Doug Robinson has never run for public office before, but comes from a well-known political family. His uncle is former Massachusetts Gov. and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Robinson's grandfather was governor of Michigan and, he says, his inspiration. Robinson is a retired investment banker and founder of the nonprofit, KidsTek, which makes sure high-needs students have access to technology.
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 why he supports teachers walking out and protesting school funding:
"I think teachers have a right to do that. Absolutely. I know some in my party have said they should not have that right. They do. They have the right to express their views, and I support and am sensitive to their concerns. I have a son who's 25 years old now, last year he was 24; he was teaching in Denver. Guess where he was living? In my home because he couldn't afford rent in an apartment, and now he's moved out, but it is a concern. ... We need to spend more on education. We need to pay down that negative factor. I don't support a huge tax increase. I think we can be more efficient and get in our schools, the way we manage our schools, to get more money to the teachers, but we have to spend more on public education."
Before there was Obamacare there was Romneycare. Why Robinson sees neither as a solution to Colorado health care costs:
"This is an issue that I don't think the federal government has done a good job on solving. They've tried to solve it for 50 years. They haven't been able to do it. He came up with a plan for Massachusetts that I think is working for Massachusetts. We need a plan for Colorado, and it does include supporting Medicaid, but trying to, we should celebrate people coming off Medicaid when they have better jobs and better opportunities, but I think there's some changes we can make. I would look at managed care as a solution in Medicaid spending. Over 20 other states adopted that. I think there's some things we can do."
On the lack of funding for transportation, but not finding the money through taxation:
"There is a lack of funding. There is not the money in the budget, and we haven't prioritized our budget to spend on roads. It looks like we're going to have bipartisan agreement on prioritizing spending on roads, and the question is how do you fund it, and I think, what I've heard around the state, is that taxpayers want government to fund it without a tax increase. So I am in favor of a bond similar to the bonding proposal that's in the legislature right now, around $3.5 billion, and that means about $250 million a year of debt service over 20 years to pay those bonds. ... It is a significant down payment on improving the quality of our roads across the state. I think they may be right. Nine billion dollars, I believe, is their estimate over the next 20 years with the number of people moving here to Colorado and the needs that we have, and $3.5 billion is a significant down payment on that challenge."
Ryan Warner: You're with from Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. This year, Coloradans will elect their first new governor in eight years. We're meeting the candidates ahead of primaries that for the first time are open to all voters. Today, Republican Doug Robinson. We caught up with him a few weeks ago at a campaign stop.
Doug Robinson: Hi there. Oh my gosh.
Woman: Nice to see you again!
DR: How are you? Yeah, good to see you. Hi.
RW: Robinson was at a coffee shop in Firestone to speak with Republican voters. It's in Weld County, which President Trump won resoundingly in 2016. Doug Robinson has never run for office before but comes from a well-known political family. His uncle is former Massachusetts governor and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Robinson's grandfather was governor of Michigan and, he says, his inspiration.
DR: When I was a teenager, my dad left our family, and my grandfather kind of stepped in to provide adult male guidance in my life, and he came from nothing, was successful in business, was three-term governor of Michigan, and he believed that basically you make a success of yourself in the world, and you give back.
RW: Robinson, a retired investment banker, says it's now his turn to give back. At the coffee shop, he touted his business experience then asked for questions. They ranged from abortion, which Robinson opposes, to his view of homeschooling.
DR: Yeah, so, I believe in freedom and choice and empowering parents and kids to make the right decision. What's the right decision for them. And so, I believe in all forms of education. Traditional schools may be best for some families. That's really where my kids have gone, through a public elementary, middle, and high school. I've had four graduate from Cherry Creek High School, but that's maybe not best for every family, so we need public charter schools. We need freedom to do homeschooling. We need online opportunities.
RW: And Doug Robinson is in our studio now. Welcome to the program.
DR: Great. Thanks, Ryan. Great to be on.
RW: What's the single biggest problem facing Colorado, and how do you propose to solve it?
DR: It is roads. We have not invested in our roads, and we have to fix them now, and I'm sure all of your listeners, like I am, are tired of sitting in traffic in Metro Denver, but it's not just about traffic here. It is about across the state. If you drive I-76, which I did last week, you are basically bouncing the whole way there. I was driving from Ouray to Montrose two weeks ago and had to watch out for the washouts on the side of the road. We simply haven't invested in our infrastructure.
