Noel Ginsburg on His Run for Governor and Why Colorado Needs a Moderate

Noel Ginsburg hopes to apply his business background to the job of Colorado governor.
Noel Ginsburg hopes to apply his business background to the job of Colorado governor.
Noel Ginsburg, a successful Denver manufacturer whose decades of public-service work have mostly taken place behind the scenes, is running as a Democrat for governor of Colorado in 2018. In the following in-depth interview, he argues that he's the best person for the job because of his business experience, outsider's perspective and a moderate philosophy that he thinks will appeal to voters across the political spectrum.

There are no shortage of prominent challengers for the office. Among the Democrats who've declared are former state senator Mike Johnston, onetime Colorado treasurer Cary Kennedy and Congressman Jared Polis. On the Republican side, candidates include 18th Judicial District DA George Brauchler and businessman (and nephew of Mitt Romney) Doug Robinson.

For his part, Ginsburg is the founder of Denver's Intertech Plastics, which he started while still a student at the University of Denver. But he's also engaged in plenty of philanthropy and policy work over the years, serving as founding board chair for the Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation and helping to launch the CareerWise Colorado program last year. He's worked with two Colorado governors, Roy Romer and John Hickenlooper, but didn't become a candidate himself until after the passage last November of Proposition 108, which allows unaffiliated voters to take part in primaries, as opposed to requiring that individuals declare themselves to be either Republicans or Democrats. He believes the infusion of independents into the process will allow his centrist approaches on major issues to win the day.

Below, Ginsburg talks about his journey to date before delving into subjects such as education and infrastructure — and he doesn't shy away from the political third rail of tax increases. He also makes it clear that while he has plenty of personal resources, he doesn't plan to get into a spending war with well-heeled candidates such as Polis.

Note that our conversation took place before Congressman Ed Perlmutter ended his gubernatorial campaign. Here's the transcript of Ginsburg's Westword interview.

Westword: How do you introduce yourself to Colorado voters? What's your background?

Noel Ginsburg: My background is, I was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. I was one of the fortunate ones who was born here. I didn't have to move here to enjoy the benefits of this great state. I grew up in a family where my dad was an entrepreneur, and at a really young age — probably five, six, seven — he would take me to work on weekends, and I worked in his manufacturing plant. He was in the food-manufacturing business. As a result, I was exposed early on to what that world looks like, and it for sure shaped the balance of my professional career. It's probably no surprise that I ended up in manufacturing as a result.

I went to the University of Denver for college, and in my junior year, I applied for a five-credit, extra-credit class, an independent study where I built a business plan to form a business. And that's the company I run today, Intertech Plastics.

What was the original concept behind that business plan? And how have things played out over the years since then?

The original concept was to be a manufacturer of plastic shipping containers. When I started the business, I had twelve employees, and we had two machines, and the company ran 24 hours a day back then, five days a week. Over the 38 years I've been in business since then, the company has grown to where we have probably well over fifty injection-molding machines and we have one plant we run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That's a medical facility that does clean room, white room-type medical manufacturing. At the original facility, we don't make five-gallon pails anymore. We make a variety of consumer and industrial products for local consumption here in Colorado, as well as for customers throughout the United States.

click to enlarge Noel Ginsburg at the 2016 launch of CareerWise Colorado. - NOELFORCOLORADO.COM
Noel Ginsburg at the 2016 launch of CareerWise Colorado.
How many employees do you have today?

We have approximately 160-180 employees. The interesting thing about the business is, when I went into it, at the age of 21, it was something that really consumed my life seven days a week. I had never worked around an injection-molding machine, and that was the business I was in, so there was a lot of learning that had to take place. A friend of mine at the time, we were out to dinner, and she asked me, "Noel, why are you spending so much time at this business?" And I remember telling her that there were three reasons. First, that I loved manufacturing and I loved the people I worked with. Second, like everyone, I wanted to be able to make a living for myself, and certainly the business allowed me that opportunity. And third, it allowed me to use the company as a platform to give back to the community — and if you look at the history of my company, it's enabled me to do just that. Both from a company perspective and an individual perspective, I've been deeply involved civically for well over 38 years.

