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Colorado gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl aims to connect with rural residents

Republican challenger asks Gov. Jared Polis to limit his campaign spending
Heidi Ganahl, a Republican candidate for governor, meets people Thursday night at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Durango. Ganahl, an entrepreneur and University of Colorado regent, has formally launched a long-shot campaign to challenge Gov. Jared Polis, saying she will be a voice for rural communities. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

In a gubernatorial election often dominated by the Front Range, Republican candidate Heidi Ganahl has set her sights on rural Colorado.

In addition to her campaign priorities of kids, crime and cost of living, Ganahl said she wants to be a voice for rural communities.

“I love being out and about in small-town Colorado. It’s my favorite part of campaigning,” Ganahl said.

“The more I travel the state, the more I hear loud and clear that the people in the small towns of Colorado across the plains and Western Slope don’t feel heard,” she said. “And they’re very worried about (their) industries, whether it’s the energy industry or cattle ranching or just small businesses.”

“I really do believe (rural communities are) still the spirit of Colorado,” she said. “That’s the part of Colorado people yearn for when they move here.”

For Ganahl, serving as a voice for rural Colorado often means deferring to local residents.

On the front page of her campaign website, she is quoted as saying, “People want control of their own lives.”

That theme carries through her plans to address issues important to many Southwest Colorado voters, such as education, agriculture and public land management.

“It’s not necessarily for me to decide as a governor statewide what should happen. I think it’s a very local decision,” she said. “You have to involve the people that have been living here for generations and that know the history and know what’s best for (their) local community versus the state overall.”

Ganahl, the only Republican to hold statewide office, won election to the University of Colorado Board of Regents in 2016.

“Being a regent has been tremendous getting to know students and what their needs are and the issues they’re facing,” she said.

In her first political post, Ganahl has pushed for more conservative voices in the university system and policies focused on affordability and accessibility.

She sought a 20% tuition reduction for students during the spring 2021 term because of hybrid and remote learning. The resolution didn’t pass with Regent Linda Shoemaker, a Democrat, noting that the move would force job cuts.

Recently, Ganahl has ventured into issues of race, ethnicity and gender. Earlier this month, regents rejected a resolution she sponsored that would have prohibited the four CU campuses from considering race, ethnicity and gender during hiring and when running school programs.

Ganahl said transparency has also been at the forefront of her efforts as regent.

“It’s been really difficult to get good information and data to make good decisions,” she said.

“The more people can understand what happens behind the scenes and see the budgets and see where the dollars are spent and what the return on investment of those dollars are, you’re going to get people to buy in on investments into things that they care about and that we all care about,” she said.

Transparency has also been a source of Ganahl’s attacks on Gov. Jared Polis, with Ganahl often pointing to money as the source.

“Gov. Polis put $23 million of his own money into the last election for this governor seat, and I think in Colorado we want elections, not auctions,” she said. “I think we should be very transparent about what money’s being spent on our races.”

Ganahl has agreed to the state’s voluntary spending limit for the governor race, which restricts her campaign to $3.4 million of spending this election cycle. Ganahl said she has asked Polis to do the same.

Ganahl is the founder of Camp Bow Wow, the dog care company that has exploded over the last decade. She sold to animal hospital giant VCA Inc. in 2014 and has gone on to start SheFactor, a digital lifestyle brand and community for young women she launched with her daughter, Tori, and charities, including the Bow Wow Buddies Foundation, which helps sick and injured dogs.

Ganahl seeks to become the first woman elected governor in Colorado’s history and the second Republican to hold the office since 1975.

To win, Ganahl must reverse the growing Democratic trend in Colorado.

In recent decades, Colorado has turned increasingly blue, with President Joe Biden and Sen. John Hickenlooper holding the largest margins of victory for a presidential and senate candidate in more than a decade.

From 2016 to 2020, Southwest Colorado and the Western Slope shifted more Democratic, according to The Colorado Sun.

The margin of victory for Democrats grew in La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta, Dolores, San Juan, Hinsdale and Mineral counties.

In La Plata County, Biden’s margin of victory increased by more than 8% and Hickenlooper’s increased by about 7%.

Ganahl plans to flip that trend by focusing on her message.

“I think it’s pretty simple. It’s not a political message,” she said. “It’s more a message about the spirit of the people of Colorado: I want to control my life, not yours, and I trust you to make good decisions about your life and your business.

“That’s the Colorado way.”

ahannon@durangoherald.com

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