Former Parker mayor Greg Lopez and Colorado 2018 gubernatorial candidate
shocked the political establishment when he guaranteed his place on the Colorado Republican Party primary ballot by earning more than 30 percent support at the April 14 state assembly. He describes his surprising victory and the policies he sees as setting him apart from the still-sizable pack in the wide-ranging conversation below.
For more than a year, Westword
has conducted in-depth Q&As with gubernatorial hopefuls. Among the Republican participants in the series are Colorado treasurer Walker Stapleton
, who also won a spot on the primary ballot with his performance at the state assembly, entrepreneur Victor Mitchell
, a successful user of the petition process, and businessman (and nephew of Mitt Romney) Doug Robinson
, officially on the ballot by a judge's order
after his initial rejection. On the Democratic side, we've chatted with former state senator Mike Johnston
, onetime Colorado treasurer Cary Kennedy
, Representative Jared Polis
and Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne
, who have secured their places on the Democratic Party primary ballot.
Interview subjects in this series who are no longer in the running on the Republican side include Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman
, tech expert and author Barry Farah
, 2016 Denver for Trump co-chair Steve Barlock
, former congressman Tom Tancredo
and 18th Judicial District DA George Brauchler
, who is now focusing on a bid for attorney general
, as well as several Democratic counterparts: ex-Republican-turned-Dem Erik Underwood
, businessman Noel Ginsburg
and Representative Ed Perlmutter
, presently engaged in a re-election effort for the 7th Congressional District
Lopez begins by talking about his hardscrabble youth, his stint in the Air Force and his unexpected entry into politics by way of the Parker mayoral race, which he won at age 27. He also details the time he spent as Colorado director of the U.S. Small Business Administration — an experience that informs his economic policies. In addition, he weighs in on gun rights, water issues, transportation and TABOR, among other things, and he doesn't balk at discussing a 1993 domestic-violence arrest involving his wife of three decades and a past DUI bust. These incidents helped shape him, too, he stresses.
Continue for more of the Greg Lopez story.
Westword: Why should Coloradans vote for you to become the state's next governor?
I recognize that there are 64 counties in the state and there are so many different economies and so many different ways of life. It's important for the governor to keep his hands on the pulse of all the people who are out there. I'm a former elected official. I know what it means to be a true public servant. I really care about the future of Colorado, and I care about where we're going. And I don't think we're heading in the right direction. I think we need to re-evaluate a lot of the decisions that are being made and make sure that we all have a future we can be proud of, not only for ourselves, but for our children. That's why I'm running. I think I bring the right voice, the right temperament, the right experience, and I want to do the most I can do to help the state of Colorado.
Where are you from originally? And how would you describe your family and where you grew up?
I'm originally from Texas. I was born and grew up predominantly in the Dallas area. I grew up in a little town called Irving. That's where I went to school. That's where Texas Stadium, where the Cowboys play, was built. I've been in Colorado thirty years. I moved out here when I got married to my wife, Lisa. We've been here since 1989.
I come from humble beginnings. My parents worked long hours in the fields until I was almost ready to go to school. I have three brothers, and my parents decided they wanted to provide a better life for us, and they didn't want to keep following the crops, so they landed in Dallas. Their journey was from the Rio Grande Valley, the tip of Texas, all the way up to Michigan, where they were picking strawberries and cherries.
I had a little brother who passed away. When my mom was expecting, she caught the German measles, and he never was able to speak or able to see, never able to hear. There were a lot of surgeries on his ears and he had heart issues. He just passed away a year ago.
Lisa and Greg Lopez strike a pose.
He wasn't supposed to live past ten. He was a year younger than I was. The Lord gave us a lot of time with him. People have told us he was a walking angel. He never saw evil, he never spoke evil and he never heard evil. That's a very touching sentiment when people say that.
I was on the free lunch program. My mom used to go and buy clothes at Goodwill. I remember having to go to K-Mart to chase the blue-light special and put pants on layaway. We always got one pair of pants, one shirt and one pair of shoes at the beginning of the school year. We were all excited until we found out we couldn't take them home because they had to make payments before we could get them. Being the third boy, I got a lot of hand-me-downs. I tell people now that we live in an 1,800-square-foot home now, but I grew up in a 900-square-foot home: two bedrooms, one bath. Us boys had bunk beds and we shared a full bed. That's how we grew up.
