Surrounded by his family at Red Rocks Amphitheater early Tuesday morning, former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp announced he is seeking the Republican Party’s nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper next year.
Kopp became the fifth Republican to announce a gubernatorial bid, as the GOP clamors to unseat Hickenlooper. He joins state Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray, Secretary of State Scott Gessler from Denver and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Lakewood. Also vying for his party’s nod is underdog Jim Rundberg from Moffat.
“For people that ask me why I want to do this, it’s very simple: I believe the future of our state should look better than the present,” Kopp explained, standing under an early morning sun at a podium at the top of Red Rocks — the plains, mountains and city in the background.
“We should be more free, more prosperous, we should be more engaged with defending our border against the excesses of an out-of-control bureaucracy in Washington,” he continued.
The former U.S. Army Ranger, who served in combat during the Gulf War, had an impressive career as a senator from Jefferson County. He was elected in 2006, but resigned in October 2011, two months after his then-wife, 37-year-old Kim Kopp, died of a rare form of cancer.
Kopp said in his resignation letter at the time that he wanted to devote time to raising their four children.
He later met his new wife, Shannon Ulrich, and married her in April. She worked on Jane Norton’s 2010 U.S. Senate campaign and for U.S. Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid in 2012 as a fundraiser.
Kopp is currently the manager of corporate affairs for Intermountain Rural Electric Association. He is also the Republican National Committeeman for Colorado.
His focus Tuesday was on reducing government involvement and regulatory burdens in the state, suggesting that as governor he would take a full look at government bureaucracy within the state to determine what government functions can be eliminated.
Following his remarks at Red Rocks, the former minority leader made stops in Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Pueblo.
“As Coloradans, we rightly resent when someone else erects barriers to our personal success, and too often these days that someone has been our own government,” opined Kopp.
He pointed out that there are still an estimated 200,000 Coloradans without work, and that since 2008 there has been a decline in private sector jobs, while the rate of increase for government jobs has been 12 percent.
“We can do better. We know better. I want to put government into the backseat where it belongs, the backseat of the taxpayers,” he said. “For too long it has been the other way around.
“We hear a lot about cutting red tape, but it needs to be about more than slogans; it needs to be about leadership,” Kopp continued, stating that he would hold stakeholder meetings with business leaders to determine burdensome regulations to eliminate.
One such area Kopp highlighted is a new renewable energy standard for rural electrical cooperatives. As the corporate-affairs manager for REA, Kopp opposed the measure.
Message does not include attacking Hickenlooper
Unlike his fellow Republicans seeking the party’s gubernatorial nomination, Kopp chose not to attack Hickenlooper during the campaign kickoff. Brophy has called Hickenlooper “burnt toast,” Gessler has referred to him as a “jellyfish,” and Tancredo has called him “out of touch” and “corrupt.”
But Kopp said he wasn’t willing to go there on Tuesday, instead sticking to his campaign message, which did not include targeting the governor.
“There’s certainly many people around the state of Colorado who have been wondering where our state is headed, and for me it’s all about establishing a clear agenda, driving toward that agenda, and being straightforward with people about the direction that I intend to go, and that will be my message,” said Kopp. “At the end of the day, it will be for the voters to decide.”
A Quinnipiac University poll in August stated that Hickenlooper’s approval rating has taken a hit, with only 45 percent of Colorado voters saying that he deserves re-election, while 47 percent say he does not.
The governor’s office said on Tuesday that it had not heard of Kopp’s announcement. But it was careful to point out last month that Hickenlooper has been focused on recent devastating flooding around the state, rather than campaigning.
The governor spent a number of hours with emergency officials, even flying on a helicopter to tour flood damage in Boulder and Larimer counties. The helicopter landed in canyons twice to pick up stranded people and pets.
Hickenlooper’s office has been working with a bipartisan committee that has been established to address recovery issues, including working with victims, responders and disaster experts to assist those affected. The committee will also review existing statutes to ensure that the state’s laws provide effective support tools for agencies and victims.
Political storm continues
When issues around the natural disaster pass, another storm will still be tearing apart political communities within the state. Recent recall elections have already ousted two Democratic state senators, Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo.
Grassroots liberty groups dedicated to gun rights took down the two senators. Morse and Giron had supported a package of gun control legislation that was signed by the governor.
