Republican Gubernatorial candidate Victor Mitchell is frustrated with his own party’s picks for elected office, and isn’t surprised by Tuesday’s losses in New Jersey and Virginia. He is, however, supportive of the 2016 trend that put folks in office who aren’t career politicians. Though he served in the Colorado House of Representatives ten years ago, he puts himself in that category.
“If I win the Republican nomination,” he said, “I will be your next governor.”
Colorado Politics caught up with Mitchell, his wife Amy, and their retriever, Tori, for a hike in Lone Tree, where he talked about his tumultuous upbringing, his drive to succeed as an entrepreneur, and what pushed him to enter the political arena.
Walking up the steep pitch to a 6,000-foot vista, where you can see for miles, he outpaced this reporter, his wife and the dog by at least ten feet, stopping once or twice to say, “We’re almost there.”
Meanwhile, Amy kept a stronghold on Tori, a one-year-old pup that wants to pull away and play with other dogs on the trail. Once at the top, he and Amy pointed out landmarks, peaks, the Tech Center, Downtown Denver off in the distance, and beyond that, the airport. Then — we got down to business.
“I’ve never actually worked for anyone but myself,” he said. “I started my first business when I was a junior in college. High standards, but we treat people well… That type of executive leadership is exactly what Colorado needs.”
Mitchell left New York at the age of 11 to join his mother in California, a proud and driven women who is 90 percent blind and deaf. He started working as a teenager and moved a lot, often on the brink of homelessness. It was her values instilled in him, he says, that led him to be a public servant. While he’s a political newcomer, he’s always been involved in civic clubs such as the Rotary, and has created a number of charities.
“I vowed that if I was ever successful that I wanted to give back,” she said.
He moved his young family to Colorado on a business venture after building a successful wireless retail business he sold to Verizon nearly 22 years ago, starting a telecom company in Centennial.
“Like many people,” he said, “we fell in love with it here.”
Mitchell wants to be a governor who fixes things, brings business acumen to government. That means cutting government red tape for development and infrastructure, providing more accountability and transparency in spending, and reorganizing management of state departments like CDOT.
“There are many areas of waste and inefficiency in our government,” he said. “Right now CDOT is spending about 70 percent of their total budget on studies and overhead; they have 3,300 employees; they have a very bureaucratic executive director, I would remove the executive director, bring somebody in from the outside, somebody that has a deep understanding of Colorado’s culture and history … a deep development background, somebody that has never wanted to run for public office so there’s no conflict of interest.”
He wants to limit CDOT’s overhead to no more than 20 percent, which he says would free up $700 million to go back into roads and bridges without increasing taxes.
Mitchell was not a proponent of legalized marijuana in Colorado, but would not support repealing the current law now. What he would like to see is more transparency of how much money the state is bringing in from pot sales taxes, and envisions a website that would show real-time revenues coming in, going out.
“We were supposed to see a windfall for education and it’s been anything but that,” he said. “I’ve talked to dozens of superintendents around the state and this money is being totally ripped off.”
A sticking point for Mitchell, besides regulation reform, is healthcare. Along with urgings from friends and colleagues, a broken healthcare system is part of what inspired him to run for governor. During a visit to a clinic in the Virginia’s Appalachia region, he found a clinic nurse practitioners. For a $10 fee, patients get most of their primary care needs met, from mammograms to mental-health screenings. Prescription medication needs are handled with a $4 voucher slip.
That kind of set-up, he says, is the answer to the failed “Unaffordable Care Act”. Mitchell says Obamacare has only resulted in big gains for pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, but has left all facets of consumers lacking proper care, be they uninsured, underinsured, and even those who have insurance but can’t meet their deductible. He’s also in favor of letting states handle their own healthcare programs since health issues vary widely from state to state. Colorado, for instance, is the healthiest state in the nation, he says, and doesn’t suffer from the obesity and diabetes rates Southern states do.
Mitchell’s plan would provide block grants to entrepreneurial nurse practitioner and physician assistant clinics and mental health professionals, where the state would provide up to 50 percent of their annual operating budget. The fee-for-service model would be available for any Colorado resident, regardless of income.
“Where insurance goes back to what it was intended for: emergency care, specialty care and chronic illness,” he said. “We have 40 percent of Coloradans that can’t meet their deductibles or afford their copayments or they have no insurance at all.”
Mitchell faces a crowded primary of hopefuls to replace Gov. Hickenlooper. He already faces 18th Judicial District DA George Brauchler, Doug Robinson, Mitt Romney’s nephew and a businessman, and Steve Barlock, who led Trump’s Denver campaign team.
Democratic hopefuls include former state senator Mike Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy, Congressman Jared Polis and entrepreneur Noel Ginsburg, who will square off in the 2018 primary.
“I’m the only outsider in the race,” he said. “I’m the only entrepreneur in the race, the only person not taking any money from special interest groups, and I’m the only person to put very specific, bold, fresh ideas to move our state forward on a series of issues.”
“Republicans have only won the governorship here in Colorado twice in 62 years,” Mitchell said. “And the reason is because we keep nominating people who can’t win. We just have a tortured history here.”
Mitchell is self-funding his own campaign, and so he says he’s beholden to no special interest groups. He says he has $2 million in his fund, more than any other candidate.
He pauses to give another hiker directions, an older woman who is also walking a dog, their first outing together, she told him.
“Come down here and go left, and go left again, you’ll see the water storage on the right.”
Mitchell then moved onto his ideas for education, which he says would include capping tuition rates to decrease student debt, bolster the STEM opportunities for students to meet the growing demand for people to fill those jobs, and make it easier for people to attain apprenticeships and licensing for skilled trades. He also blames the teachers union for keeping high-quality instructors out of the classroom, saying there’s no reason a person with an education and experience in their field shouldn’t be able to teach that subject matter in our schools. He points to a particular need for quality education in outlying, rural areas of the state.
“There’s a lot of collaboration that could be done over the internet to teach classes to really improve the educational experience in rural parts of the state,” he said, “but it’s all being blocked by the unions. They’re not putting the kids or the parents first.”
Mitchell, father of three, recognizes that students’ needs are diverse, and says the education system needs to diversify to meet that need. His oldest daughter works as a computer scientist for J.P. Morgan in New York, his son is attending West Point and plans on branching military intelligence, and he has one teenager still at home, who he says struggles with dyslexia and is involved in the arts and theatre.
When he’s not spending time with his family, working or hitting the campaign trail, Mitchell says he likes to be outdoors hiking, biking and skiing.
You can follow his campaign on Facebook at Vic 4 Gov.