Bill Winter is running for Congress in 2006, against incumbent Tom Tancredo in Colorado's 6th district. In one of the most conservative areas of an independent-minded state, he is running a progressive grassroots campaign that tries to appeal to voters of all stripes. Mr. Winter joins over forty other veterans who are Democratic candidates for Congress this year, the so-called "Fighting Dems."
In January, Mr. Winter took time to answer some questions via email from ePluribus Media.
ePluribus Media: Coloradans gave Democrats the State House and Senate in 2004. In 2005, we passed Referendum C to suspend TABOR budget restrictions, despite opposition from many on the far right. Republican State Representative Joe Stengel recently lamented "I think we now have become a blue state, frankly."
But Mr. Stengel exaggerates, and the wealthy suburbs south of Denver where you live remain solid GOP territory. How can you win in CD-6?
Bill Winter: I don't know whether Mr. Stengel exaggerates or not. I think Colorado is, or is about to become, a blue state, and I think the reason is because Democrats offer actual solutions, where elected Republicans in Colorado have offered nothing but hate, division, and fringe issues. Republicans like to say that Democrats took back the State House and Senate because four millionaires spent so much money. That's either a distortion of the facts, or misses the point entirely. The fact is that when Republicans held both houses they spent all their time on things like trying to hang the Ten Commandments in every public building, or forcing prayer into schools, and generally telling Coloradans how to run their lives. And they lost the State House and Senate as a result.
I believe that Democrats stand for people. Democrats stand for the poor and the middle class and small businesses. Democrats stand for the parts of the Bible you don't hear the religious right talk about—the parts where Jesus actually speaks and talks about helping your neighbor. The Gospels say you will be judged by how you treat the least among us. The current Republican administration and Congress seem to believe that they will be judged by how they treat the wealthiest among us. Democrats are FOR the people, but we need to do a better job of talking TO the people, so that they know it!
We can win in CD-6 by offering solutions to issues that actually impact the people of CD-6 and by offering them actual representation in Congress. I don't believe CD-6 is currently represented in Congress. I believe Mr. Tancredo is engaged in his personal crusade to the detriment of our district. He's even running for President now, and is visiting places like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He has long since abdicated his role as representative for the people of this district. Our question is "Where's Tom?"
Many people in CD-6, Republicans included, do not identify with Mr. Tancredo and are waiting for a viable alternative. I am going to give them that alternative. We are going to focus our campaign on the things we all have in common, and not on the things used to divide us for the last five years. We are going to reach out to all people, and to people who haven't been reached out to before, and we are going to build a coalition that recognizes the things we have in common and the value of cooperation. That's how we will win in CD-6.
National Atlas of the United States, January 30, 2006, http://nationalatlas.gov
ePMedia: You served many years in the Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy. How does your military background inform your view on the Iraq War?
BW: It's important to understand a couple of things about my service. First, I was enlisted during my time in both the Corps and the Navy. For those unfamiliar with the military, that means I was part of the majority of those in the military who got our hands dirty and worked for a living. I was always the one giving the salute, never the one getting it. Second, I wasn't a hero or anything like that. I never saw anything remotely like combat. I simply did my job and showed up and followed orders. In the Navy I served with distinction and received many awards, but I never served in a combat zone.
None of which takes anything away from the ten years that I spent serving my Country, and that service informs my view of the Iraq War in several ways. The very first way is that it gives me an understanding of what it means to be enlisted in the military and the things that impact morale. So when Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney or any of their subordinates says that dissent in America is "hurting the morale of the troops" I can say without hesitation that they are lying. Or at the very least they have no idea what they are talking about.
You see, no one in the Bush administration ever served in the military, and I include Mr. Bush when I say that. When he was in the Air National Guard, he was the highly privileged son of a very important elected official, and the grandson of another. He had privileges most people in the Guard would never have. He also served in the Air Guard at a time when everyone knew the Air National Guard would not be called to active duty. Contrast that with the situation today in which National Guard units are spending a year at a time on active duty, and doing it more than once.
Troop morale in the military is tied to things that impact everyday life—pay rates, time off, length of time away from family, benefits, things of that nature. It is actually George Bush and the Republican Congress that are hurting troop morale in Iraq and elsewhere. They do it when they send units back for second and third tours in Iraq. They do it when they cut funds for on-base housing for troops or when they cut funds for medical care for active duty troops and veterans. They do it when they stand up and say things like "Bring it on," which puts the troops in more danger. They do it when they refuse to offer any plan for how to be successful in Iraq, so that troops don't know if they will ever be victorious there.
But my time in the military also gives me insight into other aspects of the war. I've worn the body armor and carried a pack and an M-16 in 100+ degree heat. I've slept in holes I dug and eaten rations from a plastic bag and looked at another human being down the sights of an M-16 or a machine gun. I was in an artillery unit and I've seen the damage an artillery shell does. I was in an F-14 squadron and I've seen what bombs do when they explode. I've seen men wounded and killed. I've felt hot blood flow over my hands from the stump where a man's leg used to be. I know the price being paid in blood by both Americans and Iraqis in this war.
