Colorado Senate Watch 2020: Mike Johnston will bring his fight against the NRA to a national stage

The former state legislator and gubernatorial hopeful believes gun safety remains a high priority for Coloradans.
5 min. read
Colorado gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston in his Northeast Park Hill campaign headquarters, May 7, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mike Johnston can't quit. The former state senator spent more than a year and a half running for governor and will now spend more than a year and a half running for the U.S. Senate.

Of course, he will hope for a different result this time around. But he clearly doesn't have regrets about his last run, which landed his name on TVs and yard signs all over the state.

"For me, the question is not what you want to be, the question is what do you want to change and what role you need to be in to make that change," Johnston, 44, said.

As he turns his focus on Washington, the way Johnston talks about President Trump and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is almost like they're the same person (it'll be a common refrain among Democrats). He believes the two are "running away" from the challenges the country faces.

"They've been running away from the hardest problems and they've actually been creating new ones," Johnston said, mentioning the emergency proclamation over the border wall and healthcare policies. "I feel like I've spent my entire life running towards the hardest problems."

His platform will focus on healthcare, climate change and immigration (he's planning on releasing a policy plan for immigration soon). Johnston will look to continue the always red-hot issue of gun reform, a discussion the state legislature is currently having as it considers the red flag bill (a proposal Johnston supports).

Johnston likes to mention his fight against the NRA in Colorado. It will be a much more well-funded battle at the national level.

Johnston touts his involvement in helping pass gun reform laws in 2013. The laws were infamous for other reasons, as they ended up costing two Democratic legislators their seats during a recall.

Now, the NRA is a big lobbying organization. To fully illustrate this very obvious statement, here's what they did over the past two years: They spent nearly $10 million lobbying federal lawmakers, according to Bloomberg News. They spent $55 million to support President Trump and other Republicans during the 2016 election.

By comparison, in Colorado, state records show the NRA's PAC, the Political Victory Fund, currently has about $6,000 in the bank as of November.

So the money spent to lobby during the upcoming senate campaign cycle will probably be very different. The 2014 Senate race, the one that saw Gardner unseat an incumbent, cost more than $92 million. Much of that money came from outside groups.

Mike Johnston speaks at a forum on homelessness and housing for gubernatorial candidates at the Shorter Community AME Church, May 31, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnston calls gun safety a national issue. He's been a gun owner since he was about 10.

"It's the same fight in different places," Johnston said. "I think we lived through what was the most contentious period of politics in recent memory in Colorado. What you found was that if you have the courage to stand up for people who need it most, you can still get things done."

Johnston said a lot of responsible gun owners want to see universal background checks, a policy supported by a majority of Americans. He would push for such a bill in Congress (such a measure has been introduced this session), as well as banning high-capacity firearm magazines and pushing for a similar red-flag law at the national level.

"I think that there is a silent majority of Americans who want this," Johnston said. "I do feel like no one's willing to step up. That's a battle I'm willing to take to the NRA."

Johnston released his own Green New Deal earlier this month.

The federal one, which is led by celebrity Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is a set of proposals aimed at addressing climate change. Similarly, Johnston's version pushed for 100 percent renewable energy in Colorado by 2040.

A halted coal train under Speer Boulevard. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

His plans include building new infrastructure, training for jobs in clean energy, increasing investment in research to improve renewable energy options and pushing for the U.S. to re-join the Paris Agreement. He said science is making it clear that if people don't take "aggressive action" in addressing climate change, it could be too late to protect some of the things Coloradans enjoy on a regular basis.

"I'm all in on the ambitious plan to convert the economy," Johnston said. "I think we can do while creating jobs and protecting the environment at the same time."

So what happens if Trump is reelected in 2020, but Democrats flip the Senate?

Johnston's optimistic he won't get reelected. He's got a pretty clear Plan B just in case he ends up joining the president in Washington.

"If he is, I will fight him on all the things that are going to impact Coloradans, our people, our water, our land, our air," Johnston said. "If there are things he wants to support that are good for the people of Colorado, I would support them."

Here are the Democrats running against Gardner so far.

These are the people who have announced:

  • Former state Sen. Mike Johnston
  • Community organizer Lorena Garcia
  • Navy veteran Keith Pottratz
  • Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff
  • Scientist Trish Zornio

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