My dad was a hard worker. He was a truck driver. My mom didn't work. She took care of the boys and the family. Tortillas, beans, potatoes: We were a very humble family, but we made ends meet. We had pride in our values and we believed in our Lord, and I still do. We just did the best we could with the life we had. We never got down, never pointed fingers. We always knew we had the ability to define who we were. My parents taught us that you work hard, you take care of the family, you take care of your job, you don't call in sick, you're always there. You surround yourself with good people, you believe in God, you go to school, and if you do all that, you'll be able to achieve the American dream, whatever that is. Whatever level you want to go to, you can achieve. Not that it'll be easy, but you can get there.
I don't forget my humble beginnings or where I come from. It's a little surreal that I'm on the ballot considering where my family comes from.
When did you decide to join the Air Force, and what experiences did you have during your service that inform who you are today?
My brothers and I were the first to ever graduate from high school of any members of the clan: uncles, nephews. We were the first. And I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I really wanted to fly jets. A lot of kids wanted to be firemen, policemen. I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I never wanted to fly to the moon, but I thought it would be cool to fly jets. When I graduated, I tried to get into the Air Force Academy; there's a whole different story on that. But I decided to make sure I fulfilled my expectations, so I joined the Air Force. I wanted to be close to the military. My older brother had joined the military, so I got to see a little bit about what it was.
There were two components that made me want to join the military. One was that I wanted to experience more in life than what was around me. I thought, I'll join the military. Who knows where I'll go, but they would take care of me — give me food and shelter and medical care. I just had to do what they told me to do and I'd be fine.
When I got into the military, I was stationed at Lowry Air Force Base here for tech school. Lowry was still active, and that was my first experience with Colorado. It was a different experience. Family vacations when I was growing up were spending three weeks with Grandma and Grandpa. We didn't travel to different places.
I ended up at Holloman Air Force Base down in New Mexico, and what I really learned was the brotherhood — the brotherhood that comes from being in a military unit. In basic, they remove your entire identity. Everything you are, everything you believe you are, they remove it. They purge you from what you think you bring to the table and help you re-form those values of loyalty and teamwork and brotherhood. That's why you need to learn to march together and do things together as a team — because you're all connected. Everybody needs to stand together to be able to achieve any mission or task we might find ourselves being assigned to. It helped me understand that in life you always have to have good people around you and we all have to help each other.
In my unit, there were some great people, and there were some great sergeants who took me under their wing and guided me not only through the military process and organization, but also life — giving me good advice and guidance and talking to me about life and the future. I had a sergeant say, "You're not going to waste your time just sitting around playing with cars or buying stereos or whatever most guys do. You're going to go to college. You're going to go to school." That's why he picked me out of the group. He said, "That's an order. That's not an option for you." I was like, "Okay, how does that work?" And he said, "You need to go register at the college [New Mexico State University]. We'll make sure and schedule you appropriately, but you will go. I expect you to get a degree, and I don't expect C's and D's. I expect A's and B's."
So that's what I did. It was kind of fatherly military advice from someone who cared. And I built some great relationships there. There are four people I'd take a bullet for. That's how much they mean to me. And I think when you talk to a lot of people in the military, they probably have a similar story. It really taught me how to be a better man and how to look at things differently. It taught me it's not all about you. It's about the mission.
After you moved to Colorado, you ran for and were elected as mayor of Parker at a very young age. What inspired the run? And what are some of your proudest accomplishments from that period of time?
I was a weapons specialist when I was in the military. I worked with fighters and pilots and ended up losing 80 percent of hearing in my left ear, so I'm a disabled vet. Coming into the real world, the skills set you get from being in the military doesn't always transfer over to the private sector. But I was fortunate to become a financial adviser. I was helping people with their retirement, with stocks and mutual funds. So I learned a lot about the economy and the stock market when I got out of the military.
We ended up in Colorado because my wife...we had gotten married and were living in Texas when she got a job offer up here from US West at the time. She asked, "Would you mind moving back to Colorado?" I said, "No" — and I thought I was being smart. I thought, maybe there will be one day in my career where they'll ask me to relocate, and if I follow her for her first relocation, maybe I'll have a trump card I can play then. Now, I would never leave Colorado. But that was my thinking then.
We moved out here in ’89 or so, and if you recall, Colorado had just gone through the Silverado fiasco. We moved into Denver and got a phone call one night and were asked, "If you could pay what you're paying for rent now and get a house, would you do it?" Of course, the answer was, "Yeah. Why wouldn't we?" So the agent came out and asked, "What do you want?" And I said, "I want a nice neighborhood where I can leave the door open, hear kids playing out front, the dogs barking. A really nice family environment." And she said, "You need to go to Parker." And we were like, "Okay?" And she said, "I'm going to take you."
