Colorado Politics spoke with Hill on Thursday ahead of an intended Monday “soft” campaign launch, in which the two-term state senator said frustration with Lamborn has “reached a real deafening chorus.”
“We are not getting the representation we need, we are not getting the leadership we need, and so more and more people are saying we need a different option,” said Hill, speaking Thursday from a downtown Denver office that overlooks the 16th Street Mall while taking a break from work in the Colorado Senate.
Lamborn has faced a primary every year he’s been in office except one. Last year, he was nearly knocked out by a relatively unknown state legislative aide, Calandra Vargas, who came just 18 votes shy of blocking the congressman’s placement on the primary ballot.
Lamborn, a six-term congressman, received 35 percent of the delegate vote at the 5th Congressional District Assembly. Candidates need 30 percent to make the ballot. Lamborn went on, however, to defeat Vargas 68 percent to 32 percent in the June primary.
In 2014, retired Gen. Bentley Rayburn made the race close by earning 47 percent of the vote in the primary.
The Republican-leaning district in Colorado Springs favors any candidate that survives the primary. So, if Hill wins, he would likely head off to a dysfunctional Congress.
When asked by ColoradoPolitics whether he is “crazy” for wanting to become a congressman at a time when national political gridlock continues to nauseate the American public, Hill said, “People have been asking me that for years.”
“But you watch what we do up here, it’s hard work up here,” Hill continued of his work in the legislature. “We have a Democratic governor, a Democratic House, and yet with some real focus, principle, energetic leadership, we’ve been able to get a lot of pro-freedom, pro-constitution work done.”
Hill has for some time been considered a rising star of the Colorado Republican Party. In 2014, he ran for U.S. Senate before stepping aside along with other Republicans to make way for the party’s standard-bearer at the time, Cory Gardner, who went on to defeat incumbent Democrat Mark Udall. Hill at first declined to drop out of the race, but then he did so in the name of “unity within the Republican Party.”
He pointed to his work this year on expanding access to charter schools as an example of his priorities and principles. The bipartisan bill aims at equitable funding for charters. It passed the Senate, but must still be considered by a Democratic-controlled House.
He is also sponsoring a bill this year that would allow and regulate self-driving cars, which lays the groundwork for a future with driverless vehicles. That legislation is awaiting a vote in the House.
Another bill highlighted by Hill this year legalized switchblades. His legislation was so popular that it already received the governor’s signature.
Hill also sponsored a bill that legalized so-called “ballot selfies.” He filed a lawsuit before running the legislation to legalize the practice. The issue hit a tipping point this election as voters took photos of their completed ballots and posted those images on social media. Until Hill’s bill was signed by the governor on March 16, ballot selfies were illegal.
A 35-year-old Colorado Springs resident who moved to the district in 1999 to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy, Hill says he will make military issues a top priority.
After four years in the academy – during which time he met his wife, Emily, a native of Colorado Springs – Hill was “exiled” to Los Angeles, where he attended the Pardee RAND Graduate School. He earned a doctorate in economics. Hill and his family moved back to Colorado Springs in 2006, where he has four children, and where much of his extended family lives.
“We have a congressman who has been in for a while, and we think the very best form of term limits is when people get together and say, ‘It’s time for new leadership,’” Hill said.
“We’ve been hearing from a lot of constituents and the nonprofits that I work with and the businesses around town that they don’t feel like their voices are being represented when they have challenges, when government is breathing down their necks, and they need someone to help pushback against it – they’re not getting that. It’s time to bring that energy, it’s time to bring that representation for our people here in the 5th Congressional District.”
A Lamborn campaign spokesman, Jarred Rego, did not appear too concerned by Hill’s announcement.
“This is a free country and people are welcome to run for any office they wish,” Rego said. “Congressman Lamborn trusts the wisdom of the Republican primary voters in the 5th Congressional District. On average, over his time in Congress, they have decided to re-nominate him with 65 percent of the vote. He looks forward to working hard to earn their votes once again.”
One thing that could be working against Lamborn is that unaffiliated voters will most likely be participating in the June 2018 primary after voters backed a ballot initiative last November allowing unaffiliated participation.
Unaffiliated voters tend to maintain an independent streak and oppose establishment candidates. With six terms in Congress, Lamborn faces an uphill battle with voters who don’t align with the Republican Party and who are frustrated with Congress.
Hill, however, could be troubled by a crowded primary. He would do much better in a two-way race.
Hill said his campaign will focus on galvanizing young people and earning the support of voters who are frustrated with national politics and the media.
“We’re going to do this person-to-person; we’re going to do this in people’s living rooms, talking with them at coffee shops and local businesses,” Hill said.
“We’ve heard from so many people that the congressman is not present in the community.”