Hart Van Denburg/CPR NewsRepublican Victor Mitchell has run six different companies, accruing enough wealth to self-fund his campaign to be the next governor of Colorado. He believes the single biggest issue facing the state is the cost of healthcare, and while he’s positioning himself as an outsider, he did serve a single term in the General Assembly, representing Castle Rock.
We’re asking each candidate for governor 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.
Mitchell on not supporting public school teachers who plan to walk of their jobs Thursday and Friday to protest pay and benefits:
"No, I don't think they're right to work out, but I do think, to walk out, but I do think they are terribly under-compensated. And I think that we should have a collective understanding where everything is on the table, including reforming PERA, asking possibly for summer schooling ... the public pension fund, the largest pension fund we have in our state is a $32 billion unfunded liability. So I think everything should be on the table. But there's no question we abysmally compensate, as far as salary goes, our educators. So that's why we have shortages of math and science teachers across the whole state, most especially in our rural communities. ... You have to look at the whole package. The way that it works right now is they have an extraordinarily generous retirement program but a very, very low annual wage. So we want, we have to look at everything. ... I don't think public pension, public employees should have the right to strike. I mean, that's just bad for our state. There's other ways, they have other benefits. We should be a completely at-will state, and I just don't support public employees walking out, especially teachers that provide critical services."
On wanting to replace the state's health insurance exchange, which serves about 8 percent of Coloradans, and rolling back the expansion of Medicaid, and how those people would get health care coverage:
"Insurance would be unchanged, they just wouldn't get it through Medicaid. ... I want to have full transparency in pricing, so if you go to any healthcare clinic or any hospital or any provider in our state, they have to tell you these are the cash prices, these are the insurance prices. I want to reduce mandates on insurance providers so they can have more customized insurance options for people. Then I want to basically use this excess funds that we currently are using for Medicaid expansion to provide entrepreneurial bloc grants to nurse practitioner clinics, physician-assistant clinics, mental health professionals. We would have a committee of medical professionals, retired doctors and nurses and the like, and they would study people's business plans. Then, if the state approved it, the state would fund up to 50 percent of their annual operating budget. If they didn't meet the key metrics that they had promised the state, then the following year they would lose the funding."
On why he would not support a ballot measure this year from the business community to raise taxes for transportation:
"I'm not supportive of any new taxes or any bond increases whatsoever. Matter of fact, I want to put our government on a diet. Let me be very specific. I'd put forward a plan to get $2 billion into roads and infrastructure without increasing taxes or fees by reforming the whole CDOT bureaucracy. I'm bringing in an outsider to limit their total overhead to no more than 20 percent. Right now about thirty cents of every dollar of CDOT's budget goes to contractors, the people that actually build our roads and infrastructure. I want to change that to 80 percent. I also want to deploy all their cash and cash equivalents that's on their books today, and I also want to change an obscure committee that's called the Legislative Audit Committee. Might change that from financial to performance-based auditing and to look for ways to drive waste and inefficiency out of state bureaucracy."
Read The Full Transcript
Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I am Ryan Warner. We're meeting the candidates for governor. In just two months, Coloradans will whittle down the field in primaries that are open to any voter. Today, we meet Republican Victor Mitchell of Castle Pines. My colleague, Nathan Heffel, caught up with him at Bluff's Regional Park for an afternoon walk with Mitchell's wife Amy, and their two golden retrievers.
Victor Mitchell: It's a wonderful hike. It's a three and a half mile loop. It has some of the best views in all of Colorado. I also get to know a lot of your neighbors on this hike. Been walking this hike for almost 20 years.
Nathan Heffel: Oh, really?
VM: It never gets old.
NH: How long have you lived in this area?
VM: Almost 25 years now, and I started a company here in Arapahoe County in January, 1996. Like many people, we came here, we didn't have any intention of staying. We just fell in love with Colorado. People have been so generous to our family, welcoming to our family. We didn't know a single person when we came here. Two of our three kids ended up being born here, and it's become our forever home.
RW: Mitchell has run six companies, accruing enough wealth to self-fund his campaign for Governor thus far. He says he started his first business at 21.
