GOP candidates for governor speak to The Villager exclusively

BY FREDA MIKLIN
GOVERNMENT REPORTER

On June 28, the Democratic and Republican parties of Colorado will hold primaries for statewide, congressional and other offices. Voters registered with either of the two major parties will receive their party’s primary ballot. Unaffiliated voters will receive both the Democratic and Republican primary ballots because they have the option of voting in either party’s primary, but not both. All duly registered Colorado voters are eligible to vote for governor, thus all registered unaffiliated voters statewide will have the ability to vote in either party’s gubernatorial primary. There is no contest for governor on the Democratic side. On the Republican side, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez and CU Regent-At-Large Heidi Ganahl are competing for the GOP nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic Governor Jared Polis, who is seeking a second four-year term.  The Villager conducted live, one-on-one interviews with both GOP candidates last week.

As of May 1, there are 3,708,505 active voters in Colorado registered with one of the two major parties or as unaffiliated. Of that total, 29% are registered Democrats, 26% are registered Republicans, and 45% have declared themselves as being unaffiliated. Primary ballots will be mailed out during the week of June 6.

Greg Lopez

Greg Lopez

Greg Lopez told us he was the best choice to represent the GOP in November because, “I truly believe that I’m the only candidate that knows how to govern and truly knows how to connect with the people, to make sure that their voices are being heard.” As both mayor and city manager of the Town of Parker from 1992 to 1996, he said, “I understand all these issues as it pertains to transportation, water, air quality, roads, drainage, land use, zoning, all those challenges the state has to deal with.”

Lopez enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school. He was honorably discharged after four years as a disabled veteran, having lost 87% of the hearing in his right ear from the noise of jet engines. He then joined a company that trained him to be a financial advisor. He did that job for five years, where he “met all kinds of people from all different backgrounds and industries,” After the birth of his son, Lopez told us he volunteered to stay home and take care of the baby for the first year because his wife Lisa had the better job at the time. Soon after that, at the age of 27, he ran for mayor of Parker and won. After leaving that position, he started a public and government relations firm and eventually became the president of the Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Supplier Development Council, “an organization that’s run by corporate America to put small business into the supply chain.” Lopez also served as the Colorado director of the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

Lopez believes that he will be the GOP nominee and that voters will choose him over incumbent Governor Jared Polis in November because he “puts people over politics,” adding, “There are 64 counties in Colorado and the governor only focuses on nine (because) that’s where the voters are.” He continued, “He’s (Polis) proven time and time again that he really doesn’t care about rural Colorado. He doesn’t care about small business. He doesn’t care about any of our struggles and challenges. And when he claims that he’s following the science, I look at the same science that he’s looking at and it’s clear that during the pandemic, he was not following the science.” Lopez also said that Governor Polis “doesn’t have emotional intelligence. Everything he decides is not in the best interests of people and their families. He’s looking at reports and he’s looking at studies… When you make a decision as a governor, you have to recognize that you are impacting the lives of families and it’s not just what’s happening in the urban corridor.” 

We wanted to know why Lopez thought that the Republicans have been unable to win the governor’s office in Colorado since incumbent Governor Bill Owens was elected to a second term 20 years ago. He told us, “I truly believe that the Republican Party struggles in truly understanding that we must embrace a bigger populace. We need to have candidates that can project a vision, a future of what this state is going to look like… We have forgotten that we need to champion the poor and the hard-working men and women of the state of Colorado… We must connect with the voters. That’s why I believe that I’m the right candidate, because I don’t come from money. I don’t come from a higher education. I’m just like everybody else. I work hard. I learned a lot and I follow logic. Most importantly, I like talking to people and having them explain to me why they look at things the way they do. I’m never going to be the smartest man in the room but I will be the one who listens to everybody before I make a decision.” Lopez pointed back to 2018 when he was running for the GOP nomination for governor that was eventually won by former State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, who lost to Jared Polis in the general election by ten points. Lopez told us that he attended seven Democratic Party forums for gubernatorial candidates and was the only Republican to do so, even though the other three Republicans who were running for the gubernatorial nomination at that time were also invited. He said, “I was in a room with 300 to 400 Democrats and I was the only Republican, but I was running to be the governor for everyone.” 

