At least one Democrat hopes to take on Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in the 2020 election, and he made his intentions known on Thursday. Mike Johnston, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018, is hoping his political fortunes are a little better in 2020. A former educator and state senator, Johnston is the best known candidate to announce he’s running to take on Gardner.
But he likely won’t be the last. Back in November, AR Intel noted that Johnston and speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, Crisanta Duran, would likely jump in the race. While there’s not yet any clear indication from Duran that she will indeed run, AR Intel takes a deeper dive into the background of Johnston below:
1) Career Background
Much of Johnston’s career has been in the education field. After graduating from Yale University in 1997, Johnston worked as a teacher in Mississippi. In 1999, he co-founded New Leaders for New Schools, a nonprofit committed to “developing transformational school leaders.” His background in education led him to serve as an educational adviser to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
In May 2009, Johnston was elected to the Colorado State Senate, where he served until 2017. He followed up his state legislature career by launching a campaign for Colorado governor. Johnston did not move beyond the Democratic primary, however, placing third in the race with a little over 23 percent of the vote.
2) Known For Education Reform
Johnston is most well known for his educational reform efforts, authoring several bills while in the state senate. According to The Denver Post, he is “best known for” his teacher effectiveness law, which tied teachers’ evaluations to their students’ academic growth and weakened teacher tenure protections. He was a “key figure” in the passage of the READ Act, which created a new system to identify students in kindergarten through third grade with reading disabilities, and he worked to pass the ASSET bill, which provided in-state tuition for students who were born in another country.
Johnston’s efforts to push for educational reform drew the ire of teachers unions. Two influential teachers unions endorsed Johnston’s opponent, Cary Kennedy, in Colorado’s Democratic primary for governor in part because of Johnston’s ties to the education reform community.
3) Gun Control Advocate
Aside from education reform, Johnston is also known for his strong gun control positions. Johnston was a vocal advocate of a package of gun control legislation passed by the Colorado senate in 2013, and said he would advocate for its implementation on a national level. He made gun control a central issue in his gubernatorial campaign and Johnston said he would not shy away from raising the issue of gun laws during the race. In fact, a large portion of the money he raised came from gun-control advocates like Michael Bloomberg.
In November 2018, Johnston penned an editorial in The Denver Post urging “elected officials to take action on common sense gun safety like banning high-capacity magazines, requiring universal background checks, banning bump stocks and enacting strong red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of those who are dangerous.”
4) Supports ObamaCare and Universal Health Care
As a supporter of ObamaCare, Johnston opposed Republican efforts to repeal the law. In October 2017, he agreed that federal proposals to allow each state to develop and run their own health insurance programs as a replacement to ObamaCare made little sense.
Johnston has advocated for universal healthcare and said he supports allowing any Coloradan to buy into the state’s Medicaid program. Doing so, he argued, would serve as a way to bolster the negotiating power of the program with providers and creating more competition in the insurance market. Johnston also specifically said that he would want to limit the Medicaid buy-in option to areas of the state that have only one private insurer currently offering plans.
5) Tax Cut Opponent
Despite the fact that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is expected to save Coloradan families over $775, Johnston opposes the law. He criticized Sen. Cory Gardner’s support for the bill, saying it “created new threats.”
Johnston has also supported tax increases. During his time at the statehouse, Johnston unsuccessfully campaigned for a $1 billion income tax increase to fund the state’s schools.