Governor candidate Greg Lopez wants to pause sales tax in Colorado, reduce state budget ‘fraud’

Lopez is top-line candidate on Republican primary ballot, faces Regent Heidi Ganahl

By: - June 21, 2022 2:15 pm

Republican Greg Lopez, a 2022 candidate for Colorado governor, attends the Western Conservative Summit in Aurora on June 4, 2022. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Lopez says he wants to reduce the Colorado state budget, bring back qualified immunity for the state’s law enforcement and look into pardoning Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters if she is “wrongfully” convicted.

In an interview with Colorado Newsline on Friday at his campaign headquarters in Parker, he also spoke about how he views racism in the United States and interactions between Black people and police officers.

Lopez, a former Parker mayor and a former director of the Small Business Administration in Colorado, is on his second run for governor and emphasizes that he wants to put people over politics. This election cycle, he faces University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl in the June 28 Republican primary in the Colorado governor race. Lopez earned top-line placement on the ballot when he received the most delegate votes at the Republican state assembly in April.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Colorado Newsline: What are the top issues you hear from voters when you speak to them?

Greg Lopez: You know, it’s shifting a little bit today. It used to be a lot about crime and affordability and education. Now it’s really shifting to inflation and cost of living. I’m hearing “It’s gas prices, I can’t afford an apartment, I can’t afford to rent, I’m not making enough and I don’t understand why that is.” Inflation is really hitting the pocketbooks of people and it’s really hurting the young and the poor and rural Colorado. I can hear it in their voices and see it in their eyes that they’re frustrated. How did this happen and how can we get out of this?

As governor, what policies and proposals would you have to help make the cost of living easier?

First, we need to be honest with people when we are giving them a refund. This is not a check that’s coming from the state. This is a check because we collected way too much money.

You’re referring to the TABOR refund this year?

Correct. We need to reduce and eliminate all these fees that they are putting on us. For example, we need to eliminate the fees on all these express lanes. People use them. Why do you need to charge them to use them, especially when gas is so high? Let’s not do this transportation, sustainability act fees where they’re going to add two cents the first year and then a penny after that. All these fees we’re paying — we need to eliminate them so people have more money in their pockets. For small businesses, let’s not collect any sales tax. Let’s not collect any sales tax for the next four years. Let’s let small businesses and the customer keep that money. We have plenty of money in the state.

If you eliminate those types of fees, how do you propose funding, say, transportation and infrastructure projects that rely on them?

A lot of the gas fees goes towards those projects, not the sales tax. When you look at it, we need to be more efficient in how we spend our money. I’m here to tell you that at least 40% of the budget is fraud, waste and abuse. We’re not using it correctly.

How do you assess that?

I’ve been in government. You talk to anyone that’s been in government and you ask them “Do you spend every single dime every year that’s allocated to you?” And they’ll say “yes.” You’ll ask them why, and their answer is because if they don’t spend it all, they won’t get more next year. Everybody wants more. I’ll give you a perfect example. (Colorado Department of Transportation), with the intersection here are E-470 and I-25. They wasted over $30 million on a design that they never approved and just let it sit. It cost the construction company and everyone else money, and they had to pay $30 million just to move forward with the project. There’s a lot of inefficiencies. Just with this last budget, the governor authorized 1,000 new employees. For what programs? What services? Any time you hire a new employee, it has an impact on the retirement fund. And so we must evaluate how we spend the people’s money. A lot of this is one time money injection. If you’re creating new programs with this money, how are you going to fund them? And I’ve been in government. I can assure you that most bureaucrats truly believe it’s easy to spend other people’s money, and that’s what they do.

Editor’s note: The budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year adds 820 new state employees.

Is there any area of the state that you think needs more money, whether that’s adding to the budget or reallocating existing funds? Whether that’s law enforcement, mental health, things like that?

Yes. We really need to evaluate how we’re going to make our communities safer. How are we going to make sure that our quality of life is improved? When you look at what’s going on with crime — Colorado is broken. Everywhere you look, Colorado is broken. We’re No. 1 in auto thefts in the nation. We’re No. 1 in bank robberies in the nation. And it’s because of the misguided policies and the legislation that gets approved. When you no longer get thrown in jail for stealing a car, and it’s a misdemeanor, that’s why we’re having these thefts go through the ceiling. These are no longer people going on a joy ride. It’s becoming a real organized crime ring. We must remember that we must hold people accountable for their poor decisions. I’m going to make sure that our law enforcement has the resources they need. The one thing that we must give back to police officers is qualified immunity. We must give it back to them. That’s why we have so many people retiring from law enforcement. That’s why the academies are not able to fill the number of slots they have.

