The Bill Ritter Meet the Press Transcript

Sleep in on Sunday (or maybe go to the Warped Tour) and miss Colorado guv Bill Ritter on Meet the Press? Look below for the transcript of his conversation with moderator Tom Brokaw and Wyoming's governor, Dave Freudenthal.

In addition, the transcript for the entire program, which also features a chat with California's governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, can be found here. -- Michael Roberts

MR. TOM BROKAW: Our issues this Sunday: Obama vs. McCain. And this year, the American West will be a crucial battleground.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): So, I think we can win in the West.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): The West will make the difference as to whether I am the next president of the United States or not.

MR. BROKAW: But how will they navigate the key issues of that region: the environment, energy, social values, gun ownership and the economy? With us, two Western Democratic governors: Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming and Bill Ritter of Colorado. And then California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus, the insights and analysis on the changing political landscape of the Western battleground from NBC's political director Chuck Todd.

But first, we're in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is the site of this week's Western Governors' Association annual meeting. And we're joined by two Democratic governors, Bill Ritter of Colorado and Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming, who's the chair of the Western Governors' Association. We'll also hear from a well-known Republican, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, later here on MEET THE PRESS.

Gentlemen, welcome to both of you.


GOV. BILL RITTER JR. (D-CO): Thank you.

MR. BROKAW: The West is going to be the big political battleground this time. We're all looking at the same numbers. Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico all went Republican last time, 19 electoral votes. If Obama can win those states and win the same states that John Kerry did, he can be elected president of the United States.

In Colorado, where he's up by about 5 points now, Senator Obama's known primarily as the guy who's been running for captain of the home team. He's in the Democratic primaries. But the Republicans are beginning to identify him as a big city liberal Democrat. Is that going to change his chances in Colorado, Governor?

GOV. RITTER: Well, I think that Senator Obama has great opportunity to win in Colorado. The people of Colorado are independent thinkers, they're future looking and they're also optimistic. And I think he's captured that language in his campaign. The things that he's talked about are very much things that resonate with the people of the West and certainly the people in Colorado.

MR. BROKAW: If he chooses Hillary Clinton as his running mate, will that help or hurt his chances?

GOV. RITTER: That's, that's a good question. I don't know really if it'll help or hurt. What I can tell you is if you think about the play in the West, independent voters--independent registered, not registered Democrat or Republican--they're really where the play will be. And the language that he speaks is very much like the language the governors have spoken who have won seats out here in the West.

MR. BROKAW: Governor Freudenthal, in Wyoming, obviously, Republicans have been winning by huge margins the last several election cycles. In December, you were saying you didn't like any of the people in either party and you were thinking about not even going to the Democratic Convention. But then in April you endorsed Senator Obama; but you also said you were favorably inclined to John McCain. What changed all that?

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: Well, I think the transition that's occurred is that John McCain's not the John McCain of 2000 and 2002. In that time his appeal in this region was pretty real, because very independent. At this stage he's really molded into a kind of Bush-Cheney look-alike, and that is not an attractive thing to see continue in this country.

MR. BROKAW: There's been some scurrilous things about Barack Obama out on the blogosphere. When you announced your endorsement, did you hear any of that in Wyoming, or did you hear from bloggers who are not happy with him, either as a result of his political positions, they've attacked his name and even raised questions about his faith?

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: You know, not much of it originates in Wyoming. Most of what I got was from outside the state. Most people in Wyoming, they're sort of--what they really want to know is who is this guy? And it's not so much a--the race issue as it is just getting introduced to him.

MR. BROKAW: Is there any chance that Senator Obama can carry Wyoming in the fall against McCain?

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: I wouldn't, look, I wouldn't bet the ranch on it. I mean, this state is 67 percent Republican. The last Democrat we voted for was Lyndon Johnson. I think Obama will do much better than expected, because there's a, there's a real independent attitude and a, and a pretty candid view in terms of how we assess people. And Obama has struck a pretty good chord here.

MR. BROKAW: Colorado has a very significant Hispanic vote. Senator Obama did not do well with Hispanics during the primaries. Hillary Clinton was able to win most of those, and Senator McCain next week is going to Mexico, thinking that will appeal to Hispanic voters come the fall. Is that going to be an issue for Senator Obama?

GOV. RITTER: Again, I think when the campaign is really Obama and McCain and Hispanic voters are paying attention to what the two different candidates are saying about their, about their issues and how they view the future, Obama wins, I think, among Hispanics hands down, and he does that because he has a language about education that really is, again, it's about optimism but it's also about reforming the system, and I think Hispanic voters pay attention to that. They care that the job creation happens across all kinds of lines, socioeconomic lines, and I think they're going to be excited about Barack Obama in a far bigger way once the spotlight is on him and on his, on his issues that really will matter to them.

