Gubernatorial candidate Johnston pays another visit to Carbondale
Former state senator and now Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston made a campaign stop in Carbondale on Sunday. It was his second visit to Garfield County in a month’s time as he works to win over the Western Slope in the statewide race.
The June 26 primary election will be a crowded one, with four candidates each for the Democrats and Republicans vying for the right to be on the general election ballot in November.
In the Democratic race, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis from Colorado’s 2nd congressional district and former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy are largely considered the frontrunners, while current Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne has the backing of outgoing Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited.
Johnston did not recognize any of his primary opponents in his opening remarks at the Carbondale event, but instead touted his success as a school principal, talked about gun reform legislation he helped pass in the Colorado Legislature, and advertised himself as a proven Democrat willing to work with Republicans across the aisle.
There were a few empty seats at the event, which took place at the Third Street Center. By a show of hands, roughly half in attendance were pledged Johnston supporters while the other half indicated they were undecided.
In his formal announcement to run for governor last year, Johnston stated, “We will guarantee up to two years of debt-free college or career training to every Coloradan.”
It’s a pledge that sounded oddly similar to that of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in his 2016 presidential campaign in which he beat Hillary Clinton in Colorado’s Democratic primary by almost a 20 percent margin.
In an interview before the public event, Johnston distanced himself from the independent senator when asked if he was simply trying to appeal to young voters in a state with numerous higher education institutions.
“The key next part of the phrase is to support debt-free tuition for folks who are willing to work for it. So our idea is that it’s like a civilian version of the National Guard,” said Johnston. “I actually don’t support the pure free tuition programs. I don’t think they have the right incentives. I don’t think a pure giveaway makes sense for Colorado’s budget or Colorado’s values.”
At the campaign appearance, Johnston referenced the Columbine High School and Aurora movie theater shootings and talked about gun reform legislation he helped pass during his time as a state senator representing District 33 in northeast Denver.
“There are not good reasons why civilians need access to hundred-round magazines in Colorado,” said Johnston.
As a state senator in 2013, he supported House Bill 13-1224, which, in essence, prohibited large-capacity ammunition magazines and was eventually passed and signed into law by Gov. Hickenlooper.
“I think that once you get over 15, you’re looking at, you know the numbers go up so exponentially when you’re looking at 30-round, or 50-round or 100 rounds.
“And when you look at almost every mass shooting in American history over the last 25 years they all involved high capacity magazines because what you have in that situation is someone who is quite literally looking at what’s the vehicle that gives me the largest capacity to shoot the greatest number of bullets as quickly as possible,” Johnston said.
As governor, Johnston stated he would support a ban on assault weapons.
The 43-year old candidate was born in Vail, and has made protecting the state’s public lands a key point on the campaign trail.
“What I’ve heard from people all over the state is that there is probably no stronger held belief on the Western Slope than there is around support for public lands and protecting public lands and to make sure you have people at the federal level who are going to be good partners on that,” Johnston said. “We know public lands are going to be the key to Colorado’s economic feature on the Western Slope.”
Candidate Johnston made clear that, if elected governor, he would not sell or lease public land.
Vying for the Republican nomination in the June 26 primary are current state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, who won the top spot on the ballot with the most support at the recent state party assembly. Challengers include a trio of newcomers to the state political stage, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson.
Unlike past primary elections in Colorado, unaffiliated voters will be allowed to cast either a Democrat or Republican ballot while remaining unaffiliated. State voters approved the open primary measure in the 2016 election.