Election 2018News

Republican businessman Barry Farah launches 11th-hour bid for Colorado governor

Author: Ernest Luning - March 21, 2018 - Updated: March 23, 2018

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Barry Farah (Courtesy photo)

Colorado Springs businessman Barry Farah is jumping in the crowded Republican primary for governor Wednesday, barely three weeks before the GOP state assembly, saying he wants to “reform the state of Colorado’s government to have a more humble view of itself.”

Farah, 56, told Colorado Politics he decided to mount a last-minute campaign for the nomination after two other Republicans — former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo and District Attorney George Brauchler — dropped from the field, believing their absence creates an opening for a candidate who can excite the party’s base.

“Looking at the field, I didn’t feel like there was a representative who was truly conservative that can have a credible chance of winning in the general election,” he said in an interview before his announcement.

“Between the two of them, they represent a combination of my views — a true conservative, along with a law-and-order, someone who has a real love for the people of Colorado. When the two of them dropped out, I felt it seems like a good strategy to go to the assembly and lay it before the people of Colorado, let them decide.”

Farah, who got his pilot’s license when he was 16, spoke with Colorado Politics about his impending candidacy while flying his Cessna Conquest II twin turboprop aircraft from Centennial Airport to Central Colorado Regional Airport in Buena Vista and back, including a stop for an interview in the mountain town. He said he plans to campaign around the state in the plane, which he flies at least once a week and refers to as the equivalent of a pickup truck, only airborne.

His chief rival at the assembly is likely to be Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who rebooted her campaign this week by hiring a slew of veteran strategists and consultants. When she first ran four years ago, Coffman rocketed out of the state assembly and went on to win more votes statewide than any other Republican that year, but her moderate views on social issues, including abortion and LGBT rights, have drawn criticism from the GOP’s hard-liners, who could account for the bulk of delegates to the April 14 assembly.

It’ll take the support of 30 percent of the roughly 4,200 delegates to land a spot on the June 26 primary ballot. Others pursuing the nomination through the caucus and assembly process include former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, former Trump campaign organizer Steve Barlock and Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III.

Three other Republicans — State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, entrepreneur and former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell, and businessman Doug Robinson — are pursuing the nomination by petition, which requires submitting 10,500 valid signatures. The deadline to turn in petitions was Tuesday, and state officials have until April 27 to validate them.

While he wouldn’t say how much of his own money he plans to spend in a primary that’s already among Colorado’s most expensive — Mitchell, who gave his campaign $3 million at the outset of his run, on Tuesday announced a TV and radio ad buy topping $1 million, while an independent expenditure committee backing Stapleton raised nearly $1 million by the end of the last reporting period — Farah said he expects to keep up.

“I’ll fund some, but I’m not going to fund all of it,” he said. “I’ll be more aggressive about fundraising if I’m on the ballot. I do think I have a lot of support. I might not get parity with the highest numbers, but I believe I’ll be competitive, and I’ll have enough to make the case.”

The founder and chief executive of a data analytics company and author of bestselling books about the customer experience, Farah said his background makes him the best qualified Republican in the field to run the state.

“I’ve been an executive for 30 years,” he said. “I’ve been the boss, the CEO or chairman of half a dozen companies and half a dozen ministries — three international and three local. I’m good at running meetings, I’m good at getting an agenda accomplished, and I’m good at working with people that don’t agree with me. I’ve had to do that all my life. I can get through an agenda efficiently and effectively. I’m fair about it, I’m honest about it, I’m collaborative, but I’m also a strong leader.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Barry Farah pilots his Cessna Conquest II airplane through some light turbulence on the approach to Centennial Airport after flying to Buena Vista on March 17 to discuss his impending campaign. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

He’s been starting companies since he was a kid growing up in Oklahoma, including one that provided information and accounting services for businesses and a high-tech company that landed a billion-dollar contract to upgrade NORAD’s satellite radar system. After selling that company to the contractors who developed the Hubble Telescope program, Farah built extended-stay hotels in North Dakota at the height of that state’s oil boom. He was also a founder of The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, the largest charter school in the state.

“I can come at fixing the roads, and I can come at reforming PERA and getting some things done in the state that combine my business skills, my dispute-resolution skills, all of the things I’ve done in ministry, to be able to win, actually moving forward with some things that have been stalled for years,” he said.

As an example, Farah cited the approach he would take to resolving the state’s transportation funding impasse.

“These are our roads. We know they need to be fixed. We know there are some things that could be done right now that would be beneficial to all Coloradans. We have solutions that have been developed by intelligent transportation engineers. There’s nothing particularly novel in what we need to do — we just need to move forward,” he said.

“We haven’t gotten it done because we haven’t led from the bully pulpit of governor. I would lead so it makes it more difficult for the Legislature to stall. That can be done without raising taxes — we’ve got $300-600 million that can be bonded — and we can fix the roads. This is one example of a thing that government should do, even if you’re like me, as a conservative, government should do this.”

Other priorities he pointed to include rooting out government waste, increasing school choice — “because choice breeds a comparative advantage , regardless if it’s in a marketplace or education” — and bringing an end to so-called sanctuary cities.

“I would be using the levers a governor does have to cooperate with federal authorities to stop the sanctuary cities,” Farah said. “The reason is public safety. You have a police officer who is being incentivized to not cooperate with ICE. It’s dangerous, it’s a slap in the face to law and order, and I would be opposed to it, and I would be as aggressive as I can be to stop sanctuary cities.” He suggested that framing the argument the right way would show the “ridiculous absurdness of violating federal law.”

Farah said he’s confident there’s a path for an outspoken conservative to “run the table” — win at assembly, win the primary and vie for Colorado’s nearly evenly divided electorate.

“I think people want someone they can trust. I’m genuine, I’m honest about what I believe in. Those guys are interested in being able to travel safely from point A to point B. I’m going to fix the roads, I’m not going to just talk about it. Those folks are interested in being sure the government isn’t micro-managing their lives. I’m interested in throttling back government in places where it’s maybe over-reached. I don’t think that’s a negative thing for voters all the way left of center,” he said.

“It’s partly my approach, my demeanor, my angle on it — I’m not an angry person,” he said. “I love people, and I care about people, and I really, truly want the best for them. It’s my view that, over time, that will resonate with them and that, in the privacy of being able to fill in your vote in your home, even if you’re slightly left of center, they’ll say, ‘You know what, I don’t mind having Barry handling the emergencies in the state, I think he’ll do that in an honorable way, and I think I can trust him.’ That’s my hope, because I concede, it’s a tough sled, but I believe it’s possible.”

He’s the first major-party gubernatorial candidate hailing from El Paso County since the-state Sen. Mike Bird ran in 1994 and real estate developer Steve Schuck ran in 1986. Both Republicans lost in the primary. Before that, Republican John Love, a Colorado Springs attorney, was elected governor in 1962 and served until 1973, when he resigned to take an appointment as President Nixon’s energy czar.

Farah has hired Jefferson Thomas, the Trump campaign’s political director in Colorado and a former political director for the state GOP, as his campaign manager. Farah’s wife, Tamra, is taking a leave of absence from her job as deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity to work as his communications director.

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.