In February, Victor Mitchell, a Castle Rock businessman who served one term in the state legislature, announced he was running for governor with a splash.
Mitchell rolled out his bid in the spring with a digital advertising buy and a 16-page newspaper-looking print advertisement about him mailed to voters. He has racked up tens of thousands of followers on Facebook. Campaigning full time, he said by mid-December he had made appearances at nearly 400 events throughout Colorado.
Furthermore, the self-made millionaire and serial entrepreneur pledged to spend $3 million of his own money on the race.
“The answer’s pretty straightforward,” he says when asked why he decided to run for governor in 2018. “You can feel frustrated or disillusioned with our whole political process — there’s a lot at times to be cynical [about] the state of our state and our government— I choose to be part of the solution. I put myself out there because I think I can make a big difference.”
Pitching himself as a business-minded outsider, Mitchell is the only high-profile Republican candidate for governor in Colorado who says he did not vote for President Donald Trump. Like Trump, though, he says since he’s using his own money on his bid he won’t be beholden to the kinds of special interests that are filling the campaign coffers of his GOP rivals.
Mitchell says if he gets through the primary and wins the general election, he plans on serving two terms and then never running for another office again.
What’s Mitchell’s background?
A New York native, Mitchell, 52, was raised by a single mom who he says was 90 percent blind and deaf. He moved to California when he was young and started his first company in his 20s. He moved to Colorado in 1996 after he founded and sold a wireless retail company to Verizon and started a telecom company in Centennial.
He now runs Lead Funding, which he calls an “alternative to banks” that lends money to companies in six states. He has a degree in finance from San Diego State and a Masters from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. In 2007 he won a seat to the state legislature where he served one term and then chose not to run again.
Mitchell is a Rotarian who delivers Meals on Wheels on Friday afternoons and pitches himself as someone who came from nothing, became successful, and wants to give back by being a public servant. “I’m not a trust-fund baby,” he said in an interview. “I’m not a politician.”
In 2011, Mitchell led a statewide campaign against a ballot measure called Prop 103 that would have increased sales and income taxes for five years to fund schools. The measure ultimately failed.
What are some of his campaign themes?
Regulatory reform is something Mitchell hammers often on the campaign trail. He believes small businesses in Colorado are over-regulated by state government, so as governor he says he would rollback 100,000 pages of rules and regulations.
He also says he would shed the state workforce by 20 percent and allow young people to work temporary state jobs “to bring a millennial’s perspective” to state government on a two-year contract that would cancel up to $30,000 of their student loans.
He is big on changing the healthcare industry in Colorado. As governor, he says he would urge lawmakers to stop expanding Medicaid and pull out of the state’s Obamacare exchange.
To provide healthcare a different way, he says, he would use federal block grants to create an environment for “young, entrepreneur nurse-practitioner-physician-assistant-type clinics” that could pop up around the state and handle common procedures for patients like mammograms and colonoscopies, even mental health offerings, and could rely on telemedicine connectivity to physicians at larger hospitals. The state would pay up to 50 percent of an approved clinic’s operating costs for a year and then go through annual reviews. He acknowledges he would need to ask for some waivers from the Trump administration to make sure Colorado wouldn’t lose federal dollars that are tied to Medicaid spending. Such clinics, he says, would primarily serve Medicaid patients and other underserved populations in rural areas, but could serve others on a fee for services basis as an option for those who don’t have insurance.
“Somehow we’ve gotten it to, ‘Oh, insurance should cover everything,’” Mitchell said in an interview.
On transportation, he says he would limit overhead at the Colorado Department of Transportation’s budget to no more than 20 percent of the total budget and send the rest to contractors. To free up even more money in the budget for transportation programs, he said he would want to reform a legislative audit committee to allow it to do performance audits on state agencies to find ways to streamline how they operate and shift saved money from those audits to other initiatives in state government. He thinks doing so would provide political cover for lawmakers who could move money around in the budget by pointing to an independent audit as the reason.
