Cary Kennedy at the CPR studios Monday April 30, 2018.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

Democrat Cary Kennedy served as Colorado State Treasurer from 2007-2011 and then as Chief Executive Officer and Deputy Mayor for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. She led the campaign for Amendment 23, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2000, that requires K-12 funding to increase by inflation plus 1 percent from 2001-2011 and by inflation after that. In April, Kennedy won a majority of the delegates at the Democrats' statewide assembly.

We’re asking each candidate for governor a range of questions, but especially about education, health care and transportation, and posting a transcript and audio of the conversation.  And, since this is the first Colorado primary in which unaffiliated voters can participate, we're linking to the Colorado Secretary of State’s online guide.

Read more about each of the candidates running in the primary in our Colorado Governor's Race page.

Interview Highlights

On whether it was unwise to put Amendment 23 in the state Constitution:

"So TABOR was forcing cuts in education, and I wrote Amendment 23 to stop those cuts, and here we are 20 years later with teachers protesting on the steps of the Capitol because once again TABOR has forced cuts in our education budget for decades, leaving students in our state without the opportunities, without the support, without the resources to be able, we want our kids to be competitive for the jobs that we're bringing here. We're building a knowledge-based economy here in Colorado, and we want our kids to get the education that prepares them for it. ... I don't think the Constitution's the right place to make fiscal policy, but TABOR is what started that, and Amendment 23 was a countermeasure."

On whether a statewide public option for health insurance would be destabilizing for current insurers:

"No, absolutely not. It expands choice in the market, and we are able to pass savings on to everyone in the state of Colorado who right now can't afford their healthcare. There are a lot of families, Ryan, in Colorado that when you add up their premiums and their out-of-pocket expenses and their pharmaceutical costs, they're paying more than $2,000 a month. I've even heard of families paying more than $3,000 a month. They simply can't afford it, and we can pass savings along to folks who need it by offering anyone in the state the opportunity to purchase Medicaid as a health insurance plan. We can offer it for less than what's being offered right now in the private market. ... It'll put competitive pressure. .... It will increase competition. It'll put competitive pressure out in the market for all providers to contain their costs, and we've seen escalating costs in healthcare, and I think we need a public option so that people don't necessarily have to be held to these very high, fast-rising costs that we're seeing in the private sector; that they're able to work and purchase a public health insurance option for less."

On whether she would support a possible ballot measure this election sponsored by many in the business community to raise money for transportation:

"I would support it. We're all feeling the impacts of growth. Every working parent is sitting in traffic worried that they're not going to get home to be able to have dinner with their kids, so we have to make the investments in our transportation infrastructure. It includes improvements to our highways and upgrading the condition of our rural roads, but it's also investing in transit and in mobility because we can't widen our way out of traffic, but I'm encouraged that folks  are looking at putting a proposal on the ballot, and I would support additional resources for transportation."

Full Transcript

Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. Colorado is choosing its next governor and at a critical time. This state is growing, booming even, and the candidates have very different visions of how to invest in the future in schools, transportation, healthcare. We are getting these candidates on the record before the June primaries, which are open to more voters than ever before. Today, we meet Democrat Cary Kennedy. I caught up with her after the first televised debate of the campaign. She was with her husband and three sisters deciding where to go for dinner. Anyone want to share a Cary Kennedy story from growing up? Kennedy's younger sister, actually a step-sister, Kimberly Jackson volunteered.

Kimberly Jackson: I was a junior in high school; Cary was a senior, and our parents were discussing allowances, and my father had determined that I didn't need one because I had a job, and I had Cary standing there arguing that what I did with my free time, if it happened to earn me extra money, didn't negate my need for an allowance from the parents. 

RW: Now it's not her parents she makes arguments in front of but voters. The night's debate may have been nerve wracking for Kennedy's family watching in the audience than for the candidate herself.

Cary Kennedy: It was substantive. We were able to talk about our priorities and our vision for the state, so I'm pleased, and I'm going to go have a margarita with my sisters.