If he is elected governor and the Democrats still control both houses of the general assembly, Lopez vows he will, “Sit down with the leadership and say, here are my concerns. Here’s what I’d like to see happen. You guys are the ones who introduce legislation, but I’m also the one who can go into their districts and form alliances and coalitions with their voters and explain to them what is happening (at the capitol).” He would “bring the issues to the community so that they can understand and have an impact and have their voices be heard.”

Colorado had a 76.4% voter turnout in November 2020, the second highest in the country. The percentage of Coloradans who voted by mail or put their ballots in drop boxes was 94% statewide. Risk-limiting audits performed after that election, first instituted by former Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams, detected no meaningful issues. Still, Lopez would like to see mail-in voting eliminated. He told us, “I believe that Colorado should go back to the polling places because I believe that if we want to make sure that your vote counts, that your vote is protected,” in-person voting will accomplish that. He explained that, with mail-in voting, “There is no way to actually stand in front of a person, show an ID, and say, this is who I am, here’s my ballot, I’m voting.” 

Lopez named his top legislative priorities as crime, education and small business. He said that police departments are having trouble hiring officers because of the 2020 law enforcement integrity act that placed limitations on police officers’ immunity. That law says that, in the case of a lawsuit for violation of a person’s constitutional right, if the plaintiff prevails, and “the peace officer’s employer determines the officer did not act upon a good faith and reasonable belief that the action was lawful, then the peace officer is personally liable for five percent of the judgment or $25,000, whichever is less.”  Lopez described the impact of the 2020 law as, “Police officers are struggling to enforce the law because now you’re guilty (the police officers) and you have to prove yourself innocent, so police officers…aren’t enforcing the law the way they used to.” He also pointed to the 2019 law, recently amended, that had made the possession of up to four grams of fentanyl a misdemeanor. Lopez cited it as an example of “making a decision…without looking into the future.” 

On homelessness, Lopez believes, “We need to focus on the underlying cause,” but, “It’s not for government to do it, it’s to encourage non-profit organizations, faith-based communities, the community to go in there and help. Government must get out of the way.” He told us that in Denver and Aurora, churches were stopped from housing the homeless by the government because they didn’t have a permit to provide housing. He explained, “Government rules and regulations are ripping apart the fabric of our communities because you can no longer help as an individual without the government saying you can.”

We asked the candidate about his recent proposal to introduce a conversation about an electoral college-type voting system in Colorado. He told us that it would award electoral college votes on a county-by-county basis, based on the number of active voters in the county, according to the Secretary of State’s records. He explained that there would be five categories into which each of the state’s 64 counties would be placed, based on the number of eligible voters. Any one county would be able to earn either 3, 5, 7, 9 or 11 electoral votes, no more, no less, regardless of the size of the county’s overall population. We asked, “If there are1,000 active voters in a county, it could get up to 11 electoral votes and if there are 500,000 active voters in a county, it could also get (only) up to 11 electoral votes?” Lopez said, “That’s where I’m going. But that doesn’t mean that’s where it’s going to end up.” We wanted to know how that was fair. Lopez likened it to the electoral college system that elects the U.S. President. When we asked about the theory of one person-one vote, Lopez said, “One person, one vote stands for democracy. We are not a democracy; we are a republic.” The candidate explained that the problem he wants to solve is that, “People in rural Colorado feel like their votes don’t count,” and, “People are getting tired of getting ignored.” To effect this type of a plan, it would take a constitutional amendment, Lopez told us.

On the issue of the housing shortage in Colorado, Lopez told us that one of the problems is that developers are not building two-bedroom starter homes because they know they can force people to buy bigger homes if that is all that is available. He also pointed to the requirement in some cities that new homes must have electric-car chargers even though, he says, it “adds $70,000 to the cost of the house.”