At what point did that personal and civic engagement get started? Did you have to build up the business to the point where you able to do some of these other things? Or was that part of the package from the very start?

It became part of the package within the first three years of going into business, and it just grew from that point forward. Early on, in my early twenties, I was pretty wet behind the ears. For me, it was a bit about exploration, so I volunteered for different organizations. The first one, actually, was a drug rehabilitation program called Cenikor, where we would take people who were part of that program, and they were able to work here at Intertech as part of their rehabilitation program. That was my first foray, and what I learned early on is that as valuable as those treatment programs are, I tended to want to go to the core of the problem: How did people get there? And it led me to get deeply involved in K-12 education, which I have been for decades.

At what point did you start thinking about running for office? And particularly running for this office?

Running for governor has never really been a lifelong dream of mine. I really didn't think seriously about running for office until probably about a year and a half ago. That process is a culmination of a life's work in the community, and ultimately work that I've done for two governors: first, Governor [Roy] Romer, and most recently, Governor [John] Hickenlooper. That enabled me to see behind the curtain and understand that you can actually make a real difference in the lives of people in this state and ultimately set an example for this country of how to do things in a way that is both inclusive and moves our state forward on critical issues. I went through a lot of soul-searching last year, and when the voters voted to let independents vote in primaries, it created a path for me.

I've been a lifelong Democrat, but I'll tell you, I'm much more of a balanced Democrat or a moderate. And the ability of independents to vote in the primary allows me to be true to who I am from the beginning to the end of my campaign and becoming the next governor. Because as we all know, you're not governor for only the Democrats or only the Republicans or only the independents. You're the governor for the State of Colorado and everyone here. And I think it's important that as our political process has become so fractured nationally and even locally, we start focusing on those things we agree on to move this state forward. We shouldn't ignore the things we disagree on, but those shouldn't be the driving force for politics in our state.

The primary process for the Republicans and the Democrats seems to reward candidates who are at the far ends of their parties — further right or further left. Do you think that allowing independents to take part in this process will even that out from an ideological perspective? That you won't have to run far to the left in order to win the Democratic nomination?

Exactly. That is the reason I think the voters voted for the right of independents to vote in the primary. When I travel the state and speak to people, what is resonating, and what I'm hearing, is that the majority of Coloradans are at the center of that bell curve. They're not on the far left and they're not on the far right. Certainly those people that are independents, some may be Republicans and some may be Democrats in terms of how they typically vote. But they tend to be more toward the center, they tend to be more balanced. And I think a strong proportion of Democrats are also more toward the center. If we vote based on checking boxes — how liberal, how far left is a candidate? — I think we end up with what's currently happening in this country. It's not healthy, and it's ripping us apart.

The perception out there is that we as a people are more divided than ever. Are you suggesting that this is almost a fiction created by the media? That the press tends to talk to people who are most passionate and most extreme, and as a result, we may be ignoring the large group of people who are in the middle?

I guess I'd push back about it being a fiction of the media. I don't think it's a fiction. The people that you're talking about are real, and they're passionate, and they, too, should be heard. But the majority are not the loudest. They are just as thoughtful, though, and I believe they make up the majority of voters.

Yes, there's a tendency on the far left and the far right for the media to pay attention to those people who are making the most noise. But that doesn't mean they're the majority. I think the silent majority has become activated after the last election, on both sides. And they're looking for candidates who are willing to listen first and talk second, and don't come at us with the belief that they have all the answers. I learned early on in my business career, starting a company at the age of 21, that I didn't have all the answers, and if I was going to be successful, I would have to surround myself with people who knew more than I did. That's how I built my business, and that's how I worked with the various nonprofits that I've worked with, and I think in this state, we need to be really sensitive to listening to people on both sides as to what their concerns are, but not to be swayed by either the far left or the far right. They shouldn't be all we listen to.

click to enlarge Noel Ginsburg with three Dreamers. - NOELFORCOLORADO.COM
Noel Ginsburg with three Dreamers.
You talk about the people in the middle being activated — and getting voters like these excited has been one of the challenges facing moderate candidates lately. It seems like people on the edges of parties tend to be more passionate than the ones in the middle, who might be less likely to turn out at the polls. How do you get the people in the middle energized and passionate about your campaign when it's taking a more moderate approach?