RW: Lawmakers, even as we speak, are debating how to send more money to transportation. There are those who would like a tax increase, including the business community, for instance. There are Republicans who say, "No! No tax increases. Let's do this through bonding." How would you pay for transportation? Do you think that there is a lack of funding, first off?
DR: There is a lack of funding. There is not the money in the budget, and we haven't prioritized our budget to spend on roads. It looks like we're going to have bipartisan agreement on prioritizing spending on roads, and the question is how do you fund it, and I think, what I've heard around the state, is that taxpayers want government to fund it without a tax increase. So I am in favor of a bond similar to the bonding proposal that's in the legislature right now, around $3.5 billion, and that means about $250 million a year of debt service over 20 years to pay those bonds.
RW: Isn't that a drop in the bucket if you look at the $9 billion backlog that the Colorado Department of Transportation says it has?
DR: No. It is a significant down payment on improving the quality of our roads across the state. I think they may be right. Nine billion dollars, I believe, is their estimate over the next 20 years with the number of people moving here to Colorado and the needs that we have, and $3.5 billion is a significant down payment on that challenge.
RW: You say that there's not an appetite for a tax increase and yet you speak to people's frustration. What makes you say in opposition to many in the business community that now is not the time for a tax increase?
DR: I think a tax increase is, the tax increase, whether it's sales tax or gas tax, are regressive. They hurt those at the bottom of society. They hurt those in the rural areas, if it's a gas tax, that are driving more distances. I think funding our infrastructure is a fundamental role of government. We can do it without taxes. We can find the money in the general fund to pay the debt service on the bonds.
RW: And what happens if the economy goes south?
DR: We still have that obligation, so it's about, it's about $250 million a year. That's on a $30 billion budget that we have, so we're talking less than one percent in terms of an annual commitment to this problem with our roads. Longer term, maybe we do need to look at some new forms of funding, but right now, this is the right solution, I believe.
RW: You've said roads a lot. What role would transit or alternative transportation play if you become governor?
DR: Those are important, too. We absolutely have to support RTD and the projects that they're doing. We need to get the lines built. The one that's going up through Arvada where they have people sitting at the stops because of federal regulation when they haven't even built it. I mean, they built it, but there's no trains going on it to comply, so absolutely, all forms of transportation are important.
RW: You co-founded an investment bank in Denver that raised money, principally, for technology companies. You later sold it to a global firm. You're also founder of the nonprofit KidsTek, whose goal is to make sure that high needs students have access to technology and technology literacy. And you've said that you're uniquely qualified to help the state prepare for the jobs of the future in areas like robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality. [inaudible] Do specifically, talk to me about what you see as the jobs of the future.
DR: Those jobs, I saw as I walked in that this is the Rutt Bridges Building, and he is a leader in talking about autonomous vehicles and how that's going to transform. You've probably had him on your show.
RW: This is someone who made the building we are sitting in possible and has talked a lot about autonomous vehicles, for instance.
DR: Right. So, that's part of we are going to see technology change every aspect of our lives. We have an opportunity to be a real leader, and it is through bringing our businesses more engaged with our high schools and our universities to really have internships, have those sorts of opportunities to bring kids into those businesses so they're prepared for those jobs.
RW: Okay, you'd like stronger alliance between business and public education?
DR: Yes, I would.
RW: Talk to me about these teacher walkouts lately. Do you support them?
DR: I think teachers have a right to do that. Absolutely. I know some in my party have said they should not have that right. They do. They have the right to express their views, and I support and am sensitive to their concerns. I have a son who's 25 years old now, last year he was 24; he was teaching in Denver. Guess where he was living? In my home because he couldn't afford rent in an apartment, and now he's moved out, but it is a concern.
RW: Should the state be spending more money on education? We can say for sure that it's not spending what it's constitutionally committed to under Amendment 23.
DR: Yes. We need to spend more on education. We need to pay down that negative factor. I don't support a huge tax increase. I think we can be more efficient and get in our schools, the way we manage our schools, to get more money to the teachers, but we have to spend more on public education, yes.
RW: You don't support a huge tax increase or you don't support any tax increase?
DR: I don't support a tax increase now.
RW: Okay. You know, there are those in government now, perhaps on both sides of the aisle, who say you're expecting a lot of efficiency out of a government that is restricted by measures like TABOR, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. If there was so much money to find already, don't you think Republicans in the legislature might have found it or the governor might have found it already?
DR: I recall last year the House members came up with about four or five hundred million dollars of suggested savings in government, so I think there is some efficiencies. Unlike some of my Republican opponents, I don't think there's billions of dollars of efficiencies in the budget, but just one percent on a $30 billion budget, that's $300 million, I believe we can find some of those efficiencies to, yes, invest more in our education and in our roads.
