As U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman lobbies to keep his 6 Congressional District seat for the Republicans, he's not too worried about the new kid on the block.
“Coming from Aurora, I certainly have a background that is more reflective of the community,” he said during a May 17 interview at Bemis Library in Littleton. “He moved into the district not because he wanted to live there, but because he wanted to live in Washington, D.C.”
He's talking about Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff, new to the district but not to politics. He served in the state House from 2000-08, as speaker from 2005 on. In 2010, he launched an unsuccessful bid to unseat fellow Democrat U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.
Coffman says that's no replacement for real-world experience like his, including 17 years as an Aurora business owner and a military career that started in 1972. In 2005, he resigned his post as Colorado's secretary of state to serve a tour with the U.S. Marines in Iraq.
“I'm the only member of the Colorado delegation who served in the military during the Persian Gulf War and Iraq,” he said.
He says that makes him uniquely qualified in his role as the chair of the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, currently looking into the wait-list scandal as whistleblowers emerge around the country.
“I think (VA Secretary Eric Shinseki) should step down or be fired, along with the senior bureaucrats that surrounded him,” said Coffman. “. … At first he denied problems, then, in my view, looked the other way and defended those who were responsible. He's never said heads are going to roll if this is true.”
Coffman points to the VA House Committee as a bastion of bipartisanship.
“It's not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue,” he said. “I really feel they all equally care about meeting our obligations to our veterans. I don't see any daylight between us.”
At one time, Coffman was perhaps most famous for being the owner of Buckley the Treasury Dog, his golden retriever that continued to visit the state Capitol even after Coffman left the office of state treasurer. Buckley died two years ago at the age of 10. But his new goldie, named Atty, livens up the home Coffman shares with his wife, Cynthia. Currently the chief deputy attorney general of Colorado, Cynthia Coffman is a Republican candidate for attorney general.
Here are Mke Coffman's quick takes on a variety of topics:
In Colorado, relaxing regulations impeding the aerospace industry is one key to a robust economy, said Coffman. He's working with Bennet on legislation that they hope will help American aerospace companies export their products and technologies to international customers while still protecting national security interests.
Encouraging more manufacturing is another of his priorities, and he joined the Rare Earth Caucus in an effort to make that happen. The group worked to convince the World Trade Organization that China is violating WTO rules by restricting export of metals commonly used to make parts for electronics.
“I think free trade is important, but it also has to be fair trade,” said Coffman.
Coffman would like to see a residential center for the homeless created at the Anschutz Medical Center in Aurora, with an emphasis on mental health. Along with Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., he launched a task force to study ways to better serve veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“As a nation, we've really fallen short on mental-health care,” said Coffman. “I think it has to be a priority, and it's not just funding, it's reforming the current system.”
He says he's also working with the African immigrant community to create a connection with the Aurora Mental Health Center.
“I want to make sure they get some services that understand their culture,” he said.
“I think I've been fairly independent on that, especially because I think Republicans have the same problem that they accuse Democrats of on this. The important metric is the outcome, not how much you spend. I think that there is a lot of waste at the Pentagon. I think we can reduce spending without compromising security.”
“I think health-insurance reform, health-care reform, is very important,” he said. I think there's no question the system was flawed. But what I disagree with is upending the entire system to fix the parts that were broken.”
He notes that when he was in the state Legislature, he supported laws that prohibited discrimination based on gender or preexisting conditions, and he supported insurance portability and spreading out the risk to a larger pool.
“But I think we can do better,” he said. “I would support repeal and replace.”
“I think there's been a resurgence in manufacturing jobs due to low-energy costs, which is primarily due to fracking,” said Coffman.
He says safety regulations are imperative, but he trusts the states to be better able to create appropriate measures than the federal government.
“The citizens have much greater access at the state level than they do to the Environmental Protection Agency,” he said.
While there's been some debate over Coffman's support of the “personhood” amendment that will appear on Colorado's 2014 ballot, he says it's overbroad. He notes his support of a ban on federal funding of abortion except for in the case of rape or incest or when the life of the mother is in danger, and says he's opposed to all abortions after 20 weeks with the same exceptions.
“I'm clearly pro-life,” he said. “I would not vote for it the way it is, and I think there are unintended consequences to it.”