“I believe we should completely defund any and all sanctuary cities,” Mitchell said in response to a question about illegal immigration during a Dec. 19 speech he gave to a small crowd in a Fort Collins restaurant. “I can’t stop a mayor from disregarding federal law and cooperating with ICE, but I can cut off funding, and I intend to do just that through the general fund.”
Not much in Colorado’s general fund goes straight to individual cities, but a governor could decide unilaterally not to administer some funds that do. In the case of, say, Boulder, much of state funding comes in the form of grants, but the city also gets a share of the state lottery money, marijuana taxes, and funds for highway maintenance, according to a city spokesman.
When it comes to higher education, if he becomes governor, Mitchell says he would take all money earmarked for state universities in Colorado and channel it directly toward STEM disciplines— science, technology, engineering, and mathematics— to make those degrees less expensive. If elected, he also has pledged he would not allow tuition increases at public universities as long as he is governor.
Mitchell said he believes he would have unilateral authority to make such policy changes, but acknowledged they might require changes to legislation.
A governor can come up with his or her own budget request, but that’s what it is— just a request. Lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee could take such a request into consideration but eventually, the larger body of the state legislature would get involved in how and where higher ed money is spent.
“It’s really the legislature that determines how the funding is going to go,” says Richard Maestas, CFO of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.
Where does Mitchell fit along the Republican Party spectrum in Colorado?
He has called himself the “nice Donald Trump.” But he didn’t vote for Trump for president.
That refusal to vote for Trump sets him apart from the field. When Mitchell said he voted for former CIA agent and independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin during a candidate forum in mid-November in Fort Lupton it drew a loud hiss from a woman in the crowd.
“There’s going to be some Republican voters who won’t vote for me because of that, but we’re fiercely independent-minded people and that’s a litmus test and Republicans don’t believe in litmus tests,” Mitchell says about it when asked. He didn’t vote for Trump, he told The Colorado Independent, because he was raised by a single mother and he couldn’t get past the way Trump talked about and treated women. “It didn’t really have to do with any of his policies, which I support,” he says. Going even further, Mitchell said if he wins the nomination he would turn Trump down if the president wanted to help campaign with him in Colorado.
On the trail, he frames himself as an independent thinker and mentions his work with Democrats to pass a bill regulating payday lenders, an industry in Colorado he felt was ripping off poor people. As a governor, “I’m definitely not going to be an ideologue,” he has said on the stump. “I’m a problem solver. I’m a pragmatic person.”
Even as he bankrolls his campaign with $3 million, he sees his bid as an underdog effort, and he has a line he tells crowds at events about two of his rivals, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and retired investment banker Doug Robinson respectively: “I’ve got to beat George Bush’s cousin, I’ve got to beat Mitt Romney’s nephew.”
Mitchell rankled some Republicans early in the race when he became one of the first candidates to go negative in the primary. At the time, he said he believes attorneys are “unqualified” to run for governor and called his opponent Doug Robinson “Big-Dollar Doug” and said he should return campaign contributions that came from Utah residents.
During a late February business roundtable breakfast in Denver, Mitchell stood apart from three other Republicans present— State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and retired investment banker Doug Robinson— by not offering a full-on wet kiss to the oil-and-gas industry. Instead, he took a different tone, saying he was “deeply disappointed” about the way the industry handled the fallout from an April home explosion in Firestone caused by an abandoned energy company gas line.
“They should have done everything possible to take ownership of it,” including offering significant compensation to the victims, Mitchell said. “They are still finger pointing today as to who is culpable in that disaster.” While others in the race have, Mitchell has not accepted any campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
How might the new primary system voters just passed affect a Mitchell candidacy?
No one knows yet, but it could benefit a candidate who does not come from the far right wing of the party more than one who does.
“I think it’s going to be good for the Republican Party to allow voters to vote in primaries,” Mitchell says. “We’re working tirelessly to attract them to our cause.” By mid-December, he said campaign analytics showed 13,000 of his 40,000 supporters on Facebook were registered as unaffiliated voters
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 Republican Party nominates for governor. Republicans 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. 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.