Just days before the March caucus, which will determine candidates on the Democratic ballot for Governor, the race is heating up. Some of the five viable candidates will try to make the ballot by submitting signatures instead, but all will make an appearance at the caucus. Former State Treasurer, Cary Kennedy and Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne have been profiled in previous editions of this paper, the remaining three candidates are profiled herein.
Jared Polis Heavyweight in the Governor’s Race
Each of the other candidates mentions Congressman Jared Polis as stiff competition for the 2018 race. While other candidates fret about raising funds to get their message out, Polis has shown in previous races that he has the ability and willingness to invest his personal resources to ensure his message gets out. He is only one of two Democrats who has already won statewide and is listed as one of wealthiest Congressmen in the country. Whether they end up voting for him for Governor in a general election or not, every regular Colorado voter will know about Congressman Jared Polis by the end of this governor’s race.
Polis hasn’t shied away from being labeled a Boulder liberal or Colorado’s only openly gay U.S. Congressman, instead embracing the ideals behind those labels while trying to appeal to centrist voters with popular policy perspectives like support of legal cannabis and the new energy economy.
More than any other candidate of either party, he has incorporated Latina staff, placing them in key positions in his campaign. Equally as impressive is the intergenerational aspect to his Latina cadre, with former Escuela Tlatelolco Principal, Nita Gonzales, playing a senior policy role, Ana Temu as Deputy Policy Director and Alvina Vasquez as Policy Director adding youthful energy and attitude to the team. Temu was on Bernie Sanders’ National Advance Staff and Vásquez is a former VP at Strategies 360, a regional public relations firm.
Polis’ education policy includes universal preschool and full-day kindergarten across the state. He also calls for student loan relief and affordable housing concessions for teachers. He is the only Democrat to have served on a school board, the State Board of Education, where he became the youngest president in Colorado history. He also started non-profit schools including The New America Schools, throughout Colorado and New Mexico. The schools help English Language Learners, including some students as old as 21, earn high school degrees.
His education work wasn’t enough to earn him the endorsement of either The Colorado Education Association or the Colorado chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. Both organizations threw their support behind rival Cary Kennedy. Along with Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, Polis sponsored Race to the Top legislation in 2010 that brought federal funding as an incentive for states to accelerate ‘education reform’, polarizing Democrats who would otherwise be public education allies.
Polis’ campaign material shows strong support for protecting Colorado’s natural resources, but some question how far he will go for the environment. In 2014 he led an effort to increase local control for fracking regulations until conversations with Governor Hickenlooper led to compromise. Thousands of signatures collected in favor of restricting fracking, signed by voters expecting the measure to be on the ballot, were thrown away. It remains to be seen whether Polis can earn back the trust and votes of activists who perceive Polis’ compromise as falling short of his commitment.
Ginsburg Brings Trades Education to Governor’s Campaign
Noel Ginsburg is a college dropout… not because it was too hard or because he was struggling but because he learned everything he needed to launch the company planned during business classes at the University of Denver. Since then he has led one of Colorado’s best-known home-grown companies that has created plenty of jobs in Denver. As President and Founder of Intertech Plastics, Ginsburg knows what it takes to educate students that Colorado businesses need to hire. He practices what he preaches at his own company of over 200 employees – offering continuing education and training in science and math as well as tutoring for the children of employees. It is that experience that Ginsburg wants to capitalize on, as he campaigns for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Ginsburg’s straightforward campaign has resonated with many educators who believe learning the trades should be an option for high school students who won’t end up in college. He founded CareerWise, “America’s first statewide youth apprenticeship and job training program, which has been called a national model.” The program provides high school students with job training while they earn money and college credit. Ginsburg is targeting training and jobs in industries key to Colorado including manufacturing, the renewable energy sector, and healthcare. Some of the ideas for the apprenticeship program came from involvement in the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance and is modeled after some European curricula, namely the Swiss apprenticeship model. Ginsburg took several Colorado policy makers to observe the Swiss program for themselves over the course of several days.
