Republican candidate for governor Greg Lopez at the CPR studios Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

Greg Lopez made the news in 1992 when he was elected mayor of Parker at age 27 -- the youngest Colorado mayor ever. At the time, the Air Force veteran was also a Democrat. Lopez has since become a Republican, and served as a director for the U.S. Small Business Administration in Colorado.

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 how he would approach raising funds for transportation projects across the state:

"It's interesting that every time we have a challenge, people feel that what we need to do is raise taxes and raise money. I really don't believe that we really analyze all the different options that are available to us. Now, there is going to be a point in time where we might have to look and say, hey, we need to either bond, we need to look at taxes, and those types of things.

So I'm not saying that that's off the table. What I'm saying is that we really need to evaluate, where is this money going and how is it being used, before we have that conversation. Because here's some of the concerns that I have. A lot of people just want to raise the sales tax to help raise, to build roads and to get more money for transportation. A lot of communities, like Sterling and La Junta and some of the rural areas cannot absorb an increase in the sales tax. So we need to make sure that when we make decisions, we're looking at the entire 64 counties."

On how he would adjust the state's Medicaid and other health care programs to reach more Coloradans:

"Now let me tell you, from some of the situations I've seen in Pueblo, Colorado, there's clinics ... to provide health care, true health care to individuals. And Medicaid and all those problems that we have, that's not health care, that's a means by which we pay for health care. So we need to truly understand, how do we provide quality health care. And what we're talking about is making sure that we're providing the needs of the patient, not how are we paying for the services.

One of the first things that you have to remember about the Medicaid expansion is that in order for you to qualify, you have to live in poverty. So I'm going to tell you there are way too many people living in poverty here in Colorado. And I want to look at, why are we expanding that because I'm told, and I don't know, not until I get there, but I'm told that there's a lot of people that are qualified working and hard workers that can afford health care, but aren't doing that."

On how he will overcome currently being the least-financed candidate in the gubernatorial race:

"I think what I'm focusing in on is not the money ... I'm focused on my message, connecting with the voters of Colorado, making sure that they understand that I care about what their struggles are, that I care about their future. And I'm going to go as far as the Lord wants to take me, and for me, it's not all about the money. It's about making sure that we're representing the right message for everyone because it is about all of us, not just some of us. And I am the only candidate that talks about the 64 counties and making sure that people understand that there are families scattered across the state of Colorado.

... Money doesn't buy votes. The best marketing that you can have is word of mouth because that word of mouth makes sure that when people are talking in their living rooms or talking in their backyards, people are respecting the opinion of others. And so money, we need, there's no question about that. Okay? But for those that say money buys votes, I would say that they don't understand how the voter truly looks at the election cycle."

Full Transcript

Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters, from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. We're introducing you to the candidates for governor, ahead of primaries that are open to any voter. You don't have to be a member of a party. Today, Republican Greg Lopez. He invited us to join him over the weekend, at a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Denver's Civic Center Park.

Lopez, the only Hispanic candidate in the race, used to be mayor of Parker, but it was his time in the Air Force that sparked a conversation with a voter who passed by his booth. Rebecca Monokolis of Littleton told him her father is also an Air Force veteran.

Greg Lopez: What did your dad do?

Rebecca Monokolis: He was a fighter pilot, and he was stationed in Elmendorf, Alaska.

GL: Oh, wow. You know what? I was a weapons specialist. So I would have loaded --

RM: So you helped --

GL: I would have loaded his entire --

RM: You made him good.

GL: Yeah.

RM: Wow.

GL: I would have loaded all his ammunition, making sure that if he wanted to hit something, it was going to work.

RW: Veterans were also on Tracy Shaw's mind. She lives in Denver, now, but-

Tracy Shaw: I lived in the Springs. I worked for counselors who tried to help them. The guys that were in the military were scared to talk to counselors because it would get to their superiors.

GL: Right.

TS: So they wouldn't come in.

GL: Yeah.

TS: How are we supposed to help them, if they can't help themselves, because of fear?

