Donna Lynne's run for the Democratic nomination for governor is her first campaign, but not her first foray into public service. Gov. Hickenlooper appointed Lynne to the lieutenant governor post in 2016, and she also serves as Colorado's chief operating officer. Lynne spent 20 years working in various New York City government roles before moving to Colorado in 2005 to serve as a Kaiser Permanente executive.
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.
On how she would open a state health plan as governor, similar to the one that failed to pass the legislature last year:
"We actually tried to get this done in the legislative session last year, and didn't succeed. ... So, I would continue that work, and my experience having been a purchaser of health care for a large employer is when you've got a lot of purchasing clout, you can influence the design of care, you can influence the price of care. By making the state as a purchaser a bigger pool, I think we can have much more effective conversations with doctors, hospitals, health plans and pharmaceutical companies.
What you typically do is you look at the risks of different populations, and then those local governments would pay a little bit more, possibly, if they were riskier populations. But they don't need to get into the business of running their health plans, and negotiating with the health plans. When the state is a large purchaser, it can do all that for them and take out some of the administrative expenses."
On how she would increase funding for transportation:
"Our general fund doesn't pay for transportation. It comes from the gas tax. I think as most people know, the gas tax hasn't been increased in decades, and our cars are more efficient. We actually are shrinking the amount of money that's available for our roads and our bridges. There's no question we need to increase the funding for transportation. Unlike the education conversation, the stakeholder work has been being done for years, and there is consensus ... (among) metro mayors, as well as the business community, and the legislature.
... The voters have the right to make this decision for us, and I prefer that the voters make that decision on the tax issue and we address it now. Bonding is just kicking the can down the road, because we're going to have to pay for that anyway. "
On the need for gun control and "Red Flag" laws in Colorado:
"I have not thought about whether it should be retroactive or not. I mean, we have a Second Amendment, we have a lot voters in this state that are Democrats, Unaffiliateds, as well as Republicans, who are gun owners. This is really a conversation to me not about particular weapons, it's a conversation about what's an epidemic right now? We have an epidemic around gun violence that we need to address in more ways than just getting rid of weapons.
I don't think that I've really given that a whole lot of thought, and as we've had the conversation in the legislature as well around the Red Flag laws, I know some people have said it's about property rights. It's not about property rights. It's about protecting people."
Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I am Ryan Warner. Not all the candidates for governor this year have other full time jobs, but Donna Lynne has one, and then some.
Donna Lynne: Good afternoon. It's great to see so many of you –
RW: Lynne is Colorado's Lieutenant Governor and chief operating officer. That means a lot of appearances, like one last week in a ballroom at the Colorado Convention Center, where she handed out an award in her boss's name.
DL: The Governor's Award for Work Site Wellness goes to Children's Hospital Colorado.
RW: She posed for photos with the winners, and then stepped off the stage to put on her candidate hat, hustling across 14th Street to meet with some of her campaign chairs. Her run for the democratic nomination in 2018 is actually Lynne's first campaign.
DL: It is hectic. It's energizing though, because you do get to meet so many people, and that's part of what propelled me into thinking about doing it.
RW: When Governor John Hickenlooper picked her as his Deputy two years ago, she said she had no plans to run when his term expired. Yet, here she is, hoping to become the first female governor of Colorado. Despite the fact that she's so visible, traveling to every county as lieutenant governor, Lynne has struggled to show people her real personality. Her first campaign ad, released last week, shows her getting a tattoo, which isn't her first.
DL: This one means “Be bold,” and now I'm getting another.
RW: The new one is on her shoulder. It says, "Fight for Colorado." This is her adopted state, but she said she has always had some fight in her.
DL: My personality was probably formed by being a young woman in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and having been told a lot of times no. "No, you can't do that," or there wasn't support for doing that. I think I set out to defy some of the expectations that people had of me as a young girl in that era. I've always been wanting to be a little bit of a pioneer. Maybe that ties back to what you're saying, which is being the first woman governor of Colorado, but I didn't set out on that path in any way.
RW: We'll talk more about the path that led her here. Donna Lynne is in our studio. Welcome to the program.
DL: Good morning.
RW: First off, what's the biggest problem facing Colorado? What would you do to solve it?
DL: I think the biggest problem that I've related to and experienced is that there are different types of people in this state, and different experiences that they are having. Whether it's around our economic recovery or it's around the challenges of working families, we talk at a very high level about the success in Colorado. But not everybody's experiencing that. I feel that very personally, having been a daughter of working class parents, and somebody who's struggled for a lot of her life.
RW: You're painting a picture of two Colorados that have a very different experience. With a focus on those who are struggling, what would you do as governor to make their lives better? Be specific for me. What about their lives do you think needs improving?