Editor’s note: In order for a car theft to be a felony in Colorado, it must be worth more than $2,000.

How do you balance qualified immunity with accountability?

Just like anything else. We must hold people accountable for poor decisions that they make. What I would encourage police officers to do is if they see a partner doing something you know they shouldn’t be doing, they need to interfere. You need to step in and say, “How can we do this differently?” Look, there are bad apples in every industry. We must make sure people are held accountable for their behavior.

I think it’s more of letting people know if you do a misstep, we don’t care that you’re an officer. We’ll hold you accountable just like we hold anyone else accountable. But we do hold you at a higher standard. We expect you to treat citizens with respect, but if they’re not respecting you, you must do what you need to do to make sure that we apprehend them correctly. I talk to a lot of officers and they tell me if people would just follow instructions. If we just told them, “Stop, put your hands here, don’t do that,” if they just followed our instructions, 80% of these things would go away. We’re just doing our job.

At the same time, do you feel like there is legitimate fear in the Black community, for example, when they encounter law enforcement — young Black men in particular?

I’m a firm believer that you find what you seek. If you seek that you’re going to be treated unfairly, then you will probably find it unfair. If you just give people the benefit of the doubt, that they’re stopping you for a reason, or they’re stopping you to ask you a question, and you haven’t done anything wrong, then you should give the officer the benefit of the doubt as to why he’s pulling you over. But if there’s something that gives you pause for concern, that you know you haven’t been a lawful citizen and you know that’s why you’re being stopped, that’s a totally different issue. Even then, I would encourage people to have respect for each other. I can’t speak for other individuals who say when they see a police officer they fear for their own life. I can’t speak to that. But I know this: police officers are not out there trying to hurt other people. That’s not their mission. Their mission is to protect and to serve our communities.

How does de-escalation techniques and trauma-informed policing play into that?

Sure, it does. But we also need to ask ourselves what we are teaching in the schools. What are we teaching our children as it pertains to what the role of a police officer is. When we took out the school resource officers because of funding or whatever, we had that disconnect. If we had officers in the schools, children would recognize that they’re just regular people. They wear a uniform, but they’re trying to protect us. When we take that away, it’s an easier way to create that fear factor. But we do need to look at mental health issues. We must evaluate that our society has shifted as it pertains to why people are doing what they’re doing.

Speaking of mental health, what is your stance on the state government’s role in addressing mental health concerns, at the school level but also with adults and people facing addiction?

I think the role of the government is to make sure that they’re not interfering with our faith communities and our nonprofits.

What do you mean by that? As in faith-based communities and nonprofits are already doing that work?

They’re doing work, but they are hampered by the regulations and restrictions of the government. For example, if you wanted to house homeless people overnight, they don’t want you to just put mattresses on the floor. It’s got to be a bed. It’s like — we’re trying to help, but all these rules and regulations put a burden on anyone trying to help our fellow man and making things better. When we talk about mental health, I’d like to see nonprofits and churches play a more active role. Truly, we as people need a support network. So if you’re dealing with anxiety or you’re dealing with other things or you’re homeless or you’re dealing with drugs, traditionally it’s because you’ve lost that support network and you’re on your own. We need them to know that the community does care. There’s value in who you are. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not worth being here or we don’t value you as a person.

I don’t think anyone wants to find themselves homeless or find themselves in trouble or get addicted. No one wants to be addicted to drugs. It’s a self form of medication. We must get deeper into what’s causing this. Some of the time I think it has to do with the failure of our public school systems. If we’re graduating kids who don’t know how to read, how to do math, or how to do the basic skill sets, then we’re pretty much telling them they’re out there on their own and that we don’t care.

What do you want to see more of in the state’s public education system?

You talk about accountability. We need to hold our schools accountable over whether they are actually teaching our students the basics. Think about it: 6 out of 10 fourth graders can’t read or read at the fourth grade level. But they become fifth graders, and then sixth graders. We’re pushing them down the system. What are we really doing? We’re not giving them a sense of dignity. We’re not giving them a sense of independence, and so that’s where the shame, the anxiety, the depression comes in.

We’ve shifted from being a true place of public education and it seems like we’re focusing a lot more on social issues, which means they’re becoming public indoctrination centers. Like the critical race theory. Why in the world would anybody want to teach our kids that the color of your skin determines whether you’re a racist or not? That is just plain wrong.

