Twenty-three months and counting…former Colorado Sen. Mike Johnston has thrown his hat in the ring for the 2018 race to replace term-limited Governor John Hickenlooper. He says he announced so early because he wants to have a “long conversation” with Coloradans about priorities, taxes and trade-offs. This way he can avoid the “tactics of a six-month sprint” and focus on strategies he believes are necessary to address the challenges facing the state.
Workforce development and the economy are the top items on Johnston’s list of priorities. He says the most significant issue facing Colorado is the “tremendous disruption coming to a whole set of industries in this era of globalization and automation.” He wants to see Colorado be “the first state in the country to have a proactive plan to prepare workers who can thrive in that kind of economy and learn how to support and develop industries that make it the best place to work in the country. It’s about building a movement to change the way that politics is done.”
At his January 17 Park Hill press conference, Johnston promoted the concept of a tuition-free two-year workforce training program to “up-skill or re-skill” folks so they aren’t left behind by the new economy. In return, the program beneficiaries would commit a few weekends of public service, like a civilian National Guard, to provide a wide range of services, from fire protection to flood damage mitigation to childhood education. He did not specify a funding source but said it would be revenue neutral. From a societal perspective, he said, such an investment in economic prevention would cost less than treating unemployment or underemployment after the fact.
Other top priorities for Johnston are education funding and transportation infrastructure.
Johnston believes a seven-year track record of “working across the aisle” as a state senator will find a receptive audience in Colorado. “We are at an historic moment. People are coming off the most divided and destructive political cycle in modern memory.” He said this is “not the vision or values that people in Colorado share,” and the ironic result of the past presidential campaign is that people are saying they want to be “more engaged in politics and prove that it’s still possible to build the ideas in the public square and then build coalitions that can accomplish things”.
He sees “less and less opportunity for productive resolution of these questions at the federal level” and a corresponding increase in problem-solving potential at the state level. He said he wants to be the “executive with the power to drive” those solutions: “Colorado seems to be the right place to have an impact now.”
He professes not to be concerned that any number of high profile Democrats will also announce their gubernatorial bids. “Who’s running was not part of my deliberation.” Instead, he looks forward to the methodical preparation of a “comprehensive plan” for aligning goals with the state budget based on conversations held throughout the state over the next year and half. “We are in a place right now where the rubber is not hitting the road. Services that people want can no longer be funded out of the budget we have. We have to decide if we want to live in a state with fewer services and resources or do we want a different structure to get those services funded?”
Johnston told the Front Porch he is excited to be the “first Stapletonian to run for governor and to have the first gubernatorial campaign headquartered in Park Hill.” Johnston’s campaign office is located at 5405 33rd St. (33rd & Hudson).