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Tipping the Balance: Senate Seat Up For Grabs in Colorado

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After Republican Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell announced he would not seek re-election this year, four candidates–two Democrats and two Republicans–are now waging one of the most competitive Senate battles in the nation. We speak with one of the contenders for the Democratic nomination, Mike Miles about the race, the politicization of intelligence, Iraq, the West Bank wall and more.

As we continue our Exception to the Rulers book and media tour, this weekend we were in Aspen, Colorado for the State of the World Conference, a three-day symposium focusing on environmental issues, national and international politics, nuclear weapons, terrorism, immigration and indigenous rights. As we have gone around the country, we have been focusing in on battleground states in the November elections. Today we are broadcasting from Colorado, which is not considered a battleground or a swing state in the presidential election. But it has taken on new significance after Republican Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell announced he wouldn’t seek re-election this year. Campbell was elected into office as a Democrat, but he abruptly switched parties to become a Republican in 1995.

The outcome in Colorado could help tip the balance in a Senate now almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and four candidates–two Democrats and two Republicans–are now waging one of the most competitive Senate battles in the nation.

Competing for the Democratic nomination are State Attorney General Ken Salazar and school administrator Mike Miles. Salazar was considered a sure winner when he stepped into the race several months ago, forcing several other well-known contenders to drop out.

But Salazar will be listed under Mike Miles on the ballot in next month’s Democratic primary after the Colorado Springs educator and West Point graduate pulled off an upset victory at the state Democratic assembly last May.

  • Mike Miles, candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for US Senate in Colorado.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Mike Miles joins us in the studio today, candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. Senate in Colorado. Welcome to Democracy Now!

MIKE MILES: : Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: : It’s very good to have you with us. So how exactly did this happen? Ken Salazar, a popular Attorney General. You talked about running before he did. He had announced he was going to be running for governor, but then when Ben Nighthorse Campbell said he was not going to run again, he jumped into the race. The Democratic Party of Colorado supported him officially, and then the convention took place?

MIKE MILES: : Well, the party is the people, and we built a huge grassroots team across the state, and that became evident on May 22 at the state assembly, where we took top line. And the other big thing about our campaign is we’ve addressed the key issues of the day, and I think most democrats agree, when they compare Ken Salazar’s positions with my team’s positions, we have the solutions that matter, and we’re not afraid to tackle them. Health care is the best example. For example, we’re the team saying that this is an issue that has to be solved. We’re for a single payer universal health care system, similar to the F.E.H.B.P, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan. My opponents are not willing to tackle health care. They think it can’t be done. We say it can. And on the key issues of the day, foreign policy, education, health care, and even social issues, there’s some big differences between Ken Salazar and myself.

AMY GOODMAN: : What about your stance on war?

MIKE MILES: : I’m the only candidate of the four who opposed the invasion of Iraq before the invasion, and I’m the candidate who’s saying that I wasn’t misled, we weren’t — many of us were not misled. And right now, we’re focusing on the wrong question again. The other candidates are saying they were misled, and I’m thinking, well, if you don’t have — if you were so easily misled, maybe you don’t have experiences you need to be in the U.S. Senate. As a diplomat to Poland and to Russia, I worked for the State Department, I also worked at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, so I’m familiar with how the intelligence community works. And the lead earlier today, I said that the real question is not whether the intelligence failed; we can always improve intelligence, there’s no question. The real question is how was that intelligence used. Because even if the information was 100% accurate, you still have a problem if it’s going to be politicized, and that’s what we should be focusing on so we don’t repeat those sorts of mistakes. And as a former member of the intelligence community, having worked for the State Department and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, I could tell you several examples of how specifically that information was politicized.


MIKE MILES: : For example, when you work for the intelligence community, you know that we never put out a single source. That’s not what you make policy on. That’s not the sorts of information or analyses you send to the Secretary of State or the President. And we don’t trust foreign sources on top of that. Foreign sources, not corroborated information, if you see that being put out in the public domain and waved around as the answer, the piece of evidence that solves the problem, then you know it’s politicized. And so when you wave a British white paper around, that happened to be plagiarized, but even if it wasn’t, you know that’s politicized information. It’s a foreign source, not corroborated.

AMY GOODMAN: : You went to West Point.

MIKE MILES: : I’m a West Pointer, class of 1978, an Army Ranger. Also trained in counterterrorist operations. I led a counterterrorist team when I was in the Army Rangers. I commanded a company after that.


MIKE MILES: : This is all in Fort Lewis, Washington, where I was stationed, but the Army Rangers, they go all over.

AMY GOODMAN: : How rare is your anti-war stance within the West Point graduates?

MIKE MILES: : I think most of my colleagues were very supportive of the war. I think I’m an exception, but, you know, my whole life has been kind of an exception. I went from the Army Rangers to University of California, Berkeley, and then became a diplomat after study at Columbia University. And so I believe my experiences give me a perspective that allows me to deal effectively with foreign policy realm or the intelligence community realm.