We used to live in the area of Mississippi and Havana, and she started driving. My wife and I were in the back seat, and we were like, "Where is this lady taking us?" Because she was taking us out in the country. We thought, "This is far!" She brought us to a subdivision called Cottonwood, and it was a water district, and it was in bankruptcy. One night after we moved there, I got home from work and my wife said, "You need to go to this meeting. I just got this notice that our water district is in bankruptcy and they're talking about our taxes going up and our rates going up. You need to go." I was like, "I don't know anything about that." She said, "You need to go" — and when your wife tells you that you need to do something, nine times out of ten you end up doing it.
So I went and asked a lot of questions because I understood the bond market and I understood the issues. And I got drafted to become the president of the homeowners' association, which was dormant at the time. There was no job description of what the homeowners' association president did, and there were no mandatory dues. They were all voluntary. So I decided the one thing I could do is go to the council meetings and report back about what the council was talking about.
For a year, that's what I did. I'd go to the council meeting and sit back and listen, and then I'd come back and report. I never thought I'd be running for elected office. There was a time I thought I might want to sit on the school board, and I was selected to sit on the Douglas County long-range planning committee for the school district. We talked about growth, talked about when we would need to build new elementary schools or high schools based on the student population and so forth.
When the election came up, people came to me and said, "Greg, you need to run for mayor." I said, "Why?" And they said, "We're the biggest subdivision in town, and we don't feel we have any representation." I said, "I'm not interested. I need to do what I'm doing." But I started to get phone calls from people saying, "We hear you're running." And I would be like, "No..." I got all these phone calls over the course of two months. I finally asked, "Where are you guys hearing the rumor that I'm running?" And they said, "We're hearing it from the county commissioners." I said, "I don't even know who those people are." They said, "I don't know, but they say you're running, and if you are, we're behind you." So I committed that I would do some due diligence.
We'd had our son by then. We had no immediate family in Colorado, but when our son was born, if you recall, there were a lot of stories about shaken baby syndrome, and my wife was really nervous. So I volunteered to stay at home and raise our son for the first year, because she was making more money than I was. I said, "I'll stay home and raise him if you trust me with him." And she said, "I trust you enough to know that you're not going to do any harm to him, so, yeah." I was able to go out to city centers and places like the Optimists Club, and I would bring my son along in the stroller, in the walker. I would just ask, "What are the jobs of the mayor?" I realized there was no true incumbent, and after talking to people, I said, "Okay, I'll do it. I'll run."
Greg Lopez speaking in La Plata County.
I learned I didn't know much about political campaigning. The biggest campaign I'd ever run before was running for class president in high school, and that's more a popularity vote than anything else. Trying to knock on doors and convince people to vote for me was very different. But I was fortunate. I ran against the previous mayor, a bank president and a former schoolteacher who'd retired to become a real estate agent, and they were all fifteen years my senior. I ended up winning by 33 votes. I became one of only two strong mayors in the state; I didn't realize that when I was elected that I was going to be both the city manager and the mayor. All the department heads reported directly to me, and they were fifteen or twenty years my senior, too. But I learned a lot from them. I learned you respect your elders — that's what I was taught. So I didn't come in there with a big head or a big ego. I came in and said, "We've got a job to do. Help me, because you guys are the experts. How do we make decisions?" And that was really my focus: How do we make decisions for the good of the town?
No elected official can ever know if you're truly making the right decision when you vote for something. You can only hope, because no one has a crystal ball, where you can say, "That was by far the right decision." And I only voted when there was a split vote. If the council didn't have a split vote, I didn't vote on any issue. But there was an annexation called the Davidson property, and people didn't like it. It was residential, it was a little far removed from the town, services were going to be extended, and every referral agency said no — and the community said no. There was a councilmember who was in conflict that I found out about, and I had to ask him to remove himself. Then the vote happened and they passed it. But I had veto power, and I vetoed their decision.
They were not happy. They'd gone through this whole battle, so they decided to take it to a vote of the people and put it on the ballot, and let the people decide. And the people came back two to one in my favor. That one decision was the only time I used my veto power once in my entire administration — and when the people were asked, "Did Mayor Lopez do the right thing?," they came back and said, "Yes, he did." That kind of thing typically doesn't happen. So that's one of my proudest moments as a public servant — knowing that I truly represented the wishes of the people.
Could you talk to me about your time as Colorado director for the U.S. Small Business Administration?