Moderate doesn't mean weak. Moderate can be very powerful in terms of its vision and what it tries to create. But to me, that means it's more toward the majority of where the population is. Going back to that bell curve, moderate doesn't mean the ideas aren't bold or they aren't going to move the state forward in an aggressive way. In fact, it's the opposite. When we govern to the far left or the far right, all we get is bickering and rancor and no progress. Look at what's happening now with the health-care debate in Washington. When Mitch McConnell said, "If we don't get this passed, we're going to have to talk to the Democrats and bring them into the process...."

This is not a dictatorship. This is a democracy. I think what [Coloradans want], and what I'm hearing more and more based on the conversations I'm having around the state, is that they want an honest conversation, and not one just around the fringes. They want to find common ground, and they want to build solutions based on where we want to go. It's not about being weak or not getting things done. It's about strength. It's about strength in numbers. It's about giving a voice to people who may not be as loud as the people on the far left or the far right. I believe our state can move forward and serve more people by listening to all sides of the debate and not just be driven to the left or the right.

What are the most important issues for the state, in your view?

When I look at the national debate after this last election, I think the biggest issue for people, wherever they live, is about having a good job. And in Colorado, with unemployment at 2.3 percent, it's not that people don't have jobs, because we're as close to full employment as we've been in my memory. But what people want is good jobs. Good jobs are defined as being able to own a home, have a car, raise a family, and if your kids want to go on to get a four-year degree, you can afford to do that. And the truth is, as strong as our economy is, we've been filling many of our higher-paying jobs with imports to Colorado — people who have moved here. And it's not that I don't want people to move here. But I would like to see the people who've been living here have a crack at those jobs. And so I think if you look at what Colorado needs, it's good jobs for more people. And to do that, it requires a strong K-12 system. It requires a community college system and four-year system that is attainable and affordable for students to gain access to, and it requires a workforce system that's nimble and enables people, whether they're currently in the workforce or they're in a job that's been consumed by technology, to be retrained quickly for the benefit of some of the other high-paying jobs that exist in our community.

So I think the biggest issue is that we have good jobs in this state — and not just in the Denver-Boulder-Loveland-Fort Collins area, but throughout the state of Colorado. And that we have an education system that can support that.

What specifically will you be able to do as governor in order to achieve these goals?

First, I want to add in some context about where I come from. We talked about my civic engagement. Making decisions about how to make changes about benefiting people — you can do that based on your experience, and you can do that theoretically, by building policy not necessarily based on your own experience, but based on reading and research. My approach is both.

Close to thirty years ago, I joined the founding board of the Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation. And when we founded I Have a Dream, none of us had the money to just write a check and sponsor a group of kids from highly impacted neighborhoods. So we raised money from the community. I went through that organization from fundraising chair ultimately to board chair. But when I was done with my term, I realized I'd never done what was my dream, which was to become a sponsor to my own class of Dreamers. And my wife and I made a decision close to twenty years ago that we were at a point and time in our life, and my business was at a place, where I could become a traditional sponsor. So we sponsored 42 kids from the South Lincoln housing projects. That neighborhood had a 90 percent dropout rate.

We spent a decade, and we weren't just stroking checks. We were managing that program, hands-on, down at the projects with these kids for over a decade. And I learned a lot about poverty, a lot about what's it like to grow up without a father, what it's like to grow up with gangs and drugs around you. During the Summer of Violence, some of our families would keep their drapes shut in the summer, because they didn't want to be hit during a drive-by shooting. They didn't want to be targeted.

We ultimately graduated 92 percent of our kids — so we turned that statistic upside down. And that gave me a real, fundamental understanding of how you can create change. Because the schools didn't change. They were doing their job. But when you are working with kids in high poverty, it creates many challenges, and wraparound services make a difference for those kids.

