Norton struggles to battle image as government insider and shaky fiscal conservative

U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton talked to Don Johnson at his The Business Word blog last week. The Q&A highlights the battle-lines now drawn between the main Republican primary opponents Norton and Ken Buck. Problem for Norton is that the battle-lines have been drawn by her opponents and she can’t win on these lines of attack, which is why she’s being called a “former frontrunner” and one of the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s “fading stars.” With Johnson she spends a lot of energy attempting to paint herself as the true fiscal conservative in the race and to paint Buck as the Washington insider. She will lose on both counts.

Jane Norton

On Norton as fiscal conservative:

Norton voted for Referendum C after reportedly helping draft and promote it. The referendum generated funding for education. Norton touts Ref C as “TABOR in action,” because it didn’t violate the Taxpayer Bill of Rights by simply raising fees; instead it took the question to the people through the ballot and voters chose to pass the referendum into law, in effect voting away refunds taxpayers were owed. But the question for conservative voters is not whether Ref C violated TABOR; the question is who was Norton representing in promoting and voting for that dreaded “tax increase”? Surely not them. They would ask lawmakers to cut spending not to look to increase revenue– or as Norton now puts it to Johnson: “We’re not under-taxed, we’re over-spent!” That’s her philosophy, she says now, which is the reason she would never vote for any bill that included a tax increase, “even if it would benefit Colorado.” There’s a difference between what she says now and what she did then.

On Washington-insiderness or lobbying:

Norton takes pains to distance herself from the lobbyist profession. Yet, for the last two decades at least of her professional life, Norton has worked either in the government or as a well-paid executive adviser to the private sector on “government-relations.” She told Johnson she was never a lobbyist, that she neither lobbied officials nor directed lobbyists in their work. She explained that all she did at Englewood-based Medical Group Management Association for the five years she worked there in the late 1990s was advise health companies on “how to comply” with laws.

9. Were you ever a Washington lobbyist? Did you ever talk to members of Congress or people in the White House or government agencies about bills, regulations and policies?

I have never been a lobbyist. I am not the Washington insider in this race. That would be Ken Buck. Ken has a Washington insider 527 running over $1 million of ads on his behalf. And he received over a third of all his donations from employees of one company that relies on stimulus money and millions of dollars of special interests contracts.

If you want to be worried about Washington special interests, we should worried about Ken Buck.

Ken Buck was Bill Ritter’s best man. If we’re going to play the guilt by association game, that’s an interesting connection.

10. As head of the Office of State Government Relations and the Office of Strategic Relationships at the Englewood-based Medical Group Management Assn. (MGMA), did you help hire and fire lobbyists?

I was director of state government relations from 1994 to 1999. There were two government relations offices, state and federal. My shop monitored health care reform legislation in the 50 states. We provided information to our members on how they could comply with regulatory and legislative changes. There was a federal lobbyist in DC who had a separate role and was a registered lobbyist.

11. Did you give instructions to those lobbyists?

Absolutely not.

It was through my experience at HHS, MGMA and as the executive director of health etc., that I learned about real health care reform, and it was not ObamaCare.

Was Norton a lobbyist or was she merely an adviser to corporations on “government relations”? It’s a fine line, from whatever angle you choose to view it. “Government relations,” after all, is how lobbyists describe what they do. They tell companies how to “comply with laws” sometimes by looking for loopholes in laws for the benefit of their clients and sometimes by working to introduce loopholes into laws on behalf of their clients.

In Colorado, for example, at the website of a state lobbying firm called J. William Artist & Associates, the words “Lobbying” and “Government Relations” go together at the top of the “about” section describing the work of this very successful shop.

Lobbying/Government Relations

J. William Artist & Associates is one of the most prestigious government relations firms in the Rocky Mountain region. We have a proven track record throughout all levels and branches of government. We know the issues, the people, the background, the motives, and the process extremely well — which means we can guide you successfully through your political issues.

JWA has strong capabilities within the Governor’s Office, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the State’s administrative agencies. We are well known for being effective negotiators — which helps resolve many of our clients’ issues without undertaking the risk and expense of going through the Legislature. By utilizing our political contacts within the business and legal communities in Colorado, we can help you build powerful coalitions to strengthen your position on a variety of issues.