GL: Right. We've got to change that whole narrative. One of the things that I heard from the chaplains and the people inside the military ... Because I asked them. I said, "What's changed?" And they said, "Greg, there was a day where it would take six months or five months to get them from the front lines, to get them home. And they would be able to self, kind of de-program themselves, right? They would talk about my story. You would share your story. Now, they're home within 48 hours."

RW: Their conversation turned to guns. Lopez thinks the 2nd Amendment keeps people safe. He says, like driver's licenses, one state should respect another's concealed carry permit. And back to the military, he thinks there should be open carry on bases and at recruiting centers. Tracy Shaw liked what she heard, that Lopez would protect her rights and freedoms, she says.

TS: Like guns, the right to own and have one. Talking about security. The right to have your privacy not taken away because they're afraid of what may happen. You know? Those are just a couple of things.

RW: Lopez is also a former director for the US Small Business Administration in Colorado, and he currently owns a restaurant in Aurora. And Greg Lopez is in our studio, welcome to the program.

GL: Well, thank you, thank you for having me.

RW: What is the greatest problem facing Colorado, and how would you solve it?

GL: You know, I think the greatest problem that's facing Colorado is just like the greatest problem that's facing our country. You know, we struggle in being able to have good dialogue and conversation, when we're looking to solve problems for the state. 

When you look at the actual issues that are being discussed, whether it's transportation, education, water, as you go across the entire state, I think we all share the same, common objective. And that is we all want to make Colorado a better state, and we want to make sure that everybody's future is the future that everybody's looking for. What I think right now is being able to have good conversation, making sure that we're looking to solve problems together.

RW: How does the governor fix that?

GL: Well, I think the governor can definitely set an example. You know, people have asked me, "Greg, what would you do the first hundred days, if you were governor?" And I tell them, "You know what? I don't know because I really haven't thought about the first hundred days. But I'll tell you what I'd do the first ten days."

And that is, I would invite the leadership of the general assembly to meet with me. But we wouldn't meet in the Capitol and we wouldn't meet in the governor's office. We'd meet on the 7th floor of the Denver Public Library. Now what's on the 7th floor is a table that was used at the Summit of 8, where the eight heads of state sat down to talk about the challenges. And what's unique about that table is it's a handcrafted table by a Coloradan, and the table is round. There is no right side, there is no left side. So when we sit at this table, we're going to work on solving problems for Colorado.

RW: Okay, you mentioned a few of the issues, there, education and transportation. We'll get to those in just a moment. I want to talk a little bit about your background. Your parents were migrant workers, harvesting crops, traveling from the Rio Grande valley in Texas all the way sometimes up to Michigan.

GL: That's correct.

RW: What was that like as a kid?

GL: You know, I don't remember much of it. I see pictures of me, my brothers out in the fields. But my mom and my dad tell us about the hard life that they had to do, how they used to make burritos underneath the trucks and how we would try to find shade, and those types of things. 

But from what I remember and from what they tell me, it was a hard life, but it was a family life. It brought family together.

RW: On the campaign trail, and right at the top of your website, Greg Lopez, you say that you're the only candidate with true government executive experience. That is a bold claim in a race with a state treasurer, a former state treasurer, and the current lieutenant governor. Can you tell me what you mean when you say that?

GL: Yeah. When I was mayor, I was elected at the age of 27.

RW: In Parker?

GL: In Parker. I was very fortunate because not only was I the mayor, but I was the city manager at the same time. It was a strong mayor form of government, so all the department heads reported directly to me. And so I was responsible for putting the budget together. I was responsible for seeing the day-to-day operations of the community. And I only voted if there was a split vote on council. So every issue that the town had to face, whether it's land use, zoning, residential development, transportation corridors, public service, or public safety, all those issues had to cross my desk as we moved forward in making Colorado the community that it is, today.

RW: You were a Democrat when you were elected mayor, weren't you?

GL: I was.

RW: What, briefly, would you say turned you into a Republican?

GL: I think I'm like most minorities. We all are Democrats because our mom and dads told us that we are Democrats because the Democrats look after the poor. But when I got elected, I was going to the schools, and the question I always get from the schools, or the students, was what party are you and why. And my answer was, I'm a Democrat because my mom and dad are. 

After a while, that answer didn't sit well with me. I decided that the students needed a better answer. So I studied the national platforms for both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. And after six months of reviewing the platforms, I determined that I was truly a Republican.

