Interviews

Barry Farah on Running for Colorado Governor as a Heartfelt Conservative

Barry Farah announced his entry into the Colorado gubernatorial race just a few weeks before the state assembly.
Barry Farah announced his entry into the Colorado gubernatorial race just a few weeks before the state assembly. Facebook

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click to enlarge Barry and Tamra Farah pose alongside Vice President Mike Pence. - FACEBOOK
Barry and Tamra Farah pose alongside Vice President Mike Pence.
Facebook
Are some of these folks backing you financially in the gubernatorial race?

Anything that anyone would choose to do would have to be independent from the campaign. The campaign has a maximum donation of $1,150 per person, and that's all I'm able to do. I'll go to my friends, and I'll go to my extended network of friends if I prevail past the primary, and do what I can in the campaign to generate a competitive amount of money out of the campaign itself. Anything from the independent organizations, I can't coordinate with them or direct traffic in any way, shape or form. I have no idea what they would do, if anything. If they do, I'll be glad to be the recipient. We'll just have to see what happens.

How about your own personal resources? Are you pouring any of those into the race? And what are your thoughts about folks spending their own money in that kind of way?

I believe in a balanced approach, and I've come up with my own ideology about what a balanced approach means. I'm not going to tell you exactly how much I'm willing to contribute. I'm willing to contribute a certain percentage of my net worth, but above a certain percentage, I'm not willing to contribute, because I don't want to buy the election. What I'm looking for is a groundswell of support. So I'm definitely willing to invest enough to be competitive, and I'm willing to do the hard work of making the phone calls and encouraging folks to invest alongside me — and $1,150, it's a lot of phone calls. But I want to do it that way because I want it to be as much as possible of the people and by the people.


I think I can hit a target market that is underrepresented right now, and I don't know if anyone else can hit it as well as I can. And that's uniting the disillusioned base that wants to hear the candidate lead with values. Not policy, but values. Then you can talk about fixing our roads — but talk about what is it you believe in first. And that's where I think I have the ability to encourage a good portion of that disillusioned Republican group, concurrently with my business experience. My current company, I have fourteen languages represented. Every slice of religion and perspective and ideology is represented there, and we have to work on disparate contracts and come to agreement and collaborate. I'm good at working with people from all over the spectrum to get things done, and I think that will be appealing to the middle. So I think I have a way, a path to take it all the way through.

Much conversation has sparked up about you entering the race just a few weeks before the state assembly. How can you hope to make an impact that quickly?

We have a multi-tiered strategy and we're implementing it. It's a lot, a lot, a lot of work. We're doing all the blocking and tackling, all the technical things, and on the strategic side, I'm doing the best that I can to make my case. It is true that I didn't enter six or nine months ago, like so many others did, or a year ago, as some did, but we believe we had no choice to jump in when we did. I didn't see anyone else leading with a values-based approach that would hold on to the founding principles of the Republican platform.

Let's touch on some of the major issues in the campaign. In your biography, you make the point that your grandfather came to this country because he was fleeing an oppressive government, but that he did so legally — and that last word is italicized. What would be your approach to immigration policy as governor?

There's really one thing the governor can do related to immigration, and that is he can apply public pressure opposing sanctuary cities, and I would do that. I believe it's absurd that any mayor can invent which federal laws he wants to comply with and then choose arbitrarily which federal laws he doesn't want to comply with. I think that's a bad path for anyone to take, because look at what happens if you turn that on its head. Right now, you might be violating the law in an area you feel as a mayor is a matter of policy that you believe in. But what if other mayors started revolting against federal laws you do believe in because they don't believe in them? Are we just going to allow all the mayors to make up their own laws as they go? No. We're a country of law, and we have an approach that's laid out for federal law to change. You can't just choose to violate those federal laws, especially when you're dealing with criminals who are dangerous and when you're messing with the incentive system for police officers. You don't want to incentivize our wonderful police officers to go in two directions at once. They're accustomed to obeying the law and being the promulgators of a legal process and not to picking and choosing which laws to obey when they're in harm's way. So I am absolutely opposed to sanctuary cities, because they push forth a notion that we can violate certain federal laws. And we just can't go down that road. We've got to be legal in every way — and then we're invitational. If we handle things legally, then it's very exciting.

Your policy toward transportation issues states that Colorado needs $9 billion over the next ten years, correct?

Yes, in addition to that $1.5 billion we already spend, we need $800 million to $900 million per year, and that fixes a lot of roads. That gets you eight lanes from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, it gets you to eight lanes where necessary on I-70, it bumps up your laneage in a lot of parts of the Western Slope, it fixes your bridges, it fixes a lot of roads in rural Colorado that are in desperate need of repair — like, roads that are physically dangerous to drive on. It fixes all of those. The impact studies are already completed. This is not a novel thing to fix roads. There are a lot of places in the world that do it a lot faster. We just need the leadership to get it done. The legislature has made this the top priority for the past four years, but they have not put it in place. That makes me very suspicious as to whether they actually really want it done. Transportation used to be about 8 percent of the budget, and now it's down to about 6 percent of the budget. So it's absurd that one of the most important things a state government can do would dwindle in size on a percentage basis — and we have so much that needs to be done. It's not complicated; it just needs leadership.

click to enlarge Barry Farah during a 2016 speaking engagement. - FACEBOOK
Barry Farah during a 2016 speaking engagement.
Facebook
And the money saved from eliminating waste will cover that entire $9 billion?