AMY GOODMAN: : We hope to have Ken Salazar on. He said he couldn’t do it at this short notice. We appreciate you shifted your schedule. One of the things he’s well known for is taking on Tom Delay. The Washington Post has a lead story today talking about Congressmember Delay seeking $100,000 in donations to his Political Action Committee from Enron’s top lobbyist so he could help bankroll the redistricting of Texas. Well, it went beyond Texas, but redistricting around this country, in Colorado in particular. Can you talk about what your opponent, Ken Salazar did, to stop the redistricting.

MIKE MILES: : In his position as Attorney General, I think he did well to take that case to the Colorado Supreme Court. And stopped, at least helped stop redistricting in this state. And so you got to be —

AMY GOODMAN: : Took on the Colorado legislature. Sorry.

MIKE MILES: : Well, I mean, I think it’s part of his Attorney General duties. That was his responsibility, and he lived up to his responsibility. No question about that. You know, the differences I have with Ken Salazar are not around the state issues; they are around the things that will affect foreign policy, education, health care, social issues, all these things. I think the Democrats in Colorado have a very clear choice.

AMY GOODMAN: : The word that is being floated around here is electability. The New York Times has a piece on how Democrats are now looking at Republican strongholds where they think they have a chance like Colorado, like this race with Ken Salazar, and he has gotten more attention. What is your answer to that?

MIKE MILES: : Electability is a word thrown out by the establishment to try to hold onto the status quo. This happened with the Dean campaign early on, and, you know, to some extent it’s happened in the State of Colorado. I think we proved that it’s not as big an issue after the State Assembly. I mean at the State Assembly, or prior to the State Assembly, Ken Salazar was supposed to be the unanimous choice and the most electable. Well, 3,000 Democrats polled on May 22 are the most active and informed Democrats, said Mike Miles and his team is the most electable, and I’m talking about the State Assembly. So we think, if you look at the grassroots nature of this campaign, if you look at the Democrats across the state, if you look at the issues that affect ordinary people, regardless of party affiliation, my team has the answers.

AMY GOODMAN: : The movement to push through a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage starts here in Colorado. What is your stance versus your democratic opponent? We’re not even talking about the Republicans now. We’re also going —

MIKE MILES: : Well, even here, many of the Republicans are against Marilyn Musgrave’s amendment, and I’m clearly against it, of course. But it has to go much further than that. The real question is a broader question about equal rights for gay and lesbian community. And I’m the candidate speaking out clearly, my team, the Democrats are not ashamed of saying we need equal rights for all people, including gay and lesbian community. Ken Salazar is not going to say that directly. He’ll be against the Federal Marriage Amendment. But like I said, even Republicans are against that.

AMY GOODMAN: : Do you support gay marriage?

MIKE MILES: : I’m not opposed to gay marriage, but I support separating church and state on this issue. I support making sure that everybody has the same rights, so any benefit bestowed by government, any benefit, family medical leave, adoptions, inheritance, all of these must be given to any citizen of the United States regardless of sexual orientation. So we can call it what we want, we can call it civil unions. We can call it a piece of paper with a federal stamp on it that initiates these benefits, but the original sin was to keep the marriage and the benefits together at the very beginning. They should have been separated at the start. If we were to have equal benefits and equal rights for all people, including gay and lesbian couples, then we can give to the church, that would belong to the church, and let the Catholics decide what marriage means.

AMY GOODMAN: : As a senator, you will deal with many foreign policy issues. Yes, on Iraq. We’ve just had this Hague ruling on the wall that the Israeli government has been building in the West Bank. A year ago, Senator John Kerry called it a barrier to peace. Now he says he’s disappointed by the Hague ruling and has supported the building of a wall. What is your stance?

MIKE MILES: : Well, here’s another one where I differ from my opponent, Ken Salazar, and the others. I know it’s a tough issue, and it’s a very emotional issue, but you have to put the tough problems on the table. As a diplomat, I know that if you have unilateral actions, you leave the most contentious issues unresolved and it just festers. So I’m not saying I have all the solutions. I’m not sure anybody does. But I know they have to be on the table and not unilateral. That’s why I oppose the wall in the first place, the building of it. And I do think we need to put the peace process back on track, and we’re not going to do that unilaterally. I support the Geneva Accord that was passed at the end of last year and supported by both sides, Israelis and Palestinians. I think that would be a good starting point to re-engage the peace process. And for really talking about peace and not about politics, then we’re going to put the tough issues on the table, including Jerusalem, including the wall, and those issues.

AMY GOODMAN: : When is the primary?

MIKE MILES: : August 10 is the primary.

AMY GOODMAN: : Well, we will certainly follow this and hope to have all of the candidates on before then. I want to thank you very much, Mike Miles, for joining us. Mike Miles, the Democratic candidate running into the primary, will be running against Ken Salazar, the Colorado Attorney General. This is Democracy Now! We’ll break quickly and then come back with a Denver imam to talk about what is happening in Iraq.

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