That's one of the biggest positions I've had and the one I'm most proud of, because I helped small business across the entire state of Colorado to be successful and achieve the American dream. Every community has a small-business component. Our entire country is built on the shoulders of small business. It's not built on the shoulders of big corporations. When you think about it, every corporation started out as a small business at one point or another. So small business is really dear to my heart. I know that's where people are really trying to improve their lives and improve everything around them. They take the risk to hire others, and then they're responsible for those people — to make payroll and make sure they're not losing income. And it's tough. It's tough to be a small-business owner. But there are people who are driven by that.
When I was at SBA, I was the voice and face of small business. I was at the highest ranking level you could be in the state for that agency, and I'm proud to say we were able to garner $2.9 billion in loans to small businesses while I was there, $4.6 billion in federal contracting when I was there, and about 45,000 jobs that were either retained or created from those contracts.
I resigned — I left SBA — because of the VA hospital. I was the first one to ring the bell about there being a problem with the VA hospital being built, because I had 21 small-business owners come to me and say, "Greg, we need your help. We've reached out to our congressional delegation, but we don't think they're paying attention to us. We've been doing work for two years and we haven't been paid." I didn't understand that: "What do you mean you haven't been paid? You haven't been paid for two years?" They said, "Yeah." And I said, "That's just wrong." They said, "Can you help us?" I said, "Let me do a little bit more research."
Then one of the congressional staffers called me and said, "Greg, have you seen the letter?" I said, "What letter?" The entire Colorado delegation had sent a letter to the VA saying they needed to fix this because there were small businesses going bankrupt. So they provided me with the letter, and sure enough, all seven members of the Colorado congressional delegation and the two senators had signed it. After that, I made a phone call to a dear friend of mine, Jim Nicholson, who was the former secretary of the VA, and I said, "I need help." He said, "What do you need?" I told him, and he said, "You're going to get a phone call. Thank you for letting me know." Then I got a call from the chief of staff of the Veterans Administration and he said, "Greg, we're hearing you're wanting to help us." I said, "Definitely. What can I do?" And they said, "We're going to send our team down there. Maybe you can help them." So I started to help them, and we were making progress. But unfortunately, my leadership in Washington felt that I was overstepping my boundaries as a director for the SBA. I did not agree with their assessment, because I felt it was my job to advocate for and help small business at all levels, because small-business people have families and obligations. And I finally realized, perhaps the federal government isn't where I need to be, because they have different values than I do. I want to be a public servant, and they're telling me I can't do this. It seemed like the perception of the government was more important than what was actually happening, and that's not who I am.
So I decided it was time for me to leave, because government — at least the federal government — will always use tactics that aren't warranted. It started to hurt the state, it started to hurt the small-business community, and I thought, it's all because I'm standing my ground. That's why I decided to move out of the way. But I walked away with my head high, because I did everything I could at the level I was at to help small business. I had letters from small-business owners thanking me for everything I did for them. I told them I was going to dive on the sword for them, and I knew it was a battle I'd have to fight at a high level. So I knew exactly what I was walking into. But being able to stand tall and support the mission was the most important thing. I met a lot of great bank owners and small-business owners. There's so much energy in the small-business community here in Colorado. You'd be surprised and amazed at some of the products and some of the services and some of the things they do. You'd scratch your head and think, "This is all happening in our community?" And the answer was yes.
Greg Lopez behind the scenes at a gubernatorial event last year.
We have a strong entrepreneurial spirit in the state, and I want to see that keep going. I'm concerned that the direction we're going, we're going to put out that flame. We're going to put out that entrepreneurial spirit, and I think if we do that, we're going to lose our heritage and our history — not just in Colorado, but across the country as to who we really are. There's way too much regulation, way too much making small-business owners jump through hoops that really aren't necessary — at least not in my mind.
The last story I'll share with you about the SBA: You'll remember that under the Obama administration, there was a movement to stimulate the economy. They decided to support shovel-ready projects, and they also decided they were going to revamp and modernize all the federal facilities — just bring them up to modern-day facilities. I was approached by GSA [General Services Administration], and they told me, "We're going to do this to the buildings. This is what we're doing, this is how we're doing it. Do you have any questions?" I said, "I have one question: What percentage of this work is going to small business?" They looked at me and said, "Sixteen percent." I said, "Okay." They said, "You don't look happy." I said, "I'm not." They said, "What percentage would you want?" I said, "I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't tell you I wanted to go 100 percent small business. And based on what you're telling me, I know we have small-business owners who can do this. I know that for a fact." So they went back to their leadership, they shared my displeasure, and after about five weeks of serious discussions and them realizing I wasn't going to back down, they went to 100 percent small business.
What led to your decision to run for governor? And what allowed you to surprise everyone with your performance at the state assembly?
