May 13, 2010

Chatting with Tom Wiens: Colorado Republican Candidate for U.S. Senate

By Julian Dunraven, J.D., M.P.A.

Honorable Friends:

Thanks to profligate spending policies, bailouts, stimulus packages, and unprecedented extensions of Federal power, I have a good deal of confidence that Democrats will suffer many defeats in the upcoming elections. I just wish I felt equally confident that the Republicans who replace them will do much better. Unfortunately, after chatting briefly with various candidates in the last few forums, I often had the impression that I was talking to some sort of annoying animatronic devices which, upon sensing motion, would begin to recite a list of talking points: “Drill, baby drill,” “All of the above,” “No more bailouts,” and “I’m against stimulus.” Any questions seeking more information about these subjects just triggered another recitation. If this is the depth of understanding we can expect from politicians, is it any wonder why even many Republicans in Congress voted for the so called Jobs bill—a stimulus by another name? Our Republican candidates have all figured out that they should oppose bailouts and stimulus packages, but if the only way they can recognize a bailout or stimulus bill is if it says so in the title, then we are all in a great deal of trouble.

In chatting with the various people vying for the Republican nomination to be the next U.S. Senator, I was impressed by the enthusiasm and decency of the candidates, but not by their grasp of the fundamental economic issues this country must face. I was almost ready to despair over the state of Colorado politics . . . until I overheard Tom Wiens answering a question about the gold market and displaying a depth of economic understanding I have almost never seen in a politician. I immediately requested an interview and, last week, he was kind enough to sit down with me for an hour and a half to chat about the state of the nation.

Now, I did not bring the PPC film crew to this interview; I did not even bring a voice recorder. I was not interested in sound bites or talking points. I was only interested to know what made Mr. Wiens any different from any other Republican candidate, and why anyone should trust him at all given the abysmal job Republicans have done so far in their half-hearted attempts to support limited government and a free market. Mr. Wiens exceeded all of my expectations and left me thoroughly impressed.

The difference in experience between Mr. Wiens and his fellow GOP contenders is fairly obvious. While his major competitors have spent virtually their entire careers in the public sector, Mr. Wiens, by contrast, has a strong background in the private sector as a Colorado banker, rancher, and entrepreneur. Thus, he knows the costs increased regulation and taxation place on small businesses – not just in money – but also in time and effort.

Of course, these days a strong business background is not always a great recommendation for politicians. Our federal government is absolutely full of private sector businessmen who seem all too happy to use the power of government to influence various industries. Many commentators have noted the unprecedented influence of former Goldman Sachs executives in the Bush and Obama administrations, and with the Federal Reserve. The American people are rightly angry that Wall Street so often persuades Congress to offer advantages to some businesses and industries over others.

Mr. Wiens certainly understands this. Rather than make the usual hollow attacks on special interests, however, he blames Congress for overreaching to the point they have created a business climate that almost requires government involvement. When Congress holds some industries accountable for their errors while providing bailouts to cover the mistakes of others and can be persuaded to create anticompetitive regulations to ensure the survival of favored businesses, it should surprise no one that lobbying has become a blood sport.

To Mr. Wiens, the solution to this is not to try silencing lobbyists and industry. That would just mean Congress could continue to meddle in the economy unimpeded—but with even less information on which to base their ill-considered policies. Congress, he says, needs to massively scale back spending, taxes, and much of its administration if it truly wants to aid the economy. Unfortunately, because so few members of Congress have any proper understanding of economics, even some Republicans can be convinced that stimulus packages and jobs bills are needed to help economic growth. In truth, all the stimulus bills have done is increase liquidity and inflation, pouring cash into an increasingly unstable financial market, without any increase in productive capacity at all.

Mr. Wiens suffers no such confusion about economics. He is an avid student of Austrian School free market economics and can speak eloquently and easily about the long term devastating effects bailouts and stimulus packages will ultimately have on our economy. According to him, if Congress really wants to help, it needs to stay out of the markets, lower taxes, pull back its administrative agencies, and massively cut spending—and not just the tiny bit of the total budget that goes to earmarks.

That is certainly sound policy, but I have heard other Republicans say something similar, then watched them vote on appropriations bills in lockstep with liberals. To this challenge, Mr. Wiens pointed out that, as a state senator, he was frequently the only ‘no’ vote in hearings despite the urgings of his own party. I checked with a few of his old colleagues at the state legislature and they all confirm that, even when every other Republican and Democrat was in agreement, if a bill violated Mr. Wiens’ principles as to the proper role of government, he would vote ‘no.’ This earned him a reputation as a bit of a curmudgeon, but also as a man of integrity and philosophical consistency. Though a smart politician can always feign devotion to principle, it is quite rare to find one who has a voting record to prove it.

All of this is rather encouraging and speaks well of Mr. Wiens. However, his many admirable traits are not what inspired my trust. It was his faults that impressed me most. You see, Mr. Wiens talks too much—far too much for talking points and sound bites. During the course of our conversation, he excitedly proposed a single subject rule for congressional bills, sunset provisions for virtually all laws and agencies, and an evaluation process to determine when an agency is bankrupt or failed and should be closed. He burbled on about the precious metal markets, the housing market, and the sovereign debt crisis of the states and much of the EU in great detail. Finally, we talked about energy policy and the liquid fuels crisis. I was impressed he could speak so fluently about supply shortages, increased usage, infrastructure problems, environmental issues, and national security concerns that affect the issue, and quickly decided we would have to discuss some of these issues in more detail on camera.

At one point, we were briefly interrupted by a member of his staff asking a question about provisions for a party. Mr. Wiens was somewhat irked by the interruption and apologized profusely. However, had it not occurred, I would have never known that, every year, he invites cadets from the Air Force Academy out to his ranch for a small celebration in appreciation of the service they do for this country. It just happened to be going on during our interview. While Mr. Wiens may not have thought to mention it, I was quite impressed.

This is why I did not want a video camera or voice recorder for this interview. When people know they are not going to be on video or quoted directly, they tend to speak more freely and you get a better picture of their true characters. When you get to know him, Mr. Wiens does not seem like a typical politician. In fact, I think trying to hold back his enthusiasm and speak only in prepared sound bites might actually kill him. Considering his passionate interest in free market economics and policy, and after examining some of the dense books on those subjects he reads for leisure, you might even call him a bit of a nerd. A distinctly private person, Mr. Wiens is more at home with his own family and business interests than with the megalomaniac self promotion required by a statewide campaign. I think he would not be running at all if he did not so clearly see the terrible financial storm building over this country and most of the world. Mr. Wiens certainly has the means to ensure he and his family can weather that storm. However, he is also a patriot, and he is trying to offer his knowledge and experience to the people of this state and nation to help them weather it as well. His knowledge, experience, and philosophical integrity impressed me greatly, and his personality is far too enthusiastic and quirky to be anything but honest. He may be exactly what we need. I strongly encourage all our honorable friends to take a good look at his candidacy as we approach the primary. I think you will be impressed. So far, I have yet to meet anyone better.

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