RW: Was there an issue, a part of your life, that you think sealed the deal?

GL: I think it's my upbringing. Being strong in family and faith and being conservative, watching our dollars. I come from humble beginnings, so I'm not a very extravagant spender. I make sure that whatever I buy, I hold on to, that I'm not wasteful with any things that I acquire. And I think those were the values that I really held on as a Republican.

RW: You talked about not necessarily having a specific vision for your first 100 days. Some might hear that and think, well, this is a man who lacks a plan, who lacks a vision. So let's get into some of the issues that you mentioned, education for instance. 

You're campaigning as the candidate who will represent all of Colorado's 64 counties. And when it comes to education, rural areas face teacher shortages. According to the National Education Association, while the average teacher salary in this state in 2016 was more than $51,000, the average pay is almost $30,000 less in rural areas. How would you address that?

GL: This is a question that everybody asks, as it pertains to the environment and the economy, and rural Colorado is totally different from urban Colorado. And unless you've traveled the 64 counties and actually been in those communities, it's really hard to truly understand the challenges that they're facing. I think one of the things that we need to remember is that the state gives money to the school districts. It's the school districts that look at their salaries, their benefits, and all those types of things. I think there is an imbalance on how we fund rural Colorado, when it comes to education. The real question that we should be asking is why is there a negative factor of $828 Million?

 

RW: This is something of an IOU, that the state issued to schools after the recession. It's all in the in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

GL: Well, I don't know that it's being paid down. When I look at the budget, I know I'm not seeing a whole lot of funds being funneled over there. But here's the thing, why is it that when you have a constitutional amendment, that the government believes that they should have an IOU to educate our children.

RW: There's a state constitutional amendment, Amendment 23, that guaranteed a certain level of funding for education. So would you back a tax increase on the ballot, for schools?

GL: No. I think what we need to do is look at making sure that we're paying back the educational funds that we borrowed.

RW: Where does that money come from in the state budget, Greg Lopez?

GL: The money is in the budget. What you have to do is you have to prioritize. See, I truly believe --

RW: So what gets cut? What gets scaled back to make sure that you pay down that IOU?

GL: I think what you have to do is first look at the totality of the budget. I'm going to tell you that in any government budget, there's a percentage of this fraud, waste, and abuse. And the reason I say that is because people don't spend other people's money as carefully as they spend their own. Until I see the entire operation of the government, you can look at a budget and you can look at the numbers, and you can ask how is this being spent, but one of the fallacies a lot of people don't understand is, you really have to have a conversation with people to understand how those programs are working.

RW: Are you saying there are hundreds of millions of dollars of fraud, waste, and abuse in Colorado's budget?

GL: I'm saying that there is a level of fraud, waste, and abuse. And it wouldn't surprise me to find out that there's ways that we can save more money to go into education. Let me give you a perfect example --

RW: Let me ask you this --

GL: But let me give you a perfect example. When I was mayor, I found out that at the end of the year, my department heads were spending money on paper and spending money on piles of things that really weren't mission-driven. When I asked them why they were spending that money, their response was, "well we have to spend all our money because if we don't spend all our money, then you will not only not give us what we spent last year, but you won't give us an increase." And that is the mindset of government, is that you have to spend every single dollar that you ask for. But --

RW: But don't you think that Republicans in the legislature, for instance, who presumably feel similarly to you about the budget, or frankly a governor who campaigned on cutting red tape, don't you think they would have found hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud, waste, and abuse?

GL: I think if they look for it, truly look for it, they would. But I think one of the things that happens and I've been in government before, so I can tell you this, if you don't find it right away, people will stop looking. But you ask questions because if you talk to the employees and you ask them, here on this radio station, if you were to ask some of the employees, where could we save money if we needed to, I bet you you would find five or ten ideas that you might be able to pursue to help save money.

RW: You're listening to Colorado Matters, I'm Ryan Warner, and we are continuing our conversations with the gubernatorial candidates. Today, it's Republican Greg Lopez. Do you think that there needs to be any new revenue, perhaps in transportation, for instance? So the legislature seems to have struck a deal that will send some more money to transportation that may result in bonding, but there are measures headed to the ballot, one of which might raise taxes for roads and bridges. Would you support that?