I wish I had a logical answer for you. I can tell you the Lord has had His hand on my campaign since day one. I think what people saw was more Him than me. I give all the credit for my entire life to Him. He's always put good people in my way, He's always put me in touch with good people I needed to listen to. My son Michael was really the one who was encouraging me to run for governor. He was like, "Dad, you need to do this." We'd talk, and I'd say, "Why do you think I need to do this?" And he said, "Based on what I'm seeing" — and he's 27 — "you're the only one that really cares. I've seen you as president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, I've seen you work hard at the SBA, I've seen you engage with people. You really care about what's going on, and I think you should do it."
I looked at what happened with the presidential election and the message from the people of America. They said, "We don't want the status quo. We want a change. We want a different voice. We want a different face. We want someone who has a totally different attitude about politics and how decisions should be made." Then I asked myself, "What do you bring to the table?" And as I looked at my résumé and the things I've learned over the course of my life and how I make decisions and the fact that I am a strong believer in God, I thought if ever there's a time for me to step up to the plate, it was the time to say, "Hey, I'd like to volunteer to become the next governor of Colorado. If you, the public, will have me, I'd like to volunteer for that position."
I started to travel the state and talk to people, and our message from day one has been, "This is about all of us, not just some of us. It's about all 64 counties and all of the people who live in Colorado." And I got that from being the director of SBA. I went out and traveled the state to talk to people in rural Colorado and urban Colorado about the importance of small business and what it meant to the fabric and the tapestry of our state. So I decided to run, and I did what every other candidate does: I went out to talk to people in meeting rooms, in living rooms, at lunches and dinners. I just stayed in my lane, stayed with my message. I never shifted gears. And what happened [at the Republican state assembly] on April 14...I don't even remember how the crowd responded. I remember hearing a clap or two. But it was my son who told me, as I turned around to hug my wife and hug him, "Dad, they're giving you a standing ovation." I didn't even see it.
I care. I'm passionate about doing the right thing. And the Lord's going to take me as far as He wants me to go. I'm not even supposed to be on the ballot. If you listen to everybody else out there, they don't even know how I got on the ballot. I'm just going to continue to do what I need to do. But it was an exciting time for my family and myself after all the hard work we put in. I can't tell you how many emails and phone calls and text messages we're getting from people saying, "You can do this. We support you. We went in there thinking we were going to vote for somebody else, but when you spoke, we changed our mind. We realized that if anybody up there can actually do this, we think you can win." It's not necessarily a party thing. I think they realize that we can win and become what we've always been, which is the party of the people. We have different ways to get there. We believe in accountability and responsibility. But we would never turn our backs on the poor or the homeless or anybody out there who's suffering. We just want to make sure that we can help them improve their skills sets or change the environment or improve the business culture, where they will have more and more opportunities.
Let's touch on the issues you've named as most important to you. The first one is making sure that the economic boom in Colorado is experienced equally across the state. How, as governor, can you help make that happen?
I think what I can do is champion and advocate for the small-business community. Every community has a small-business component. Not every community has a major corporation or a major corporate headquarters. But every community has a small business. As governor. I'll be able to understand the relationship the State of Colorado has with the Small Business Administration. We receive grants that Colorado has to match so we can provide training and counseling and access to understanding about building a small business. A lot of that comes from the governor's budget itself. There are fifteen small-business development centers in the State of Colorado. And when you have a governor who's talking about small business, I think that's important, because it encourages people. It lets them know they have an advocate, a true champion. Removing regulations and those types of things help, but at the end of the day, there's not one thing a governor can do that will change the entire economic vitality across the state. It's hard work, but you've got to know where you're going, and you've got to plant seeds.
I'll work with mayors. Being a former mayor, I know exactly the challenges they go through. I'll work with county commissioners about their master plans and their transportation corridors, their zoning and setbacks and water issues. I get all that. I can relate to them, they can talk to me, we can work together to see what the state can do, if anything, to help them achieve the future they want for their area. I think it'll be more about making sure we don't forget there are 64 counties and we champion the small-business environment across the state.
You're a big Second Amendment advocate, and you support national carry reciprocity. Are there weaponry restrictions you would support, such as attempts to ban semi-automatic weapons? Or do you fear that might be a slippery slope?
