When former Parker mayor Greg Lopez qualified for the Colorado Republican gubernatorial primary ballot this past April, pundits were stunned — and the fact that he collected 13.19 percent of the vote the following June was rightly viewed as an impressive achievement, given that his total campaign contributions barely topped $58,000, by his estimate.
Of course, Lopez still finished behind GOP nominee Walker Stapleton and entrepreneur Victor Mitchell, both of whom had big war chests and dipped into them with abandon. But he still feels that "you don't need a lot of money. You just have to have the right candidate with the right message and the right ability — the ability to connect and make people understand that you're there not for yourself, but to help the state and make things better."
To Lopez, the process of running for governor "was an amazing experience. I met some incredible people throughout Colorado and really got to put my hand on the pulse of the state. I learned about the concerns Coloradans have, from the rural parts of the state to the mountains to the cities — all the different fears they have. I got to know a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds and a lot of different lifestyles. I wouldn't trade that for the world."
Moreover, Lopez feels that he was trending in the right direction.
But while having additional money "would have been helpful," he acknowledges, "I don't think you need millions and millions. If we'd had $500,000 or a million, things might have gone differently. It's just a matter of working hard and understanding the environment and being willing to put yourself out there. And just because another person was selected doesn't mean you give up."
To that end, Lopez has thrown his support behind Stapleton, and he's excited about doing so. In his words, "my campaign was about saving Colorado, fighting for the soul of Colorado. It's not about who the individual is. It's about preventing Colorado from becoming California — and we don't want Colorado to become California. So I'm going to help Walker Stapleton to the best of my ability and do everything I can to get him elected."
He makes the same offer to other candidates on the Republican ticket — "the secretary of state, the treasurer, everyone. I'm making myself available. I think it's important that we stay united and work together. That's one of the things that, I think, is unique to my personality and the way I look at things. I'm still part of the team, so I want to do what I can to help."
In their post-primary interviews with Westword, Mitchell and Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne both expressed frustration with the current campaign process. Lopez's views are more tempered.
"This experience hasn't embittered me at all as to how the system works," he maintains. "I didn't run for governor just because I wanted to have a title. It was a family decision, and if there's another opportunity, and if I feel there's another political office where I feel I can be impactful, I would consider it. And I would encourage others not to feel that way."
In particular, he's troubled by the willingness of PACs to go negative even if candidates would rather not.
"To me, it's really a test of character as to what message you're putting out there," he allows. "But you can't control the messages of the super-PACs. Then, the tactics shift from debating your vision to something totally different, and that's unfortunate. We need to get back to being statesmen and having the best values and ideas for the future."
As for what Lopez might do after the November election, he concedes that "I don't have a clear direction. I'm not one of those candidates who's wanting to jump from office to office to office. I don't feel that I have to have a political position. If that was in my DNA, I would probably have run for county commissioner after I was mayor of Parker or gone through the whole gamut. But I'm in no hurry to identify another political campaign. I want to focus now on the general election and make sure we get Walker Stapleton elected."
He adds: "I want to encourage everyone — not only the candidates, but the voters and the general public — to participate in the election and the democratic process. This is what makes our country different from every other country, and I'd love to see more millennials get active and register to vote. I understand that there's a huge distrust of government by the general public — so it's up to elected officials to earn that trust back."
In the meantime, he stresses that "the Greg Lopez story isn't over. I don't know what the next chapter is going to be, but you can rest assured that I'm not going to go away quietly into the night."