Film and TV

Kent Thiry, DaVita CEO and John Oliver Punching Bag, Opts Out of Guv's Race

Kent Thiry in musketeer garb, as seen in a segment from HBO's Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.
Kent Thiry in musketeer garb, as seen in a segment from HBO's Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. HBO via YouTube
Kent Thiry, the CEO of Denver-based kidney dialysis giant DaVita, who was recently satirized in brutal fashion on an episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, has opted out of running for Colorado governor in 2018. But while this development removes one well-heeled potential guv hopeful from the equation, the amount of money expected to be spent by current competitors and those still flirting with candidacy will likely be record-setting.

“I have held onto the dream of running for office since I was ten years old," Thiry said in a statement. "That’s why it is with deeply mixed feelings that my wife Denise and I have decided now is not the right time for me to run for Governor of Colorado. I remain passionately committed to advocating for bipartisan solutions to our challenges, as I would have done as governor."

This reference to bipartisanship isn't mere lip service. While Thiry had talked about running as a Republican, an October 2016 Westword post by Kyle Harris about the biggest donors supporting and opposing Colorado ballot measures noted that the "zany DaVita CEO" was "a major backer of Democratic candidates through political-action committees." Moreover, he donated more than $1 million to support Proposition 108, a measure approved in November that will allow unaffiliated voters to take part in the primary process.

Given his personal wealth, Thiry was in a position to self-fund his own campaign, much like Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, whose large bankroll appears to have been a major factor in convincing fellow representative Ed Perlmutter to drop out of the race. On the Republican side, meanwhile, businessman Doug Robinson is expected to both invest in himself and receive additional resources from his family (he's Mitt Romney's nephew), and fellow entrepreneur Victor Mitchell has loaned $3 million to his campaign. And that's not to mention state treasurer Walker Stapleton, part of the Bush family dynasty, who's still mulling a gubernatorial bid. So, too, is current Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

As for why Thiry didn't leap into the fray, the timing of the John Oliver takedown certainly wasn't ideal, given that it portrayed the CEO as a "showboating musketeer," and for good reason. Multiple videos of company events shared by Last Week Tonight in its May 14 edition showed Thiry dressed in medieval garb while making splashy entrances; he rode in on a horse at one bash, did tumbling moves to Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" in another. The former Bain & Company powerhouse's choice of wardrobe was said to have been influenced by his love for the movie The Man in the Iron Mask, and he clearly got a jolt out of getting his employees to chant, "All for one and one for all."

DaVita CEO Kent Thiry in action. - HBO VIA YOUTUBE
DaVita CEO Kent Thiry in action.
HBO via YouTube
But Oliver and company didn't portray Thiry's firm in heroic fashion. Instead, they suggested that DaVita operates its clinics in assembly-line fashion, shuttling patients in and out as quickly as possible in order to maximize profits. "DaVita is run like a volume business," Oliver noted.

This approach is underscored by a Thiry address at UCLA in which he said his firm operates on the same principles as Taco Bell — "the exact opposite of a health-care company," Oliver pointed out.

Oliver also provided info about numerous settlement deals involving DaVita, including one for $389 million that was described in a 9News clip starring reporter Noel Brennan. That payout, along with two others for $489 million and $55 million, respectively, add up to nearly $1 billion. Moreover, plenty of other litigation against DaVita is still pending. We recently told you about actions being pressed on behalf of past and present DaVita employees, who claim that clinics are severely understaffed and that the rapid pace of care that's maintained in an effort to maximize profits exploits workers and endangers patients' lives.

Toward the end of the May 14 edition, Oliver acknowledged that Last Week Tonight put DaVita center stage in part because "they have the most patients and Kent Thiry dresses like an idiot all the time." Still, he added, "The care of America's kidneys is way too important to be treated like a fast-food experience." He also argued that DaVita owes Taco Bell an apology, saying, "Taco Bell, I am truly sorry that a middle-aged musketeer dragged you into this."

Said musketeer could still be a significant play in the 2018 governor's race, given his resources — and in another part of his statement, he talks about his willingness to stay involved.

“Next November, there will be critical election choices all across this state," Thiry maintains. "Denise and I will plan to eagerly support centrist candidates, common-sense causes and other efforts that promote collaborative governance and the ideal that principled compromise in the name of progress is vastly different from compromising your principles."

Thiry adds: "I want to thank the committed citizens who encouraged me to run, and the caring reflected in their advocacy. We have more work to do together."

No telling if that work will involve swordplay.
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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.
Contact: Michael Roberts