Welcome to the first installment of a new series on Colorado Peak Politics where we will be profiling and interviewing some high profile and influential conservative leaders, commentators, operatives and activists who we think have a large and out-sized impact on the state's politics.
First up in this series is Ross Kaminsky, one of Colorado's most prolific conservative commentators. A fellow at the Heartland Institute, you can hear Kaminsky on 710 KNUS or 850 KOA, read him in Human Events, The American Spectator and Real Clear Politics, or get his take on his blog Rossputin.com, which is cross posted at Peoples Press Collective. We sometimes wonder if he ever sleeps.
Kaminsky is a young, intellectual, relevant conservative, which is exactly the kind of conservative we at the Peak think we need more of in Colorado. Interestingly, he funds his own political commentariat through his work as a derivatives trader. Lacking the Tim Gills and Pat Strykers of the Left, conservatives in Colorado have had to be much more inventive in funding their operations and Kaminsky is a great case study in creative solutions.
After helping lead the conservative revolution in Colorado, luminaries like Bill Armstrong need a new generation of thinkers and leaders to take the torch and carry on their cause. Kaminsky is a smart, libertarian-leaning conservative, but not self-important like some Colorado commentators on the Left (paging David Sirota).
He provides intellectually honest arguments, and isn't afraid to call out Republicans when he thinks they are crossing the line away from constitutionally limited government. Kaminsky famously didn’t support John McCain in the general election as he found him to be not a real conservative. He also hasn't been afraid to take sides in primaries, most recently backing Jane Norton in the US Senate primary last year, for which he took quite a bit of flack. Other than Ref C, Norton was far more conservative than she was given credit for, even if she did a poor job of communicating that for most of her primary bid. Had she been able to better communicate the conservative values that Kaminsky found in her, Norton might have been more successful in the primary.
Much of Kaminsky's writing is focused on national issues, though we hope he'll weigh in on Colorado politics more often, as his voice is an important contribution to the conversation. Especially with the Post losing David Harsanyi and Dan Haley recently, it's essential we conservatives make our voice heard in the public dialogue.
We caught up with Kaminsky recently to get his take on some current events and his view of conservatives’ place in Colorado commentary and media. Feel free to send your ideas for future interviews and profiles to tips (at) coloradopeakpolitics.com
(Full interview after the jump)
The Peak: You’ve been around the online political world far longer than the Peak. Can you describe where you see conservatives in Colorado in the online political world currently, and where you see both the Colorado political world going online and how conservatives can improve their standing in it?
Kaminsky: I see many Colorado conservative and libertarian bloggers writing intelligently about politics and policy, such as the many contributors to PeoplesPressCollective.org. My frustration is the difficulty in getting eyeballs to our sites. I don’t think this is particular to Colorado, and perhaps not even to conservatives. For example, the left-leaning ColoradoPols, probably the most-trafficked Colorado-based web site, has dropped substantially in web traffic rankings, based on Alexa.com statistics. My own traffic rank has been improving, but I’m still far behind Pols. Perhaps one explanation is that Colorado liberals know about a small number of primary sites to visit if they want to be with the like-minded, whereas except for PPC the right-leaning blogosphere seems more fractured, making it hard to get a bigger critical mass to any one site.
I can’t say I have a great answer to this problem. Obviously, getting traffic to a web site is the holy grail for any site, whether political or not. The one thing I think bloggers can and should try to do is to get links from the most-trafficked sites, such as Drudge, National Review, RealClearPolitics, and Michelle Malkin. Once some of those readers come to the site, you have to make the site interesting enough (particularly with frequent high-quality new content) for it to be “sticky”, turning some of those first-time readers into ongoing readers.
Again, easier said than done, but it shouldn’t be any more difficult for our side than for the left.
The Peak: What Presidential primary candidate(s) do you like?
Kaminsky: I’m disappointed with the field, but hopeful that someone will rise to the top. My first choice was Mitch Daniels but his wife put the kabosh on that. I believe that Romney is electable but am having a hard time swallowing his various liberal policy positions, from the individual mandate to ethanol subsidies to “climate change.” Pawlenty’s first debate performance was a huge disappointment, making me think he might not be able to generate enough excitement to win. I have no use for Rick Santorum. I don’t take Ron Paul seriously even though I take some of his issues seriously. I don’t think Palin will run — and I sure hope she doesn’t. Newt Gingrich was a bad candidate to begin with, and particularly bad after his “right-wing social engineering” comments regarding Medicare reform. I like Michele Bachmann a lot but am hesitant to think that our best choice is someone with so little experience. That said, she’s smart, charismatic, and principled, and we could do a lot worse. I don’t see how John Huntsman thinks he might have a chance. What’s he going to do…run to the left of Romney? A Rick Perry candidacy could be interesting, but he’s more popular outside Texas than in Texas which concerns me and I wonder whether the country will go for another Texas governor after the recent eight years of George W. Bush?
