In early May, Denver businessman Noel Ginsburg rolled out his campaign in the Democratic primary for Colorado governor.
The CEO of Intertech Plastics and nonprofit founder who brought Hillary Clinton to tour his Denver headquarters in 2014, chose the Riverwalk in downtown Pueblo to officially launch his bid. He picked the southern Colorado city, he said, to underscore his commitment to the state’s non-major-metro areas. Pueblo, a heavily Hispanic blue-collar union town, lost its longtime Democratic stronghold status last year when Donald Trump won the county.
This is the first time in his life Ginsburg is running for public office.
“For me, running for governor is not the fulfillment of a lifelong dream,” he told the small crowd in Pueblo on the day he announced. Rather, he said, he hopes his legacy will be to leave the world better than he found it.
What’s Ginsburg’s background?
Ginsburg, whose father ran a manufacturing plant in Arvada, grew up learning how to operate an assembly line where he jarred pickles. In his last year at the University of Denver he founded a company called Intertech Plastics, which does custom injection molding for industrial and medical devices, according to his campaign literature.
Five years ago he helped found the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance trade group and his campaign also touts his service as “board chair and general campaign chair of the Mile High United Way and the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado,” as well as being chair of the Denver Public Schools Foundation. He was also a member of the U.S. Youth Employment Action Network at the Clinton Global Initiative.
Ginsburg, who calls himself an introvert, says his wife and two children were “at yes before I was at yes” when he first started talking about running for governor. His aspirations to become CEO of Colorado came after and he and wife Leslie co-founded the I Have A Dream Foundation dedicated to increasing the state’s high school graduation rate. His work for that group, he says, showed him he could have an impact on actual lives and led to the idea of running for governor.
In his campaign launch, Ginsburg decried divisive political rhetoric “driven to the extreme by fake news, alternative facts, and a singular focus on the issues that divide us.” He said allowing such behavior to continue is everyone’s fault.
“As governor, the responsibility to change this behavior will rest with me, my cabinet, and the policies we will pursue to benefit all of Colorado,” he said. “You should hold me accountable to change the rhetoric, to set standards of political behavior that we should all be proud of.”
What are some of his campaign themes?
Ginsburg talks about “modernizing the TABOR formula,” a reference to the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights constitutional amendment that requires voter approval to raise taxes and provides a formula for limiting government spending.
“It was done decades ago and I think although it served the state then it doesn’t serve us now,” Ginsburg told The Colorado Independent in an interview. He says voters should still have the right to vote on future tax increases, but the formulas within TABOR “are outdated and don’t work for the state.” He would like to see them modified to free up more money that could fund infrastructure and education. As governor, he would push for a statewide ballot measure to update the formula. “Since it was founded, we’ve taken $2 billion and put it back into our pockets in the form of small checks,” he told a small crowd during an August candidates forum in Breckenridge. “That could have gone to infrastructure.”
“There’s almost no one that I talk to that says we don’t need to fix TABOR,” he says. Asked why that hasn’t happened yet, he cited a lack of leadership.
In his announcement speech, Ginsburg mentioned Colorado moving to more clean energy, but in an interview, he said, “when [the wind] doesn’t blow or the sun isn’t shining you need fossil fuels.” He’s happy with the regulations Colorado already has on fracking, but he said communities “need a say.” Asked what that meant specifically, he said, “I think what they need to do is be heard, number one.” He also says that more attention needs to be paid to mental health issues and ensuring the state’s mental health services are available for everyone across the state. He calls Colorado’s opioid epidemic a symptom of a mental health epidemic.
Ginsburg also runs CareerWise Colorado, an apprenticeship program lauded by current Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper as a hallmark of his administration. Ginsburg learned about successful apprenticeships in Switzerland, he has said, after attending an institute there. Students in the program get apprenticeship wages, industry credentials, and college credits.
