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Q&A w/Michael Fields | A new voice to keep conservatives on message

Author: Dan Njegomir - August 13, 2018 - Updated: August 30, 2018

Conservative leading man Michael Fields addresses a session of the Western Conservative Summit in Denver in June. (Photo courtesy Michael Fields)

This fall’s coming cage fight between Colorado’s left and right will include at least one contender who’s battle-tested, agile and streetwise — at the tender age of 31.

Michael Fields has emerged in no time as a leading man for conservative causes and a tormentor on Twitter — if a polite one — to liberal activists and operatives. He first made his mark several years back when he took over as Colorado state director for pro-free market advocacy juggernaut Americans for Prosperity.

The fast-tracking Fields certainly seems to be going places on the starboard side of the political divide and just last month was named executive director of Colorado Rising Action. As our Joey Bunch reported, the upstart organization is a state-based offshoot of the center-right America Rising Squared and its affiliate, America Rising. That makes the effort a counterpart to the state’s well-established, all-things-left advocacy outfit, ProgressNow Colorado and its provocateur-at-large, Ian Silverii.

And while Fields himself is a relative veteran on the Centennial State’s political scene, his latest gig amounts to a new voice for the right that will join the noise and take on the likes of Silverii’s organization as the campaign season heats up.

Fields offers details on that, on the governor’s race, and more — including what he and Silverii might talk about if they weren’t going toe-to-toe during an election season — in today’s Q&A.

Colorado Politics: You have been a man on the move these past few years as a next-gen advocate for all things center-right. Recap for us where you’ve been and tell us about your newest calling. What brought you to Colorado in the first place?

Michael Fields: A few things brought me to Colorado. First, I met my wife in college, and she grew up in Boulder. Her dad, Brain Cabral, was an assistant football coach at the University of Colorado for 25 years. (Go Buffs!) Second, I went to law school at CU. And third, I wanted to get out of Illinois. I couldn’t get away from the state completely, however. My former governor, Rod Blagojevich, ended up moving in right down the street from us (at the federal prison in Jefferson County).

Michael Fields

  • Executive director, Colorado Rising Action.
  • Senior director, issue education, Americans for Prosperity, 2017-2018.
  • Colorado state director, Americans for Prosperity, 2015-2017.
  • Taught school with the Teach for America program, 2012-2014.
  • Holds a B.A. in political science from Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana (where he also played baseball) and a J.D. from the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder.

CP: You have been a forceful spokesman (and prominent Twitter presence) in support of school choice and education reform. You’re also a dad and former teacher with a personal stake in the future of education. And you’re a political point man who is probably relishing the rift the education-reform debate has created among your Democratic adversaries. Does your pitch on education issues have traction among Colorado’s No. 1 voting bloc, unaffiliateds? Enough to to make a difference in a gubernatorial race in which the Democratic nominee embraces some of the GOP’s educational platform, notably charter schools?

Fields: First and foremost, I’m a proponent of a quality education for all kids. I strongly believe that this means having educational opportunities that best fit students and families. I also believe that teachers should get paid more. While legislators are great at taking selfies in front of rallies at the Capitol, they aren’t as good at prioritizing education in our $30 billion state budget. I also think that school districts should put more money into classrooms instead of enlarging the administrative bureaucracy. Those views, I believe, are shared by unaffiliateds across the state.

Education reform has long been a bipartisan issue in Colorado, so I was a little surprised to see the Democrat Party vote to basically kick Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) out of their tent. That doesn’t seem like an inclusive (or smart) strategy. Also, during the gubernatorial primary, the president of the Colorado teachers’ union, Karrie Dallman, had an awkward 10-second pause when asked if they would support Jared Polis in the general election. So, it will be interesting to see how this rift continues to play out.

CP: A while back, an activist across the political divide called you out on Twitter for your presumed whiteness, in a racial reference that backfired. Tell us a little about your heritage and what role it may have played in your self-image and your world view. Given your own politics, what potential if any do you think there is for Republicans to win African-American voters away from their historic and overwhelming loyalty to the Democratic Party?

