MONTE VISTA—Visiting his 50th out of Colorado’s 65 counties, Mike Johnston, who is seeking the democratic party’s nomination for governor stopped in Monte Vista on Labor Day. Johnston held a meet-and-greet with democrats he hoped to woo into giving him their support at Chapman Park Pavilion. After fielding questions from attendees he agreed to an interview with The Monte Vista Journal.
A former state senator for Colorado’s 33rd senate district, Johnston has a deep history with education. After attending college and law school he became a public school teacher in one of Mississippi’s most impoverished school districts. He then served as a principal at a juvenile detention center and at a high-needs district in the Denver area. Johnston also served as one of President Obama’s key advisers on education issues.
Johnson explained that it was his time in education that motivated him to enter politics. He witnessed first hand the pain that students known as “dreamers” might encounter upon graduating from high school or upon attempting to enter the workforce. “I remember a student that did his best, got good grades, was ready to graduate and had the potential to do great things. One day I saw him with tears streaming down his face and he told me, ‘Mr. Johnston why did you make me do all of this?’ I was confused. I then found out that he was undocumented and wouldn’t be able to attend college at an affordable price because of his status. That is the day I decided to run for the state senate because I felt there wasn’t anything else I could do at the school level,” said Johnston.
Johnston prides himself on having been able to build bridges with members of the Republican Party to pass legislation such as Colorado’s Dream Act. After Johnston had his personal experience with a “dreamer” he reached out to a Republican colleague for support after realizing the bill had failed 13 times and every time had no support from the political right. “He coached little league baseball. I challenged him to find out if any of the kids he was coaching were undocumented. He went and did his coaching over the weekend. He came back on Monday, stood silently at my desk for a while, and then said, ‘Yes, my third baseman. Bring the bill up today.’ He was the first Republican in the history of the state senate to support the bill and we were able to pass it.” stated Johnston.
It is this type of bipartisan spirit he hopes to bring to the governor’s mansion if elected. Johnston says he believes in Colorado’s “frontier spirit” and that through hard work, opportunity should be available to all.
Johnston addressed the biggest issues he believes are facing Colorado. “Some of the biggest issues and the reasons I’m running is we need to make sure we have an economy that’s working for everybody. We need to ensure there’s growth in every part of Colorado such as here in southern Colorado and in the eastern plains. We need to ensure everyone has healthcare. We also need to solve our transportation and infrastructure needs. I have a plan to help people access free community college or skill training for two years to make sure they have the skills they need for the jobs that are coming. We’re going to have to make some key investments around the state in regards to education and infrastructure,” said Johnston.
Since Johnston was in Rio Grande County he also shared his ideas to help rural Colorado. “We need to make sure we can support well-paying jobs in these small towns. A lot of people feel if they want a well-paying job they have to leave to Denver or Boulder, but they actually want to stay in the communities where they grew up. I think there are three keys to solving that issue. One is making sure we have high quality broadband access in all parts of the state. The second is tax incentives to help businesses move to these rural parts of the state or to keep growing here. I started a plan called Jumpstart which is legislation that encourages businesses to grow in places like Monte Vista. The third is making sure citizens have the skills they need to be successful. That’s why I’m focusing on the ‘Colorado Promise’ idea which gives access to job training,” he said.
The protection of water is something Johnston says he feels is really important as one of Colorado’s best non-renewable resources. “That means keeping water in the basin where it originates. We should provide incentives for people to conserve water. Right now people who try to conserve water are penalized for it. We want to find ways to support them instead,” said Johnston.
Johnston says he feels he is the best candidate for the democratic party’s nomination because he has a big vision for where the state can go. “I can inspire people to work on that vision. I have the track record of actually getting people from both sides of the aisle to work together to get things done. Of the bills that I’ve helped get signed into law 90 percent of them have republican co-sponsors. I served served years in the state legislature and am the only candidate with experience at the state capitol. I think this is a moment where people want to see us working together to accomplish big things and I think I’m the only candidate who has proven that.”