GL: It's interesting that every time we have a challenge, people feel that what we need to do is raise taxes and raise money. I really don't believe that we really analyze all the different options that are available to us. Now, there is going to be a point in time where we might have to look and say, hey, we need to either bond, we need to look at taxes, and those types of things.

So I'm not saying that that's off the table. What I'm saying is that we really need to evaluate, where is this money going and how is it being used, before we have that conversation. Because here's some of the concerns that I have. A lot of people just want to raise the sales tax to help raise, to build roads and to get more money for transportation. A lot of communities, like Sterling and La Junta and some of the rural areas cannot absorb an increase in the sales tax. So we need to make sure that when we make decisions, we're looking at the entire 64 counties.

RW: What do you think would be a better way to raise money for roads and bridges?

GL: Well, before I say there's a better way to raise money for roads and bridges, you know I used to sit on the board of E470. I understand transportation corridors.

RW: This is a toll road in the Denver area.

GL: Yeah, but what you have to look at, it's not about toll roads, it's about the cost of the road. How much does it cost to make sure that you have the environmental assessments done, the construction costs, the alignments, and all those types of things. And so it's not just about the cost, but it's looking at, how are we going to build these roads?

RW: I hear a lot of, we have to look at this, we have to study this, we have to evaluate this, from you. And not necessarily, here are the actions I would take.

GL: Because here's the deal. Right? Most politicians would like to tell you, this is how we're going to fix it. And then when they get in office, they realize that perhaps they didn't have all the information and all the ins and outs of what's going on. I've learned from being the mayor and being in government that if you really want to be honest, and if you really want to make sure that you represent the people, that you tell them that before you make a decision, before you look at the solution, you're going to look at all the options. Because it's easy to come up with, well let's raise taxes. It's easy to say, well let's do this. But until you truly understand the totality and the complexity of the problem, you really are just shooting from the hip.

RW: Your website says that when it comes to health care, the US is in the midst of a national debate, and that as governor, you'll advocate for "wherever this debate leads," but you don't offer any specific policies. Give me an idea you bring to the table on health care.

GL: Health care is something that we should all be able to afford. So the first question that you need to ask yourself, Ryan, is why is health care so expensive? No one's asking that question.

RW: Oh, I think lots of people are asking that question.

GL: Well, obviously no one's answering the question.

RW: How do you answer it?

GL: I think the way I answer it is, you know what? We need to find out, really truly find out, why does it cost so much to get an aspirin, why does it cost so much to get an x-ray.

RW: So do you have a policy to address that?

GL: Policies don't address those issues. It's conversations. See, Ryan, what you need to understand is that I'm a person that likes to gather information. Now let me tell you, from some of the situations I've seen in Pueblo, Colorado, there's clinics. There's clinics that are [inaudible] to provide health care, true health care to individuals. And Medicaid and all those problems that we have, that's not health care, that's a means by which we pay for health care. So we need to truly understand, how do we provide quality health care. And what we're talking about is making sure that we're providing the needs of the patient, not how are we paying for the services.

RW: Would you roll back the Medicaid expansion in Colorado?

GL: One of the first things that you have to remember about the Medicaid expansion is that in order for you to qualify, you have to live in poverty. So I'm going to tell you there are way too many people living in poverty here in Colorado. And I want to look at, why are we expanding that because I'm told, and I don't know, not until I get there, but I'm told that there's a lot of people that are qualified working and hard workers that can afford health care, but aren't doing that.

RW: You're saying that you know there to be a lot --

GL: No, no, that's not what I said. That's not what I said.

RW: You've heard.

GL: Yes. So let's not twist my words. That's what I'm hearing, and until I get there, I won't find out.

RW: Last year, you released a nine-minute video in which you and your wife, Lisa, discussed a domestic violence incident from 1993, when you were the mayor of Parker. You've said for your part that alcohol was at least partly to blame. You were charged with physical assault. Your wife was cited for harassment. What would you tell voters who hear that and worry about the temperament you'd bring to the job?

