After running 6 companies, Victor Mitchell seeks Colorado governor’s office

Denver Business Journal
Ed Sealover - Reporter

Victor Mitchell, a Republican former legislator, running for Colorado governor, stops in Morrison on his way back into Denver from an event he attended in Buena Vista.

As a 21-year-old junior at San Diego State University, Victor Mitchell was working his way through school with a transportation-for-hire company when he sat his boss down and informed him of some things that he felt the company owner was doing wrong. That led to Mitchell getting fired.

Not content with walking away, the barely-old-enough-to-drink Mitchell took out a $25,000 loan, spent $20,000 of it on a limousine and went head-to-head with his former employer in competing for business. After a successful run, he sold his startup company for a few hundred thousand dollars — to the man who had fired him.

Later, after selling his first business, Mitchell launched Advantage Cellular, a retail chain that sold used wireless devices and became the biggest company of its kind in southern California.

Now, six companies into a 31-year career as an entrepreneur, Mitchell has a new goal: To be the Republican nominee for governor in Colorado.

Ten years after serving one term as a state legislator from Douglas and Teller counties, and seven years after leading the effort to defeat the $3 billion educational tax hike known as Proposition 103, he is running a campaign that centers on reform of a number of areas of state government and features quite a few outside-the-box ideas — much like his business career.

“You can be mad, you can be apathetic or you can put yourself back out there and make a difference,” the 52-year-old Mitchell said of the current political atmosphere, which has made the race for the open gubernatorial seat one of the most unpredictable in recent memory.

“Frankly, that’s desperately what we need in our state," he said. "There’s so much hyperpartisanship. We have so many traditionalist candidates ... I believe we can make a difference. I believe we can solve problems.”

Mitchell has been trying to make a difference on the public scene since receiving his master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2005 — a degree he sought in order to try to give back after 18 years in private business.

After being what he described as one of just six conservatives in his 220-person class, he returned to Colorado and ran for a state House seat, receiving enough support that the Republican incumbent, Rep. Jim Sullivan, decided to retire.

But while Mitchell speaks of learning to work across the aisle and to focus on educational issues in the one term he served in the House, he decided that he could make more of a difference outside of the system. And it is that maverick style that has defined both his career and his campaign.

Mitchell founded Lead Funding upon leaving the Legislature in 2009 and has run the financing company ever since, using proprietary evaluation tools to offer to growing companies loans that are more expensive that those you might find at banks but far less expensive than private equity.

The son of a single mother who was 90 percent blind and who moved roughly a dozen times during his childhood, he is driven by a desire to make a difference, he said — and is approaching the specifics of that broad goal in a number of unusual ways.

On transportation, for example, Mitchell has opposed the idea of raising the sales tax through a ballot initiative to pay for roads — a position he shares with many of the other Republicans seeking to succeed term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper in the November election.

But he has embraced the idea of replacing the gas tax, at least partially, with a vehicle-miles-traveled fee that uses data collected on the amount that cars are driven and charges state residents based on that amount — an idea that he said should be resonating better with some of the conservatives who oppose it.

“If you drive a Ford 150 and use that truck for business in Pueblo, you’re probably paying a couple of hundred dollars a week in gas taxes,” the Castle Pines resident said. “If you drive a Tesla and [you're] a liberal lawyer in Wash Park, you’re paying nothing now.”

On health care, Mitchell said he would eliminate the Connect for Health Colorado exchange and roll back the 2013 expansion of Medicaid eligibility, replacing them with a block-grant program funding clinics in rural and lower-income areas that are staffed by nurse practitioners.

He and his wife of 28 years, Amy Mitchell, help to fund such a nonprofit clinic system in southwestern Virginia, and the average per-patient costs there are a fraction of the average costs of Medicaid in Colorado, he said.

Mitchell — who voted in 2016 for unaffiliated conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullin rather than Donald Trump — isn’t afraid to go after constituencies that others hold sacred.

At a Dec. 8 Colorado Health Institute forum, for example, he criticized several business sectors of the health-care industry, saying that they are causing the spiraling increase in health-care costs. and requiring that the next governor create more mandated transparency in the pricing of services in the sector.

“Somehow the insurance companies and pharmaceuticals and hospitals have run roughshod over the way we provide health care," he said.

Mitchell also has taken the strongest stand among gubernatorial candidates opposing the state of Colorado offering financial incentives to bring Amazon’s proposed second headquarters — and its likely 50,000 employees and $5 billion in economic development — to the Denver area.

He said first that he would use state-funded incentives only to attract companies to underserved rural areas, and then invested in a social-media campaign criticizing the state’s still-unknown offer to Amazon.

On regulatory reform, Mitchell has vowed to roll back 100,000 pages of regulations on state businesses by bringing in businesspeople without a political agenda to review rules of every state department and see what needs to be repealed.

He also has suggested reforming the state workforce by getting rid of 20 percent of state employees and replacing them with young people just coming out of college, offering to pay down $30,000 of their students loans if they work for low wages for two years in state service.

The father of three children ranging from a college graduate to a teen daughter attributes much of his success to his education, and as such he also focuses his campaign on efforts to increase the pipeline of students out of Colorado universities and into expanding companies. He said he wants to triple the amount of students receiving degrees in science, technology, engineering and math — and he wants to freeze college tuition during his term.

Mitchell, who has rubbed some opponents the wrong way by arguing against lawyers holding office, hasn’t walked the normal path in business or in politics. But he is betting that is exactly what is needed now to break the growing partisan logjam at the state Capitol.

“For 30 years I’ve built extraordinary teams of people who don’t look and think like me,” he said of his businesses. “There are areas that compromise can be reached in without sacrificing your principles.”

Victor Mitchell

                  Age: 52

                  Party: Republican

                  Hometown: Castle Pines

                  Profession: Founder and CEO of Lead Funding

                  Family: Married with three children

                  Political experience: Colorado state representative, House District 45, 2007-08

                  Education: Bachelor of science in finance, San Diego State University; Master's in public administration, Harvard University