Yeah, $800 million or $900 million a year times ten years. You just need another $100 million or so from the current flush. And we've got $1.5 billion that's excess this year. We don't have to spend all of that on transportation, but we were very blessed. The economy was doing great and more tax revenues came in than people expected. What I want to see happen is for there to be a priority on making transportation at least 8 percent of the budget. You start with transportation because it's a lot more important than a lot of other state issues. You start there philosophically, because that's something that affects everyone, and then you build out your other priorities as well.

High among your other priorities is expanding charter schools. Would that include the funding of religious schools in addition to other charter schools?

Absolutely. Use the voucher however you want to use it. There's no reason to discriminate on the basis of anything as long as it's a quality education. Children learn in different environments, parents have different objectives. They want their children to learn and be stimulated and grow and become exemplary citizens. There are different ways to get there, and you need all the choices you can get in education. And education has a comparative advantage concept just like the free market. Go back to Dave Ricardo's concept — Dave Ricardo was a contemporary of Adam Smith — of comparative advantage that he introduced. He introduced it for markets, but I'm applying it to people. And the idea is that you can do three or four things, but if you can find the one thing you're great at, that you have passion for, you can become a really productive person. And my heart for kids is for them to learn and develop and grow and become fantastic at something. So now, not only are they producers and economically self-sufficient, but they're also happy and they have a passion. You have to have choice to make that happen. Some of the education we're delivering is designed and structured and ordered the same way it was back in World War II. We need alternatives, and people need to have options.

Some opponents of charter schools argue that children from impoverished backgrounds aren't able to take advantage of educational choice because of how difficult it is to travel greater distances to better schools....

That's exactly the opposite of the truth. What happens is, when public education has a monopoly, they end up delivering the solution they want to deliver, top down. Their curriculum, their learning style, their approach. When you give the individual who's in that lower economic environment a voucher and allow for them to use that for home schooling or have some kind of education savings account or use it as a scholarship or any way they can to reallocate that to the school of their choice, they can get to a school they otherwise couldn't afford. It is true some folks are jumping in with both feet in an attempt to broaden not just charter schools but other schools of choice in less advantaged neighborhoods. But there's no way they have any hope of going to a school a rich guy would be able to afford if you don't give them a voucher that allows them to choose which school they want to go to.

Some candidates believe greater funding is needed to improve schools. Is this another situation where you believe additional funding for schools can be found by eliminating waste?

Let's look at some facts. The Classical Academy charter school, which we were privileged to be part of the founding board, had no capital component, to the disadvantage of the Classical Academy charter school versus the other schools, which had a capital infusion from the state. We were competing against brick and mortar they already had in place and had the same per-person or per-pupil operating revenue. So it was the same revenue with the huge disadvantage of no funding for our brick and mortar. But if you go to the Classical Academy charter schools in Colorado Springs, with their multiple locations, you'll see a lot of brick and mortar. How did we pull that off? We pulled that off by taking that per-pupil operating revenue and bonding it at a municipal level and building that beautiful school on the north side of Colorado Springs and buying that other school and upgrading its look and appearance over there off of Springcrest, and accessing all the creative avenues we could to generate excitement and enthusiasm and revenue from caring, concerned parents.

Nobody goes to the Classical Academy charter school and thinks we're at a disadvantage, but we are. We didn't get all that funding from the state. We built it off that per-pupil operating revenue by being inventive and using good financial tools that are available to any school. If you're going to get a guaranteed receipt, you're going to get the ability to bond it. So that's one example — and I think it's the largest brick-and-mortar charter school in the state. Government just gave the big-picture equivalent of the voucher, and then that school chose some inventive approaches to become an extraordinary school competing at every level. That can happen again, but there are all kinds of smaller and equally valuable options out there. When concerned parents are interested and invested in helping their children and you give them a tool like this one, this equivalent of a voucher that we had, all kinds of great things can happen.

When we had our first introductory meeting at the Classical Academy, here was the appeal. You had a lot of people who wanted a school. They didn't want to have to pay for a private school, but they wanted a school that felt culturally safe to them as they defined it and they wanted a place where the kids could learn and have a joy of learning and stay kids while they were kids but really become good learners. Those were the basic big-picture values, and when we circulated that to our group of friends and scheduled our first meeting, we thought we might have fifty or 75 people show up. We had over 450. And the school had a waiting list, and it still has a multiple-thousand-student waiting list to this day. That's what happens when you let parents get involved in being able to direct funds for their kids.

click to enlarge Barry and Tamra Farah at last months El Paso County Republican assembly. - FACEBOOK
Barry and Tamra Farah at last months El Paso County Republican assembly.
Facebook
On the subject of energy, are we spending too much money and too much effort on alternative energy to the detriment of the fossil-fuel industry in this state?