RW: Kennedy served one term as State Treasurer. She was unseated in 2010 by the current treasurer, Republican Walker Stapleton, who's also running for governor. Kennedy then served as Denver's Chief Financial Officer and Deputy Mayor under Michael Hancock, and Cary Kennedy, welcome to the program.

CK: Good morning, Ryan. Thanks so much for having me.

RW: What is the single biggest problem facing Colorado, and how do you propose to solve it.

CK: So, I think we're all really proud of Colorado. We're an innovative and forward-looking state. We're a model for the rest of the country in many ways. We've built what is now the number one ranked economy in the country, and I think the biggest challenge facing us is that the investments that we're making in education don't match that progress, and the investments we're making in our infrastructure to support a rapidly growing population. We're all feeling the impacts of growth and the impacts on our state's environment, so it's making sure that as our economy and our population grows that we're making those investments that support prosperity for everyone.

RW: And what do you think is the culprit? What is the reason that investments as you say don't keep up with the growth?

CK: Well, it just doesn't make sense that we have the top ranked economy in the country and our investment in education ranks at the bottom among states. We've been cutting school budgets for nearly three decades here in Colorado ever since an amendment was adopted here called the TABOR Amendment that's forced us to cut our education budgets. We have half the school districts in the state of Colorado today now down to a four day school week, Ryan. It doesn't make any sense for a state as strong as Colorado.

RW: You've said that TABOR, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, prevents the state from keeping up with growth, and you've pledged to lead a bipartisan coalition to pass permanent TABOR changes, but as the current governor told me just the other day, quoting him, "In many parts of Colorado, TABOR is still very popular." Hickenlooper called it a "battle cry for conservatives." So, I want to imagine that you're Governor Cary Kennedy. You're at the table with leaders from the House and Senate, and maybe those are led by the opposite party, the other party. What's your leverage?

CK: Yeah, so the good news, Ryan, is we really have bipartisan support for permanent TABOR reform in Colorado. Nearly-

RW: Really? Wouldn't it have happened by now?

CK: Well, nearly every local government in the state has already passed TABOR reform because they see at the local level the impacts on their fire districts, on their counties, their cities, and we have Republican and Democratic legislators who will stand side by side going to the statewide ballot to say, "As our state keeps up with growth, our investment in education, our investment in infrastructure needs to keep up as well."

RW: So you see this as a referred measure from the legislature that would go to the ballot because this would need taxpayer approval. I have to say, I've sat across from now three different governors who have tried to take on changes to TABOR. They've had mixed success in so doing. What makes you think that you'll do this any differently?

CK: So, we've only passed two measures at the statewide ballot that have avoided even deeper cuts that TABOR would've required to our schools, to our infrastructure, over the last 25 years. Both of those measures I helped develop and put on the ballot and built the coalitions to pass them. I believe we have the bipartisan support today at the state and local level. People come  together. They recognize that we can keep Colorado's taxes low. We want low taxes. It helps keep Colorado affordable. It helps keep businesses competitive in our state, but as our economy grows, we need to benefit our schools; our infrastructure investment needs to benefit from that growth in our economy.

RW: So, it sounds like you don't have a lot of convincing to do in your mind. You think the support is there. You talked about your role in previous TABOR changes. I want to talk about your role in another budgetary measure that is in the State Constitution. Amendment 23 has to do with K through 12 education funding. Of course, there were teacher walkouts in Colorado last week. A sea of red t-shirts around the State Capitol. Educators demanding that the state meet its obligations to schools. And you did indeed lead the campaign for Amendment 23 in 2000, which required lawmakers to increase education spending each year. Then the recession hits, and the legislature essentially found a way around that. With so many other competing provisions in the Colorado Constitution, including TABOR, was Amendment 23 a false promise?

CK: So, education needs to be Colorado's top priority. People of this state want us to have among the best public education system in the country. One that matches the great strength of this state's economy-

RW: And was tying - 

CK: ... and the teachers are out marching, and they're out protesting because our investment in education has fallen so low that they can't afford to work here. They can't afford to teach, and we're losing great teachers. They're leaving the profession. They're leaving the state. We want that pipeline of talent. We want Colorado to be the place that the best teachers want to be here working with our kids, and I think we all know we can do better.