I am inclined to go with the wisdom of William F. Buckley: go with the most conservative electable candidate. Right now, Romney seems the most electable, but that could easily change and he might just be too liberal to support even while holding my nose. Bachmann is probably the best combination of principle, intelligence, and attractiveness, but I don’t know if she’s electable. The media will certainly go after her with both barrels if she’s the nominee.
The Peak: Who do you think is positioned to do well in Colorado’s caucuses?
Kaminsky: Tough call. At this point, I’d still guess that Romney wins here, not least because some of the state’s bigger GOP names have already lined up behind him. But there’s a long time to go, a lot of opportunities for Romney and every other candidate to help or hurt themselves. It very much comes down to whether the GOP base is more focused on near-perfect agreement on issues or whether their primary goal is to beat Obama. Last election, I was closer to the former and now I’m much more in the latter camp. A recent Gallup poll suggests that conservative Republicans, i.e. those most likely to participate in primaries and caucuses, are more focused on beating Obama than on agreement on all issues. The more that is true, the better Romney’s chances since his policy positions are certainly suboptimal for many conservatives and libertarians alike.
The Peak: How do you think Colorado Republicans are doing since they took over the majority in the Colorado House?
Kaminsky: I don’t have much of an opinion on that except to say that I wish Amy Stephens hadn’t put forward a bill to enact health care “exchanges” in this state. It was a big and unnecessary distraction, and I say that as someone who thinks that Amy is both smart and principled, but made a mistake this time. I also question the House’s killing HB 1240 which would have ended the ability of Xcel to overcharge customers based on a hypothetical future carbon tax, and then to limit Xcel’s excess returns if such a tax were enacted. As Jon Caldara has noted, the House “kill(ed) all seven bills Xcel opposed…”
Perhaps they’ll do a little better — which is not to say they did very badly — if they can pick up a few more seats. Maybe a bigger majority will inject some backbone over there. Seems to me that State Senate Republicans held to free-market and other pro-liberty principles somewhat better than the House did, but then it’s often easier to vote the way you really want to when you’re going to lose anyway…
The Peak: What do you think about Obama’s chances in Colorado in 2012? What is it going to take to beat him nationally and in Colorado?
Kaminsky: I think Obama loses Colorado despite the pathetic performance of Republicans in the 2010 races for governor and US Senate. I’ll say 52-48 for the Republican.
The Peak: After losing both David Harsanyi and Dan Haley from the Denver Post, it seems like conservatives have taken a real hit in mainstream media. What do you think about where conservatives are in today’s media environment in Colorado?
Kaminsky: Conservatives are dead within the print media with rare exception. It’s interesting that one of the most highly regarded opinion pages is at the Wall Street Journal and it’s uniformly conservative, with perhaps a modest libertarian leaning. After that you have to look to the Washington Times, the Orange County Register, and then smaller papers to find an overall conservative tone. On the other hand, I don’t think anybody outside of Manhattan, Boulder, and Berkeley respect Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd, and even Thomas Friedman seems less popular than before. Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer and George Will remain the two best, and two of the most respected, writers in America.
To some extent it’s about quality rather than quantity, but I don’t want to overstate that. If editorial boards are dominated by liberals, then the unsigned editorials will lean that way as will the selection of published letters and these probably have a cumulative, if not huge, impact on the electorate even in days of declining newspaper circulation. And during these times of extremely close elections, I wish we could have more impact on the dissemination of ideas within the “mainstream” media. Part of the problem is that journalism schools are extremely far left; they create far left journalists out of students who are probably somewhat liberally-inclined already.
This problem won’t get better until more conservative college students decide to go into journalism, and that might not happen until they have a reason to believe that the news room or editorial board room won’t be a “hostile work environment” for anyone who isn’t a mind-numbed liberal.
The Peak: What was your take on the Mike Hancock alleged prostitution story? What does it say about new and old media?