DL: I think I've worked on a number of issues that I think could actually impact their lives, and hopefully as governor, I will continue that work. Certainly, affordability of housing and health care, I think are the two biggest issues that a lot of working families have to tackle. Some differences are geographic, rural versus urban. But even within our urban areas, we've got people who are making $9 an hour, and struggling to find health care, struggling to find housing and struggling to pay for child care. Those are, to me, the key issues.
I've outlined a few things that I would like to do, that include providing for more childcare tax credits and for more childcare, trying to work really hard on that issue of affordable health care, which I've done for the last pretty much 40 years of my life as well.
RW: I want to unpack these issues. So we'll get to affordable housing in particular a bit later, but let's talk about health care. I think this is a nice time to transition into your biography a bit, because you came to Colorado from the east coast 13 years ago to run Kaiser's health care operation in Colorado. Before that, you had worked for the City of New York, and also in health care there.
You boasted a bit in your first campaign ad, which came out last week, that governor Hickenlooper asked you to lead on health care, and that the uninsured rate has come down by half. But that was largely accomplished with the Medicaid expansion, which happened before you joined the administration. Since you came on, there have been a lot of ideas, but what's the biggest thing, give us one thing you've accomplished that will affect Coloradans' health care in the future, and presumably its affordability?
DL: It is affordability, but affordability is not one issue that stands on its own. One of the biggest issues that you know that we have in Colorado is a mental health crisis. Having been in public health my whole life and worked on this, we've got to tackle mental health.
We've got to make sure that we do it in a way that it isn't in isolation. It's part of the conversation every doctor has, that we have in our schools, that we have no matter where we are, to recognize that some of the issues that we have, whether it's gun violence, suicide rates, etc. are about mental health.
RW: But where have you been able to move the needle as lieutenant governor?
DL: So we actually got a $65 million grant from the federal government through a program called The State Innovation Model. I know it sounds wonky, but it has allowed us and the people who work directly for me, to go out and work with primary care doctors and talk about how they can incorporate recognition and treatment of behavioral health in their offices. So $65 million has gone out to thousands of physicians in our communities to help them.
RW: That cost $65 million to tell doctors to ask about people's mental health?
DL: Oh sure. We've got thousands and thousands of doctors, and we need to give them the tools to be able to take care of mental health issues.
RW: In this campaign, you favor opening the State Employee Health Plan to small businesses, to areas of the state with high costs, and to local governments. What would opening the State Health Plan to a broader audience accomplish?
DL: Yeah. We actually tried to get this done in the legislative session last year, and didn't succeed. We had some republicans who supported us, but the committee process didn't allow it to move forward. So, I would continue that work, and my experience having been a purchaser of health care for a large employer is when you've got a lot of purchasing clout, you can influence the design of care, you can influence the price of care. By making the state as a purchaser a bigger pool, I think we can have much more effective conversations with doctors, hospitals, health plans and pharmaceutical companies.
RW: Related to the bill last year that did not succeed, analysts at the legislature said, "Opening that state plan to others might increase health benefit premiums paid by all other state agencies, which could increase costs from the general fund." Is that worth it?
DL: First of all, I don't accept that that could happen. What you typically do is you look at the risks of different populations, and then those local governments would pay a little bit more, possibly, if they were riskier populations. But they don't need to get into the business of running their health plans, and negotiating with the health plans. When the state is a large purchaser, it can do all that for them and take out some of the administrative expenses.
RW: You dispute that that would raise costs –
DL: I absolutely.
RW: For the state.
RW: Okay. I want to talk about education. There have obviously been teacher walkouts in Colorado, in Pueblo. As we speak, teachers and paraprofessionals are striking. The current governor said during the teacher protests last month that you and he would try to restore the $1 billion roughly shifted from education to the rest of the state budget during the recession. Do you support a tax increase to raise more money and close that gap?
DL: I think we've got to ask the people about a tax increase, and-
RW: So you would favor going to voters what, this election?
DL: I think it's premature, this election. One of the things that the governor and I did about a year ago was we issued an executive order, and we built a stakeholder process. We've got Republicans, Democrats, teachers, principals, superintendents, business people, and we've been meeting for the last year to try to build some consensus around what do we want to look like as a state? What's our vision when it comes to education?
RW: Do you think that there needs to be more consensus built before you can go to the ballot?
RW: It's not there yet.
DL: I don't think this is a 2018 issue. This is a 2019 issue, once we build that consensus. We are in the process of doing that right now.
RW: On transportation, you do want to see a tax passed sooner than later. That, of course, requires voter approval in Colorado. As the legislative session winds down, I'll note it's not clear what the backup idea is. Republicans say the state can leverage money it already has to make a good dent in an estimated $9 billion backlog to repair and build roads and bridges. What have you seen firsthand, being at the highest level of state government, that tells you there's just not enough money already available to make transportation improvements, and it leads you to believe a tax increase is necessary?