Fields: I don’t remember who that activist was, but I do remember responding by posting a picture of my African-American grandma and talking about how she worked three jobs to give my dad and his siblings a better life. My dad was the first person in his family to graduate from a four-year college. He started at the University of Pennsylvania in the late ’60s when there were few fellow African-Americans in his class.

As someone who is bi-racial, with two adopted African-American sisters, race was often a topic of discussion in the Fields household growing up. We were taught to combat racism if we saw it – and to judge people by the content of their character.

I think the conservative message can resonate with African-Americans, and other minorities, by focusing on opportunity. As a conservative, I want everyone to be able to reach their full potential. When government picks winners and losers (in business and education) – or gets too big – individuals inevitably have less freedom. I also believe that people eventually get sick of having elitists tell you that they know better than you how to live your life. So, Republicans have an opportunity — but time will tell if they take advantage of it.

CP: Why in your estimation is Colorado perennially purple — some say, trending blue — and what is the message from the right for connecting with swing voters? What do you see as the heaviest lifting for you in that regard — assuming you’re willing to share that publicly?

Fields: If you’ve read The Blueprint by Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer, you know that in the mid-2000s, the Democrats in this state got tired of losing. They became well-funded and well-organized. And that’s still the case today.

I think conservatives can do a better job of staying on message – and focusing on issues that matter to all Coloradans. Conservatives should be talking about how we fix our roads, improve our education system, and protect voters’ ability to vote on tax hikes. They also should be pointing out how extreme the left is becoming. Liberals are pushing for a $33 trillion national single-payer health care plan. They are trying to virtually end oil and gas production in the state. And every year, they try to pass a new $1 billion tax hike. Conservatives can fight back – but to do so successfully, they’ll have to follow the Cory Gardner 2014 playbook.

As someone who is bi-racial, with two adopted African-American sisters, race was often a topic of discussion in the Fields household growing up. We were taught to combat racism if we saw it – and to judge people by the content of their character.

CP: When Colorado Politics reported on your latest career move, we included a comment from ProgressNow Colorado’s Ian Silverii about your new employer. Ian’s a pro who instinctively kicked into high gear, dished out his standard talking points, and of course dissed GOP gubernatorial hopeful Walker Stapleton. Ian’s also a super-smart guy and by all accounts, a very pleasant fellow — like you. What would the two of you talk about if you could do it offstage, offline and off-duty — just a couple of guys over a beer?

Fields: I did notice that Ian came after us pretty hard. He knows that nationally, America Rising has a great reputation for tracking and research. It’s clear he’s attacking us because he’s worried about the impact that Colorado Rising Action is going to have on the ground here in Colorado.

But actually, each time I’ve run into Ian, he’s been nothing but nice. I’m sure we would get along great. Usually, when I’m not talking politics, I’m talking sports. So, I’d love to hear about all the East Coast teams I’m assuming he roots for.

CP: And now, here’s your chance to get back at Ian: What is the greatest vulnerability of his candidate, Jared Polis?

Fields: I think Jared Polis’ biggest vulnerability is that he’s out of touch. On one hand, he voted against a 2.6 percent pay increase for our troops (who make an average of $36,000) because he believed it was too expensive. And then on the other hand, he justifies supporting a national single-payer system that would cost $33 trillion — and couldn’t even be paid for by doubling our taxes. Those positions don’t sit well with most Coloradans – especially unaffiliateds. He has a major uphill battle in rural Colorado. Deciding to snub the Club 20 debate on the Western Slope was a huge mistake.

He also has a base problem. The teachers union has major issues with him; the hard-core environmentalists don’t know if they can fully trust him because he says different things to different people, and a lot of Democrats are upset that he bought the primary election (as well as his previous elections). In a close race, these could come back to haunt him.

CP: What do you see yourself doing in 30 years?

Fields: In 30 years, I’m hoping to be living in Colorado fighting for the same principles that I am now. My wife and I have three kids (so far), so I’m hoping that I’ll be going to some of the grandkids’ T-ball games by then.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.