No, there aren't any I'd support, and let me tell you why. The Second Amendment is one of the founding principles of what makes America great. And I truly believe the Second Amendment isn't only so that we can protect ourselves from harm, but it's also for us to protect ourselves from a government that may go rogue on us. If the government decides to do something, we should have the ability to defend ourselves with the same amount, or close to the same amount, of weaponry that they have. So I would not look at doing anything that would ban anything. I know a lot of people don't like to hear this, but it truly isn't the weapon. It's the person. If it was the weapon, anybody who walked into a gun store would never come out. We know there are a lot of challenges out there with mental health, and the family structure is facing all kinds of challenges. People are having tough times with trying to understand what life truly means. And I want to have compassion and empathy for those who are suffering — and I want to help them before they get to that point where they feel they no longer need to value human life, theirs or anybody else's. But when we talk about those types of things, I stand behind the Constitution.
I don't like to see people mass-murdered. Nobody does. But we can't weaken the document put together by our founding fathers, because that's really what gives us freedom and liberty. And most people don't understand the true cost of freedom and liberty. It costs a lot. That's why they call America an experiment. And it will go forward as long as people truly believe that they're entitled to freedom and liberty. When they start thinking they're no longer entitled to that, the experiment will start to fail.
On the subject of health care, there are concerns that because the federal government hasn't come up with a new policy, the states may end up footing a lot of the bill. How can you prevent that from happening in Colorado as governor?
George Brauchler, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell, Doug Robinson and Steve Barlock at a campaign event last October.
I tell people that what they perceive to be health care really isn't health care. What we have in Colorado is a program by which we pay for health care. Medicaid is a program that helps people pay to receive health care.
I'd like to understand better why health care is so expensive. Why does it cost people so much when they go to see a doctor when they feel a pain or whatever? We've never really had that discussion. True transparency in the health-care industry really hasn't occurred. And here's how I would approach it. There are way too many people living in poverty in Colorado, and the first thing you have to do to qualify to get Medicaid is to live in poverty — to be below a certain level of income. And even then, they're not truly able to afford health care. So let's first evaluate why it's costing so much for health care and if there's competition that needs to be encouraged to bring some of those costs down. And we need to create jobs. Small business can create more jobs — good paying jobs. And if that happens, perhaps people will no longer be living in poverty and they can feel comfortable that they can get the kind of health care they need or choose to have, whether it's dental, eye care, catastrophic or your basic health-care coverage.
Government has never been able to, and never will be able to, provide any type of true health-care system that will achieve what everyone wants to achieve, and we have a perfect example of that. The Veterans Administration is supposed to provide medical services and treatment at no cost to our veterans, and yet we see the challenges and the struggles the VA has. And they have full access to federal dollars to provide that service. It's just not working. I am concerned about the federal government saying, "Hey, we're not going to be able to afford this." When I was mayor, the federal government used to offer a lot of grants to increase your police department or other services, but I always remembered that there was going to be a point in time when they said, "We're not going to be able to do this anymore." And then, were we going to eliminate those programs? Or were we going to keep them?
I always try to identify, "Is this a want, or is this a need?" Oftentimes it was a want. We want it because there's money here and they say they'll give it to us. But I would always ask, "Do we really need this? Let's really talk about the need." Then they'd say, "We really don't need it. We could probably get along for another two years with what we have. But it would be nice." And I'd say, "Yeah, it would be nice. But will we be able to afford it in the future? Or are we going to have tell people, 'Sorry, we can't do this anymore. We didn't budget property and we were relying too much on the federal government, and now we have to cancel everything we were doing'?" I think that's poor leadership, I think that's poor vision, I think true leadership understands you need to create something of permanency — you need to have something that you know is going to be there based on the revenue projections you have coming through. And you need to remember that in business, you may not always get that bump at the end of the year, or the additional sales tax you were hoping for. So you need a plan A of what you hope is going to happen, a plan B for what you think is going to happen, and a plan C for if you don't even hit that basic expectation. And then you have to ask, "How do I manage things from there?"
You're among the few gubernatorial candidates who've put a major focus on water policy. Do you think Colorado is sending too much water out of state? And what kind of changes would you like to see made in the state's water policy as a whole?
I do feel that we're sending way too much water out and we're not property addressing the whole water compact and the whole water issue. As far as I'm concerned, possession is nine-tenths of the law. I feel that when we have snowmelt and we have things we have to deal with, because of that, we should be able to have more say about what happens with that snowmelt. Because it affects our lives even more so than people living in California or Kansas. It's not like we're saying we can't help. But we need to make sure we're taking care of Colorado more so than others. That's a challenge, but we've got to have that discussion.
This is something about me. You go into a new organization and the first thing you hear is, "We've always done it this way." But that doesn't mean it's the right way to do it. So let's look at it, let's tweak it, let's evaluate it, to see if this is really the right way to do it.