A new effort to recall Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, is underway utilizing similar messaging.
Kopp said he would not only support gun rights, but also added that he would work to repeal laws that have already been passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature this year, including a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and universal background checks.
“We have to have a leader who will stand up for Coloradans against any outside interests’ intent on eroding our cherished right to keep and bear arms,” explained Kopp.
“In America, we shouldn’t have to hope that we can find a good hiding spot when someone wants to do us, or our loved ones, harm,” he continued. “We should have the ability to take action to defend ourselves.”
Brophy has already earned the coveted conservative endorsement of gun rights advocacy group and political machine Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. But Kopp can still earn the support of gun rights voters across the state, especially given the shifting political environment.
Kopp believes that the political tide is turning in Colorado, which could add a new dynamic to the gubernatorial race. But he said he does not plan on making politics a focal point of his campaign.
“I’m more interested in my state than my party,” said Kopp. “I love being a Republican, I’m proud of being a Republican. But the fact of the matter is I’m more interested in the people of Colorado than I am in advancing the agenda of a party.
“Republicans do have an opportunity here,” he continued. “I would characterize it this way: we have an opportunity to set a new dialogue in the way that we deal with one another. I’m certain that we can form a broad coalition around the conservative values that we hold dear.”
Kopp appears to have adopted a request by Tancredo that the GOP candidates not attack each other over fears that they could scorch the earth and pave the way for Democrats.
“As a gubernatorial candidate, it will be incumbent upon me, it will be incumbent upon all of the candidates, to set a pretty high standard in their own teams,” stated Kopp. “We’re not going to backbite, we’re not going to spread gossip, we’re not going to engage in that.
“You have four people that all know each other, that are pretty comfortable with one another here,” Kopp continued. “I consider these other gentleman in the race friends of mine. I’ve worked with them all… I think we all probably hope that we can avoid that, and it will be good for our party, it will be good for our state.”
For their part, Kopp’s Republican opponents agree that it should be a cordial race. But they disagree on who is the best man for the job.
“Mike Kopp and I are good friends and fellow Army veterans,” said Gessler. “I have a lot of respect for him. But I’ll continue to make my case that I’m the only Republican candidate who has won a statewide race, held to principle, and reduced the burdens of state government.”
Gessler on Tuesday released a video from his campaign launch announcement at the University of Denver last month in which he highlights several of his achievements and received support from former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer and state Rep. Clarice Navarro of Pueblo, among others.
Gessler’s campaign kickoff was a highly produced affair that turned into the video that was released on Tuesday. Unlike Gessler, Kopp’s announcement was a smaller event with less glitter.
Kopp has yet to release a list of endorsements, but during his kickoff tour he stood with Sen. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs and former Sen. Dave Schultheis of Colorado Springs.
Brophy also stated his admiration for Kopp. But he said the former state senator’s emergence does not change anything for him.
“There’s only one person in the race who has a broad base of experience both inside and outside of politics who is ultimately the most qualified person to run the state of Colorado,” said Brophy. “So, I still like my position quite well.”
Brophy believes a crowded GOP field is simply a signal of Hickenlooper’s vulnerability.
“It just shows how weak the governor is,” explained Brophy. “More and more people see it’s the perfect time to run for governor.”
Tancredo agreed, adding, “The more the merrier.
“Everybody will be out there someplace speaking. Now we’ve got four megaphones going. Hopefully all of them will be shouting essentially the same thing, and that is talking about the problems with the present governor and the need to displace him,” Tancredo continued.
He endorsed Kopp during Kopp’s run for the statehouse. But now the two are opponents, despite their continued mutual respect.
Tancredo does not believe that his chances are damaged by Kopp’s announcement. The former congress-man this week announced support from outspoken conservative rock star and gun rights advocate Ted Nugent.
“I’m not just a rock star and bowhunting addict. I’m a gungho American first and a dedicated patriot fighting for liberty — just like you,” Nugent writes in a fundraising email for Tancredo. “And like you, I’m terrified by where Barack Obama and his radical America hating leftist goons are leading this great country… Thankfully there are some heroes we can count on to lead the fight — heroes for liberty like Tom Tancredo.”
“My base is pretty solid,” added Tancredo. “I don’t anticipate any serious erosion of that base by the entrance of any other folks who are there.”