In addition, I taught a class with members of my management team at Montbello High School for three years. Once a week, we would go in and teach a business class. So I had firsthand experience in what it's like to teach in a school where not every kid walks in with the same skill set and the same attention span, and what it takes to capture their attention. Clearly, I am not a professional teacher, but I certainly gained a much deeper understanding of the challenges they have.

What does that translate to? First, I understand that money doesn't solve all problems — but we're in a state where we're 48th out of 50 states when it comes to funding education, and I don't think that's where we want to be. We're at a place now where many of our teachers can't live in the cities or the neighborhoods in which they teach, because they can't afford to. If we don't address funding issues in this state, we will continue to fracture education in our state, where some rural communities can only operate four days a week in their classrooms because they can't afford five. We're in the richest country in the world, so for that to happen here in Colorado is, to me, unacceptable.

At some point, I may go forth to the public and say, "Let's make an investment in education, and here's what that return looks like." But first you've got to assess the resources we have. And if we identify gaps in either our performance or gaps in service because of resources, then we can build a case and a plan to go to the public and say, "Here's where an investment in K-12 education and in higher ed is of value to our state and will ultimately increase the standard of living for all of us — and it will create healthier communities." As governor, with the bully pulpit you have, you have the ability to get in front of issues and make the case why an investment in education is in the best interest of all of us. So part of it is around funding, and yes, as governor, I would be out front, making the case for an investment, to insure we have the outcomes we want for Colorado.

click to enlarge Leslie and Noel Ginsburg with their two kids, Ali (left) and Corey (right). - NOELFORCOLORADO.COM
Leslie and Noel Ginsburg with their two kids, Ali (left) and Corey (right).
As I'm sure you know, it's often difficult to get people to invest more money, to pay more taxes, for education on a statewide basis. It seems that unless folks have kids in school at the time, they're often reluctant to open their pocketbooks wider. How would you convince people who may be reluctant to pay more taxes that this is something that will ultimately benefit them and the state as a whole?

Many people don't invest in these things unless it's their school district. There are many school districts, including Denver Public Schools and Cherry Creek Schools, where the parents have been investing in education through bonds and mills. But when political leaders of any stripe, be they Democrat or Republican, stand up and say, "Government is broken," or "Drain the swamp," that says, "Don't trust government. Don't believe them when they say 'Investment pays dividends.'"

The first thing you have to do as governor is begin to rebuild the trust in government by the people, so they know that, as governor, I will run a transparent administration and there will be clarity around where the dollars are going and there is strong research behind the investments we're proposing. And then I have to do my job by getting around the state and pitching not just my ideas, but ideas from the best minds around the state from both sides of the political spectrum. You bring together that coalition and you make the case.

That is the job of the governor, and I'll use Roy Romer as an example. When he was governor, he was the type of governor who would get out in front of issues, and he decided we needed a new airport and that infrastructure to grow this state for the next fifty or one hundred years. He told me recently, "You know, Noel, Commerce City was going to get the noise and Denver was going to get the money, but we needed this as a state." So he did the oatmeal circuit. He spent ninety days, starting at 6 a.m. and going until 9 a.m., going to various diners in neighborhoods and communities around Commerce City and Denver, making the case why this was important — and today we have an airport that's driving economic development throughout our state.

So the point is, yes, people are reluctant to make investments, but it's not because they don't want their children or their neighbors' children to get a good education. They're not investing in it because they don't believe that money will be well spent. It's my job to make the case and have the transparency to show that, yes, it will make a difference and the investment is worth making. Because if we have the best educated population in the country, and the best, most well-trained workforce, we will draw economic development not just to Denver, Boulder, Longmont and Loveland, but throughout the state.

