In the race to be the Republican nominee to unseat incumbent Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, two candidates are revealing some important positions through what they say — and what they don’t.
For the leading fundraiser and establishment favorite, Heidi Ganahl, that’s because there are certain questions she refuses to engage with. The 55-year-old from Lone Tree launched her campaign in Monument last year by refusing to respond to press inquiries about the extent to which she sympathizes with the baseless and increasingly popular GOP position that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
Since then, she seems to have settled on a response: “Joe Biden is our president,” she told The Denver Post during a recent interview, though she declined to say whether she feels he is a legitimate president.
But when pressed a bit more on the topic — in this case, by being asked whom she supports in a GOP primary for Colorado secretary of state that pits two election deniers against someone who does not believe the election was stolen — Ganahl quickly snaps.
“This is how we go wrong in these interviews,” said the University of Colorado regent, seeking to redirect the conversation to talk about Democratic legislation she opposes. “This is why the people of Colorado, or a lot of them, don’t trust the media.”
Her opponent, 58-year-old Greg Lopez of Elizabeth, who won top-line support at the party’s state assembly in April, is more welcoming of a broad range of questions — but his answers on key issues are often incomplete.
Lopez says he wants to roll back any Polis executive orders “that are hurting families, hurting small business, hurting the ability for people to survive and thrive.” When asked which executive orders he’d undo if elected, he can’t name anything current.
“I haven’t studied it,” he said. “I’m saying, if there’s any still left.”
That is one of many subject areas where Lopez, who served one term as Parker mayor about 30 years ago, admitted to The Post that his platform is a work in progress. He’s open about the fact that he doesn’t know precisely what to do about some of the state’s greatest challenges.
On gun violence, for one, he said, “Everybody wants that magic wand. … I don’t have the answer, because if I was to say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do to stop it’ — you can’t legislate morality.
“The only thing you can do is send a message that this is not right. This is not something we should be doing.”
Asked how to increase teacher pay and reduce class sizes, Lopez said, “Everybody thinks the governor has all the answers. I can tell you this, what we need to do with our schools is first evaluate — Are you actually teaching? Are these students actually learning?”
Lopez has called for reform to Colorado’s “one person, one vote” system of electing state politicians. Instead of a popular vote, he’d rather do something of a state-based Electoral College, shifting power to less populous (and more conservative) areas, and raising the possibility that, say, a governor or attorney general could lose the popular vote and still win office. This is not a reform that he could pass on his own, if elected, and he insists he’s just trying to “have a conversation” about increasing rural representation.
“I was in San Luis County and they say, ‘You know what? The people in Denver and Boulder are passing laws that are impacting my ability to provide for my family. How is that fair? How come our voices aren’t being heard?’” Lopez said.
When The Post noted that rural votes count the same as urban ones, Lopez said: “If you’re saying,’ Greg, we’re not interested in hearing the voice, but we’re interested in seeing a checkmark on a piece of paper’ — and that’s how you hear the voice. The only check mark that they’re doing is on the person. It’s not about their livelihood, it’s not about their challenges. So think about what you’re saying. Are we really going to say that your voice only comes through a piece of paper? That you don’t have the opinion to share with somebody that, when you make decisions in Denver, it’s impacting my livelihood.”
Pressed for specifics on his election overhaul idea, Lopez said, “I don’t have the visuals with me, but I’d love to sit down with you at a different time and show you.”
That was June 2. As of June 10, his campaign has not provided any visuals.
In some cases, the content of Lopez’s platform doesn’t seem to be his own.
Lopez says the cost of housing is a serious problem in Colorado. In the “On The Issues” section of his campaign website, he offers that the answer, at least in part, is to lower the cost of homebuilding and construct more units.
“The laws of supply and demand dictate that when housing demand outpaces supply, prices go up. In theory, supply increases in response to that demand and prices stop their climb,” the site reads.
But those are not his campaign’s words. They look to be copied directly, without attribution, from a 2016 report by the nonprofit Urban Institute titled “Strategies for Increasing Housing Supply in High-Cost Cities.”
This is one of at least a dozen instances of apparent plagiarism on Lopez’s site. These instances mainly involve the Lopez campaign lifting others’ writing about basic facts. They were uncovered by a Democratic political research group and confirmed by The Post.
His site explains that, “The Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) is the state’s umbrella regulatory agency, charged with managing licensing and registration for multiple professions and businesses, implementing balanced regulation for Colorado industries, and protecting consumers.” That’s exactly how DORA describes itself on its own website, but, again, the Lopez campaign did not attribute the language.
In another section of its “On The Issues” page, the Lopez campaign blames Polis and Biden for inflation, who he says have wrongly given out “free money” that is overheating the economy. That’s a problem, the site continues, because more money in the economy can “result in a decrease in the value of money—meaning that it would take more money to buy something that has not changed in value.” Those are words seemingly pulled, without attribution, straight from a page titled “What is Fiscal Policy?” on Investopedia.com.