GL: Here's what I would tell them. I was a sitting mayor at the time. For eight weeks, I was in the newspapers, and I was on TV. I made a mistake, and I've learned from that. I think the true test of character of a person is if you make a mistake and you're able to stand tall and say, I learned from it. We've been married 30 years, and I was very young at the time. And like anybody else, you make errors. But I've learned from that. In the last --

RW: What have you learned from that?

GL: I've learned that you need to first remember that two individuals coming from different perspectives of life have a different way of looking at things. And so you need to slow down and ask a lot of questions because if you really care about someone, if you care about your marriage, you're going to work hard to, we've been to marriage counseling three times in our 30 years, and I would tell anybody that if you're struggling in your marriage, you need to go to counseling because there's nothing to be ashamed about when you're trying to preserve something that you truly care for.

RW: Was that incident about temper?

GL: No. It wasn't about temper, it was about more of a disagreement on what, our son was sick, okay? So we were trying to comfort him, both of them. Now this incident was not a long incident that lasted for hours. But here's the thing, it doesn't matter because domestic violence doesn't discriminate. It goes at every household, it can happen in every economic income level. 

And so what we want to do is, we don't want to hide from it. You know, a lot of people have said, "You know what, Greg, why don't you seal the file?" And I said, "No, we're not going to seal the file because this is who I am." It's made me a better Christian man. It's made me a better father. It's made me a better husband. And I've learned from those mistakes, and while I wish it hadn't happened, but I'm a better man for it, today, because of how I addressed it.

RW: You often make references to [inaudible] on the campaign trail, reconcile that with your [inaudible]] President Trump. It was revealed that $130,000 was paid on his behalf to an adult film star during the campaign. Trump, of course, was captured on tape making lewd remarks about women. Are those things you choose to overlook in support of his politics?

GL: I'm not sure how the connection about my spiritual belief and how President Trump is living his life kind of intersects.

RW: Well, I'm wondering if faith, which you've said often on the campaign trail is important to you, drives some of your political decisions? And even as a voter, for instance.

GL: I truly believe in my Lord and Savior. I believe that The Bible is something that really guides my life, as it pertains to how I treat others and how I look at situations. I'm not here to pass judgment on anyone, that's not my responsibility. We are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of our Creator, at least that's the way I look at it. And just like any brother or sister in any family, sometimes people make mistakes, and sometimes they make choices that we can't control. That doesn't mean that we don't respect them as individuals. There's a lot of people that we would like to see them do different situations or make different decisions, but we don't lose hope in humanity, and that's really what I stand for.

RW: In the latest round of campaign finance reports, which came out Monday, your monetary contributions total just over $16,000. You trail one of your opponents, Walker Stapleton, by more than $1.3 Million. How can you realistically overcome that?

GL: It's interesting, right? Everybody looks at the money, yet when we came out of the Assembly, he got 44 percent of the vote, and I got 33 percent of the vote. So it wasn't that big of a gap. You know, I think what I'm focusing in on, Ryan, is not the money and am I raising all the millions of dollars that everybody else has, I'm focused on my message, connecting with the voters of Colorado, making sure that they understand that I care about what their struggles are, that I care about their future. And I'm going to go as far as the Lord wants to take me, and for me, it's not all about the money. It's about making sure that we're representing the right message for everyone because it is about all of us, not just some of us. And I am the only candidate that talks about the 64 counties and making sure that people understand that there are families scattered across the state of Colorado.

RW: I'm not sure that's true, actually. I think Donna Lynne has talked about visiting all --

GL: Well, I can tell you I was the first to start talking about it.

RW: Of course, money buys commercials. Do you need those?

GL: Money doesn't buy votes. The best marketing that you can have is word of mouth because that word of mouth makes sure that when people are talking in their living rooms or talking in their backyards, people are respecting the opinion of others. And so money we need, there's no question about that. Okay? But for those that say money buys votes, I would say that they don't understand how the voter truly looks at the election cycle.

RW: Thank you for being with us.

GL: You betcha. Thank you for having me.

RW: Republican Greg Lopez is running for governor, and we're interviewing all the major party candidates before the primaries, which are open to all voters in Colorado. You can hear the conversations we've already aired and read transcripts at CPR.org. This is Colorado Matters.