VM: You know, the reason I started that company was because I was paying my way through college as a limousine driver, as a chauffeur. I kept telling the owner of the company that he wasn't running his business right. I kept on saying, "You could do things better this way, and you can do things better that way." He said, "Mitchell, you're fired." So I figured the only way to get back at him was to start my own company. So, I started my own company when I was 21 years old. We were old enough to own the vehicles, but not old enough to drive them, because the insurance required 25 years or older. The irony of that story is the company that ultimately fired me, was ultimately the company that acquired me, many years later.
RW: Vic Mitchell is in our studio. Welcome to the program.
VM: Nice to meet you finally, and be in studio with you. Thank you for having me on.
RW: What's the single biggest problem facing Colorado, and what would you do to solve it?
VM: Well, the biggest problem facing Colorado is 40 percent of Coloradans have health insurance, but can't meet their deductibles or co-payments. So basically, we've got all these, We're a very healthy people, we have a lot of young people, especially here in the Metro area, and it's just criminal that the premiums are so high, the deductibles are so high, that if you could afford to pay the premiums, you often can't, don't have the cash to meet the deductible. So, we're basically paying for a service we can't use.
RW: When you say 40 percent of Coloradans, where is that figure coming from?
VM: That's coming from private insurance, looking at average people's savings that they have, and you're looking at the average deductibles. It comes out to close to 40 percent. There has not been a specific study. The Democrats love to talk about that 95 percent of Coloradans now have health insurance because of the Medicaid expansion. But, Medicaid doesn't work for most people. It's low quality, it's rationed care, most doctors won't accept Medicaid because the reimbursements are so low. So, Colorado needs healthcare solutions such as what I've put out there.
RW: Let me say that you proposed some key changes to how Coloradans receive healthcare.
RW: Namely, eliminating Colorado's health exchange-
RW: I'll say that as of January, around 8 percent of Coloradans were buying insurance through that marketplace. You would also roll back the expansion of Medicaid, which I would say, others would argue has brought more coverage to people. That expansion increased enrollment by 400,000 in Colorado. So how would those folks get insurance under the changes you'd make?
VM: Insurance would be unchanged, they just wouldn't get it through Medicaid. What they would get, we want, I want to have full transparency in pricing, so if you go to any healthcare clinic, or any hospital, or any provider in our state, they have to tell you these are the cash prices, these are the insurance prices. I want to reduce mandates on insurance providers so they can have more customized insurance options for people. Then I want to basically use this excess funds that we currently are using for Medicaid expansion to provide entrepreneurial bloc grants to nurse practitioner clinics, physician-assistant clinics, mental health professionals.
We would have a committee of medical professionals, retired doctors and nurses and the like, and they would study people's business plans. Then, if the state approved it, the state would fund up to 50 percent of their annual operating budget. If they didn't meet the key metrics that they had promised the state, then the following year, they would lose the funding. My vision is-
RW: The metrics, meaning affordability, for instance, access to care. But how are people who-
VM: It could be quality of care, it could be are they meeting the right patients, is the pricing transparent, are they delivering what they promised?
RW: Those who can't currently afford health insurance, and who rely on Medicaid, how are they paying under your view here?
RW: Right now, we have 26 percent of all Coloradans are on Medicaid. I mean, that's an astronomical number. More than 1 in 4 Coloradans. We only have 3 percent unemployed today. So right now, people who are on Medicaid are generally not just the working poor, these are basic, or it used to be set up, Medicaid was set up just for poor people. Now it's basically expanded to almost middle-class people. And that's fundamentally wrong, because that's really not what this program was designed for.
VM: So you would direct them to the private insurance markets, and presumably the changes that you want to make would make that more affordable. Is that the?
RW: Not exactly. My vision is that any Coloradan — rich or poor, urban or rural — should be able to access high-quality primary care without, that's right, without the need for insurance. Where insurance goes to its primary functions of specialty care, of chronic illness, of emergency, things that are very costly. But primary care is very predictable and can be done more often than not with nurse practitioners, with physician assistants at a fraction of the cost. I want to implement a lot more clinics that will incorporate tele-medicine, where they can get specialists on the line.
I mean, we are the healthiest people in the country. We have the lowest rates of diabetes. We have the lowest rates of obesity. We need health care options that work for all Coloradans, especially people in rural communities.
RW: I understand you made a trip to Appalachia not too long ago to see a clinic there that serves poor rural communities. It's called Health Wagon.