I think we are. I think if you were to go and look at some of those windmills on the Eastern plains and look at all the birds that have been killed, I think it would change the equation — especially if you realize how many of those windmills it takes to equal one fossil-fuel oil rig. And by the way, that one oil rig, it only has about 100 total days of ugly, and of those, only about fifteen days of real ugly, where you have to hide derricks and so forth. And then after those hundred days, everything gets collapsed down to the size of a garage. You can paint it green and put some cosmetic concrete fencing around it and it will produce for thirty years. And it's very safe, because we have huge regulatory requirements in Colorado for fracking and going after other fossil fuels.

I love clean air, and I'm a clean-environment guy. I'm a hiker and I love the mountains — and sometimes I wonder if [alternative energy sources] are more adverse to the environment, because they take up so much space, kill so many birds and so many different animals and wildlife. If it takes 150 of those windmills to produce the equivalent amount of energy to one well, and I think it's actually more, that's a lot of ugly that stays up there all the time versus a small amount of ugly that's up there for a small amount of time, and you can hide the remaining ugly for the rest of the thirty years. I'm almost wondering if it's not better for the environment to say, let's take away all the subsidies. Let's not pick winners and losers in this technology. Let's just require a reasonable amount of safe regulations and let them make the smartest decisions they can so we can have abundant energy for everyone.

Regarding marijuana, how would you as governor respond if the federal government cracked down on Colorado's state-legal program, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has talked about potentially doing?

The reason Jeff Sesions, who's a good attorney, knows that's a difficult thing to do, because, unlike [with] immigration, the federal charter doesn't really include the right to interfere with a state issue like marijuana. And marijuana is a state issue; our state has voted on it — although the jury's still out on whether or not it was all that wise. When you take the THC out of it, I'm a total proponent of it. Absolutely. Eliminate suffering wherever you can. When you allow for recreational marijuana with high content of THC, I'm not sure of the wisdom of that. But it's settled law, and as governor, I wouldn't do anything to upend the settled law. But I would promulgate the courtesy laws that are already in place and encourage people to go ahead and enforce them, so while these other studies are being finalized, we can at least be courteous to one another. People really don't want to walk down the 16th Street Mall and have someone puffing in their face.

The Walker Stapleton campaign has done everything it can to make the Republican governor's race seem like it's already over. Obviously, you feel differently about that. Why?

Based on our understanding and a whole bunch of personal interactions and phone calls I have with actual delegates, there's no one at the assembly who's a conservative and who gives delegates an opportunity to vote for them. I would argue that most of the delegates would say there's not really a heartfelt conservative in the race at all except for me. And by heartfelt, I have been for the last twenty years speaking about economic freedom and the whole concept of the American idea and the value proposition of the Republican Party and how we must continually remind people of the point of America. The point of it is that economic freedom has a value proposition, which is that you own the property. You own the right to that property, and when a tax issue comes up, there's a content behind the policy for me, where in the cases of some of my other competitors, there just seems to be a policy behind a policy.

When we're talking about elevating and dignifying personal responsibility, when's the last time we actually stood up to an unnecessary, unrestrained social program? I've got the personal cred for that. I've been the chairmen of nonprofits that reach out to the poorest of the poor, and I can tell you that elevating somebody with a hand up is much more dignifying and much more celebrating of their humanity than it is to give them a continuous, unrestrained handout. When's the last time we talked about championing limited government? We have a $28 billion budget. The reason one of the first things I'm going to do is my lean-thinking review is that we need to be more responsible with the money that's already coming in. So we're going to find that $800 million by a standard, lean-thinking audit. It will be simple and straightforward, and it will stun us how much money is wasted. Limited government isn't just a good idea to be efficient, although it is good to be efficient and to give the taxpayer the benefit of that. But there's an elegance to the checks and the balances of limited government.

I don't hear anyone else speaking from the heart about the founding principles that make a Republican beneficial to society. And ultimately, Coloradans want to be free. They don't want the government telling them what to do, they don't want the government micromanaging their every moment. They want to be able to exchange their property freely without having someone else telling them whether or not they can do that. They do not want a redistribution of their income. They want people to be productive and add value for themselves. I think that will touch the heart of the disillusioned Republican, and I can tell you that disillusioned Republicans do not feel they can get behind any of the other folks currently in the field. I think I have no choice [to run], because I have the resources, I have the contacts, I have the executive experience, I've got the heart for it. I have no choice but to offer myself to the assembly as an option and let them decide.

If they push me to the next level, then I'll give it all I've got. We'll be competitive and let the primary voters make that decision. If I make it past the primary, the reason I think I've got the best chance in the general is you have to win the disillusioned Republicans, the lean Republicans and that center. And the reason I believe I can touch the center is because everything I stand for is to their benefit as well. I think at the end of the day I'll win that case. I'll be sensible and solid for Colorado. I've had to deal with a whole bunch of disparate opinions all my business career to solve very complex, multi-state problems, and I believe that I could offer myself as the sensible solution based on these founding principles that will be to the benefit of everyone.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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