Aspen’s Mulcahy outlines platform in state Senate bid
ASPEN — Lee Mulcahy became a household name in Aspen after the former top-producing ski instructor parted ways with Aspen Skiing Co. and complained about some company practices to the National Labor Relations Board in 2010.
Despite his local claim to fame — or, in the eyes of some, infamy — he faces a tough battle in this election as a third-party candidate for state Senate District 5. The seat is being vacated by Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, because of term limits. Vail Democrat Kerry Donovan and Orchard City Republican Don Suppes are making a run for the open seat. Money from outside their campaigns is flooding the race, primarily in smear efforts.
Mulcahy, the Libertarian candidate, is knocking on doors throughout the sprawling district, hosting cannabis fine-dining events to gain attention and duking it out with his opponents in debates and letters to local newspapers. He is upfront about what it will take to win as an underdog: The other two have to beat the tar out of each other to create a chance for him to sneak into office, he said.
The Aspen Times sat down with Mulcahy at his home in Burlingame Ranch outside Aspen recently for an interview.
The Aspen Times: Why are you getting into this race? What appealed to you about trying to get in the Colorado Senate?
Lee Mulcahy: (Reading from a statement) I dug irrigation ditches to pay for my education at university. I’m an Eagle Scout. I believe Colorado is riding the crest of a wave on federal overreach. I’m going to surf that wave to give the common man — working people — a voice in government. God gave me the opportunity to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I want to give back. I believe in what I’m doing.
(After finishing statement) Americans are dissatisfied with the two-party system and I believe that in Colorado we can make a big difference by electing an independent in an evenly divided state Legislature. The independent wouldn’t have to side with the Republican platform or the Democratic platform. Seventy-six percent of Americans, according to Gallup, are in favor of a raise in the minimum wage, yet nothing gets done. It’s by design. The billionaires on the left and the billionaires on the right, they keep the people divided.
AT: It’s a tough row as an independent candidate. While there is dissatisfaction out there with a two-party system, two parties seem to call the shots. What’s it going to take to get elected as an independent?
LM: I’ve been going door to door, and this district is a little bit more independent than America as a whole. Colorado has always been attracted to third parties, these rugged individualists that aren’t tied to money. This district is unique because it appeals to those people that think the system is broken and they want to give a voice to the working people. The Republicans, they’re for the rich and the corporations. The Democrats, they say one thing but they do another.
AT: Did you give any thought to trying to win the primary against the Republican or Democrat rather than going the Libertarian route?
LM: I did. Frieda Wallison (the Pitkin County Republican Party chair) — I volunteered under her command many times. However, she wasn’t open to that. She felt they already had their candidate, the GOP.
AT: Do you identify more closely to the Republicans than with the Democrats?
LM: I believe that the bigger the government, the less the liberty. But I believe that we need roads, and we need government not just to work for corporations and billionaires. It’s got to work for the working people. Of course, I identify with the faux populism of the Democratic Party, saying they’re for a raise in the minimum wage.
AT: Is that a central part of your platform, increasing the minimum wage?
LM: The average Joe’s family income has gone down by $5,000 since 1999. The transfer of wealth from the pockets of our large middle class to the 1 percent creates a race to the bottom.
AT: So how much should the minimum wage be increased?
LM: I’m from a small-business background. My dad, who came from nothing, made his fortune in small business. How do you pinpoint government to help working people and small business? Well, you raise the minimum wage on Wal-Mart to $15 per hour, McDonald’s to $15 per hour, Vail Resorts, again, to $15. These major corporations can afford to pay it. Their top CEOs won’t make 350 times what the average worker makes, but most Americans are in favor of something like that. That gives small business a leg up. Give them a leg up — we do that for corporations. We give them tax breaks and all sorts of things.
AT: The critics say if you require a higher minimum wage, won’t businesses hire fewer people?
LM: A review of 64 studies on minimum-wage increases found no discernible effect on employment. Additionally, more than 600 economists have signed onto a letter for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016. Here is the crux: Look at the results in Seattle and San Francisco. They speak for themselves.
AT: What are two more pillars of your platform?
LM: Education — we spend more on prisons than on higher education in Colorado. State nullification of Obamacare because it is legislation written by big pharmaceutical companies and insurance giants. The lobbyists, do they have the average Joes’ interests in mind? No.
AT: You talk about wanting to help the average Joe. Doesn’t Obamacare help the average Joe?
LM: Well, not in Senate District 5 because some people’s rates have gone up three times. We have the highest insurance premiums in the nation. Just like we did with Amendment 64 (regarding marijuana), Colorado can lead in the idea of federal overreach. We can nullify federal law and create our own in the state. Now, my proposal would be to, first of all, change the law so that insurance companies cannot deny people with pre-existing conditions and then to work with Democrats and Republicans on this issue so we create something in Colorado that’s not written by insurance giants and not written by the pharmaceutical companies that will benefit the working class as well as people that are disenfranchised. It’s how we take care of the least of us is how we will be judged.
AT: I don’t know what adjective we could agree on here, but you’ve had an interesting couple of years in Aspen. Some would say you are an agitator or activist. Have you made too many enemies in Aspen and have you been so visible in your taking on the Aspen Skiing Co., etc.? How will that affect your Senate race?
LM: I’m real sorry that the feud has gone on this long. But every time I’m on the bus, every time I’m knocking on doors, people shake my hand and say, ‘Thank you.’ Bullying is ahistorical.
Feuds often start with stupid, and this feud was no exception. It all started because they wouldn’t pay me for hours worked. I asked my boss if that was legal; he stonewalled me. I went to HR, and they kept stonewalling me. I had to go to the Colorado Department of Labor. Aspen Skiing Co. has great PR. It ain’t common knowledge that I filed state and federal labor charges five months before they fired me. It’s still working its way through the courts four years later.
AT: It seems at times that you take delight in taking an extra poke, that it’s beyond a fight over principle, that you want to embarrass them.
LM: Bullying is ahistorical, and they’re ridiculous. Again, I’m sorry that it’s gone on this long.
AT: What about the personal aspect this case has taken on? Can’t you make a point about the wages paid and freedom of speech without taking on the Crowns (owners of Skico) personally?
LM: I learned my lesson on that, that the legal system won’t hold billionaires accountable for their company’s actions. It’s just not going to happen under the way that it’s structured. Even though we all know who pulls the strings behind the curtain, it’s now down to a fight between the Aspen Skiing Co. and the Mulcahy family.
AT: What are two of the top issues that people raise with you (on the campaign trail)?
LM: Two issues, Obamacare and people want better paying jobs or jobs, period.
AT: Do you have a realistic chance of winning this race?
LM: With the big money coming in against Kerry and against Don, you never know if that third party could slip through. If it did, it would change the balance of power in Denver, and it would give third-party candidates realistic hopes everywhere.
AT: Let’s conclude with: What’s one reason a voter in Senate District 5 should vote for you?
LM: I would say I’ll raise the minimum wage on giant corporations while exempting small business. I will side with Republicans on repealing Obamacare.
AT: Let’s define small business.
LM: Less than 250 employees.