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Posted: July 01, 2010

Election 2010: Dan Maes’ dark horse campaign for governor has some legs

The Evergreen businessman had little money or clout, but that didn't stop him

Mike Cote

In the weeks leading up to the Republican Assembly in May, the media already had called the gubernatorial race as a contest between former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, the GOP front-runner, and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the lone Democrat.

Someone forgot to tell Dan Maes, who edged McInnis by 16 votes. Maes, 49, will have to raise a lot of money in a hurry to be in the running, but he certainly has some newfound clout. We talked with Maes at the ColoradoBiz offices. Watch video highlights from the interview and read the complete transcript at www.cobizmag.com.

The following was edited for space and clarity.

ColoradoBiz: Up until the Republican assembly, you were not widely known. But you said you were not that surprised by your performance and were expecting this.
Dan Maes: We've put over 70,000 miles on our cars over the last 15 months around this state. Nobody's been around the state more than I have listening to the people, hearing what's important, mostly connecting with them. We also had polling going on, and phone calling going on to the delegates. We had a pretty good sense of what was happening when we walked in, and we're pleased with the results.

ColoradoBiz: Why do you think that's happening? Obviously the Tea Party movement has been a factor for you and for Ken Buck in the Senate campaign.
Maes: It's not just about the Tea Party. We're attempting to unite the Republican institution with the conservative revolution. There are people in the Republican institution who are also just as unhappy with what's going on.

ColoradoBiz: Why should voters choose a businessman with no previous political experience to be their governor?
Maes: I don't owe anybody, and nobody owes me. I can create fresh relationships. People can start fresh with me with no baggage. And it's time we put a real business manager/executive into an executive office.

ColoradoBiz: The Legislature just finished one of its most difficult sessions ever, and business took some hits during the budget slashing. What would you have done differently?
Maes: I would have done something differently a few years ago if I was governor. We would have retained our energy industry in this state and told them in a very clear message that we want to be one of the strongest energy-producing states in the country. That includes our traditional fossil fuels and also new energy. If we would have retained those jobs in this state, and the secondary and tertiary jobs related with that industry and encouraged small business instead of over-regulated them and over-taxed them, then we wouldn't have been in this situation.

ColoradoBiz: With TABOR (the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights), state government is restricted on how it can spend. We have state and municipal government in trouble, they can't pay for services; they're furloughing people. How would you fix that?
Maes: They're struggling, and it's because of the overall economic situation of our state. But here's the thing no one talks about, and it mystifies me. Why is no one talking about shrinking government at the state level? If we cut the size of government, tax dollars go back in the taxpayers' pockets, and that stimulates the economy, and that's one piece that creates jobs.

ColoradoBiz: At 8 percent, Colorado's unemployment rate is a couple of percentage points lower than the nation, but we still have hundreds of thousands of people out of work. What do we need to do to turn that around?
Maes: I think our economy equals energy in this state first and foremost. We must reach back out to the energy industry through a softer regulatory environment to bring them back, bring the jobs back from North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and now Pennsylvania. For example, you bring a natural-gas job to the Western Slope, Grand Junction Pipe & Supply then becomes busy again.

ColoradoBiz: Colorado suffers from a low graduation rate. We import our college graduates from elsewhere because we're not sending enough of our own students to college. How do we fix that and deal with the financial constraints we have?
Maes: We wouldn't have financial constraints if someone was managing the state better and had more top-end revenue coming in, had the courage to cut the size of government to reduce costs, keep strong energy revenue coming in and other small-business revenue coming in. We wouldn't be having these talks about cutting K through 12.

ColoradoBiz: Arizona has brought immigration reform back to the forefront. Scott McInnis has said he would favor passing similar legislation in Colorado. What would you do?
Maes: No. 1: We implement E-Verify at all employers. It's free so it's not burdensome regulation. We cut off the job demand. If illegals realize they cannot find a job very easily, they won't come to our state. No. 2: We strengthen enforcement on Senate Bill 90, which came out four years ago. It's kind of Arizona-light in my book. Then we enforce verifiable identification, another law that's been on the books for four years. These last two laws have been around for four years, but Gov. Ritter and Mayor Hickenlooper have no intention of strictly enforcing them. I will.

ColoradoBiz: What steps do we need to take to have a sensible water plan for the future that balances the needs of agriculture and development?
Maes: We have to learn how to conserve more on the Front Range. Folks on the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains are saying Denver needs to learn how to conserve more, and I don't think I can argue that. No. 2: We have more than enough water in this state. Contrary to what a lot of people think, we are the producer of water. The problem is we send a lot of it across our state lines in excess of our water compact requirements. We need to store more on the Western Slope, and we need to store more on the Eastern Slope.

ColoradoBiz: Many businesses still have tough access to credit, a lot of uncertainty. How do you make small business thrive and grow again in Colorado?
Maes: We have to create a more confident economy. If we see things growing, if we see the unemployment rate go down, we see our (oil and gas) severance tax revenue come in, small business tax revenue starts to grow a little bit, give them tax incentives to hire somebody for one year, I think things will turn around on their own.

ColoradoBiz: If I'm a Republican and I'm looking at who I want to be governor, I'm also thinking about who can beat John Hickenlooper. Why do you think you'd be the stronger candidate?
Maes: What is going on right now is the traditional Republicans are saying, "We like him, his policy is good, he articulates a good message, he's got the right skill set. We'd really like to get behind him, but can he win?" And the answer is - as of (the Republican Assembly) - yes.
Here's how we do it. We're going to expose Mayor Hickenlooper. He can dance to the middle all he wants to. We saw that with Bill Ritter. He danced to the middle to get elected, and then his liberalness came out. And people are going to see that when they see the mayor's tax record, all the tax increases that have occurred.
And we're going to go after that he runs the biggest sanctuary cities in our state. People have died in this state and in the city of Denver because of illegal immigrants who should have been sitting in jail, but nobody did anything about it. And I will.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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