Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne just joined the Colorado governor’s race. Kind of. Here’s what that means.

A crowded Democratic field is getting more crowded

Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne just joined the Colorado governor’s race. Kind of. Here’s what that means.

Colorado’s lieutenant governor, Donna Lynne, announced she is launching a bid for governor. Kind of. 

She filed official paperwork so she can raise and spend money for a campaign, and in doing so joins an already crowded Democratic primary.

So far the race to succeed term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2018 includes education reformer and ex-state Sen. Mike Johnston, former State Treasurer and deputy mayor of Denver Cary Kennedy, non-politician Intertech Plastics CEO Noel Ginsburg, and uber-wealthy tech-entrepreneur-Congressman Jared Polis of Boulder. Three other lesser known Democrats, Adam Garrity, Moses Humes, and Michael Schroeder, have also filed paperwork to run for governor.

Because Lynne has not formally announced that she’s 100 percent in the race, she didn’t come out with a bold rollout of policy proposals or the bells and whistles of a big campaign kickoff. Instead, on the first of August she told the state’s largest newspaper about her intentions and held a brief morning news conference in a park across the street from her office at the state Capitol.

So who is Donna Lynne?

Lynne, 63, is a top businesswoman in Denver with a background in healthcare who served as the executive vice president of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. There, she oversaw an $8 billion budget before Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed her as his lite guv last spring. She met him when he was mayor of Denver and served on his transition team when he became governor.

It was the Kaiser job that brought Lynne to Colorado in 2005. A graduate of The Wharton School, Columbia University and George Washington University (degrees in political science and economics), she has been an intern at the White House and served in the mayor’s office in New York City— under four administrations, both Democratic and Republican.  

She has said she always knew she wanted to work in government. About growing up in the 1960s, she said, “I was less of a protester than I was, ‘How about changing it?’ … And going into the public sector is one way to change the status quo.”

Her Colorado board positions have included the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, which she once chaired, Teach for America-Colorado, and the Denver Public Schools Foundation. She is a member of Colorado Concern, a high-profile state business group of corporate heavy hitters with a political arm that supports business-minded politicians of both political stripes.  

A skier, mountain climber and cyclist, Lynne has three children and two stepchildren. Since becoming lieutenant governor last year she has visited each of Colorado’s 64 counties.

Didn’t she say she wouldn’t run for governor?

Close followers of Colorado politics might have thought that.

A March 23, 2016 story in The Denver Post was headlined, “Governor’s lieutenant governor nominee won’t seek higher office.”

This was the opening paragraph:

Donna Lynne, a Kaiser Permanente executive tapped by Gov. John Hickenlooper Wednesday to be his next lieutenant governor, said she has no plans to run for the top job in two years, but that she is doggedly committed to public service.

“For the last 15 months, I’ve been privileged to work with and help people in every Colorado county and have come to realize there is much more we can and must do to keep the state moving in the right direction,” she said in a statement.

But she went a little further in an interview with The Denver Post, saying she asked Hickenlooper if he felt he had asked her not to run, to which she says he replied, “I never asked you not to run. What I did was express a preference for A) somebody from the private sector and B) somebody who didn’t have political aspiration.”

Following her Aug. 1 news conference, she also told a reporter the presidential election made keeping a Democrat in the Colorado governor’s office a priority and it impacted her decision making.

Lynne’s entrance into the race comes just weeks after the surprising exit of Arvada Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter.

One immediate challenge for Lynne, in addition to her big state job, is having never been a candidate before. She’ll have to find a campaign manager, have a website built, and find the right people to surround her and do the political blocking and tackling — while being careful to respect the responsibilities and rules of being the state’s lieutenant governor.

Where does Lynne fit along the Democratic Party spectrum in Colorado?

That’s hard to say because she’s kind of a political blank slate.

Her private sector background and affiliations with buttoned-up business groups probably mean she won’t be this race’s Bernie Sanders bomb thrower.

Speaking on a recent public affairs TV show, Democratic consultant Steve Welchert said of Lynne, “I think that this is the kind of Chamber of Commerce, 17th Street candidate.”

“I’ve spent my career helping people and leading big organizations — both in government and in the private sector,” Lynne said in a statement. “I believe that’s the kind of experience we need right now.”