RW: So that would've been the argument you made, I'm assuming, in 2000 when Amendment 23 passed. Was it unwise to put that in the State Constitution?

CK: So TABOR was forcing cuts in education, and I wrote Amendment 23 to stop those cuts, and here we are 20 years later with teachers protesting on the steps of the Capitol because once again TABOR has forced cuts in our education budget for decades, leaving students in our state without the opportunities, without the support, without the resources to be able, we want our kids to be competitive for the jobs that we're bringing here. We're building a knowledge-based economy here in Colorado, and we want our kids to get the education that prepares them for it. 

RW: And so, in hindsight, just briefly, do you think it was right to put Amendment 23 in the State Constitution given that you sit here now in a very similar situation that you were trying to avoid years ago?

CK: I don't think the Constitution's the right place to make fiscal policy, but TABOR is what started that, and Amendment 23 was a countermeasure.

RW: Now there are some who would say TABOR started some of the economic growth we're seeing; that when money is in the hands of taxpayers, not government, that's how growth happens. What would you say to people who stand by TABOR and say, "No. I don't want the state to have more of my money."

CK: Oh, I think people see businesses in Colorado doing well, and having a competitive tax structure is important to that success, but what's holding us back, Ryan, is that we're not providing the educated workforce to support the growth and the businesses that are here. A lot of companies in Colorado, when they go to fill their high-skilled, high-paying jobs, they're recruiting from outside of Colorado. I want them recruiting from Pueblo and Trinidad and Grand Junction. We want our kids growing up here in Colorado to be competitive for those jobs.

RW: And you see that as a function of education, as a function of TABOR and changes you'd like to make to it. You mentioned transportation as a priority as well. It is possible that there will be a ballot measure this election sponsored by many in the business community to raise money for transportation. Is it something you'd vote for?

CK: I would support it. We're all feeling the impacts of growth. Every working parent is sitting in traffic worried that they're not going to get home to be able to have dinner with their kids, so we have to make the investments in our transportation infrastructure. It includes improvements to our highways and upgrading the condition of our rural roads, but it's also investing in transit and in mobility because we can't widen our way out of traffic, but I'm encouraged that folks 
are looking at putting a proposal on the ballot, and I would support additional resources for transportation.

RW: Okay. I want to go back to education. You've been endorsed by the state's largest teachers’ union and the state chapter of The American Federation of Teachers. How would you say your education plan stands out from the rest of the Democratic field? I mean, if education is a driving issue for a voter, why would they choose you?

CK: Well, I think improving our schools starts with supporting our teachers. They're in the classroom working with our kids, and they need the support and the tools and the resources to be able to inspire a love of learning for all of their kids, and-

RW: I don't imagine any of the other Democrats in the race would disagree with what you just said. How do you differentiate yourself?

CK: Well, I'm concerned with the direction of education in Colorado. I'm concerned we're focused too much on high stakes testing; that we've been narrowing curriculums in our classrooms rather than expanding opportunities for kids; that we've been blaming our teachers rather than giving our teachers the support and the resources and the tools to support the learning in their students.

RW: So under Cary Kennedy for governor, even though this is a state with local control, you would like to see less high-stakes testing?

CK: I want all of our kids to develop higher level thinking skills, problem solving, creative thinking, working together; everything shouldn't be based on the outcome of one test. Education is bigger than that.

RW: Some may see the teacher's union endorsement as a liability. Membership in unions has been dropping over the years, and there's a rift in the Democratic Party it would seem over how to make schools better; how much competition and choice should play a role. I'll note at the State Assembly, an education reform group was told to take the word Democrat out of its name, and the head of the group apparently was booed. Were the Democrats right to boo?

CK: So Ryan, we need to listen to our teachers, and our teachers are telling us that they don't have the support state-wide to help all of their children reach the standards that we set for them. Not even half the kids in this state are reaching those standards, and teachers, we need to listen to our teachers because they know the support that their students need, and their concern that the direction the education reform movement has taken us towards high-stakes testing and towards narrowing curriculums, and they want to see it changed.

