COLORADO SPRINGS– U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff, Colorado’s former speaker of the house, a popular political figure by almost any measure, won the Democratic Party county assemblies by 16 points last month and polls well against GOP challengers Ken Buck, Tom Wiens and Jane Norton. Yet his primary campaign against appointed Senator Michael Bennet has floundered, leading observers to continue to ask why he’s running and to search his campaign literature, his speeches and his face for motive.
When President Obama asked Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to become Secretary of the Interior, Gov. Bill Ritter handed the seat to then DPS Superintendent Bennet not to Speaker Romanoff.
Even now, here today, as he bafflingly opens up an office in this most Republican of cities, Romanoff might be a little angry about being passed over. He might be a little hurt, too. It’s hard to tell, exactly. The thing he is most obviously is undaunted.
“I’m going to win,” he said Monday evening, at a party celebrating the opening of his new Colorado Springs campaign office.
“I respect the governor. He can appoint a senator, but he cannot appoint one for life. We have elections. This is the most democratic thing in the world. I’m not entitled to serve in the U.S. Senate. No one is.”
Romanoff outlined his priorities on immigration, saying he disagrees with the new Arizona law.
First, he said, secure the borders to stop drug smugglers and people trafficking in humans. Second, make it illegal for businesses to hire undocumented workers, and third, provide a path by which people who play by the rules can achieve legal status and even citizenship.
He put a personal face on immigration by talking about his own history. He said his mother and all four of his grandparents were immigrants.
He said ‘Romanoff’ was an Ellis Island name.
“Our original name was Hickenlooper,” he joked.
“I am the product of immigrants. I am a beneficiary of a tradition this country has maintained for generations. I start there because that is where I started. I would not be in America if this country had not opened its doors to my mom and to her parents and to my dad’s parents.
“We are better off as a country because we have welcomed people from other lands to contribute their talents, their service and their labor. We don’t say that often enough, we don’t acknowledge that often enough and when times are tough as they are right now we deny that heritage and in the process we lose a little bit of our humanity. It is my view that the best way to govern a country like ours is not to divide Americans along ethnic or racial or geographic lines, but to bring people together,” he said.
His life history also provided the fuel for a blistering look at mental health care in the U.S.
“When I was a kid, my mom worked in a state mental hospital. When the hospital was shut down, the theory was that community groups would spring up to take care of these people who are mentally ill. That didn’t happen, so a lot of the folks slept under bridges or in cars or on the street. Many of them died. And I thought about that a lot when I was a kid. I thought ‘what kind of country treats people with brain diseases like that? To lives like that or to an early grave? And can a country like that, a country like ours, can it call itself civilized?’
“I think it is literally criminal to use our criminal justice system as the chief source of support for our mentally ill.”
Romanoff said when he was elected to the state Legislature, he got on the health and human services committee to honor his mother, and that he worked to improve services for the mentally ill and to make sure that any discussion of health care included mental health care.
“I don’t think we ought to distinguish between health and mental health. When I wrote Referendum C, I made sure health care included mental health services. Too often, we stigmatize those who need mental health services just because we don’t understand it. That is un-American,” he said.
Moreover, when times are tough, like now, he said too often we look to cut these types of services even though difficult economic times can lead to a greater demand for such services. “It is penny wise, pound foolish, and counterproductive,” he said. “We need a national commitment and a permanent solution.”
Romanoff said that even as Bennet is ramping up his spending on television, the Romanoff campaign is gaining momentum. “I just happen to believe I have the best chance to win and hold this seat,” he said with absolute sincerity.