One thing we know for sure is that Gov. John Hickenlooper clearly thinks she can govern the state of Colorado. He chose her as his second-in-command and someone who can stand in for him when he is out of state, or if he becomes incapacitated. It’s also worth noting how hard he tried to get on Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential shortlist, which, had she won and he made it, immediately would have put Lynne in the governor’s mansion.

Here’s something else: Assisting her campaign is OnSight Public Affairs, the consulting firm that handled Hickenlooper’s operations.

And on Aug. 2, a day after Lynne made her announcement, Huckenlooper gushed about her to reporters, saying she would be a “would be a great governor.” Lynne, he said, is “like a Hoover vacuum cleaner of problems. They just disappear, and everyone’s happy.”

he also said this, according to The Denver Post:

“I do think she is a remarkably talented person, and if she were to run and to win she would be a great governor. The last thing she needs is for everyone to say, ‘The governor is trying to get her elected’ or ‘pushing her out there to do this.’ ”

Expect Lynne to talk about healthcare because of her background in the industry. She has said that in her travels across the state as lieutenant governor, she heard two themes: People want cheaper health insurance, and they need better Internet access to promote local growth.

In an Aug. 1 email announcing her plans to supporters, Lynne talked about a need to “keep our economy growing while we strengthen the Colorado middle class,” a need for better roads and rural broadband, and increased protection for the air and water. “And,” she said, “we must do everything we can to stop Donald Trump from taking away healthcare from hundreds of thousands of Coloradans.”

Where might she draw her support?

Campaign finance filings won’t give us a clue for another three months.

At this point, Lynne isn’t all-in as a candidate. She says she merely filed official paperwork that allows her to raise and spend money on a campaign. But she did it just weeks after the latest quarterly campaign finance reports were due on July 17, and she won’t have to show the public who is giving her money until October.

One thing to look out for this fall will be how much crossover there is with Lynne and Hickenlooper’s financial support. Also, will the governor actually get involved in this primary? Until this latest presidential election cycle, Hickenlooper had operated more as a nonpartisan technocrat than a hardcore Democrat who involved himself in interparty politics.

In an email to supporters on the morning of her announcement, the Donna Lynne for Governor campaign included a quote from Hickenlooper calling her “one of the most talented people I have ever worked with.” Her long record of “exemplary success, both in business and in public service, more than earns her the right to run for Governor. Colorado is fortunate to have someone with Donna’s dedication and tenacity who wants to lead our state,” the governor continued.

Though Colorado helped lead the effort for women’s suffrage, the state has yet to have a female governor or U.S. Senator. Until now, the only woman in the race on the Democratic side was Cary Kennedy— who no longer stands out in that regard.

However, EMILY’s List, a national group that supports women in politics and helps them fundraise, and whose name stands for Early Money is Like Yeast, endorsed Kennedy in June despite Lynne’s name at the time being mentioned as a possible candidate.

“I’m excited that Donna Lynne is throwing her hat in for the governor’s race,” says Jenny Willford, who runs Emerge Colorado, an organization that encourages and trains women to run for political office in Colorado. “I always love to see more women candidates running for higher level positions. I would, however, love to see more women jump into the state treasurer’s race as well as the attorney general’s race.”

How might Colorado’s new primary system affect a Lynne candidacy?

No one knows yet, but it could benefit a more moderate candidate like Lynne as opposed to someone from the far left.

Because voters approved ballot measure Prop 108 on Nov. 8, Colorado’s next governor’s race will be the first year unaffiliated voters will have a say in whom the Democratic Party nominates for governor. Democrats will still caucus for their candidates at precincts around the state — and unaffiliated voters cannot participate in those — but once candidates land on the primary ballot, either by coming out of caucuses or petitioning on, unaffiliated voters will be allowed to vote, unless a lawsuit derails the law.

If the law stands, it would mean that in the 2018 governor’s race, mailed ballots will be sent to unaffiliated voters with the names of Democratic and Republican primary candidates. Voters can choose one party or the other to participate in.

One aim of Prop 108 was to water down the voting power of the activist base in each party by broadening the electorate. Proponents of the measure saw it as a way to reduce the chances of Colorado nominating extreme candidates on either side.

 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled OnSight Public Affairs. OnSight is a climbing term

Photo via the Colorado lieutenant governor’s website

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About the Author

Corey Hutchins

is a journalist in Colorado, and Columbia Journalism Review's Rocky Mountain correspondent for the United States Project. Follow him on Twitter @CoreyHutchins and email him at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.

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