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Republican gubernatorial candidates Heidi Ganahl, left, and Greg Lopez. (Colorado Sun photos)

Greg Lopez and Heidi Ganahl are the two Republican gubernatorial candidates facing off in the June 28 primary for a chance to unseat Democratic Gov. Jared Polis in November. 

Colorado voters have elected only one Republican governor in roughly a half century, and whoever wins the primary will face a tough opponent in Polis, a deep-pocketed self-funder who polls indicate is well liked. 

We combed through documents and attended several candidate forums to put together this guide to the candidates in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Who are the candidates?

  • Lopez, 58, is a former Democrat who served two terms as the mayor of Parker in the 1990s. He became a Republican during his mayoral tenure. Lopez ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2016 and for governor in 2018. He was the Colorado director of the Small Business Administration between 2008 and 2014, is an Air Force veteran and lives in Elizabeth. 
  • Ganahl, 55, is a University of Colorado regent. She was elected to her at-large seat in 2016 and is the only statewide elected Republican in Colorado. Before entering politics, she started Camp Bow Wow, a doggy day care with a national footprint that she later sold. She lives in Lone Tree. 

Two stances on abortion

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised in the coming weeks to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision protecting the right to an abortion without excessive government restriction, abortion is set to be a central issue in the midterm elections.

Ganahl said she strongly opposes a bill passed by the legislature this year and signed into law by Polis that affirms abortion access in Colorado with very few limitations. 

“We’ve got to do everything we can to roll it back,” she said. 

But Ganahl doesn’t endorse a blanket ban on abortion, saying there should be exceptions “for rape and incest and life of the mother.”

Lopez agrees that Colorado’s new abortion access law should be repealed. He thinks the procedure should be completely outlawed without exception.

Climate change

Lopez rejects the broad scientific consensus on climate change.

“I truly do not believe that it’s caused by human behavior,” he said. 

When asked at a recent candidate forum if she thinks climate change is caused by humans, Ganahl didn’t say, though she acknowledged that climate change does exist.

Heidi Ganahl, a Republican candidate for Colorado governor on Saturday, May 21, 2022. (Steve Peterson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“The climate is changing all the time,” she said, “but we don’t have to sacrifice our livelihoods. We all care about clean air, clean land and clean water and we can make that happen without giving up our economy.”

If elected, Ganahl plans to submit a waiver to the Environmental Protection Agency to try to unwind the EPA’s decision to downgrade the Denver area’s air quality status to severe from serious. Her aim is to prevent implementation of a requirement that specially formulated, and more expensive, gasoline be sold in the metro region. 

Colorado’s education system

Ganahl is a proponent of school choice and giving parents public funding to spend as they see fit, essentially a voucher program.

“We have got to fix public schools,” she said, “and the way we do that is through competition. So we’ve got to fund the student, not the system. We’ve got to give power back to parents to take their kids out of schools and put them in situations where it works, whether it’s homeschool, microschool, private school, charter school.”

She was the founding member of a charter school. 

Lopez said he wants to get social issues out of schools and argued against teaching students about how the nation’s racist past has contemporary effects.

“The educational system has now been converted into state indoctrination centers,” he said. 

Boosting school safety

The mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, thrust school safety back into the spotlight. 

Lopez said law enforcement is part of the solution.

“I am going to put a police officer in every single school across the state,” he said at the Western Conservative Summit.

Greg Lopez, a Republican candidate for Colorado governor, on Saturday, May 21, 2022. (Steve Peterson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Ganahl believes addressing mental health is paramount.

“This is a deep, deep issue that goes back to the family, the community reconnecting with people (and) curing our mental health crisis,” she said at the summit. 

Ganahl has released a five-step school safety plan that includes implementing the 988 crisis hotline, launching a “school safety accountability dashboard” for the public and hosting monthly governor’s “school safety reports” to track metrics.

Neither candidate has endorsed any new restrictions on firearms.

Was the 2020 presidential election stolen?

Lopez said that “I fully believe that President Trump did win the election” in 2020, a claim that’s false. The 2020 presidential election was won by Joe Biden. 

Lopez has also said that if he’s elected he will pardon indicted Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, an election denier, if she is falsely accused and convicted of the felony and misdemeanor charges brought against her in a security breach of her county’s voting system. He told a conservative talk radio host that he “has a lot of concerns about what I’ve read in the indictment” leveled against Peters.

Ganahl has not directly answered the question of whether the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

“Joe Biden is our president,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of questions about what happened in the election. And for four years the Democrats yelled ‘Russia! Russia! Russia!’ And, for the last couple years, we had some questions about what happened. I don’t understand why they’re so averse to transparency and people asking questions and gaining confidence again.”