RW: I want to talk about TABOR specifically because there are candidates on the Democratic side of this race who would like some changes to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. It does seem like you'd be open to room for compromise because you've said in the past, for instance, that you would've signed a bill that took a fee out from under TABOR and freed up money for roads and schools. This was kind of clunkily referred to as the Hospital Provider Fee. I don't want to get into the nitty gritty, but do you think there's room for compromise on TABOR restrictions, or would you like to see TABOR stay as is?
DR: I think there's room for discussion about all issues, and, yes, what I am committed to about TABOR is the spending cap and the requirement that we have transparency in government meaning that we have to go to the voters to get tax increases approved. Those are-
RW: Well that's the meat of TABOR.
DR: ... the fundamental things that I am committed to protecting. Yes.
RW: Okay. So it sounds like you wouldn't support any major changes to TABOR.
RW: Okay. You're listening to Colorado Matters. I'm Ryan Warner, and we're continuing our conversations with the men and women who want to be Colorado's next governor. Right now that's Republican Doug Robinson. As we said earlier, you are related to former Massachusetts governor and 2012 presidential nominee for the Republicans, Mitt Romney. He is scheduled to campaign for you in Colorado this month, but I bring him up in a different context, and that's healthcare. So, as governor of Massachusetts, Romney led the rollout of what was essentially Obamacare before Obamacare. It was dubbed RomneyCare. Required people to buy health insurance. That state expanded Medicaid to cover the poor. These are all things Republicans have largely fought. Where do you differ from Mitt Romney on healthcare, who I believe is one of your largest donors.
DR: Yes. I'm grateful for that, and he is coming to support my race. So, I think each state ... This is an issue that I don't think the federal government has done a good job on solving. They've tried to solve it for 50 years. They haven't been able to do it. He came up with a plan for Massachusetts that I think is working for Massachusetts. We need a plan for Colorado, and it does include supporting Medicaid, but trying to, we should celebrate people coming off Medicaid when they have better jobs and better opportunities, but I think there's some changes we can make. I would look at managed care as a solution in Medicaid spending. Over 20 other states adopted that. I think there's some things we can do. This bill that was not passed last week out of committee around price transparency, I think that's a step in the right direction. There's a lot we can do in Colorado to reduce our healthcare costs.
RW: Do you think that there should be the individual mandate, the requirement to buy health insurance in Colorado?
DR: I do not. I do not support that. I think people make their own decisions. We provide access and care and opportunity, but I don't support the individual mandate.
RW: Okay, so that separates you from RomneyCare in Massachusetts, for instance.
RW: On Medicaid, would you roll back the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare?
DR: Really hard to roll things back, right? What we need to do is provide, change the incentives, so I would look at things, as I said, like managed care. I would look at maybe increasing the copays or doing what Indiana did. They now charge a small premium to their Medicaid folks every month. It's from $8 to $18 a month, and it makes a difference in terms of how those people consume healthcare.
RW: Should there be a work requirement for those in Medicaid?
DR: Yes. A work or, not for those that are elderly or kids or disabled, but those that are able-bodied, they should be looking for work or working or volunteering. Yes, I believe that's fair to ask them.
RW: I want to ask that question with the context that there are many on Medicaid in Colorado who are working [crosstalk] poor.
DR: Most of them, working two and three jobs, I think.
RW: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
DR: Yeah, this is a challenge in that we have a 2.9 percent unemployment rate yet we have almost 1 in 4 Coloradans on Medicaid. I've met with many of them. They're working two and three jobs just to try to make it, so we need to have economic leadership to bring back to the technology jobs, higher paying jobs, opportunities for them to lift themselves off of Medicaid.
RW: Does it make sense to have states individually tackling healthcare, which is usually a market that benefits from economies of scale?
DR: It does because the federal government has not shown that they can solve it, and I don't have any confidence in their ability to do it going forward. Just the political pressures are too great. The power of the pharma and hospital and other lobbies are really, it's hard to overcome.
RW: A poll conducted in January revealed that immigration is the top issue for Republicans in Colorado. You and the other Republican candidates in this race have spoken out against sanctuary cities, for instance, but I want to ask you about the coming census. The Trump administration wants to ask about people's citizenship. Colorado's governor, it was revealed yesterday, is suing to stop that for fear that it may lead people to avoid census, filling it out. Do you think the census should ask about citizenship?