DL: The first thing is really simple. Our general fund doesn't pay for transportation. It comes from the gas tax. I think as most people know, the gas tax hasn't been increased in decades, and our cars are more efficient. We actually are shrinking the amount of money that's available for our roads and our bridges. There's no question we need to increase the funding for transportation. Unlike the education conversation, the stakeholder work has been being done for years, and there is consensus –
RW: The business community is active in the transportation tax, potentially?
DL: Absolutely. And metro mayors, as well as the business community, and the legislature. Remember, this was Senate Bill I, which implies a lot of energy and consensus around the needs. I think what we've got to do hopefully in the next three days is see that process through. We have made a commitment to add general fund money, but also recognize that there is either bonding or taxes that need to go forward.
RW: Either bonding or taxes. Where you do prefer energies be spent?
DL: I think that there is, the voters have the right to make this decision for us, and I prefer that the voters make that decision on the tax issue and we address it now. Bonding is just kicking the can down the road, because we're going to have to pay for that anyway.
RW: Okay. You mention frequently on the campaign trail, that when you were in the private sector, in your words, you brought jobs to Colorado from California in part because California was too expensive and congested, so people didn't want to live there anymore. Doesn't that sound like Colorado now? How do you avoid that kind of congestion here? Is it just building more roads?
DL: I think there is an extreme of California, Colorado has certainly seen some increases, but not at the rate California has certainly a personal income tax, a 14 percent is also an incentive to move jobs from California to Colorado, where we have a 4 percent state income tax rate. One of the things that I think in my campaign, and that I have observed, is we need a planning process that talks about transportation with housing, and with economic development.
We often don't do them. We take them in silos, and I know myself when I lived on the east coast, I had to make an economic decision about where I lived because I had a husband and two children living in a one bedroom apartment. The trade-off was finding more affordable housing, but adding to my commute of an hour.
RW: What would you plan to do about that? How do you avoid that kind of congestion? What does it look like under a Lynne administration?
DL: I think encouraging people to live close to where there's transit right now is one option. Many, many cities use transit a lot more than we do here in Colorado. But we also have to work on affordable housing so that if you're making that kind of a trade-off, you're recognizing how important it is to maybe spend a little bit more on one versus the other.
RW: I'll say that you want to create a state-wide office, if you will, or function in state government to address affordable housing in a $25 million fund that would go along with it. We've just talked about how hard it is to find money already for infrastructure, education. Where are you going to get the money to create a new bureaucracy like that, a new fund?
DL: Well $25 million, I don't think, is a lot of money. Quite frankly, the investment is going to pay off in multiples for people who right now are in fact starting to leave Colorado, and businesses that are starting to have conversations around where should they locate jobs. It is a small investment that we're going to make around our housing fund.
We are going to also focus, as you say, integrating economic development, housing and transportation with some things that we know about our population, which is it's getting older. That has some big implications for our state budget as well.
RW: You are less ambitious than some of your democratic opponents when it comes to a goal for renewable energy, whereas one of them has said he wants Colorado to be 100 percent renewable by 2040. You've said that's unrealistic, that the legislature would never go for it.
It just reminds me that for people who are having a hard time distinguishing between you and Governor Hickenlooper, that may come as a red flag. I mean, he's known not so affectionately among environmentalists, as Governor Frackenlooper. What do you say to those voters who are worried that you'll continue a record they don't see as progressive on this?
DL: I want to unpack a few questions that you have in that. One is I am a doctorate in public health, so I care deeply not only about public health issues, but as an outdoors person, also about our environment. I think what you'll find in this race, and hopefully voters understand this, I'm not a politician. Therefore, I'm not going to make statements that I can't stand behind.
I completely support the transition to 100 percent renewable, or whatever it becomes, 97 percent renewable. I don't think it's responsible to pick an arbitrary date that's outside the term of the governor. This governor will be a governor from 2019 to 2027 –
RW: Yeah, but should governors be thinking about their legacy beyond when they leave office?
DL: Absolutely, but where's the plan? I think one of the things I'm finding as somebody who's devoted her life to public service, but not in a political frame, is that politicians say a lot of things to get elected. That's not, that’s just not the way that I am. I do think we have to have a plan, much as I oversee now, to make sure that our air quality is better, that our drinking water is better. We, as you know, adhere to the Paris Climate Accords, and made that announcement this past July. I am absolutely committed to staying on that track, and to working to move towards more renewable energy. We've all got to do that, but a hard and fast deadline, I think, is not only not responsible, but it doesn't even address what technology or other changes might happen in the meantime.