RW: Do you think they should've booed?

CK: No. I mean, I think you should respect whoever's speaking at the microphone, but people were expressing an opinion and a real concern about the direction of education in our state, and Colorado can have the best public education system in the country. We are an innovative and forward-looking state. That's the model that we want in our education system, and we want to support all of our kids in giving them that whether they're growing up in Arvada or Alamosa.

RW: One of your opponents in this Democratic primary is a former educator, Mike Johnston. He is associated with the reform group that was told to take Democrat out of its name, but I actually want to bring Johnston up in another context, and that's healthcare. Your plan differs from his. You'd like to see a statewide public option for health insurance. Coloradans could either buy into Medicaid or into the plan that state employees have under your vision. Johnston, last week on this show, explained that he'd only offer a public option in some places where people are spending more than 10 percent of their income on coverage.

Mike Johnston: Because what we want to do is we want to provide choice in all the parts of the state where people don't have choice, which is what's driving up prices. What you don't want to do is destabilize the markets that are working effectively, and so we've offered as a public option to buy into Medicaid in any places where the plans are currently unaffordable, which is like the Western Slope.

RW: Do you think a statewide plan would be destabilizing? 

MJ: I do think it would be. What you would see is a lot of private healthcare providers would probably leave the state. We'd have less choice. We'd have higher prices

RW: Cary Kennedy, if there's a statewide public option, is that destabilizing for current insurers?

CK: No, absolutely not. It expands choice in the market, and we are able to pass savings on to everyone in the state of Colorado who right now can't afford their healthcare. There are a lot of families, Ryan, in Colorado that when you add up their premiums and their out-of-pocket expenses and their pharmaceutical costs, they're paying more than $2,000 a month. I've even heard of families paying more than $3,000 a month. They simply can't afford it, and we can pass savings along to folks who need it by offering anyone in the state the opportunity to purchase Medicaid as a health insurance plan. We can offer it for less than what's being offered right now in the private market.

RW: And that won't be a destabilizing force though?

CK: No. It'll put competitive pressure.

RW: Why do you say that?

CK: It will increase competition. It'll put competitive pressure out in the market for all providers to contain their costs, and we've seen escalating costs in healthcare, and I think we need a public option so that people don't necessarily have to be held to these very high, fast-rising costs that we're seeing in the private sector; that they're able to work and purchase a public health insurance option for less.

RW: Your energy plan, Cary Kennedy, would double the state's renewable energy standard from 30 to 60 percent. You've said you support a state appeals court decision that rules for oil and gas development, must be subject to the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources. That case is headed to the State Supreme Court. What does it mean practically to you if a greater emphasis is placed on public health? What would it mean on the ground for homeowners and mineral owners?

CK: So, first of all, Ryan, we need to as a state lead in addressing climate change. We need to move to clean, renewable sources of energy. It is growing our state's economy. It's where we're seeing the fastest job growth, and it's important for us to reduce our emissions here as a state and do our part. In oil and gas development, energy is an important industry in Colorado. We're one of the largest oil and gas producers in the nation. We need to make sure we're developing those resources responsibly, and that means putting public health and safety as our priority in regulating that industry.

RW: What change would that mean to you?

CK: Well, right now you see communities where energy companies are coming in, and they want to drill right next to a school; they want to drill right next to a playground. Those communities-

RW: Colorado increased setbacks for those. You would increase those setbacks further, do you think?

CK: For schools, for community resources where you've got neighborhoods, they need to have a voice. They need to have a say in what's happening in their own jurisdiction, and they need to have the authority to protect water quality, air quality, and protect their communities.

RW: If that meant that someone who owns the mineral rights beneath that land wasn't able to access them, do you think the state should compensate the mineral rights owners?

CK: So here's where technology is really helping us. New technologies give the industry the ability to change the location of where they drill and still be able to access minerals that are quite a distance away, so we can-

RW: You don't think this would be a taking?

CK: We can't take away the ability to access those resources, but technology gives the industry much more flexibility so that we can protect public health, safety, and welfare and still develop the resources. 