The second piece of my education plan is something I began working on literally two years ago this month. I've chaired the College and Career Pathways Council for Denver Public Schools, and I spent ten days learning about a youth-apprenticeship system in Switzerland — and I realized how powerful that could be here in Colorado. So I asked the governor to lead a delegation this past January to learn about this with a group of business leaders. We took 48 business leaders, foundation heads, superintendents of schools and school board presidents, to Switzerland to spend four and a half days learning about a Swiss apprenticeship system that serves collectively 98 percent of their population. And what was so powerful to me is that in that country, where they have about the same percentage of people who get a four-year degree as we do, around 28 percent, another 70 percent with go through a four-year or six-year apprenticeship starting in the eleventh grade. The outcomes for them is, they graduate into a middle-class job paying $45,000 to $50,000. And they gain college credit for what they're doing, so if they choose to go on and get their Ph.D., they can. They do it in businesses from banking to information to technology — 230 different pathways in that country. And their youth unemployment rate as a result is around 4 percent, and they have high skills — so as a very small country, they're competitive globally. They've been thought of in the last two years as the most innovative country in the world — a small country. And I will tell you I believe it's about their education system. And what's unique to it is this isn't paid for by the government. It's paid for by industry, because they realize an investment in these young people will build their businesses stronger, and it's actually the most efficient and effective way to educate a population.

So I came back, and collectively, we were able to raise, over the next six months, $11 million to fund this initiative from both national and local foundations. Six months later, in June of last year, we launched CareerWise Colorado, and a few weeks ago, we began inducting the first apprentices in this pilot program that we'll be doing in districts like Denver Public Schools, Jefferson County Public Schools, Mesa 51 on the Western Slope and two charter schools. Our goal over the next ten years is to create 20,000 youth apprenticeships per year so kids will have the theoretical knowledge that they gain in the classroom and the practical knowledge they learn in the business. Whether or not they start out with an apprenticeship and end with a Ph.D., they will earn in this model their high school diploma, and if it's a three-year apprenticeship, $30,000 in apprenticeship wages. And they will earn up to fifty credit hours of college credit, so if they decide to continue on to post-secondary and not directly into a career, it'll become more affordable. It is truly revolutionary for us. [Former] Secretary [of Labor Tom] Perez was out here for that launch, and he said to the audience, "Colorado is the first state in the country to look at this systemically and statewide."

It's not that this was a plan that I came up with so I could run for governor. I started this work with Governor Roy Romer when he appointed me to the National Governor's Association council for school to career. I've been working at this methodically for decades. And I believe that in this country, we need to modernize our education system, making it more nimble, making it more practical, so kids have a path to a four-year degree if they choose, or have a path to a great career. The model that we are launching here in Colorado is that type of idea, and as governor, I will be able to continue to align the resources of the state, because the governor funds the BEL Commission, which I co-chair with Ellen Golombek, to do just that — to align state resources so we're not spending more. We're just getting bigger impact from the resources we have.

Careerwise Colorado is a public-private partnership to change education as we know it in this state and provide more opportunity and choice for our students, so everyone has an opportunity to earn a real living wage. Because raising the minimum wage doesn't end poverty. The only thing I believe ends poverty and addresses inequality in this country is skills — giving people the skills to get good jobs, to give them access to the middle class and beyond.

click to enlarge Noel Ginsburg with Governor John Hickenlooper. - NOELFORCOLORADO.COM
Noel Ginsburg with Governor John Hickenlooper.
We seem to have a mixed picture when it comes to our current economy. We have a boom along the urban corridor, but there are a lot of outlying, rural parts of the state where the economy is lagging. How can you as governor help create an environment where the good economy is more evenly distributed across the state?

I have sat on the state Economic Development Commission for the past two and a half years, up until this month, and what I've learned from that experience is the following. First, the legislation that provides the economic incentives that OEDIT [the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade] distributes was done through legislation that was created at a time when the state was in recession. And we provide incentives for companies to move here, or not relocate somewhere else, and when we did it originally, our roads weren't full and our water system wasn't at capacity. We had the infrastructure. We had the empty school buildings. But we created incentives that are now pushing us past the red line in terms of capacity in the Denver-Boulder-Front Range area. But it isn't targeted in a way today that I believe best serves the whole state.