Neither Tom Tancredo nor anyone in the current administration knows anything about these things. And so they don't really care. They don't care about the troops. They don't care about the lives lost on both sides. And they don't care about the families. I do care. I won't allow anyone ever to question my support for the troops. I am the troops! I served my Country and defended the Constitution so that Americans would have the right to stand and protest the President or the Congress or the government in whatever form.
Let me make one last point on this. My older brother was an Air Force doctor and is currently a psychiatrist at a Veteran's Administration hospital. He has told me enough about the problems they are already seeing in troops returning from Iraq for me to know that we have a real problem looming in our future. This war is leaving wounds, both visible and not, that will haunt our country for a generation, just as the wounds from the Vietnam war have.
As someone who has worn the uniform, I find that tragic. When we arrive at boot camp and put on the uniform for the first time, we are all young, eager, strong, and just want to serve. Too often when we take off that uniform for the last time, we are broken and shattered and only a shadow of what we once were.
I believe our Nation owes a debt to our Veterans and I will fight to see that debt paid in full!
ePMedia: How specifically can we bring about a "swift and secure" end to the Iraq War, and why is that important?
BW: A swift and secure end to the Iraq War is important because it ultimately impacts America in so many ways. This war is impacting us in lives lost, lives changed, and lives destroyed. It is impacting us in its unbelievable cost, in dollars, lives, and the loss of our status in the world. We need a swift and secure end to this war to reestablish some semblance of stability in the Middle East and so that we can reestablish the respect we once held in the world. And we need a swift and secure end to the war so that we can stop spending billions of dollars on something that is not making us safer or more secure. We will very soon exceed the 300 billion dollar mark in the cost of this war. And what have we gained from such an expense? What could we have done here in America with so much money? What a waste!
So how can we bring about a swift and secure end to the Iraq War? Well, the first step would be actual leadership from the White House. President Bush should stand up before America and the world and admit that he was wrong. He should admit he was wrong about the reasons why we went to war, and he should admit he was wrong about how his administration has fought the war. And then he should ask the rest of the world for real help on the ground in Iraq to help create a peaceful and stable government there.
Mr. Bush says we have a coalition in Iraq already, and that is a lie. How is it that America has over 2236 soldiers killed in Iraq and no other nation has over 1004? What kind of coalition is that? We need a true coalition and we need other nations to put significant numbers of troops on the ground. The insurgency in Iraq exists because we are viewed not as liberators, but as occupiers. And why shouldn't they see us that way? Mr. Bush gives no indication that we will ever leave. He is building military bases there instead of rebuilding Iraq. By getting U.S. troops out of Iraq and replacing them with international troops, we show Iraq and the world that we really are liberators and not conquerors.
We also need to get American corporations like Halliburton out of Iraq along with the six- figure salary Americans they are employing. We need to give the rebuilding of Iraq back to Iraqis. Unemployment in Iraq is over 40%. Isn't it clear that this also contributes to the insurgency? If we give jobs in Iraq to Iraqis, they will have a stake in the rebuilding of their own country and will have less time and inclination to be involved in the insurgency.
And we need to get serious about rebuilding Iraq. We are almost three years into this war and most Iraqis still do not have electricity or running water for much of every day. We have poured almost 300 billion dollars into the Iraq War and we still haven't rebuilt the most basic infrastructure! That speaks to incompetence and corruption on a grand scale, and it also contributes to the insurgency.
My opponent was one of only 11 members of Congress to vote against aid for Katrina victims. He said it was because there was no oversight. And yet he has voted for every request for money for the Iraq War from this administration. Over 9 billion dollars are simply missing in Iraq. What kind of oversight is that? I don't actually believe we will see leadership or new ideas from the Bush Administration. But I do believe it is Congress' job to hold the White House accountable, and I will do that as the Congressman from CD-6. My opponent has not and will not!
ePMedia: Your opponent, Tom Tancredo, says "America is full." What do you think?
BW: I think that we clearly have problems with our current immigration system, and I think we need to address those problems and have real debate and a real search for solutions. But I also think it is wrong for a man who himself is the son of an immigrant family to bash others who are only seeking what he has already found. I don't believe Mr. Tancredo has any solutions to our immigration issues, and it seems clear to me that he is in favor of making criminals out of good people for his own political benefit. I cannot support that.
There are a few things I know for sure. I know that everyone in this country is an immigrant if you go back in their family history far enough. And I know that people immigrate to this country for one reason—to seek a better life and to pursue the American dream. No one can ever convince me that is a bad thing. I refuse to stand by while decent people are attacked for the benefit of someone's political ambitions.
I think a starting point for meaningful immigration reform would be the McCain-Kennedy bill that will come up next year. Of course my opponent is against it, but he's against any kind of compromise, and compromise is the only way to get any kind of effective immigration reform. I want to listen to people who are experts on this issue and hear what they think is the right solution. I think that is a far better solution than grandstanding and demagoguery!
ePMedia: You worked for Senator John McCain in the Senate and on his 2000 Presidential campaign, yet you just stepped down as President of the progressive activist organization Be The Change USA. You've rubbed elbows with Bob Dole and Howard Dean, Chuck Hagel and Maxine Waters, Lindsay Graham and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. How do you explain your chameleon-like behavior?