Water is gold in Colorado, and it's where the rural communities feel urban areas really don't care about them, because they don't talk about water. They feel that people in urban areas have no interest in where their water is coming from or if they're being wasteful with potable water. Rural Colorado understands water is a precious resource we can't waste, because that's how they make their living. Agriculture, ranching: Water is the most precious thing to them. And when you have growth happening within the cities and municipalities that requires more and more water, it's concerning. Sometimes farmers and ranchers throw in the towel. They say, "Not only is it hard for me to make a profit with my farming, but all these regulations about pesticides and all these other things makes it more difficult." So if someone says, "I'll buy your water rights if you'll transfer them," well, sometimes they'll make those decisions.
Most of the suggestions about solutions that come from people who truly don't understand water are things like, "Let's make farmers ration their water. Make them use a drip system or a special type of seed." But what they don't realize is that every time you ask them to do something different, that cost is coming out of their pocket. It's not coming out of anybody else's. So when we do rationing in Denver and other cities, it's not costing people anything out of pocket. It just means they can't water. They say they're going to enforce these restrictions, and sometimes they do and sometimes they don't — but it's not hurting the consumer.
I think water's a big issue. I'm going to be one voice that will never forget that water is one of the most vital issues for the future of our state — and I hope others will join me. It's not transportation. Transportation encourages more development. It encourages more people to come here. So for me, our future really depends on how we manage our water.
On the subject of transportation, are we spending enough money on it right now? And if we're not, would you support raising taxes, or do you think the extra funds can be found elsewhere?
I can tell you we're not spending enough on roads right now. It's obvious. Before Governor Bill Ritter left office, he commissioned a bipartisan committee to study the issue of transportation. And that report came back and said, "You need to spend more on transportation. We've seen the growth that's happening and we see what's happening, so you need to increase the amount of money you're spending on transportation." But obviously that study didn't go very far, because today we're spending less on transportation than Governor Ritter did when he was in office. That's why we're in the place we are.
I believe we do have the money. I believe it's sitting in the CDOT budget. We need to fine-tune things and make hard decisions, tough decisions. Are we going to build a trail or are we going to put money toward roads people are using to get to work or to get home? People spend a long day at work, and when they head home, they just want to spend time with their families, just want to spend time with their kids. They just want to spend time with the people who truly matter. But then they find themselves stuck for two hours trying to get home. Sometimes it's an accident, sometimes they don't even know why there was this two-hour delay. But they get home, and they're not in the mood they were hoping to be. They're frustrated, they're agitated. That doesn't make family life that great. And that's wrong. We need to fix that.
We need to look at the state budget, because I believe there's plenty of money there. And then we need to look at alternative corridors. Why do we keep widening the same corridors? I sat on the board of E-470. Can you imagine if E-470 didn't exist today and people would have to use only I-25 and I-70 to get to the airport? We don't even have a loop system around the metropolitan area. So we need someone who can put on truly visionary glasses and say, "What can we do? Let's work together."
I will never raise taxes. I think that's wrong. I will defend TABOR forever. And here's what TABOR does. It says, "If you need more money, ask us. Just ask, and we'll tell you if we agree with you or not." I think that's a reasonable request to the citizens of Colorado: "Let us vote on whether we need this money or not." But I don't think we need to make that ask. I believe we have plenty of money to build our roads and address this congestion. But I need to get in there and see how the money is being spent.
As I said, I'm from humble beginnings. I don't need a fancy shirt. I just need a shirt. I don't need all those whistles and bells. I just want us to achieve what we need to achieve. We have so many roads across the state that need attention. And it's not major attention, just a little love and tenderness.
On your website's list of major issues, you don't mention either immigration or sanctuary cities. I know you've spoken about being opposed to sanctuary cities. But do you feel some of the other candidates are putting too much of their focus on immigration?
Greg Lopez on the stump in January.
As governor, I need to focus predominantly on issues that apply to the state. Immigration is a federal issue. States don't truly have a lot of say in how the immigration laws of the country are going to be applied or not applied. Sanctuary cities I think are very important, because as a governor, and as a mayor, you're sending a message — and that message is, if you believe in sanctuary cities, you don't believe in the rule of law. You're saying you believe some people among us are entitled to extra protection and extra rights. That's not what America is all about. I'm talking about equality. So I do not support sanctuary cities. I don't have a problem telling people I support legal immigration, not illegal immigration. But those issues aren't truly going to impact the future of the state of Colorado. It's education, small business, the transportation corridors — it's those kinds of things. And if immigration issues are truly having a major impact on the state, I would hope the general assembly and all the elected officials would join me and talk about what we're going to do about it.
There are more important issues as they pertain to quality of life and making sure the governor and the state legislature are making decisions that impact the daily lives of all of us, not just some of us.