MR. BROKAW: Energy is obviously a very important issue in--not only in Wyoming but throughout the American West. Senator McCain has said that we should drill offshore to get oil now to deal with $4 gasoline. He's also talked about 45 new nuclear plants. And there will be additional pressure to drill in environmentally sensitive areas in the American West. You were opposed to that four years ago. But with the reality of gasoline prices where they are, would you change your mind on all that?

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: No, I wouldn't. I think--and it's part of the problem with McCain is just--it's an extension of the short-sighted, one-legged stool approach to energy that this administration's had. Their answer to everything is drill for oil and gas. They've ignored coal, they've ignored nuclear, they've ignored wind, and just a couple of days ago they decided that they're going to suspend all activities on solar on public lands.

And I think if you look at it, even by McCain's own admission, we're not going to change the price of gasoline by going into these sensitive areas. I think you need a--and it's one of the appeals about Obama, if you read his material and listen to him, he actually has an understanding that there's a relationship between a diverse energy package and a sound environmental policy, which you don't see. And I think this whole dance about it's, it's sort of the same song, second verse, and--but unfortunately, it's the same as the first.

MR. BROKAW: You're sitting on a mountain of coal here in Wyoming.


MR. BROKAW: Montana's doing the same thing.


MR. BROKAW: Jim Hansen, who's one of the leading climate scientists in the world working for NASA said just last week we have to have a moratorium on new coal-driven power plants in the country. Isn't that a wise decision, given what global climate change is doing to this country?

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: I mean, the problem with that is is that it assumes that somehow if you do it in the United States, it's going to happen worldwide. But more importantly, when people do that, they need to take a look at what that drives. What that drives is a shift to natural gas and a lot of the natural gas that's produced, including some in Wyoming, has higher CO2 emissions than anybody envisions. There are places in Wyoming where you do processed gas that for every unit of natural gas that's produced, you produce and emit two units of CO2 into the air. So I think the need is to have a more balanced approach that is actually thought about, where we need to be 20 years from now, not where we need to be in the November election.

MR. BROKAW: Do you think nuclear power is in our future?

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: Absolutely. I think that, that ultimately there is a--there's such a growth both in the United States and worldwide in terms of demand for energy, we're going to have to have greater emphasis on energy efficiency, and all of the other sources, including the renewables, because, I mean, a state like Wyoming is known for fossil fuel, but our greatest growth in energy production right now is in wind energy. And we're one of those states that if they can figure out transmission, which we're working on, and I understand is in Obama's...

MR. BROKAW: But that's at best only a partial answer, isn't it?

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: It is only a partial answer, which is, which is why if, if this country doesn't come to grips with the fact that you've got to have a diverse energy portfolio, and one of those elements is energy conservation, we're going to stumble and we're going to stumble hard. People are going to be stunned, I think, by the price increases in their utility bills over the summer in the Southwest as they deal with air-conditioning and in this part of the country. Currently, the--the current filings for utility rate increases in Wyoming are about 70 percent increase in the fall.

MR. BROKAW: Governor Ritter, would you take a nuclear power plant in Colorado?

GOV. RITTER: Well, I think that Governor Freudenthal's right. It's going to be part of our future as a country. It already provides about 20 percent of the energy to this country. But I think the thing that we both are saying is we have to have a national energy policy, and it has to be a combination of how we produce traditional resources and how we do it in a clean way. We should load up on research and development for clean coal, and quite frankly, we have not done that. But as well, have renewable portfolio standards that make a difference, that get up to 20 or 25 percent. And then, in addition to that, just ask how we put them on the grid. And finally, look at the place, the nuclear place--not finally. Then do conservation and efficiency as a part of that as well, and incentivize conservation and efficiency. And you do all that, you get to the place where you have a national policy, and you really begin to address greenhouse gases.

MR. BROKAW: You're going to be the host of the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer. It's only a guess, but I'll bet there are going to be some activists there who are going to say, just as Jim Hansen did last week, "We can't have any new coal-driven power plants in this country." Are you going to pick up the phone and call your friend Governor Freudenthal and say, "Sorry about that"?

GOV. RITTER: Well, what I think we'll do is talk to them about all the things that we are doing. That convention's going to be the greenest convention since the invention of electricity. Woody biomass was used, you know, back in the day. But since the invention of electricity, this will be the greenest convention, and we're making every effort to do that, because we think, number one, it's the right thing to do, but we also believe we can showcase the kinds of ways that you can really run green electricity into a major site like the convention. Use recyclables, use reusable material, all sorts of ways of us thinking about it. Because Tom, at the end of the day, I believe that my kids will consume energy differently than we do today, but as a country, we'll produce it differently, and who better than a national political party to say, "These are the ways that we can do it as a country."