RW: Let's talk briefly about guns. You've said you'd sign a ban on assault-style weapons, with a split legislature. That's certainly, at this moment, not in the bag, but were it to get to your desk, would you want it to include the AR-15? It's one of the most popular recreational guns in the country, but one that has also been used in several mass shootings. Would it include the AR-15, yes or no?
DL: It would include the AR-15.
RW: Okay. Would you apply it retroactively, what to those who already possess the gun?
DL: I have not thought about whether it should be retroactive or not. I mean, we have a Second Amendment, we have a lot voters in this state that are Democrats, Unaffiliateds, as well as Republicans, who are gun owners. This is really a conversation to me not about particular weapons, it's a conversation about what's an epidemic right now? We have an epidemic around gun violence that we need to address in more ways than just getting rid of weapons.
RW: But you can't say here today what you'd do about those already in possession of these guns you'd like to ban.
DL: Yeah. I don't think that I've really given that a whole lot of thought, and as we've had the conversation in the legislature as well around the Red Flag laws, I know some people have said it's about property rights. It's not about property rights. It's about protecting people.
RW: I'm glad you brought up the Red Flag bill. This is the idea of creating a sort of gun restraining order for people who may be a harm to themselves or others. Its prospects do not look great heading into the state senate. There had been some discussion in your administration, in the Hickenlooper administration, of perhaps passing an Executive Order if the legislature doesn't act. Is that going to move forward if it doesn't?
DL: We will have those conversations. Obviously, putting something into law lives well beyond this current governor and it's always preferable to have something codified that way. That's where, as you know, some of the most conservative states have moved as well. Again, to me, it gets back to we know that many of the incidents in the past, whether it's been suicide, or it's been about mass shootings have been people who have had multiple instances of people warning about their mental health. We really need to tackle that issue.
RW: So I'm not hearing clarity yet on whether an executive order would happen. It's not been decided at this point?
DL: It hasn't been decided because we haven't heard the fate of the bill, and we obviously have to consider what legally is enforceable.
RW: Do you think there's a special session looming with issues like PERA, transportation and Red Flag law pending here with –
DL: I think we are going to work as hard as we can over the next three days to make sure that we wrap up all of those issues in a manner that's satisfactory.
RW: If you were governor right now, would you want to sign an Executive Order to make Red Flag law happen?
DL: Only if it really had the same impact as the law itself. I would want it to be enforceable, and as I said, to succeed going forward.
RW: There are some who accused the current governor of not using the "bully pulpit" enough, of not getting out in front of legislation and saying, "This is what I want." Do you think that your leadership style would differ from John Hickenlooper's were you governor?
DL: You know, I think that, I've got a long history in working with labor unions, and negotiating labor contracts, working with Democrats, working with Republicans. It's pretty complicated. I think that you do run some risks when you get way far ahead of an issue, but I did that on health care last year, and I am proud of the work that we did, even though we got stopped by the Republicans because we were doing the right thing. The House Democrats, some of the Republicans in the Senate, to try to make sure health care was more affordable, more transparent, and offered to more people. There are some key issues like health care, and the housing, and education that I think a governor need to be very aggressive on.
RW: More aggressive than the current one?
DL: I think so. We've talked a little bit about how I might differ from Governor Hickenlooper, but you never know until those shoes are on how hard it is to make some of the tough decisions that he's had to make.
RW: So, you would make state history if you become governor, because you'd be the first woman to do so in Colorado. I want to ask about your approach to that. Recently, you got a tattoo on your shoulder, this is for a TV ad, and the tattoo says, "Fight for Colorado." You told The Denver Post you picked that language because that's what a strong governor needs to do. I wonder, do you feel you have to prove your toughness somehow?
DL: I think my toughness speaks for itself. I am a single mother for 26 years. I worked my way through college. I am a product of the public school system. I didn't have a lot of advantages that many other people had, and I really relate to average working Coloradans. I've survived in some very difficult environments, both in the public sector and the private sector, and had leadership roles where I was often the only woman, or maybe one of two women, in the room. I don't think I have to prove anything. I happen to like challenges, whether it's climbing all the fourteeners, or jumping out of an airplane.
RW: What was the tattoo about for you?
DL: It was about demonstrating and I think when you have a tattoo, and I know they're controversial to some people, you do sort of think about it. You see it every day, and it's part of your mantra. This is my adopted state, but I love it passionately, and it’s given me a lot, and I want to give back to it.
RW: Thanks for being with us.
DL: You're welcome. Thank you.
RW: Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne is running for the Democratic nomination for Governor. The primaries are June 26th. We're more than halfway through these conversations with all the major party candidates who've qualified for the ballot. Republican Greg Lopez is next. He's scheduled to be here tomorrow.