Kaminsky: I was sitting in for Dan Caplis on the Caplis & Silverman radio show the day that story broke. Although the decision was Craig Silverman’s to make, my input was that we should not cover it. The charge was so inflammatory and the timing so questionable that despite my respect for Todd Shepard, I felt that rushing to judgment would have been a mistake.
New media has broken some big stories, the most well-known probably being “Rathergate”, Dan Rather’s use of forged documents to claim that George W. Bush had evaded the draft. But it’s very easy for these stories to go viral on the web, and the ease and lure of being the first to break a story can lead to some real mistakes. (I made one myself during the governor’s race when I reported that the university from which Dan Maes graduated had no record of him. I was given the information by someone who called the university. Then I called the university myself and they also told me that they had no record of him. And then I ran the story. But it was wrong. When I called back, the guy I spoke to apologized for his error, but the damage was done. Now this wasn’t major damage to Maes; the story wasn’t up for long and it’s not as if millions of people are reading my blog. But still it was a lesson for me.)
Even now, the allegations against Hancock have not been entirely disproven, but they certainly haven’t been proven.
The other thing about that story is that it’s about prostitution, something I think should be legal. Just like Weinergate and to a lesser extent Bill Clinton’s involvement with Monica Lewinsky, I’m less concerned about the politician’s private behavior than about whether they lie about it in public. Corruption is one thing, but trying to take down a politician because he may have, as Westword put it, “shelled out for happy endings” is just a place I don’t want to go (unless it’s shown that he paid with taxpayer money, or in the event of some other aspect that directly involves breaking a trust with the electorate.)
The “old media” was extremely slow to pick up the Hancock allegations, but I don’t necessarily give them credit for judiciousness. At least as likely is that their reporters or news editors simply didn’t want to do anything which might harm the chances of a candidate they favored. (I am not saying I know that they favored Hancock as a group or as individuals, but the wildly unbalanced coverage by the Denver Post in particular during the 2010 campaigns certainly leaves one suspicious that they choose what to cover with a particular agenda in mind, a few solid reporters being outliers. (Karen Crummy and Lynn Bartels come to mind.)
In general, I think the trend of people getting more news from new media and less from old, and more from Fox and less from CBS, will continue. But I would caution those who report news — no matter what their political view, and particularly on the web — to make any opinion aspect of what appears to be a news report explicit. In other words, if you’re giving your opinion, make sure it’s clear that it’s your opinion. To the extent that people believe news coverage is always slanted by politics, it makes people trust actual news a lot less and pay less attention to it. Maybe that’s why so many young adults think they can get their news from Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert or, heaven forbid, Bill Maher. After all, they might think, all these talking heads are really just giving us some combination of opinion and entertainment, I might as well go with the funniest ones (which would seem to leave out Bill Maher…)
The Peak: What’s next for you?
Kaminsky: I really enjoy talk radio, but there are exceptionally few opportunities in talk radio that pay enough to justify the time it takes, especially during the week. So for now, I’ll continue with my Backbone Radio show on 710 KNUS (in Denver/Aurora) on Sunday evenings while keeping an open door toward the possibility of getting my own weekday show in a situation where I could earn enough to justify giving up the things I typically do during the work day now (trading stocks and options while working on a few small entrepreneurial projects.)
Similarly with writing, I do not try to make money from my blog, but I do get paid to write columns for a couple of national conservative web sites and/or publications. Lately, I’ve been writing almost exclusively for the American Spectator, and I enjoy that whole process, including the few bucks I make from it. So, much like radio, if I had a way to expand my writing reach in a way that increased my income, I would work hard to get that done. It’s hard for me to see that my blog, while it is widely respected within conservative/libertarian circles in the state, will ever have the reach and impact that I’d really like to have. Again, like radio, it’s hard for anybody to reach that level. In Colorado, perhaps Michelle Malkin is the only one who has. And frankly, I don’t think I’m a better writer than she is, nor do I have the foundation of having been a syndicated columnist to give my site an instant large readership the way she could.
You can tell that my aspirations are fairly high. I aim to be the best, or at least among the best, at something. I’m willing to give it some time to see if I can develop to that level, whether it’s in writing, radio, or anything else. But if in the long run I believe I’d never get out of the middle of the pack or the “best of the rest”, I’d likely drop that activity and move on to something else in which I could excel.
I’m enjoying getting more involved with real “business” versus my career-so-far of trading; it’s stressful waking up every morning wondering if the market will reward you or penalize you for the day and it’s particularly stressful to lose money once you have kids.
In the meantime, I love my life in the mountains with my wife, kids, and dog.