What does that mean? It means that economic incentives have to be balanced in such a way to balance development across the entire State of Colorado — and to do it in such a way that we don't overburden infrastructure and actually take tax dollars out of the mix at a time when our roads and our schools are underfunded. Part of the strategy would be realigning our state incentives to balance growth throughout the state. And then second, I don't think it makes sense for the governor to make decisions for places like La Junta in terms of what incentives or economic development they want. One of the greatest lessons I learned from the past director of OEDIT, Fiona Arnold, is that when she traveled the state, what she noticed was in rural Colorado, if the community's leadership came together and coalesced and built their own plans for economic development, those communities began to prosper. So rather than dictating incentives at the State Capitol, we need to incent communities through leadership programs, rural leadership initiatives, that help those communities define what they want, in terms of what type of industry, what type of business, what parts of the community they want to grow. Because there are some parts of Colorado where, frankly, they don't want to grow, but they do want to make sure the jobs they currently have are retained. Others, they would like to grow. So have them develop their plans as to what they want to see in their community and then layer on economic-development incentives that will help bring the type of businesses they want.

It starts with leadership, it transitions to a plan, and then state economic development incentives can be designed to meet those needs as designed by those communities. History shows that in those communities, when leadership comes together, they prosper. And if the state can help incent that growth, we have a win-win situation for the entire state.

You've talked about the need to improve infrastructure, and you've also talked about taxes in that area as well. How would you approach improving Colorado's aging infrastructure?

Some of the current gubernatorial candidates have come out and said, "We don't need more money for infrastructure. We can find that money somewhere else." And I say if that was true, why are we 48th out of fifty states in education funding, and why isn't college more affordable, so that people who live here can't go to our state colleges and we have to entice students from other states who can afford to pay full tuition? The truth is, we don't have enough for infrastructure and we can't reapportion existing dollars. And what frustrates me about this whole debate is that infrastructure is the kind of thing where if you spend a dollar, you get $1.05 back. So if you don't raise that dollar, you're actually costing the taxpayer more money than if you had.

In Utah, our neighbor to the west, they have half the roads we have and they spend $650 million a year on their roads. We have double the roads and spend $165 million. And yes, in this last legislative session, we moved that needle a little bit forward. But we're not meeting the demands. We're not keeping up with what we need to do for infrastructure. As in education, there's economic modeling that shows an investment in infrastructure not only creates jobs and economic activity, but it actually saves us all money. So I would propose that we would make an economic investment through a tax that would ultimately save us money. We'll save the taxpayer through time spent on the roads, damage to their cars, costs to get goods and services throughout our state, the ability for people in rural Colorado to find their way to a hospital that isn't in their community, because the roads are open. We can make those investments, and it's incumbent upon the legislators and the governor to work together and let the public decide whether or not they want to create that investment.... It's my job as governor to make the case, and then let's vote.

I'd like to touch on some other major issues. What would be your approach to immigration in terms of dealing with the current presidential administration? What would be your level of cooperation with the federal government?

This one is an emotional one for me, in part because I shared with you my experience as a sponsor with I Have a Dream, and some of our kids are DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] kids. They came here as babies, many of them. They didn't choose whether or not they were going to come — and when I think of that, I think it includes me. I wouldn't be here today if the doors to America weren't open when my grandparents came here escaping the Holocaust. I probably wouldn't be here, because their parents died in the Holocaust.

As it relates to Mexico and the border wall, frankly, I think it's wrong. We shouldn't be building walls. We should be finding ways to enable people to come here and get jobs when they're available in a legal way — and that's not the system we currently have. So would I work with Washington? Yes. Would I push back on Washington if they're doing things I believe aren't in the best interests both for individuals and for human rights? Yes. And I would suggest to the government that we use the systems we have in place.

I've had competitors in my business who paid people illegally — paid them under the table, didn't provide benefits, were taking advantage of them. And yes, ultimately, they got caught and were held accountable — but honestly not as accountable as the people who came here only for a good job. So what does that mean? We have a system here in Colorado and across the country called E-verify, where you can run people's Social Security numbers through a government system to determine if they're legal or not. You know right up front whether you're breaking the law. So rather than villainizing the people coming here to just get a good job, let's hold businesses accountable for what they're doing — to make sure they don't hire people illegally and take advantage of them. Use the system we have to make sure people are here legally. That way, you'll prevent the flow of people here, because there won't be those jobs. And then you go to the second step, which is to create a path to citizenship for the people that are here and are undocumented. And third, we need a system that will help rural Colorado, where farming is a big part of the economy and certainly what enables us all to go to King Soopers and get fresh vegetables — but they don't always have the labor they need for those fields. So why not have a path to allow people to come here and work and earn money, and then go back to their home communities, which they want to do?