MORE: Colorado’s June 28 primary will test just how much Republicans embrace 2020 election conspiracies

The candidates’ big policy proposals

Ganahl says she wants to phase down Colorado’s income tax rate to 0% in her first term while also cutting Colorado’s 22-cent gas tax, which is among the lowest in the nation, in half and still paying for infrastructure projects and repairs.

“There’s plenty of money, you guys,” she said. 

But Ganahl has not said what program she would cut to make her campaign promise a reality. Income tax revenue makes up a significant portion of the pool of money that funds the state budget. 

Ganahl also has not answered how she would make the changes if she is elected governor and Democrats control one or both chambers of the legislature. 

Lopez  says that 30% to 40% of Colorado’s budget is fraud, waste and abuse, though he hasn’t provided specifics. 

One idea Lopez has floated on the campaign trail is moving Colorado toward a statewide electoral college system that gives rural areas of the state with less population more political power. 9News, which first reported on the proposal, said the idea would be to give each of Colorado’s 64 counties electoral votes based on turnout, with 11 votes going to counties with the highest turnout and 3 votes going to counties with the lowest turnout. 

Lopez has since distanced himself from the idea saying it is just a “conversation.” 

“There is no official proposal on the table,” he said. But Lopez said the plan would lead to “true representation”

What else you should know about the candidates

Lopez also has had several run-ins with law enforcement, all of which have been previously documented and that he has openly talked about.

In 1993, he and his wife were both cited in a domestic violence incident in which he was accused of pushing his wife, who was six months pregnant, to the floor and kicking her after she hit him on the top of his head. The Denver Post reported in 1994 that both Lopez and his wife pleaded guilty to a single charge of harassment. 

Lopez was also accused, in a separate case, of driving under the influence. 

Then, in October 2020, Lopez settled a lawsuit filed by federal prosecutors alleging that after he left the Small Business Administration, where he was the Colorado district director from 2008 to 2014, Lopez violated federal law by attempting to improperly influence actions of the agency.

Greg Lopez speaks during the GOP assembly at the Broadmoor World Arena on Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Colorado Springs. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Prosecutors alleged Lopez “attempted to influence the SBA’s handling of its loan guarantee” to Morreale Hotels, which was owned by Lopez’s friend. 

Lopez paid $15,000 to settle the case and “acknowledged that the United States could prove the facts alleged in the civil action by a preponderance of the evidence,” per a news release from the Trump administration’s Justice Department. 

Lopez said he wasn’t aware at the time that he did anything wrong. He said prosecutors brought the case just days before the statute of limitations expired. “They wanted $157,000 for a phone call and an email,” he said. “I settled for $15,000.”

Colorado’s Trump-appointed U.S. attorney at the time, Jason Dunn, framed the case differently.

“Mr. Lopez’s attempts to exert improper influence over a federal agency on behalf of his friend were serious violations of the rules for former federal officials,” he said in a written statement. “The American people deserve to have confidence that the federal government runs its programs without favoritism towards former officials.”

The Sun could find no record of Ganahl being arrested before in Colorado.

Ganahl’s first husband, Bion, died in a plane crash in the 1990s when she was 27. She remarried and then divorced. She is now married to her third husband, Jason, who runs GQue, a barbeque restaurant with locations in the Denver area.

Ganahl was diagnosed with a noncancerous brain tumor in 2020 that was surgically removed. Her term as regent ends early next year.

Republican candidate for governor Heidi Ganahl speaks during the GOP assembly at the Broadmoor World Arena on Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Colorado Springs. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

How to beat Jared Polis

Colorado voters have not elected a Republican governor since 2002, when Bill Owens was elected to his second term. The last GOP governor in Colorado before Owens was John Arthur Love, who was elected to his final term in 1970, 52 years ago. 

Polis has a solid approval rating and a fortune that he’s willing to spend to get reelected. In 2020, he spent more than $23 million to secure his first term. He’s already spent more than $5 million on his 2022 campaign.

So how do Ganahl and Lopez plan to beat Polis?

Ganahl said she “will raise the millions of millions of dollars that we have got to raise to build a movement to beat Jared Polis.”

So far, however, Ganahl hasn’t been able to keep up. Ganahl’s campaign had raised a little more than $1 million through April 27. 

Lopez, on the other hand, is taking a different approach.

“No one is going to outspend the governor,” he said, ”it doesn’t matter who you are. You’ve got to outwork him.”

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....