VM: Yes, sir.
RW: And in an ad, you ask, "Why can't Colorado use a similar model?"
VM: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the Health Wagon is, my wife and I have been involved with it for a number of years. They're part of Catholic Charities. And they're probably the most efficient provider in the country. They service 25,000 people a year on a $1.5 million budget. They charge $10 per patient visit. They give you a $4 prescription drug voucher. Local companies, they're vertically integrated. Tele-medicine. They do colonoscopies, they do mammograms, they do wellness, they do mental health screenings, they are very, I mean, they're run entirely with female nurse practitioners. And they don't accept any insurance.
RW: They don't accept insurance?
VM: No, sir.
RW: So I went to check it out. It was started by a nun who dispersed health care originally from her VW Beetle.
RW: It relies on donations of money and supplies.
VM: It does.
RW: So, the wish list currently for Health Wagon includes syringes, sterile saline, ibuprofen. Is that a model you can scale up to statewide health care?
VM: Well, look at what they're doing right now. They get about 50% of their money from the state, they get about a third of their money from private donations, and the rest they get from basically the small fees that they charge. The quality of their care is second to none. I mean, I can tell you that we've had the same doctor for 20 years. So quality is phenomenal. And I'm not saying Health Wagon is for everybody, but that's just one example of an entrepreneurial aspect of delivering high-quality care without insurance. There's dozens of other examples being done around the country, and that's what we need to bring in. Instead of talking about Medicaid expansion, getting every person on Medicaid — Medicaid is a failed program. It doesn't work for the vast majority of people, even who have Medicaid.
RW: When you say it doesn't work for the vast majority of people, what do you base that assertion on? Can you say that 90 percent of people have said that?
VM: I can tell you that we have literally met with hundreds of people across the state, we've heard from, that are on Medicaid that say they can't go to the doctor they want to go to. It's no different than having rationed care. It's no different than having care that's done in the UK, that people come here all the time to get care because they can't see their doctors, because they can't get major procedures done. So Medicaid was never designed, we should both agree that Medicaid was never designed to be used the way it is today.
RW: You have said in television ads, as well as on the campaign trail, that you're a political outsider. But you did serve one term in the state legislature, from 2007 to 2009 representing Douglas County. You were part of a campaign that thwarted a 2011 tax increase that was on the ballot for schools. You were also co-chair of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in Douglas County. What is it about this election year, this race, that has you casting yourself as an outsider?
VM: Because I am an outsider. I mean, for 31 years, I built private companies. I've never worked for anyone other than myself. I've built very successful private companies — six of them, to be exact. Ten years ago, I served for one term in the state legislature. I loved it and I represented one of the most conservative districts in the state, but then I went right back to the private sector. I'm not taking any special interest money. I'm not taking any, I'm not accepting any political endorsements. So I'm the only person that's actually put forward very specific, bold ideas to transform a lot of our bureaucracies like we just talked about with Medicaid.
RW: Is there something about this year, though, that the outsider label is a powerful one, do you think?
VM: No, I mean, that's just who describes me. I mean, I've been an underdog outsider my whole life. That's why our campaign is so different. That's why we have such a large movement now, almost 50,000 Facebook supporters today. We started with 0 a year ago. But I think it's laughable that my opponents copy me all the time on trying to call themselves outsiders as well, but I mean I'm the only true outsider businessman in this race.
RW: You talked about funding your own campaign and not, as a result, taking outside donations. Why that route?
VM: We are taking small donations from, we've taken thousands of small donations from grassroots people, but we're not taking, you know, basically special interest money, lobbyist money, we're certainly not accepting any political endorsements. Because I think with political endorsements come political favors, and the same thing goes with special interests.
RW: So you're saying that none of those individual donations come from lobbyists?
VM: No, none whatsoever. And our average donation's $20.18. I mean, it's time we start putting the people of Colorado first, and I plan to do that as governor, just like I'm doing it in my campaign.
RW: Let's focus, Vic Mitchell, you're listening to Colorado Matters, by the way, and we are continuing our conversations with the people who want to be Colorado's next governor, Republican Vic Mitchell joins us this time. I want to focus on transportation for a bit. CDOT says it has a $9 billion backlog of projects. Many of Colorado's roads and bridges are in need of repair and this is as an influx of people come to Colorado with increased congestion as a result. There could be a ballot measure this year from the business community to raise taxes for transportation. Would you support it?