This isn't a simple issue, and, yes, I think all of us need to adhere to the laws of this country — and as governor, I will uphold those laws. But I will fight back when those laws are discriminatory and work against what is right for people.

click to enlarge Noel Ginsburg speaking at the 2016 Aspen Ideas Festival. - NOELFORCOLORADO.COM
Noel Ginsburg speaking at the 2016 Aspen Ideas Festival.
You mentioned the health-care debate earlier. There's been a lot of concern that health-care changes involving Medicaid would place a heavy burden on states, thereby hurting people personally, and also creating a budget crisis at the state level. What could you do as governor to deal with those potential problems?

The ACA [Affordable Care Act] created an insurance pool that can ultimately make a national insurance policy work, and I don't believe without a mandate you can accomplish that. If there's another method we can come up with that could do that, I'm all ears. But everybody I've talked to, people who are much more knowledgeable than I am, say you need an insurance pool to make the system much more efficient and the least costly. But what the ACA didn't do, and what I don't believe the current Senate bill does, is take on the cost side of this equation. If we don't address Big Pharma and the hospital system, costs are going to continue to rise. Today we spend 18 percent of our GDP on health care in this country. In the ’50s, it was 8 percent. Many other industrialized countries with better health outcomes are paying 6 to 8 percent of their GDP, and we're triple that. And we're triple that in part because we're not taking on the cost part of that equation.

So how do you do that? It's certainly not simple, but the governor has a responsibility for Medicaid, and there have been examples throughout the state where with patient-centered strategies, we've been able to reduce the cost and increase the health outcomes for specific populations. One of the examples that I believe has worked has been in the Medicaid Prime program, which has been in effect for a number of years and has saved a significant amount. The first year I think it was 4 percent, and then 7 percent. Part of that money, I believe, went back to the taxpayer, and part of it went to reinvestment in terms of preventative care.

This is a very complicated issue that is dependent both on federal decisions and on local control decisions. We can be innovative in Colorado in how we create transparency in the system, so people can understand the best cost-balance system, because the most expensive health care doesn't always prove to be the best health care. So we need a transparent system, and we need a system that has preventative care, because in the end, that is the cheapest form of health care. When we were sponsoring those 42 kids, these kids didn't have health care, and they ended up going to the emergency room when they got really sick, and it cost ten to twenty times what it would have with preventative care. So we need to create innovative solutions that address the cost of these services and address transparency...and we need to encourage Washington to not do what they have proposed. We were already on a path of unsustainability for Medicaid in this state fifteen years from now. What I mean by that is, with the aging population and the current cost of health care, it will consume our entire budget if we don't address the cost side of this. And I realize, there's a lot of money behind Big Pharma, there's a lot of money behind the hospital networks around this country. It seems to be easier for some politicians to take money away from poor people who need it the most because they don't believe they make a big enough voting bloc and they won't be the key to the next election. Well, I will tell you, as governor, I'll represent all people, and I think it's an American value that we have health care for all, and that it's high-quality health care. But at the same time, we need to ensure that there are cost controls and efficiencies built into our system, and don't just have a system built on the more you prescribe, the more money you make. That's not working for this country. It will bankrupt us.

What are your thoughts about the marijuana industry here in Colorado?

I think the marijuana industry is an important part of our economy. I support it. I support the regulations that made it possible, so that it can be not just an important part of our economy.... Marijuana is obviously getting legalized across the country. I think Colorado has been a leader in that and a leader in the regulations for it. But I do believe the federal government needs to modernize how they classify marijuana, so it's not a class 1 drug that requires the type of bookkeeping insanity that's currently taking place at the federal level. I would push to have that addressed so that the banking system can engage in it in the proper way.

