No one is more surprised than Donna Lynne that Donna Lynne is running for governor, Colorado’s current lieutenant governor and chief operating officer said as she formally kicked off her campaign Thursday morning.
When Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed her to serve as his second in command, he said he was looking for someone who wasn’t interested in succeeding him and would focus on the day-to-day workings of state government, not her own political ambitions. Lynne, who has Hickenlooper’s blessing, said she really only started thinking seriously about running in the last month.
“I’m the pragmatic person with more experience than any other candidate managing billions of dollars in budgets, managing large organizations like the state of Colorado, and I think that really matters,” she said. “I know policy, but I also know how to get things done.”
Lynne’s evolving interest in the governor’s job became public a few weeks ago when she formed a campaign committee, and the official announcement was hardly a surprise. She joins a crowded Democratic field that includes U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who also served as Denver’s deputy mayor and chief financial officer, former state legislator Mike Johnston, who has strong support from education reformers, and businessman Noel Ginsburg. As a multimillionaire, Polis is self-funding his campaign, while Kennedy currently leads the pack in fundraising.
In introducing Lynne, Colorado Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman praised her in terms that reflect one of the political challenges for the technocratic lieutenant governor: “She has got a soul that doesn’t always show in a big crowd like this. You have to find a way to get to know who she is on the inside.”
Lynne, 63, has a long and impressive resume that starts with giving up her beloved field hockey to work her way through college as a waitress and continues through helping New York City out of bankruptcy in the 1970s and serving as director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations under New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Before joining the governor’s office, she was executive vice president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. with responsibility for Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. At Kaiser, she oversaw an $8 billion budget with 16,000 employees.
Lynne pursued her career while raising her children as a single mother, and she earned a doctorate in public health while working full time. She also tells audiences — often — that she has climbed all of Colorado’s 14ers.
Lynne described her family motto as “we can and we will,” and she said she would extend that motto to the state as well.
If Johnston is emphasizing education and Polis energy issues, Lynne made clear she sees health care as the major focus of her campaign, one of several “tough and complicated” issues that need to be addressed to keep the state on the right path. She used the phrase “tough and complicated” throughout her speech, saying at one point, “I’ve done tough and complicated my whole life.”
And she repeatedly cast President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress as a threat to Colorado’s future.
“We can’t take for granted what makes Colorado special,” she said. “There is no guarantee we’ll stay on this path, and things are changing, particularly in Washington. We have a president and a Congress not only unable to address problems but are actually making them worse. We must keep Colorado climbing.”
Asked if she would represent a third term for Hickenlooper, Lynne said she admired many things about her current boss, but she would be her own governor.
“There are some things I’m going to want to do differently,” she said. “We’ve got to be tougher on health care. There is some work we can do.”
She didn’t get into what “tougher” would look like. Colorado regulators just approved 27 percent rate increases on the individual market for next year, and many rural counties have only one insurance provider. While she praised the Affordable Care Act for significantly expanding access to health care coverage, she said rising costs are one reason we haven’t seen wages increase much, despite record low unemployment.
“In Washington, they are trying to take health care away from every single one of those people who have gained coverage in the last six years, and we are not going to let that happen,” she said. “As governor, I’m going to continue to work to expand coverage, to reduce costs and to improve the quality of health care in this state. And I and hopefully all of you are going to stand up to Donald Trump and the attempt to take health care away from all of us.”
Lynne said she also would work on improving Colorado’s infrastructure — roads, water systems and rural broadband — and improving schools for all students.
And she said she would work to lift up rural Colorado.
“There is still a clear divide between our growing and thriving metropolitan areas and rural Colorado,” she said. “That affects us all. For those of us who live here in Denver and other parts of the Front Range, let’s not forget where our food comes from, where our water comes from, and the economic power of Colorado as an outdoor destination.”
She described “profound experiences” traveling the state in her role as lieutenant governor, which she’ll keep during her campaign, and meeting with state and county employees.
“I’ve been to Pueblo 11 times, Durango nine times, and each time the connection got stronger and the conviction about the importance of a governor who understands this state got stronger,” she said.