With the facts still unfolding about the tragic murder of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas by a very troubled young man who was able to legally acquire two semi-automatic weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition on and in the days following his 18th birthday, we asked Lopez how, as governor, he would prevent a similar tragedy from happening in Colorado. He told us, “In Colorado, we learned at Columbine that we must never wait to enter a school to stop a shooter. I will make sure we continue to execute on this practice, but there is more we can do. We must have a conversation about creating a policy for teachers who have proper training to be allowed to conceal carry and defend their classrooms, or at the very least, have administrators at the school who can carry and defend their students. This will cut response time and save lives. 

Additionally, school resource officers must be at every school for protection and as a deterrent. Because this is an expense that requires reallocating or adding funding and personnel, I will seek input and feedback from our police chiefs to implement these ideas in a way that is both practical and feasible.”

Heidi Ganahl

Heidi Ganahl

Heidi Ganahl told The Villager that she is the best choice to represent the GOP in November because, “I have a lot of experience building a big business and managing complex organizations, whether it was providing a paycheck for thousands of people at Camp Bow-Wow, building a big franchise company, or helping direct C.U. with a $5 billion budget,” adding, “But most of all, I’m just a mom and an entrepreneur who rolls up my sleeves and solves problems. I started four different nonprofits (SheFactor, Moms Fight Back, Fight Back Foundation and Bow Wow Buddies Foundation), and obviously started several businesses. I’m super passionate about protecting the American dream and our state.”

Ganahl has also been active on important political issues. She told The Villager that she has “headed up three different ballot initiatives.” 

Ganahl believes that she is the best choice to represent the GOP in November because, “I’m the only Republican who has won in almost eight years statewide. I don’t have anything in my past that I have to worry about, that the Democrats would use against me. I’m the proud daughter of a police officer, so I’m a law-and-order girl and a lifelong Republican. I have a great team, including my general consultant, who led Glenn Youngkin’s team in Virginia for governor, where they won.” She added, “I know how to raise money.”

According to the Secretary of State’s records, through May 11, 2022, Greg Lopez has raised $117,509 and has $23,305 on hand. During the same period, Ganahl has raised $1,051,320 and has $178,785 on hand.

We asked Ganahl what she thinks has kept the Republicans from electing a governor for the past two decades. She told us, “The Democrats got their act together… and they had a very focused efficient plan, with lots and lots of money, to turn our state around, and they were successful (at getting elected). On the other side, the Republicans have had a hard time uniting and rallying around some common themes or ideas that resonate with all of Colorado, not just the Party. But I think we have a huge opportunity right now with what’s happening around crime and the cost of living and our kids, to do just that.”

The candidate laid out her legislative priorities, if elected Colorado’s next governor. “The first thing we have to do is deal with affordability in Colorado,” she told us, explaining, “Number one, we’ve got to get our oil and gas workers back to work to address the rising cost of gas. There is no reason we shouldn’t be producing oil and gas here in Colorado versus buying it in Iran or Russia. That’s ridiculous.”

Ganahl went on, “Number two, I have a plan to take us to 0% income tax over my first term; then, to cut the gas tax (presently 22 cents per gallon) in half and still fix the roads.” She would cut the gas tax by taking tax revenues raised by SB21-260 Sustainability of the Transportation System that are being used “to fund pet projects for climate change, back to the bucket they should be in, which is fixing the roads.” To replace the gas tax revenue, she would also move to produce more “oil and gas here in our state…to become energy independent again and make the supply greater than the demand, which is something that is very possible and was happening a couple of years ago under a different president.”

