the other hand, Buck does not share Tom Tancredo’s desire to massively curb legal immigration. He believes that the demand for these workers is a natural function of any economy and that many or even most workers would consider themselves migrant rather immigrant, an important difference which I’ve written about but which I rarely hear Republicans have the courage to say. Buck therefore supports a robust migrant worker program which will let seasonal workers come work here legally (and without access to welfare or other government benefits) and then leave. I completely agree and I commend him for his view. I mentioned that I also support increasing the number of H-1B visas available for highly skilled foreign workers. Buck agreed, arguing “Wouldn’t we rather have IBM open a facility here to employ both American and foreign workers than let our visa policy force them to open the facility in Poland or India instead?” He noted that the H-1B issue is more of an economic issue than an immigration issue and that when people talk about immigration these days they generally mean illegal migration of low-skilled workers.

We moved on the subject of hate crimes laws, an area where I knew that we would disagree but one which I find interesting. Again, by way of background, Ken Buck's office prosecuted gang member Allen Andrade for the murder of Angie Zapata, a transgender woman (whom many would have considered to still be a man). (Buck made charging decisions and supervised prosecution while the case was handled in court by his staff.) Andrade received sexual favors from Zapata for a couple of days and then murdered her (him?), saying in a recorded phone call from jail that he “hates gay things.” Buck convicted Andrade of a hate crime despite many people counseling him that a hate crime conviction would never happen in Weld County. Buck’s answer as to why he used the hate crime statute versus just trying the case as a murder was complex. (Again, even though this is probably a minor issue politically, I find it very interesting. If you wouldn’t take up page space with it, get your own blog.)

First, Buck pointed out that when the state legislature was debating whether to add sexual orientation to the list of protected groups in the hate crimes law, he lobbied against it. However, with the law as it stood when the Zapata murder happened, Buck found multiple reasons to prosecute the case as a hate crime, of which I will just mention two: First, he believed that if he tried the case as a “normal” murder, the defense would have argued a sudden “rage” defense; the hate crime law made that far more difficult. Second, and this gets into the bigger picture, he believes the crime was essentially a violent extension of an act against a group, much as “burning a cross on the lawn of the one black family in an otherwise all-white neighborhood would be.” Buck argued that while he would aggressively defend free speech, an act which he views as an extension of an assault (or worse) against members of a group because they are members of that group should properly be tried under hate crimes laws.

I disagree: while it may be unpopular to say, I think that messages, even hateful ones like the burning cross, are too close to free speech to be tossed out of that category and prosecuted beyond the damage that one act does to its one victim, i.e. vandalism, assault, or even murder. I also believe “hate crimes” laws plays into the left’s strategy of “victim group” politics and cements divisions within society. It strikes me as an obvious assault on 14th Amendment guarantees of “equal protection of the laws.” Nevertheless, while Mr. Buck and I agreed to disagree on the issue, his view is clearly the product of years of reflection and not one to be discarded lightly.

In tomorrow's second part of this write-up, we will cover my discussion with Mr. Buck of what he considers to be the most important issues of the day as well as some nuts-and-bolts political analysis.

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