Along the campaign trail, Ginsburg has stood out by saying he does not think some of the proposals offered by some of his Democratic rivals are realistic. He has even likened the candidates to Donald Trump who promised during his presidential campaign that he would build a wall and that Mexico would pay for it.
“Some of my opponents in this race are saying they are going to make things free,” Ginsburg said at one rally to about 100. “I will tell you nothing is free, nothing is ever free.”
As governor, he says he would explore an interstate compact among western states to expand access to health insurance, expand apprenticeship programs and try to repeal a 20120 law that “requires teachers to demonstrate effectiveness and ties teacher pay to student performance,” which was written by his Democratic gubernatorial rival Mike Johnston, a former state senator.
Where does he fit along the spectrum of the Democratic Party in Colorado?
“I am clearly a Democrat but I am more moderate,” Ginsburg told The Colorado Independent.
That was on the day he announced in Pueblo. There to check him out was a local named Bob Hasselbrink, a union man and heavy equipment mechanic with long hair, sunglasses and a tie-dyed T-shirt emblazoned with peace signs. At the time, Hasselbrink was trying to figure out which Democratic candidate suits his more leftist views, he said, and attended Ginsburg’s announcement after he heard a new prospect was announcing a run near where he lives in rural southern Colorado.
“Pretty much cookie cutter,” Hasselbrink said after Ginsburg wrapped up a 20-minute speech. Asked what he is looking for as a Democratic voter this year, Hasselbrink sighed. “Somebody really far left,” he said. “The left needs to step back up.” He didn’t get that from Ginsburg, he said.
Ginsburg said voices of voters like Hasselbrink matter. “But,” he added, “all of Colorado” does, too.
“My fear is for the Democratic Party if we push too far left we’ll have a Republican as the next governor of this state,” Ginsburg says, which could be perceived as a veiled shot at Boulder Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, who got in the race months after Ginsburg announced.
Ginsburg is putting some of his personal money into his campaign but is also fundraise dialing for dollars. He won’t inject “in the hundreds of thousands,” but maybe the tens of thousands, he said. “If you can buy your way into an election— because frankly money matters, it does— and if you can fund your campaign with three or six million dollars, does that up the odds of winning? Possibly. But I don’t think it’s democratic.”
He says what he hopes sets him apart in the Democratic field is his status as a non-politician but someone who has been active around government.
“I’m an outsider,” he says.
He says he would push back against the presidential administration of Donald Trump or “any others that jeopardize the environment or that seek to marginalize any person because of their place of birth, religion, a woman’s right to choose, socio-economic status, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
How might the new primary system voters just passed affect a Ginsburg candidacy?
No one knows yet, but it could benefit a candidate who does not come from the far left wing of the party more than one who does.
Because voters approved ballot measure Prop 108 on Nov. 8, Colorado’s next governor’s race will be the first year unaffiliated voters will be allowed to 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 could 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.
Touting his non-politician business background and calling himself a more moderate Dem, Ginsburg will make a play outside the traditional Democratic base.
“I think particularly given that independents can vote then it [allows] a candidate like me to run and be true to what I believe,” he said. “And so the path to victory for me is that I have a much broader coalition. There’s now two-thirds of the electorate who will be able to vote in the next election.” Colorado is almost evenly balanced among Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters.
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.
That’s something Ginsburg himself brought up in an interview.
“I think our democracy is at risk because we have divided our country and moved so far left and so far right that we don’t talk to each other,” he said. “And if there’s a litmus test for every candidate that if you don’t check all these boxes they can’t be supported I think that challenges our democracy.”
Any potential buzz saws for Ginsburg?
Not holding public office before can cut both ways.
Unaffiliated voters will be able to participate in next year’s primaries, but Ginsburg still does have to run in a Democratic primary. During the 2016 Colorado caucuses, self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders crushed Clinton, winning over the state’s grassroots Democratic base by nearly 20 points.
“I am not a super-extroverted career politician,” Ginsburg says. “I bring a different style than we’re used to seeing in our officials.”