Also, to me, there's no question there's medicinal value to marijuana — but we are not capitalizing on research about that in our research institutions in this state. Part of the reason is because of the federal regulations against it. But some states are taking advantage of it and bringing millions of dollars of research money into their states. As Colorado led in the legalization of marijuana, I think we should also take advantage of the research opportunities that exist, and the pharmaceutical businesses that will spin out of that research, to help strengthen our economy. So I support the industry, and I support the research that I believe will ultimately offer the most benefit for people in Colorado and throughout the country.

Do you have the personal resources to support much of your own campaign? And if so, do you plan to use them?

This is something I'm somewhat conflicted about personally. As a candidate, if we're asking people to write checks to us, to invest in our campaign, I think it's appropriate that we would be willing to invest our own resources. That being said, I think the practice of self-funding millions of dollars into a campaign is not appropriate. So will I invest some dollars in my campaign? Yes. Will I invest millions in my own campaign? I don't think it's the right thing to do. It creates an imbalanced playing field, and I just don't think it's right. If somebody said to me, "Noel, if you invested $10 million, you'd be the next governor of Colorado," I'd say, "I'm not going to do that, because I don't think it's the way to win an election." If I'm going to invest some of my net worth in the campaign to help get it off the ground — and let's face it, I'm coming from outside the system and I don't have a political base; I'm having to both raise money and build that constituency — will I invest some of my personal money? Yes. Will I self-fund my entire campaign? I don't think it's appropriate.

I asked Jared Polis the same question, and he made the argument that because he has the money, he can spend more time speaking face to face with constituents instead of having to regularly attend fundraisers peopled by millionaires and billionaires. What are your thoughts about that philosophy?

First of all, the campaign limits in Colorado are $1,150 per person. Millionaires and billionaires I'm sure will stroke checks. But this election for most of the candidates will be won because they reached out to people who may give $5 or $10 or $50 or $100. Some may give $500 or $1,000. But I'd rather have 5,000 donors of $100 than write a check for $5 million myself. Because that says I have a constituency. Jared is correct that he'll be able to be out there and do whatever events he plans on doing. But he didn't give up his job as a congressman to do this. So he's doing his job in Washington, which is fine. But he's forgoing the necessity that everybody else who isn't self-funding has, which is to gain a base of funders and be able to say, "Yes, I have support from the public."

Listen, any candidate has the right to self-fund. That's the way our law is written. And, yes, because I don't think it's appropriate to self-fund my entire campaign, I have to spend hours on the phone talking to people and explaining why I'm running for governor. But I'm not talking to millionaires and billionaires. I'm talking to regular people, some of whom have written a $50 check or a $100 check. I think that's part of the democratic process, and I think it's healthier than just buying an election.

This is a very crowded field with a lot of big names. How are you going to stand out from the pack?

I think I stand out from the pack because of what I've done my entire life and the mix of experience that gives me a unique perspective as a businessperson, a citizen and a volunteer. I've been a part of some of the most critical issues we have in this state. I've been part of those solutions for decades. My goal wasn't to be governor someday. I didn't do what I did so I would get recognition.

We have a crowd of very good people — and the great news is, we have very good people running for office, probably a bounty of riches in that sense. But I have a diverse background in the community, and I have a business background that has spanned decades — and combining those together makes me a unique candidate who I believe can better serve the state of Colorado. You can look back twenty years in my history, thirty years of my history and see a clear pattern of someone who comes up with ideas, builds a plan and converts that plan into action to change people's lives. You can have a vision, but if you don't have a plan to turn that into a plan and then into action, then it's just a dream. And sometimes my dreams seemed impossible — but I was able to turn them into real change in our community. Taking a 90 percent dropout for those kids at the South Lincoln housing projects and turning it into a 90 percent graduation rate is one of those challenges. And what I'm doing in founding Careerwise Colorado, some would say that's an impossible dream. But I would tell you it's something we have no choice but to do, because it's the right thing to do and it will create change. That's the key differentiator for me. I don't talk about things and leave them to others to get done. I create a vision, I turn it into a plan, and I get it done — and I've been doing it for decades.
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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