MR. BROKAW: As I don't have to tell the two of you, last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the District of Columbia ban on handgun ownership was unconstitutional. Senator Obama had this to say about it. "I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for those communities that are ravaged by crime to do something for their children." It gives local communities now much needed guidance for handguns. Are we at a stage in this country where we're going to have to have one set of laws for one region and another set of laws for the inner city and the urban areas when it comes to gun ownership?

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: I don't know that we have to, but I think that's where you end up. And is that--one of the things I asked Obama when he was out here before I made my decision was on this question about his perception of that right. But I think you are going to end up with a recognition that the question on guns is more an urban/rural split than it is a political split in terms of people's attitudes and how they want it handled.

MR. BROKAW: Governor Ritter:

GOV. RITTER: You know, on that, on that question, the Supreme Court said, "We're not doing anything to strike down provisions that prohibit felons from carrying guns, people with mental illnesses. There are certain restrictions you can still put in place." And I think that's an important distinctions. Both of us, actually, are former prosecutors. He was a federal prosecutor, I was the district attorney of Denver. And it's really important that communities have some ability beyond just everybody being able to carry a gun. Some ability to restrict the carry--the restrict, carry, and conceal, those kinds of things, because they deal with whole different problems. And I just think that the Supreme Court looked at Washington, D.C., and said, "The ban goes too far, but we're not saying that there aren't reasonable restrictions that communities can put in place."

MR. BROKAW: Governor Ritter, you're a practicing Catholic. You're anti-abortion. The abortion debate will come up at the Democratic Convention as well. Do you expect that there will be a plank that will be emphasizing pro-choice for the Democratic Party?

GOV. RITTER: You know, it's interesting. In Colorado, when I ran in 2006, I actually ran without a primary, and it tells you a little bit about the West and how--I think the Democratic Party in the West has been able to say that that's not going to be a litmus test for candidates. I suspect it'll be a plank in the platform, and it has been a plank in the platform for a very long time, but that doesn't mean that as a party, that we don't very much embrace people who might have different views. And I'm a great example of that.

MR. BROKAW: Governor Freudenthal, Wyoming has gone to war. National Guard units and others who have volunteered for duty in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Where is the war now as an issue as we go into the presidential election of 2008?

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: I think it remains an issue. I mean, I've been to every funeral. Went to one just this week. But I think it has fallen down in terms of people's concerns. Right now, it's the economy, it's energy prices, it's what are they doing about health insurance. The war is still very much on people's mind, and there's clearly a support for the soldiers that's very strong in this state. The questions about sort of the tactic and the strategy for the war, I mean, people are all the way across the board on it one way or the other. But I don't think it's going to be--frankly, I don't think it's going to be determative about how people vote come November, because I don't think it's going to be the priority issue for them.

MR. BROKAW: You have endorsed Senator Obama.


MR. BROKAW: Do you also endorse his idea that we've got to start getting out of Iraq as quickly as possible?

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: Probably not. I mean, I think, I think from my point of view, that is a circumstance that probably has a life of its own. Both candidates, I think, are, as they say in the West, kind of talking through their hat about what they may be able to do. There are certain realities, and the, the touchstone that they're all using, though, in the end is they're going to take the advice from the commanders on the ground. And I expect that'll determine policy.

What you have from the two of them is a predisposition about how they want to go, and I think the thing that, that always happens, and I think it's the difference between the West and the East, is that, is that here, I mean, I endorsed Obama. I'm not taking him off my income tax as a dependent, you know, I'm, I'm proud to have endorsed him, I believe he'd be a great president for this country. But just as Bill points out, there are things that, that people believe that somehow because you're, you're in a party you believe everything the party does. Truth is, I decide how I'm going to register. I joined the Democratic Party, they didn't pick me. And I think there's an independence here that underlies the way that these states end up being in play that they might not be in other parts of the country.

MR. BROKAW: Governor Ritter, in Colorado, where is the war in Iraq as an issue of primary concern?

GOV. RITTER: Same as Governor Freudenthal described. The economy is the number one issue. It remains the second issue--the second largest issue, but it's quite a ways under in terms of just the public opinion surveys. I think the people--Colorado has a great military presence, and so obviously we, we do all we can to support our soldiers. I, I went to Iraq and Afghanistan because in December we had the highest number of National Guard troops deployed than anyone can remember in the history of the state. So I went there and visited with those troops in both places. And it's going to be very important, I think, to the voters. But I think the economy is what both of these candidates are going to have to deal with going forward.

MR. BROKAW: Your state also has a substantial concentration of evangelical voters, especially in the Colorado Springs area. Values always come up during a presidential debate. Is Senator Obama going to be able to win the evangelicals, or will they stay on the Republican side?