Editor’s note: Critical race theory, a graduate-level concept, is not taught in Colorado K-12 schools.

What do you think students should be taught about racism in this country?

I think they need to be taught like what Martin Luther King said when he made his famous speech. His quote of, I dream of a day when little children will be judged by the content of their character not by the color of their skin. We need to remind people of that. The other thing we need to remind people of — what about the golden rule? Just treat others the way you would like to be treated. We need to do those types of things. Our children will understand the purpose for society and we need to work together. But when you create this division, automatically you’re telling them that because they are of this race or this color, you are automatically a good person or a bad person, without any background.

When it comes to civil rights, I think we do need to show that it was a peaceful protest. Here’s what they were fighting for. It was wrong to have white water fountains and Black water fountains. It was wrong to force them to sit in the back of the bus. But let’s look at what actually happened. How did we fix that? Who voted? The Republicans fought for civil rights. The Democrats in the South were trying to stop it. So let’s be truthful for how this came around. But let’s learn from our mistakes. We can’t judge people based on what happened 60 years before we were here. Let’s look at all the facts and make sure we’re balancing the conversation. When you look at it, there were a lot of white people that joined the marches. Nobody wants to see water hoses and police dogs attacking people because they’re just walking down the street. Now, it seems like we’re going backwards and telling people that they’re victims. Well, why am I victim? Because that person’s skin color is different than yours and they’re making you a victim and they’re trying to hold you down. We all have the same opportunity.

Do you think that racism still exists in this country?

Oh, yeah. But exists on all races. Is there racism from the Black community? Sure there is. Is it in the Hispanic community? Of course there is. This is human nature. It’s not based on color. It’ just based on that it’s out there. We must try to minimize it to the best of our ability. It doesn’t matter who is doing it. It’s just wrong. These are the types of things — again, for the betterment of our children, showing what is right and what is wrong. We must allow them to understand there are certain things you can control and certain things you can’t control.

There are less than two weeks until the primary. What is your plan until then to get people to mail in their ballots and to turn out?

We’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing for the last three and a half years. Talking to them, encouraging them to vote, reminding them that their vote matters. Reminding them that they must exercise their civic duty and cast their vote.

Some conservative voters might be worried about the trustworthiness of their local election. How do you talk to voters and assure them that their vote will count?

That’s a tough one, because I don’t have a crystal ball. I’m not the one who can tell them it is or it isn’t. But there are other primaries that have happened across the country. We’re not sensing that there is a lot of confusion or chaos out there, so why should we expect it here? The only way we’re going to know is if we vote at the ballot box. The only way we’ll find out if our election process is being held to its highest standards is by exercising it. But we know this: A no vote is still a vote.

Are there parts of the Colorado election process that you would like to see changed?

I would like to see it actually be enforced. It’s not change, necessarily, but let’s enforce the rules and regulations that we have in place. For example, our voter registration rolls. They need to be cleaned. When you have households receiving four or five ballots for people who used to live there, that don’t live there anymore. Or parents receiving ballots for their children who moved to a different state, yet they’re still receiving their ballot. At some point, we’ve got to ask ourselves why is that?

Isn’t that just user error and voters not updating their address?

But someone should be watching this. If they’re not renewing their license plates, if they’re not doing certain things, we must clean those out.

The other thing is the chain of custody. From the time they pick up the ballots at the drop box to the time they take it to where it will be counted, we need to make sure that chain of custody is secured. I’ve heard and I’ve seen people saying we don’t have enough people. There’s supposed to be someone from each party that does this so they balance each other. They’re supposed to sign off, say when they pick them up, and so on. A lot of that documentation is not being filled out correctly or completely. So the chain of custody is something we must make sure is handled.

This Senate Bill 153, I don’t think that bill should have ever been signed.

Editor’s note: Chain of custody records for drop box collections in Colorado are retained for 25 months. Learn more about SB-153 from Newsline’s stories about the legislation.

Why is that?

It takes away the ability of the county clerks to actually oversee the election process. If we’re going to have the secretary of state dictate to all 64 counties on how we’re going to do this, then basically they become employees of the state. They’re no longer elected officials of those communities. I think that’s where it’s wrong.

That bill had input and support from a bipartisan coalition of clerks.