BW: There's nothing "chameleon-like" about it! Using the word "chameleon" suggests that I change to fit my surroundings, and nothing could be further from the truth.
I don't believe that we have to be defined by the artificial political boundaries that have been created in the last 20 years or so. I have an open mind and I will listen to anyone who has good ideas, regardless of their party affiliation. Every person you listed in your question is intelligent, highly educated, and working to make America better and stronger. I believe it is a good thing to be able to talk to people of all different political persuasions. I don't believe in the culture of division that has developed in America. I believe we all have things in common and we need to work on those things rather than focus only on differences.
Having said that, there is no question that I have strong beliefs and I won't change them to appeal to anyone. But I believe that what I believe in is also what most Americans believe in. We are certainly going to find out in the next year. One of the things that I always appreciated about John McCain was that he really listens to people. He and I disagree on many issues, but he would listen to what I had to say. And he will change his mind when presented with compelling evidence, such as on the environment.
That's not being a chameleon. That is being intelligent, open minded, and willing to change your mind when the facts require it. My goal in my life is to help people and make a difference in the world. I will continue to work with anyone who shares that goal, regardless of their political affiliation.
ePMedia: Do you think elections in Colorado and nationwide are trustworthy today?
BW: I am an optimist by nature and I want to believe in the sanctity of our voting process in America. After all, if voting can't be trusted then it undermines the very nature of what America stands for, doesn't it?
So do I actually believe our elections are trustworthy? I honestly don't know. Stories out of Ohio in 2004 and Florida in 2000 have to make any honest person wonder, and that is a problem. There is an ethical standard in the law that says lawyers shouldn't even have the appearance of impropriety. I think the same standard should apply to voting.
To that end I think Congress should openly investigate our current voting processes and elections to make sure they are trustworthy. I believe there should be a verifiable paper trail for every vote cast in every election. I don't trust black boxes because they are only as reliable as the people who program them. So we must have some kind of paper that can be counted by actual people in the event of any controversy. Voting is the cornerstone of American values and we cannot afford even the slightest doubt about the accuracy of our votes.
ePMedia: The centerpiece of your opponent's energy plan is drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Representative Tancredo claims this drilling will create jobs in America and increase domestic production by nearly 20%. What's your energy plan?
BW: If drilling in the Refuge really is the centerpiece of his energy plan, then he doesn't really have an energy plan. Mr. Tancredo is either lying or just plain wrong. There isn't enough oil in the Arctic oil fields to make a long -term difference in our oil usage in America, and to claim otherwise is to mislead the American people. I would like to know where he gets his 20% figure. I dispute it openly! It is also a well accepted fact that it would take a minimum of ten years for any oil from there to actually get to consumers. So how does that help America now? And where does Mr. Tancredo expect us to refine that oil? I don't suppose he has an answer to that one, since we haven't built any new oil refineries in this country for a long time.
Let's begin by being honest about this issue. We have no energy plan in America right now because the current White House and Republican Congress don't want an energy plan. What did Bush and Cheney do before they were President and Vice-President? They were both high-level executives of oil companies. And where will they both go after 2008? Right back to the oil companies. Which means that they have a significant personal interest in seeing that oil companies make big profits. The same is true for Republicans in Congress, who get millions of dollars in contributions from oil companies.
So Mr. Tancredo and others like him have no interest and no incentive to, wean America from its dependence on oil. Everyone else in America has a huge incentive to find new sources of energy. Our dependence on oil is not only an economic liability; it is the source of our biggest national security problems. Does anyone really think the Middle East would be strategically important if there were no oil there? We wouldn't have gone into Iraq simply to depose Saddam Hussein any more than we've gone into any African countries to depose horrible dictators.
We keep going to war in the Middle East because there is oil there and because we need it. And this Republican administration and this Republican Congress have done nothing to change that. I will.
I will stand up in Congress and fight for a real energy policy. I won't stand by, as Bob Beauprez (CD-07) has, and silently watch as the National Renewable Energy Labs in Golden have their funding cut! Renewable energy will ultimately have to be one of the answers to our energy problems. I will support development of renewable energy. I will also support development of programs like ethanol, which will not only help solve our energy issues, but will also help American farmers.
And I will work to make conservation a word that is once again acceptable in America! For too long Republican politicians have ridiculed the idea that Americans can make a difference by actually conserving energy. For too long Republican politicians have refused to stand up to auto makers and demand that cars and trucks be more efficient and get better gas mileage. I believe that we can have energy conservation AND a strong economy, and I will fight for both!
ePMedia: You're running against a conservative incumbent who is known for advocating immigration controls so draconian that Karl Rove reportedly told him never to darken the doorstep of the White House again. Representative Tancredo also suggested that bombing Mecca would be an appropriate response to a nuclear attack on U.S. soil. He certainly grabs headlines. How can you get such media attention?