GOV. RITTER: We've seen some movement among evangelicals that relate to what I would call environmental concerns. And it's not, you know, it's not that they, you know, joined the Green Party, but it's that they really view the Earth as a sacred trust and really as a created, created entity, and that as a created entity we should really respect it and that we should view it as sacred and we should treat it as a steward. That has actually, I think, caused them to think differently than vote in just a straight line Republican ticket. There are moral conservatives that will absolutely be with John McCain and will not be with Obama, but there's been some other play happening that really has to do with the things that are happening in the West around public lands and around land use.

MR. BROKAW: What would happen in Colorado if all the illegal immigrants in the state, the so-called undocumented workers, were forced to go back to Mexico?

GOV. RITTER: We passed some serious reforms in 2006 and it's had its impact. It's had its impact on farms and ranches and hotels and the service industry, and, and some of it is not because illegals aren't there, but because legal immigrants viewed it as becoming a less friendly place. So it is--we rely on foreign-born workers in the construction industry, the service industries and the agricultural industry, and it really does hamper our ability to get foreign-born workers in if we don't have really a sensible immigration policy, which I think the country currently lacks.

MR. BROKAW: One of the issues that the governors here are looking at, the so-called wildlife corridors, the freedom to roam, global climate change is having an effect on the wildlife in this country and how they move around. Are you able to get regional cooperation on that issue? It's always a tough issue here in the American West.

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: Yeah. I, I actually think for the first time we actually have got the states talking to each other. What we don't have is a decent federal partner. And that's the problem for us, is, is that the feds own so much of the--federal government controls so much of the land in this region that for the states to make policy without a federal partner has been incredibly difficult. And one of the things you hope for in a new administration is we start talking about it. Because people just kind of take wildlife for granted. They forget that they, they have to, they have to move, they have to migrate, they have to be able to work within an area. And unfortunately in this region, there's quite a bit of conversation between the states, not a lot of cooperation from the federal government. I think, I think Secretary Kempthorne tries, but he doesn't have any support from an administration because the only variable they want to maximize in all of the public lands is the production of oil and gas.

MR. BROKAW: Is that a tough sell in Colorado?

GOV. RITTER: Well, it's a big issue right now for us. We're going through a whole rule-making process. We view oil and gas as a resource. We also view wildlife as a resource. And right now it is the big fight, it's where the swords are crossing in our rule making because we think that you can have both, that you can protect wildlife, but you have to have some really serious regulation in play to say if you're going to drill on this land, you got to show us a plan that allows us to believe that the wildlife is going to be here in the numbers it is when you came, and really, you find, you find ways even to foster it. There are some companies that have actually done that, but there are others that have not. And so for us it is a big fight.

MR. BROKAW: Governor Freudenthal, Vice President Cheney has a home not too far from here. He's a regular visitor to Jackson Hole. Born and raised in Wyoming. In Washington, D.C., his numbers are very low, as you know, in terms of approval. A lot of his oldest friends in politics are saying, "We don't know what happened to the Dick Cheney that we used to know." What's his standing here in Wyoming?

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: I think his standing here has declined like it has elsewhere, but he's still a native son. I mean, if you look at it, Iowa's still proud of Herbert Hoover. We're going to end up being proud of Dick Cheney. Dick Cheney has a good history in this state as our congressman. And I've heard this same thing you say. Even from his friends in Wyoming, who say "Now, we didn't expect Dick would turn out this way." But I think he enjoys some support here, will continue to, but it's not what it was.

MR. BROKAW: Western governors have an opportunity in many ways to show the country cooperation in a state that's always been deeply divided and very independent in this region by state lines. Do you think you'll become a template for what the national dialogue should be?

GOV. RITTER: Well, I think there's a good chance of that. And I, and I think, you know, the Democratic Party in the West has a way to talk about that because we reach across party lines to find answers to pretty big solutions. We're not afraid to tackle them and we do it, and independent and sometimes bipartisan ways. Governors of Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Kansas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, they're all Democrat, they're all preceded by Republicans because, I think, of the way we answer questions.

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: I might have a little different slant, which is that, is that this is an incredibly bipartisan group, the Western governors, and it reflects that, that--I mean, if you take Arnold Schwarzenegger's positions relative to others, you'd argue that he's probably more liberal than most of the Democrats. What you really have is a willingness of people to say, "Look, this is really--policy and politics are about the art of possible." How do you, how do you do something pragmatic as opposed to something that's just sort of for the, frankly, for the 6:00 news, no disrespect intended.

MR. BROKAW: Governor Freudenthal and Ritter, thank you very much for being with us.

GOV. RITTER: Thank you.


MR. BROKAW: And we'll have to remind everybody, that's not a set, obviously.

GOV. FREUDENTHAL: No, no. We'd like them all to come and visit Wyoming.

MR. BROKAW: The western edge of Wyoming.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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