Even though you're now guaranteed a spot on the ballot, you have significantly fewer resources than Walker Stapleton and Victor Mitchell. How can you be competitive in that area? Or do you feel the money-race aspect of politics is overstated and you'll be able to surprise people just as you did at the state assembly?
I will never raise as much money as a Victor Mitchell or a Walker Stapleton. That was never part of my strategy. I can't go toe to toe with those titans over money. I can't. I knew that walking in. But for me, it's about connecting with the voters. The money is coming in more rapidly now, since the assembly. People are saying, "We want to help you. We want to write you checks." And when they ask how they can help me, I ask for $64 — one dollar for each county. I'm not asking for the maximum. I do tell them, "If you want to give more, feel free to do that." But I'm asking for $64 because I want voters to know that every dollar people give me represents a county out there. I can't tell you how many times when I'd say that to people, they'd ask, "Why $64?" And when I'd tell them there are 64 counties in the state, they'd be like, "I didn't know that! Really?" We've increased the knowledge of 64 counties across the state at least fifty-fold.
This reminds me so much of my challenges when I ran for mayor. I was 27 years old, and I never raised the amount of money that everybody else did. But I talked to people, and that made the difference — and the voter is not analyzing who's got the most money. You've got the segment of the party leadership saying, "It's all about money." But if that's true, how did President Trump get elected? Because he was outspent by a lot. But he connected. So I'm going to raise money. I need to raise money, and I'm going to continue to ask people to help me raise money. But more important, I'm going to talk to the community. I'm going to stay connected and keep my hand on the pulse of the voters to the best of my ability. Because at the end of the day, it's not how many checks you get; it's how many votes you get.
Do you expect your opponents to mention your domestic-violence episode in 1993 and your past DUI? And if so, how will you respond?
Of course I expect them to mention it. I knew that walking in, and some of them are doing it already. The way I talk about it is to say, "It's true. I made a mistake." But I believe the true test of character of any individual is looking at how they handle the mistakes they made and the reactions of others as it pertains to how they may perceive you or their opinions of you when they're not as positive as you'd like them to be.
The Greg Lopez that's here today was molded by all the experiences of his life — the good, the bad and the ugly. So I tell people, "Yes, I've make mistakes, and I've learned from them." On my domestic, my wife and I have been married for thirty years, and marriage is tough. Relationships are hard. We've been through marriage counseling three times just to make sure we fight for what we want, and every time we've gone, we've become stronger. We've become stronger as a couple, and we share that knowledge and that strength with younger people, younger couples. Oftentimes we don't see what the other person is seeing, and it's just a slight adjustment. It's not an overhaul. It's just a slight adjustment. The same thing with the DUI. I made a bad decision, and I've learned from it. I tell people you need to be aware and look at what it means. You always think, "It's just me." But that decision impacts your friends, your family, your job, your mindset. You have to go through weeks and months of processes and classes. It's not a one-time incident you can forget about. It's a one-time incident that will help you understand the totality of the implication of your decision. Instead of shrugging it off, I took it to heart. I was shown the totality of the situation, and I learned it's not worth it. And now, with Uber and all these other things, there's really no reason for you to be riding in that situation. At all. I wish they would have had those back then.
Do you have a formula for winning the Republican primary? And if so, how would you sum it up?
My formula for winning the Republican primary is to focus on the concerns of the voters. Everyone has a different element that they're concerned about, whether it's water, transportation, teacher pay. Everybody has a different perspective. But I want people to know that I care. I'm listening. And I'm going to do the best job I can. I won't make promises I can't keep. But one promise I can keep is that I'm going to listen to you. A lot of people say to me, "Greg, what are you going to do the first 100 days when you're governor?" I say, "I don't know, because I haven't thought about what I'm going to do the first 100 days. But I can tell you what I'm going to do the first ten days." I'm going to ask the leadership of the General Assembly to meet. But we're not going to meet at the Capitol and we're not going to meet in the governor's office. We're going to meet on the third floor of the Denver Public Library. That's where there's a handcrafted table made by a Coloradan that was used when we hosted the Summit of Eight here. And what's important about that table is it's round. There is no left side, there is no right side. I'm going to remind them that when we sit together, we're sitting at a round table. We're here to solve problems. We're here to solve problems for the people of our great state.
I'm not interested in playing politics. I'm interested in finding the right solutions, and I really don't care if they come from a Democrat or a Republican. If it's the right solution to move us forward, we need to run with it. Because the people of Colorado need leadership and action, not bickering and stalemates. That's going to be my message. Where it goes from there, I don't know.