VM: Absolutely not. I'm not supportive of any new taxes or any bond increases whatsoever. Matter of fact, I want to put our government on a diet. The, let me be very specific. I'd put forward a plan to get $2 billion into roads and infrastructure without increasing taxes or fees by reforming the whole CDOT bureaucracy. I'm bringing in an outsider to limit their total overhead to no more than 20 percent. Right now about thirty cents of every dollar of CDOT's budget goes to contractors, the people that actually build our roads and infrastructure. I want to change that to 80%. I also want to deploy all their cash and cash equivalents that's on their books today, and I also want to change an obscure committee that's called the Legislative Audit Committee. Might change that from financial to performance-based auditing and to look for ways to drive waste and inefficiency out of state bureaucracy.
RW: I'll say that CDOT is already under audits by the legislature. You think you can free up up to $2 billion with this?
VM: You misunderstood what I said, because there's something called the legislative audit committee, but they only do financial auditing. They don't do performance auditing. So their mandate is not to come in and bring in a KPMG or an EKS&H, a large accounting firm, to come in and say "CDOT, we want to right-size you and you really only need 2,100 employees instead of 3,300 employees. And by the way, this type of information technology, this type of traffic sciences, should be implemented." They don't do that. So that's why I want to change that, to look for ways to drive waste and inefficiency. But also to take the politics out of it.
RW: If there are $2 billion in CDOT that you think you can free up, why is it that current lawmakers, including legislative Republicans, haven't found it? Or the governor, who has talked a lot about red tape and making government more efficient?
VM: Well, we have a very broken democracy, and most especially at the federal level. I mean, we're literally, hundreds of millions of dollars flows in of special interest groups, legislators can't vote their conscience, we lack imagination and creativity often, so that's why I want to shake things up. I mean, it's time to actually bring in somebody that's run large and complex organizations.
RW: So you are saying that current lawmakers simply aren't finding the $2 billion that you think you can.
VM: Well, we're not doing performance-based auditing, so how could they find it? I mean, lawmakers are busy enough. They're going to vote 5,000 times, or what is it, there's 100 bills that will go through, times five, so 500 bills, they might vote on as many as five to 10 times per bill. They're busy. I mean, I was a lawmaker for two years. I mean, they're going to probably vote a couple thousand times over one assembly. They're not going to be able to go in and do a deep dive. You need performance auditing. You need like a KPMG or Ernst and Young or somebody to come in and look for ways, and then take all the politics out of the process.
RW: Later this week teachers from around the state will walk out of their classrooms to protest low pay among other issues. The head of the Colorado Education Association says the state underfunds schools by $822 million annually. First off, do you think that teachers are right to walk out?
VM: No, I don't think they're right to work out, but I do think, to walk out, but I do think they are terribly undercompensated. And I think that we should have a collective understanding where everything is on the table, including reforming PERA, asking possibly for summer schooling.
RW: PERA is the state pension fund.
VM: Exactly, the public pension fund, the largest pension fund we have in our state is a $32 billion unfunded liability. So I think everything should be on the table. But there's no question we abysmally compensate, as far as salary goes, our educators. So that's why we have shortages of math and science teachers across the whole state, most especially in our rural communities.
RW: If you say that they're paid abysmally, help me understand your thinking about why you don't think it's appropriate that they walk out.
VM: Because you have to look at the whole package. The way that it works right now is they have an extraordinarily generous retirement program but a very, very low annual wage. So we want, we have to look at everything. We also want to bring a lot-
RW: But why shouldn't they be able to walk out, is my question?
VM: Well because I don't think public pension, public employees should have the right to strike. I mean, that's just bad for our state. There's other ways, they have other benefits. We should be a completely at-will state, and I just don't support public employees walking out, especially teachers that provide critical services.
RW: Two Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill at the state legislature that would prohibit Colorado teachers-
VM: I read that. Yes.
RW: From striking. They could face fines, firing, even jail time if they do strike. Would you sign a bill like that?
VM: I would not.
RW: You would not?
RW: Why not?
VM: Because I think it goes too far.