Look, if your profession is being attacked, you’re not going to necessarily raise your hand and say there’s some problems. Peer pressure. I’ve spoken privately with clerks who say there are areas we can improve. The audits — let’s make sure we have true audits. I recognize that nobody wants to be the sole voice out there. Imagine you’re part of a group and you know there’s something not being done right, but 80% of your colleagues say it’s fine and you try to raise your hand to say it’s not so fine — I think this is what’s happening with the clerks and recorders when they say they support the bill. I think if you ask them if there’s room for improvement, they will say yes.

Earlier in your campaign, you said you would pardon Clerk Tina Peters if she was convicted. Do you still hold that position?

If she was falsely convicted, the answer is yes. That is what the governor does with pardons. You have individuals who got convicted and then eight months later there is new evidence or something surfaces and you say, “If we had known this, we wouldn’t have convicted that person.” You don’t do it just because you want to. You do it because of the evidence. You talk to the DA, you talk to people who say, “If we had known this, we probably would not have taken it to trial.” That’s what pardons are all about.

Editor’s note: Peters has been indicted by a grand jury on counts related to an alleged election security breach in her own office.

Have you been following the Jan. 6 hearings?

I haven’t. I’ve been so busy with the campaign, for me to sit down and watch the television isn’t possible.

You talk about how Colorado is broken and I hear a lot of pessimism in that. What do you love most about Colorado?

I think what I love the most is the entrepreneurial spirit that is still here. Small business is the heart and soul of every community. I’ve seen them try to be resilient, try to stay impactful, but there’s a lot of challenges they are facing. Colorado has great beauty as a state. And that’s why people want to move here in Colorado. They want to enjoy our four seasons and everything we have to offer. But we don’t have leaders who are looking with visionary glasses. Water is a big issue for me. We need to make sure we keep Colorado, Colorado and we don’t let it turn into California.

How do you plan to capture the unaffiliated voter in the general election against Gov. Polis?

The unaffiliated voters want problem solvers. They want someone who is not going to point a finger as to why we can’t get things done. They want someone who can bring a solution to the table and listen to all sides based on what they’ve gathered. That’s who I am. Being a former mayor at the age of 27 here in Parker, I was the mayor and city manager at the same time. It’s looking at things in a very measured and steady hand. How are you going to make decisions? All voters want is politics and the finger pointing to stop. Let’s look at each other, let’s unite, let’s make sure we can have a state we can all be proud of.

Say both legislative chambers remain Democratic-majority. How will you work with legislative leadership to get things done?

The first thing I’d let them know is that I’ll put people over politics. If you bring legislation that is helping, not hurting small business or not being specific on one group over another, I’ll work with you. If we’re going to make the quality of life better for all of us, not just some of us, then that’s something we should focus on. We all told our constituents and our voters that we want to make Colorado better. That’s why we’ve asked them to hire us, so let’s make sure we fulfill that.

What else are you thinking about in the lead up to this primary?

I would encourage all the voters to vote and be a part of the process. This is what makes America great. If we should stop believing in our voting process, our systems, we become a third-world country because we’d allow those that lead us, those people who have power through ads and negative mailers and so forth to actually control and dictate the voice of the people. We must go out there and let our voices be heard to make sure we are casting our vote.

It’s an interesting tension that you have such a strong belief in the voting process and democracy and yet there is still some doubt you hold about the 2020 presidential election and the systems here. How do you carry both of those beliefs?

Because I’m looking at all the evidence, and there’s more and more stuff that has come out. The jury is still out. I have faith in our process, but I also know that there are people out there willing to do everything they can to ensure that they receive the outcome that they’re looking for.

Right now, I’m being attacked from both sides for things they call bad. We all have a position and the right to our opinion. We should respect that. That doesn’t make me a monster or make them a monster. Let’s have some conversation over it. But right now, it’s like, “Let’s divide.” If you fall on this side of the ledger, you’re a monster. If you fall on this side, you’re a bully. How does that work?

Ultimately, what happened to having statesmen where it’s ok to disagree? Ultimately, the more conversation we have, the more well rounded our solutions will be.

Editor’s note: The claim that the 2020 presidential election was illegitimate because of widespread voter fraud has been debunked by courts, election officials and those within Trump’s inner circle.

Is there a statesman who you particularly look up to?

Because of where we are right now and our situation, I think about Abraham Lincoln. Think about the challenges he was facing to try and keep the union together, so we wouldn’t have two separate types of government. He was trying to ensure people were being treated the way they should be according to the constitution. I think I admire him the most because as you look at history and you look at the struggles he went through … one of the things he did is he surrounded himself with both supporters and those who opposed him. You look at his first Cabinet and it shows that he was more interested in what was best for the nation than a political party.

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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.

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