To make up for the reduction in the state income tax revenue that would result from moving toward a 0% rate, Ganahl told The Villlager, “There are nine other states doing that right now. What I believe is that taxing income discourages growth and production. The best way to increase revenue, if we go to a 0% income tax, is to grow the economy. The other states that have zero income tax have attracted business left and right. So that’s one way to do it. The other way you do it is by getting rid of waste, fraud, and all of the Democrats’ pet projects in the budget.” She also suggested that all future TABOR tax refunds be converted to income tax reductions and then, “Make those new tax rates permanent… it wouldn’t take too long to get to 0% income tax, because the next three years, we should be receiving refunds. We should be at the max amount the Constitution permits the state to collect. If we did just that, those changes would save Colorado families about $2,850 a year.”

Another legislative priority for governor Ganahl would be in the area of education. She told us, “We’ve got to go all in on school choice, make sure that the funding follows the family and that every family, if they are not happy with the way their education is going for their kid, they can find a different option. That’s private school, home schooling, charter school, whatever it takes. Because right now, 60% of our kids cannot read, write, or do math at grade level. It’s horrible.”

“On crime,” she told us, “We have got to go back to respecting law enforcement and funding our police, because they’re having a really hard time recruiting and training right now. We’ve got to fire the parole board and the current leadership and get some people who believe in protecting our neighborhoods and our communities again. We have to stop our status as a sanctuary state to help stop the flow of fentanyl across Colorado’s southern border.” 

We asked Ganahl how she would address the housing shortage in the metro area that is driving up prices to never-before-seen levels. She pointed to a recent stat that showed that, “One-fourth of the cost of new housing is for fees, like regulations, permit fees, water and sewer tap fees. That’s horrible. We’ve got to do everything we can to reduce red tape and allow developers to invest and make it worth their while, because right now, it’s not worth their time and energy or money to do it… We’ve got to make it easier and less burdensome to build affordable housing in Colorado, especially in the Denver Metro area. We’ve also got to protect our water, because we can’t keep building and growing our footprint if we don’t have the water to keep up with it.”

The candidate told us that she has been studying the issue of homelessness. She would “stop allowing open-air drug use,” explaining that, “We have to have compassion but also some tough love; we have to clean up our streets and keep them clean. We have plenty of shelter beds if we can get folks to use them. We need a lot of help and support on the mental health and addiction side. Our mental health system and treatment for addiction is broken in Colorado. We do not have the resources that we need to help people with those issues… There are some great nonprofits doing it, but overall, the system is siloed and disjointed, so it is not effective. We’ve also got to let our law enforcement do their job. If they arrest somebody with fentanyl, then they need to be able to put them in jail or deal with them. The law they just passed makes it harder to prosecute someone distributing fentanyl.”

If Ganahl is elected governor but the Republicans don’t gain control of the general assembly, we wanted to know how she would govern. “The first thing I would do is unroll as many executive orders as possible, adding, “I can also use the bully pulpit to educate the people of Colorado about why it’s so important to undo some of these things or change the laws…I think if I have the backing of the people, it’s going to be harder for even a split legislature to not deal with these issues. If I have to, I’ll run a ballot initiative to the people and get things done that way.”

We brought up the tragedy that had just occurred in Uvalde, Texas. Ganahl pointed to the non-profit organization she had formed, Moms Fight Back, where, she told us, “We created a school safety pilot and did a bunch of research and figured out how to create assessments for schools to compare best practices around school safety. We could not get the big districts to use it or try it, but I’m going to bring it back and hopefully get it done as governor.” She continued, “As governor, I would launch a school safety SWAT team that would be in charge of assessing and guiding schools to meet the best practices. Then I would issue a call for innovation around school safety. So many people have great ideas but they aren’t researched or tested. We need to create an environment where people can test those solutions quickly and implement them if they work… I would create a school safety accountability dashboard by school and district, so parents can see what’s going on in their schools and have real data to analyze.” She would also, “host a governor’s school safety report to parents and have a press conference every month that would track specific metrics so the public could hold me accountable for staying on top of this issue… Finally, I would launch an effort called Reconnect Colorado, which would be a massive effort to mobilize and connect the community to address the mental health crisis that we are experiencing. We have one of the highest suicide rates for kids in the country and one of the highest drug addiction rates for kids in the country.

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