Democrat Levi Tillemann blasts Republican Victor Mitchell’s attack on Utah donors as ‘dogwhistle politics’

Author: Ernest Luning - July 18, 2017 - Updated: July 19, 2017

Democratic congressional candidate Levi Tillemann, left, and Republian candidate for governor of Colorado Victor Mitchell, right (Photos by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)
Democratic congressional candidate Levi Tillemann, left, and Republian candidate for governor of Colorado Victor Mitchell, right (Photos by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Democratic congressional candidate Levi Tillemann on Tuesday condemned as “bigoted” and “clearly dogwhistle politics” a demand issued by Victor Mitchell, a Republican running for governor of Colorado, that one of his primary opponents — a member of a famous Mormon family that includes Mitt Romney — return all campaign contributions he’s received from Utah residents.

But Mitchell rejected Tillemann’s criticism, insisting that he was merely raising concerns about Utah competing for business with Colorado.

On Monday, Mitchell launched an attack on Doug Robinson, a former investment banker and Mitt Romney’s nephew, pointing out that his rival had raised $35,299, amounting to 17 percent of his contributions in the last quarter, from 52 Utah donors — including former Republican presidential nominee Romney, his wife, Ann Romney, and their son Josh, who each gave Robinson’s campaign the maximum $1,150.

“Colorado is in a fierce competition for jobs and investment, and one of our key regional challengers is the state of Utah,” said Mitchell, who seeded his own campaign with a $3 million loan. “A candidate who is so reliant on donors from that state couldn’t possibly avoid conflicts and uncompromisingly lead Colorado to win any and all economic development battles with Utah.”

Robinson called the challenge “ridiculous” and mocked Mitchell’s modest fundraising total. (Since launching campaign in February, Mitchell has raised $15,676.)

But Tillemann went further, denouncing on Twitter what he termed Mitchell’s “bigoted call” for Robinson to return the funds he’s raised from Utah. “Targeting someone bc of religion is immoral+unAmerican. Period,” Tillemann tweeted.

“The truth is that every state is an economic competitor, and a major campaign in 2018 is going to fundraise nationally. There are clear echoes here of people who say that Jewish representatives are pulling for Israel more than the U.S.,” Tillemann told Colorado Politics.

“Doug Robinson is Mormon, and singling out a state that is synonymous with Mormonism, then calling on a Mormon candidate to return his contributions from that state is absurd and bigoted. Mitchell’s explanation is disingenuous.”

“It’s clearly dogwhistle politics,” he added.

Tillemann is one of three Democrats running in the 6th Congressional District for the seat held by Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman.

While Tillemann left the church some time ago, he was raised in a prominent Mormon family and was recently dubbed “Mormon political royalty” by a columnist in the Salt Lake City-based Deseret News. He’s also a grandson of the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress.

Mitchell dismissed the complaint as baseless.

“This has nothing to do with religion,” he told Colorado Politics. “Any claims of religious bigotry are simply an effort to distract attention from the business interests of Robinson’s Utah-based contributors. They are Colorado’s competitors in economic development. As someone raised in humble circumstances, I know bigotry, and there is none in my heart, and never has been.”

“If any candidate accepts $35,000-plus from Texas, Arizona or California, we’ll be the first to call them out, too,” Mitchell added. “This is a race for Colorado’s governor.”

Mitchell and Robinson are among eight candidates running in next year’s Republican primary for the chance to take over for term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

Mitchell also stepped up another attack he launched Monday on Robinson’s fundraising, calling on him to return “his tainted PAC money” from Florida-based Mednax Inc. Federal PAC, which gave Robinson $1,150 in the last quarter. A Mednax company, Pediatrix, has been investigated for Medicaid billing issues in Colorado and agreed to pay more than $25 million to settle claims, Mitchell pointed out.

“No candidate for governor should knowingly accept donations from business interests that bill Medicaid, especially when the company has Mednax’s history of scandal,” Mitchell said. “I know that I won’t.”

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.


  • Jeffrey

    July 19, 2017 at 6:10 am

    Is Levi running for governor now, also?

  • John J.

    July 19, 2017 at 7:58 am

    Good to see a liberal democrat stand up against religious bigotry, especially when it’s somewhere he doesn’t benefit at all by wading in. That’s the sort of real integrity we need in out politicians.

    • Tannim

      July 19, 2017 at 8:12 am

      Except that it was Robinson who brought up religion, not Mitchell, so that dog don’t whistle or hunt.

      • John J

        July 19, 2017 at 10:29 am


        A demand that a Mormon politician return all of his campaign contributions from Utah is a clear and cynical ploy to use somebody’s religion against them.

        You’re either actually stupid or deeply intellectually dishonest if you claim otherwise.

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