After a whirlwind few weeks for Donald Trump that included violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the unceremonious exit of top Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Barlock said he was still 100 percent behind the president.
Barlock was the Denver co-chair for Trump’s Colorado campaign.
And while he got his start in politics alongside Democrats John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, Barlock owes Trump for his conversion to the Republican Party after years of being an unaffiliated voter. It was Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and how he was taking on the establishment that attracted him.
“He wasn’t a globalist like the Bush family or the Romney family,” Barlock says. “I am against globalist Republicans— or the establishment as they are called now.”
A first-time candidate, Barlock joins a crowded Republican primary to beat a Democrat and replace term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper.
What’s Barlock’s background?
Barlock cut his teeth in local politics in Denver’s parks and recreation department then worked on Hickenlooper’s first campaign for mayor of Denver.
A fifth-generation Coloradan who works as an independent real-estate broker in Denver, Barlock says he remembers picking up campaign contributions for Hick from wealthy conservatives like Clarity Media owner Phil Anschutz and homebuilder Larry Mizel— “globalists” he now calls them both. But Barlock didn’t get a job with the administration after Hickenlooper won and he says he was turned off when the new mayor said he would bring the best and brightest from around the nation to Denver. What’s wrong with the people we already have here? he thought. He says he was one of only a handful of “straight white males” on the campaign.
Barlock says he always considered himself conservative. Limited government, lower taxes— but he and his family were unaffiliated voters. “I believe the natural form of the Republican voter is an independent person,” he says. But while he was conservative he never voted for a Bush, he says. Last year, he found Trump’s candidacy so appealing he officially got on board with the GOP. “He came down on illegal immigration and it was a president we could support,” he says of Trump.
So he became a county delegate for Trump in the Colorado caucuses and when Trump won he became co-chair of the Denver Trump campaign. He says he put the office downtown where millennials would see it, hanging an LGBT flag from the office. “Individuals,” he says, “I don’t care what you are, religious or not, you’re an individual and if you don’t want government controlling your life you should be a Republican.”
What are some of his campaign themes?
“I’m running against a Bush, a Romney, Deep State and a millionaire,” Barlock says.
Barlock wants to “strengthen” TABOR, he says of the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights Constitutional amendment that requires voters approve any new tax increases. As governor, he says he would run a statewide ballot measure to add voting on tax incentives to that requirement. If the government wants to give a company a tax break, voters would have to weigh in. “I’m against all subsidies,” he says. “I believe that’s totally the true meaning of TABOR. It’s people vote on the taxes. If it’s a tax break people vote on the taxes. If it’s a tax increase people vote on the taxes.”
Colorado’s state pension fund, known as PERA, also features front and center in Barlock’s pitch to voters. He bemoans its large unfunded liability and fears a stock market crash could bankrupt Colorado, which could lead to higher property taxes to mitigate the impact. His plan to fix that liability is to find what he considers unnecessary state spending and divert those public funds to fund PERA. He says he would also divert revenue from state lottery money.
Colorado voters in 1994 decided how profits from the state lottery are distributed. The formula is 50 percent of profits go to the Great Outdoors Colorado (COGO) Trust Fund, 40 percent to the Conservation Trust Fund, and 10 percent to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “To change the distribution formula of lottery proceeds,” says lottery spokeswoman Val Beck, “it would have to once again go to a vote.”
Barlock says a statewide ballot measure might be the way to reroute the funds, or perhaps just pull out of state-sponsored gambling altogether.
On education, he strongly supports homeschooling even though his brother is a teacher. “I’m definitely not a teachers’ union guy.” He likes apprenticeship programs more than specialty trade schools in higher education.
He thinks the next governor should tackle Colorado’s dwindling water as the population grows by going to court to fight for water rights. He also will demand more hydroelectric power and wants to see fewer subsidized wind turbines.
Where does he fit along the Republican Party spectrum in Colorado?
He is firmly planted in Trumpist faction of Republican politics in Colorado. And, like Trump, in his campaign he often takes a wrench to the GOP machine.
The state party, Barlock says, has become too elite, and he says its infrastructure was more for Ted Cruz than Trump. He says if he doesn’t become governor, the state’s top party representative, the GOP will become even more elite. He points out that one of his rivals in the race, Victor Mitchell, says he didn’t vote for Trump and wouldn’t campaign with him if he came to Colorado. “Vic can kiss my butt on that,” Barlock says.
“I’m the only candidate, period, who supports [Trump] 100 percent [and] from the very beginning,” he says, adding, “The only thing that could ever pull me away from Donald Trump is if he pulls away from the NRA.”
Barlock also claims support as a pro-Trump “America First candidate” meaning he supports a nationalist agenda. Running for governor he calls himself a “statist” which means he is “all in for Colorado,” and will do whatever is in the state’s best interest.
Where might he draw his support?
He’s banking on those who support the president.
With so many candidates running in the primary and splintering the vote a winner can emerge by potentially consolidating less than 30 percent.
The Barlock for governor campaign “is all about the leverage I’m creating by supporting Donald Trump,” he says. “It is a gamble.”
When voters ask him what he’s going to do if Trump is toast by March he says he thinks instead Trump by March could be seen as the greatest president ever. “The only reason I’m running is for him, so of course I’m going to support him and hopefully if everything goes well that leverage increases,” he says.
The big question, of course, is whether Trump will support Barlock.
Barlock says it’s something that’s been discussed but declined to say whether he spoke directly with Trump about it. And if he doesn’t get help from the president he helped elect, that will still be OK because he— and Trump— understand how politics works.
“There’s always a deal to be made and that’s how Donald Trump operates,” Barlock told The Colorado Independent. “If it goes through a deal with Donald Trump to get something [and he endorses someone else] I hold no hard feelings. That’s just the political business right now.”
How might the new primary system voters just passed affect a Barlock candidacy?
Because this is the first primary race for governor in Colorado where unaffiliated voters will be mailed ballots and can choose one in which to vote, no one knows exactly how their participation might influence the race.
But having more independent-minded voices in the voting pool could benefit a candidate who does not come from a more extreme faction of the party than one who does.