On Friday morning, Lopez spokeswoman Laura Hiatt responded to emailed questions from The Post about the apparent plagiarism: “In reviewing the examples you provided, it does appear that there were unintentional omissions to cite appropriate sources. We will amend all areas that need to be corrected and are taking immediate action to rectify this issue. We have temporarily taken down the “Issues” page so we can do a comprehensive review. It is our intention to put the “Issues” page back on the website as soon as possible. I sincerely appreciate you bringing this to our attention.”
On some topics, Ganahl is quite consistent. She’s alarmed by how expensive it’s gotten to live in Colorado, something she’s observed in the life trajectory of her own young-adult daughter, who, Ganahl says, has had to move back home despite having a solid job.
She has tried to keep her public-facing campaign focused mainly on cost-of-living; on public safety; on resolving mental health crises, particularly among children; and on rolling back government mandates, fees and executive orders that she sees as limiting prosperity and opportunity.
She regularly says she’ll repeal as many Polis executive orders as possible once she gets into office, though she does not specify which existing ones she objects to. Ganahl speaks on this and other issues in lofty terms.
“I think right now people want big, bold solutions for the future,” she said. “We’re headed down a scary path with inflation and crime and what’s happening with our kids.”
Lopez, too, says Colorado is headed in the wrong direction.
“Colorado is broken. Colorado is broken everywhere we look,” he said. “And I don’t necessarily blame the governor. Maybe he just doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to connect with people, to truly understand what he does when he makes a decision.”
Ganahl is careful in how she seeks to distinguish herself from Lopez. She has more — and more recent — experience in elected office, and is indeed the only Republican elected to a statewide position in Colorado. She built and later sold a successful dog daycare chain, Camp Bow Wow.
“I’ve been out there rolling up my sleeves getting things done, rather than just talking about what I’m going to do,” she said.
A challenge for Ganahl is that Lopez, whose public positions are further right in several notable cases, is actually quite popular with the base of the Republican Party, as evidenced by his win at the state assembly. She has raised more than 10 times the money he has, but the assembly win shows he’s got an ability to connect with stalwart Republicans that money alone cannot buy. He ran for governor in 2018, garnering about 13% support in the GOP primary while being vastly outspent by his opponents.
Ganahl does not often forcefully take positions that might alienate these base voters who gravitate to Lopez, a candidate who has said the 2020 election was stolen and that “the jury is still out” on whether Biden is a legitimate president. She detailed this approach in November comments to Republican voters, as reported by 9News.
“So, you’re going to see me talk about things that the unaffiliated voter cares about,” she said, “and you might be like, ‘Heidi, get feistier, talk about different, you know, things that we care about.’ Y’all, I care about everything that you care about. You hear me talking here, right now. But in the media and on my ads, I’m going to talk about crime and kids and the cost of living because that’s what’s going to win us the 7% of unaffiliated voters. We’ve got to be so disciplined about that. So disciplined.”
Her campaign hasn’t generated as much grassroots enthusiasm as Republican politicos in Colorado had hoped for. She is far from a moderate — she opposes abortion (with limited exceptions), opposes gun restrictions and wants to promote state-based fossil-fuel production, for example — which will present a significant challenge if and when she advances to the general election. She said that for different reasons she admires governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Montana’s Greg Gianforte and South Dakota’s Kristi Noem.
She frequently talks about ways she feels Colorado’s Democratic leadership has made life too expensive, vowing to roll back fees in a variety of areas. (Polis’s reelection platform centers on “saving people money,” and he talks about this goal constantly in public appearances, on social media and in press releases.)
Asked to reflect on what’s gone so wrong for the Colorado GOP in recent years, such that she is now the only statewide elected Republican here, Ganahl puts most the blame on Democratic money.
“It’s more about what we’re doing right now rather than what was going wrong before,” she said. “That’s related more to the money and resources that have been put into our state by the Democrat party.”
It’s not clear how she’ll overcome the campaign finance problem, which has not gone away: Ganahl’s campaign had about $200,000 on hand as of this week, according to the secretary of state’s office. Polis, a prolific self-funder, had almost $5 million. He’s rich enough to write himself checks in many more millions before the election is through.
Ganahl said the GOP must overcome a Democratic machine — one Polis helped build, and one that at the moment controls both chambers of the legislature, both of Colorado’s U.S. Senate seats and all four of the major statewide offices.
“The majority of it is money and resources and organization,” Ganahl said. “We’re pretty independent-minded folks in the Republican Party. We believe in doing our own thing and sometimes that makes it hard to get people on the same page.”
Though many of his views are firmly conservative, Lopez is not necessarily a cheerleader for his own party.
“The Republican Party is as guilty as the Democrat party,” he said. “You’ve got people who all they care about is power and control. They want their time in the limelight, you know? I’m not here to tell you that the Republican Party is better than the Democratic Party. I’m here to tell you that we need candidates that truly care about all people.”
At a recent candidate forum in Denver, Lopez told the audience, “Don’t you dare ever trust anyone in government. That includes me.”
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