When asked about the program Ginsburg said, “This program can be transformational in Colorado. It shifts the burden to the business sector. Instead of just being a consumer [of the education system] they will be contributors.”
In his 2017 end of year “Reflection” linked on Facebook, Ginsburg made three points: 1- Colorado needs a better economic vision – “While stock prices are soaring, economic opportunities are limited for far too many Coloradans.” 2- Colorado is facing a funding crisis – “There are a few key measures in Colorado to blame, at the top of the list, is TABOR, Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights.” 3- A more sustainable future can start in Colorado- “An investment in clean energy is not only good for our environment, but it’s good economics too.”
This is Ginsburg’s first foray into elected politics but he is well known in Colorado’s business and philanthropy sectors as one of Colorado’s more civic minded and generous business owners. Ginsburg chaired the board of directors of Mile High United Way and his annual company golf tournament has raised over $150,000 over the years for the organization. He also served as interim director for one year at the Denver Public Schools Foundation. As for jumping into the governor’s race, Ginsburg said, “My lifelong goal is not to be involved in politics but to make a difference.”
Johnston Attracts School Choice Proponents
Former State Senator Mike Johnston believes he can win the Democratic nomination for Governor by assembling a coalition of millennials, Latinos, African Americans, Western Slope voters and Independents. He is confident that he can also attract Republican voters in a general election. While other gubernatorial candidates are appealing to liberal party activists, Johnston is playing to the more centrist and conservative aspects of the party. Among all Democratic candidates, Johnston has attracted the most interest from “school reform” and charter school advocates.
Johnston’s strong push for school choice has also attracted Republican dollars which has kept him in the lead for fundraising but has raised the hackles of left-leaning Dems. Media personality David Sirota tweeted, “Colorado Dem gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston is having a big fundraiser with Silicon Valley GOP mogul Meg Whitman & fossil fuel billionaire John Arnold, who has financed the national campaign to slash teachers, cops & firefighters retirement benefits.” That fundraiser took place at the Arnold’s Telluride vacation home in early January.
Director of A+ Denver, Van Schoales, was a co-host of a January event. In an invitation, Schoales wrote, “I have known Mike for 15 years and watched him lead schools and communities to make remarkable changes by working with folks from all backgrounds and across every political, social and racial divide.” Schoales added, “Mike is one of the few folks that I believe can break through the political log jam in Colorado and the nation to make the changes required for everyone to thrive.”
Johnston’s support of school choice is a position he has embraced during his term in the State Senate. In 2010, Johnston co-sponsored Senate Bill 191 along with Republican Senator Nancy Spence of Centennial. The law increased stakes for teacher evaluations based on student academic growth as measured by assessment tests. The law also made it easier for teachers to be removed from classrooms for subpar evaluations.
191 passed to the chagrin of teachers’ unions, many teachers and other public school advocates around the state, decrying mandated and unfunded testing, ‘high-stakes testing’ and subjective principal evaluations of teachers. Whether candidates support SB 191 has become a litmus test question not only for school board candidates but also mayoral and gubernatorial hopefuls.
Johnston says there is much more to his statewide vision than just education reform. His website lists several other areas on which he wants to concentrate starting with what he calls the Colorado Promise – 2 years of tuition free community college or other training in exchange for service to the state. In a December meeting, Johnston called the program, “The civilian version of the National Guard.”
He pledges to fight against the sale of any public land and “believes that Colorado should continue to lead the nation in moving towards a clean energy economy that meets the needs of Coloradans while also reversing the impacts of man-made climate change and protecting our state’s greatest treasures: mountains and open lands, beautiful rivers, and clean air.” Johnston wants Colorado to generate all its power needs from renewable sources by 2050, an industry he says is part of the “new economy”.
Other areas of emphasis include making healthcare more affordable, and including mental health as part of healthcare considerations.