Meet Greg Lopez, Underdog Governor Candidate Who's Shaking Up the Race

Greg Lopez wasn't supposed to make the Republican primary ballot for governor — but he defied the odds.
Greg Lopez wasn't supposed to make the Republican primary ballot for governor — but he defied the odds. Facebook

Page 2 of 2

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.

click to enlarge George Brauchler, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell, Doug Robinson and Steve Barlock at a campaign event last October. - FACEBOOK
George Brauchler, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell, Doug Robinson and Steve Barlock at a campaign event last October.
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?

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.

click to enlarge Greg Lopez on the stump in January. - FACEBOOK
Greg Lopez on the stump in January.
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?

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.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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