RW: And you want that control at the local level? Is that where you want the power for these setbacks, or would you like a statewide setback?

CK: The requirement to protect public health and safety needs to be at the state and the local level, and I think local jurisdiction should have the authority to make decisions around what's happening in their communities, particularly where it's close to schools and residential neighborhoods.

RW: To guns, and I want to remind people that you're listening to Colorado Matters. I'm Ryan Warner. We are speaking with the candidates for governor. Today it's Democrat Cary Kennedy, and on guns you've said you'd ban military style assault weapons. That includes the AR-15, one of the most popular recreational guns in the country, often though, involved in mass shootings. Would you just ban sales of new ones? Would it also mean taking those guns out of the hands of people who already have them?

CK: Yeah, so Ryan, as a mom, I have the same reaction as every parent, every grandparent in this country when we see the headlines about a school shooting, of sheer terror and horror for what those families are going through. We shouldn't have to live with that fear. The vast majority of gun owners in our state and in our country are law-abiding citizens who use their guns for law-abiding purposes.

RW: And who may own AR-15s.

CK: But for the narrow band of people who intend to do harm in as short of period of time as possible, we absolutely need to ban these weapons of war. They were never intended to be used on our streets in our communities, and it just creates too much risk that folks who want to do harm can get a hold of those weapons.

RW: And what about those who already have them?

CK: Well, I think we can talk about that. We need to make sure that they're safely protected; they're safely stored; that people who would intend to do harm aren't able to get their hands on those weapons.

RW: Would you take AR-15s, for example, out of someone's hands who already owns one today?

CK: I would ban these military style weapons.

RW: Going forward or retroactively.

CK: Going forward, and we'd have to talk about how we license or permit people who have them today.

RW: Okay. Earlier this year, a detective who was on Mayor Michael Hancock's security detail accused him of sexually harassing her. She provided suggestive texts that he'd sent in 2012. The mayor apologized, and back then the detective received a $75,000 settlement in another harassment matter. The city also paid hefty legal fees in connection with these cases, and it's come out that the city attorney was aware of the texts back then. You were Denver's Chief Financial Officer and Deputy Mayor. How much did you know about what was going on?

CK: Yeah, so, Ryan, I am saddened by the mayor's conduct. It was clearly inappropriate the texts that he sent, and I'm glad that he's publicly apologized. He has owned his conduct and his behavior. I was not aware of any of this at the time. I was the Chief Financial Officer for the city, and one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and we were running an awful lot of initiatives to manage growth in our city and make the investments in our libraries and our community centers, our neighborhoods, and the City Attorney's Office handled those personnel matters; I did not.

RW: Is it something in hindsight you wish you could have known, paid closer attention to, or do you see that it was not part of your role at that time?

CK: You know, there are a lot of personnel issues in a big organization like city government. I did not get involved in any of those individual cases. It wouldn't be appropriate. That's the role for the attorneys.

RW: You think that Mayor Hancock should keep his job?

CK: I think that Mayor Hancock's behavior in this was inappropriate. I struggle with this question. I think it's probably going too far to ask him to resign, but again, I don't think his conduct was appropriate.

RW: Finally, you and Democrat Donna Lynne are the only women in this race. Republican Cynthia Coffman failed to win enough votes at the recent State Assembly. Colorado's never had a female governor even though the state has historically had more women in its legislature than many other states, was early in giving women the vote. Have you given any thought to why there hasn't been a female governor?

CK: Yeah, you know, most people don't believe it. They can't believe a state as progressive as Colorado hasn't had a woman governor yet; 140 years of statehood, and I am inspired by the excitement and the momentum I see around the state to promote women into positions of leadership, not just in politics, not just in the public sector and elected office, but in the roles that they play in their communities, at school, and in the workplace, and on more corporate boards. It's exciting to see the women's movement this year, and I think this is the year we're gonna get it done.

RW: Thank you for being with us. We appreciate your time.

CK: Thank you, Ryan.

RW: Democrat Cary Kennedy who is running for governor. We're interviewing all the major party candidates before the primaries, and later this week we're scheduled to speak with Republican Doug Robinson. This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.