Fact is, Norton takes much energy distancing herself from lobbying and lobbyists because if there is a Jane Norton family business, it is lobbying the government.

The head of J. William Artist & Associates is Norton’s ex-husband, Bill Artist, who at JWA employs their daughter, Lacee, also a lobbyist. As has been widely reported, Norton’s sister Judy Black is a major DC lobbyists for oil and gas and drug companies, and her sister’s husband, Charlie Black, is one of the top lobbyists in the country for industries that include oil and gas, Big Pharma and Big Tobacco.

Ritter was Ken Buck’s best man, not the other way round. They worked as DAs together. Ritter is leaving government.

Norton, though, has worked as a “government relations” director in the “lobbying arm” of a health care industries firm. Whatever she did there, suffice it to say, she intimately knows how lobbying works and she is at very least sympathetic to the profession. More than that, her lobbyist family members make their living advertising their connections to lawmakers and that is the point. Norton as U.S. Senator will be one of their top connections. Their connections to her on the part of their clients will be more direct than any voter’s connection to Norton. That is the concern.

Encouraged to run for the Senate by John McCain, supported even before she announced her candidacy by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, surrounded by family-member lobbyists and pulling down major donations from industry lobbyists attending DC fundraisers, Norton is the Washington Insider in the race.

Buck has enjoyed financial support from industry. Voters are right to be concerned with any debt of gratitude he might owe those backers, but that is a concern with nearly all politicians today and it is true of Norton as well.

Other highlights from Norton’s interview with Johnson:

12. Sen. Michael Bennet voted for Obama’s stimulus bill. Would you?

Absolutely not. It hasn’t created jobs and we know it can’t because government can’t create jobs. The private sector does. And that’s why I’m running for the Senate. The Federal government is out of control.

There is a lot of evidence on both sides in support of less and more government as an economic driver but to run for federal office on a platform that maintains that “government can not create jobs” begs for supporting evidence. Businesses that create jobs require infrastructure– roads, water, sewage. They also require law enforcement and educated workers. Public schools and universities create employers as well as employees, entrepreneurs as well as bureaucrats, lawmakers and lobbyists.

Norton also seems stuck on cliches regarding finance regulation. Last week she trumpeted the GOP strategist Frank Luntz talking point tying any regulation legislation to “bailouts.” Even though Norton clearly has been made to think regulation is necessary, she points only to vagaries that nearly all lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, would embrace.

18. Senate Republicans appear to be near a deal on finance reform, or they were on Friday. What financial reforms do you support and oppose?

We need to reform our banking laws. Never again can we allow taxpayers put on the hook for bailouts. Protect taxpayers from bailouts, prevent a financial crisis from happening again. We need an effective bankruptcy system for large financial institutions that fail. Get rid of the too big to fail policy. They’re not doing anything to regulate the culprits who got us into this, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. There are stringent regulations, but I don’t think they’re effective.

19. Are you concerned that the financial reform bill’s creation of a regulatory agency that could shut down financial companies, including manufacturers with financial operations, could be politicized and that the power could be abused?

They’re perpetuating a too big to fail mentality. Any time the government offers such guarantees, there is room for all sorts of abuses.

There is so much discussion about what would be the systemic risk and there is concern about politicizing the regulatory framework.

On energy, she says Colorado has “massive government regulations” “driving jobs away” but this assertion has been called into question. Most of the Ritter regulations, for example, have not yet gone into effect, and oil and gas companies have just signed onto enormous deals to begin new contracts and put in new wells in Front Range counties. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. at least doesn’t see the regulations as a serious hindrance to business. The company announced in March that this year it intends to put in up to eight new drilling rigs and to drill 450 new wells in northeastern Colorado’s Wattenberg Field.

20. Energy is a big issue in Colorado. How should federal laws be changed to make the U.S. less dependent on foreign energy providers?

We’ve got massive government regulations that are driving jobs from the state. We need an all of above energy policy that supports the wind, oil, natural gas, nuclear and coal industries. It’s a matter of national security.

Finally, a comic lesson from The Business Word blog in how to ask a leading question:

24. Is Michael Bennet representing Colorado or the unions and his home town of Washington, DC?

Michael Bennet is representing unions and Barack Obama. He is a rubber stamp for Obama and the special interests that are trying to get him elected. His votes on unions are out of touch with Colorado. He’s not listening and he’s not representing us.

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