VM: I think teaching is an incredibly important profession. I was an adjunct professor a couple years ago up at CSU. I taught in their business college. I served as a trustee of a major state university. I'm a huge supporter of the whole school choice and education movement. I don't think that's the right approach.
RW: On to higher education, Vic Mitchell. You're very passionate about STEM. Science, technology, engineering, and math. You want more STEM graduates-
RW: To fill tech jobs.
RW: And you propose directing every penny of state support for colleges and universities to STEM degrees exclusively versus say liberal arts.
VM: Because right now if you want to pursue a degree at CU, for example, in electrical engineering or physics, those are the most expensive degrees, but they're also the most relevant degrees we want for a modern economy. We have in some studies as much as five times as many high paying jobs available today than kids who are actually graduating with these relevant degrees. These are the toughest degrees to pursue; we want to make them the least affordable, the most affordable, so they're the most relevant.
My higher education plan goes beyond than just making the cost of STEM degrees less expensive. My higher education degree also calls for a complete freeze of all higher education funding for the entire term of my administration so no one is going to see a tuition increase during the entire term of my administration. I also want to drive down the high cost, of housing, housing is roughly a third of the cost to send a kid, $15,000 a year to house your kid for eight months at CU. I mean, it's ridiculously too expensive. It's out of reach, and our kids are taking on enormous debts in large part because higher education has become so expensive.
RW: A Magellan poll shows that immigration is a top issue for Colorado Republicans. Where do you think you most differ from the other Republicans in this race on the issue of immigration?
VM: Well, I can tell you one fundamental difference between myself and my opponent, George Bush's cousin, is I support holding civilly liable any elected official that refuses to-
RW: You're making a reference to Walker Stapleton?
VM: Yes sir. To basically hold any elected official, whether it's a mayor, whether it's a town council member, whether it's a county commissioner, if they refuse to cooperate with federal ICE agents, they could be held civilly liable for that.
RW: What would that look like? Get me into the details of that, so a mayor might be prosecuted under that for what?
VM: Civilly. Yes, and that's exactly right. I mean, if we work together, and we allow a criminal alien back into our community, and they commit mayhem in our community, there is real consequences. I also support basically defunding sanctuary cities as well. I think that that should come directly out of the general fund. I mean, we can't have a situation where the mayors say “I swear on the Bible. I swear to uphold the constitution, and by the way we don't like this law, so we're just going to ignore it. We're going to enforce this law that we do like.” I mean that's anarchy. Change the law if you don't like it, but you can't simply just ignore it.
RW: One aspect of this idea of a sanctuary city, and that term is squishy, but one aspect is whether jails should be holding people longer than their state charges for the federal government, for immigration officials. Is that what you mean by sanctuary city?
VM: I think they should cooperate directly with Federal ICE agents if any person has committed a felony, or any serious crime whatsoever. Those people should be deported.
RW: There is cooperation even in some sanctuary cities that ICE is notified, but-
VM: Insufficient, as you and I both know. I mean this is not working today. And I also support, wouldn't it be ironic if President Trump passes broad immigration reform, which I totally support. I think that would be terrific if we can get that done. It's a fair deal that's on the table today. Twenty-five billion dollars for a border wall, and other security, in exchange for the DACA kids having a pathway. That's a fair deal, and that should be put forward. I really commend the president, and hopefully Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner will get behind this, and we can get this passed. It would be good for Colorado. It would be good for agriculture. It'd be good for our service sector.
RW: What kind of funds would you hold from what you deemed to be sanctuary cities?
VM: I don't know yet. We'd have to look through the general fund. I mean this is exactly what the long bill is general proposed by the governor. We'll have to look for areas. It's not going to be something that devastates the city, but something that's meaningful to the city to basically comply with federal immigration law, which is only fair. I mean they've agreed to uphold the Constitution. They should do exactly what they've agreed to do. They were elected to uphold the Constitution, not to pander with people's lives, and put our communities at risk.
RW: Thanks for being with us.
VM: It's been a pleasure.
RW: Republican Vic Mitchell is running for Governor. Between now and the June primaries, we will introduce you to the other candidates and you can hear my conversation from yesterday with Democrat Mike Johnston at CPR.org. We'll be right back with pro-cyclist turned ganjapreneur, Floyd Landis.