DR: I do. I think we have to have an accurate picture of what's going on in our country, and I'm sensitive to that concern though about people not participating. We need to make sure that there's no penalty or impact for them doing it. We want to encourage everybody to participate, but we need to know who's legal and who's not in this country.
RW: And how do you think you achieve both goals? That is to get a full picture of the country and count as many people as thoroughly as possible, and yet ask about citizenship which, certainly unto this administration, is a loaded question these days.
DR: Yeah. It's loaded because they're concerned that they're going to get deported, and I think we need to make clear that, in Colorado at least, we're not rounding up illegals and shipping them back. I do believe that sanctuary cities are not the right approach and that those people that have committed jailable offenses should be turned over to ICE, and that should be made clear throughout our immigrant communities; that we welcome them. We want them to have a future and a part in our society, but they need to become citizens, and if they've broken laws and they're not citizens, then they need to be handed over to our federal immigration authorities.
RW: What's the lowest level offense you think there should be that kind of state/federal cooperation or local/federal cooperation?
DR: I don't know exactly, but maybe a DUI or something like that. I was asked about that on 9NEWS, and I think that makes sense.
RW: To guns for a moment, and a proposal that's often called the red flag warning, it would allow judges to take guns from people who are believed to be a danger to themselves or others, at least temporarily. You said at a debate in March that you favor this idea, and a bill to accomplish this was introduced at the legislature with bipartisan support. A few hours later though, there was some talk about Republicans removing a key leader in their party who had supported this idea. Feelings seem to run strong among Republicans about this. What do you think of this red flag bill and where it puts you among other Republicans?
DR: Well, I am supportive of it. I believe that looking at, look at law enforcement. I tend to, I have worked a lot with law enforcement over the last few years on legislation that has been passed around drug policy, and I know these guys. I know the Sheriff of Douglas County, and he's for it. George Brauchler is for it. I tend to be for it, but you have to, you can't-
RW: George Brauchler, District Attorney.
DR: You can't take away people's constitutional rights, and that's where you have to have due process in this. We have to ensure, and I need to make sure that these red flag laws do not restrict, arbitrarily take away people's rights; that there is due process because we do have a constitutional right to carry arms, our Second Amendment, and I'm supportive of that.
RW: Let's move on to marijuana, which actually is a big issue for you. You are a key player in a group called Smart Colorado, whose mission is to protect youth from marijuana. You say many adults with medical marijuana cards are really just recreational users who like paying the lower taxes on medical pot, and so you would require those cards to be given out by a doctor that the patient has an existing relationship with, and so with more people, presumably in that plan, paying recreational taxes, you'd spend more on educating kids about the dangers of pot. Help us understand. How would you move more people to the recreational marijuana market if they, presumably, have a relationship with a doctor right now who gave them a card?
DR: Right now they have an annual requirement to have a card that's an annual card, and so I wouldn't make any, force anybody. I would just say, "Listen, the dispensaries cannot have these relationships with the pot doctors who are mostly prescribing pot." If you have a regular doctor who is, you've had a relationship for a while, and he says this is the right thing for you, I think Colorado, we could be a leader. There is beginning to be real proof that CBD is effective in helping a lot of diseases. We should be a leader; we should be promoting that, but we should take those people that are using high THC marijuana in the medical side, put them in the recreational side, let's get those tax revenues.
RW: How would you establish whether someone has a relationship that's valid or not?
DR: We need to bring our physicians together and really figure out what's the right plan to be able to do that, and sure, there's going to be a little bit of gray area there, but I think a large number of people have gone to these dispensary-tied doctors and paid $100 or $200 for a red card for back pain. I think they should be paying the recreational taxes.
RW: We have less than a minute. I want to point out that Colorado has had only one Republican governor in the lastfour decades, Bill Owens from '99 to 2007. This is a state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. President Trump's approval rating is at about 41%. What makes you think this year could be different for a Republican?
DR: It's going to be a tough lift for any Republican. I think I have the best chance. I am a pragmatic problem solver. I stepped in to solve issues on difficult, had the courage to come in on difficult ideas and solve these problems, so I think I have a real chance if I win the nomination, which I expect to, and in June I need your support. I need you to go to DougForColorado.com.
RW: Spoken like someone running for office. Doug Robinson, thank you for being with us. We appreciate it.
DR: Thank you so much.
RW: This is Republican Doug Robinson running for governor. We are interviewing all the major party candidates before the June 26th primaries, and next week we're scheduled to speak with Democrat Donna Lynne and Republican Greg Lopez.