Vail Valley’s governor candidate Mike Johnston packs a hometown event

Vail Valley native and governor candidate Mike Johnston's event this week drew a standing room only crowd to Colorado Mountain College.
Dan Davis, Trekker Photography| |

EDWARDS — For Vail native Mike Johnston, a campaign event in the valley is a family reunion.

Johnston, a Democrat now living in Denver, is running for Colorado governor. When a couple of local folks decided to host an event last week, they planned it for their living room. Word got out, and faster than you can say “Johnston for Governor,” they could either move it, or rearrange their furniture so their living room would hold 150 people — because that’s how many people showed up to Thursday’s event at Colorado Mountain College.

Johnston grew up in Vail and with Vail. His parents, Paul and Sally Johnston, own and run the Christiania Lodge. His calculus teacher was sitting beside his high school Spanish teacher in the crowd.

Good things are possible

Johnston, 41, was the first in his party to say officially that he’s running for governor. He has criss-crossed the state several times already, and has been to Pueblo four times in the first 50 days.

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His orange and blue truck finally died at the top of Vail Pass during a campaign trip. The truck’s history is almost as colorful as Johnston’s is. It died, it was stolen and now the engine basically exploded. It’ll cost $6,000 to fix his $2,000 truck.

As many husbands encounter, his wife’s daily driver is the nice car in the family.

And like Johnston and that truck, he says it’s time for Colorado to try something new.

“There is a great interest from people in Colorado who want to see a different brand of politics than we’re seeing at the national level. People don’t want to be part of fighting something that’s bad, as much as they want to be part of building something that’s good,” Johnston said.

And what are people upset about?

“There’s a lot on the list right now,” Johnston said.

Johnston refuses to become mired in the overheated rhetoric in national politics.

“We believe good things are possible, and we’re willing to work together to make those good things possible,” Johnston said.

During his two terms in the Colorado Senate, Johnston passed 130 pieces of legislation; 95 had Republican co-sponsors.

Fast start

While Colorado won’t select its next governor until November 2018, the early start to his campaign is good, he said.

“Those people are ready to get to work now. They don’t want to wait six months or a year to get started,” he said. “They want someone who thinks big, works hard, but is humble enough to know that other people have smart ideas too.”

He said he had time to learn big ideas while working small jobs in the Christiania — cleaning toilets, mowing lawns, cleaning rooms — whatever his mom and dad assigned him.

Election Day is Nov. 6, 2018, so he has time, but not time to waste, he said.

“It’s like a great conversation with a friend. You don’t want to schedule 10 minutes then run to something else. You want the time to get to all the topics,” he said. “That’s part of what we wanted to do, have a more caring conversation about what has people upset, and what makes them hopeful.”

Family matters

Running for governor is a long-term proposition that meant lots of kitchen table conversations with his family. His wife is a prosecutor with the Denver District Attorney’s office. They have three children: 9-year-old twin boys and a 5-year-old girl. He calls his children “a force for good,” and says they’re all in.

“Kids are like toys that get better every year,” he said, quoting a friend.

Adults have all sorts of complex ways that they make decisions. Children don’t, Johnston said. As they discussed it, his children cut to the chase.

“Dad, do you think you can make a difference?” they asked.

“Yes, I do,” Johnston answered.

“Then why wouldn’t you do it?”

And so he is.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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