Few lawmakers can claim “bull riding” on their resume, but newly minted Republican Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, of Littleton, can. From former Army Ranger, to minister, to state senator and now to his latest challenge, Kopp’s journey has given him a unique perspective on leadership as he takes the reins of the state Senate GOP caucus.
As a young man Kopp, who dabbled in bull riding and rock climbing, took his penchant for adventure a step further by joining the Army as a Ranger, motivated, in part, by his respect for what he says was “Ronald Reagan’s vision for America.” As a ranger Kopp went to Honduras with the 82nd Airborne Division, as well as to Panama and the Gulf War in Kuwait. Back at home after an honorable discharge, Kopp, who holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral studies and a master’s degree in public administration, began and sustained a career in the ministry before being elected to the state Senate in 2006.
Kopp was elected minority leader by fellow Senate Republicans after Sen. Josh Penry, of Grand Junction, stepped down from the post in May to manage the U.S. Senate campaign for Republican Jane Norton.
Kopp chuckles at suggestions that his Ranger training may translate into effective leadership for leading his caucus, but he concedes that there may be some similarities.
“More than anything, you learn in Ranger training that there’s always another way because when you’re on patrol or in combat, things don’t always work out as planned,” he said. “You have to be quick to respond and quick to get your troops to respond as well when you’re in leadership.”
Being in the minority, says Kopp, requires more flexibility than being in the majority, where legislation by definition has an easier journey from inception to successful passage. Finding 18 out of 35 votes in your own party is inherently easier than having to cross the aisle to make up for a deficit, notes Kopp.
“Obviously, when you’re in the majority, you have a better idea of whether or not legislation will get passed,” said Kopp. “The power of the majority is pretty incredible considering that the president gets to choose which committee to send a bill to, narrowing the necessary votes to kill a bill.”
The ministry, said Kopp, has also uniquely prepared him for leading his caucus although in a different way than his tenure as an Army Ranger.
“The ministry is about people–working with volunteers and with people who have no obligation to follow you like in the Army,” said Kopp. “You have to have some compelling reason for people to follow you.”
Offering compelling ideas is paramount to success when you are in the minority–and makes for better policy, says Kopp.
“The key to being in the minority is to have compelling ideas,” Kopp said. “All you have is carrots and so your ideas have to be solid and attract members on the other side.”
In his years representing Jefferson County’s District 22 in the state Senate, Kopp has been both a utility player for his team, including service on the low-profile Capital Development Committee, and a standout on issues with national scope. He pushed through legislation with bipartisan support establishing a memorial for those who’ve died fighting the war against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kopp also has assumed a high profile on the perennial budget debate at the statehouse, staking out a stance as a fiscal hawk who has called for spending cuts and reining in the bureaucracy. Kopp, who works for the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, also has been among the most vocal Republicans opposing legislation earlier this year that suspended or eliminated wide-ranging tax breaks affecting business.
Kopp said his number one priority as minority leader is to successfully orchestrate the passage of legislation that provides a blueprint for leaner government. Kopp said he has done the math and asserts that a 15 percent increase in government efficiency would amount to $1 billion in savings – a near-perfect match to the anticipated shortfall next year. Kopp, acknowledging that an overhaul of state government is ambitious, said he believes it can be done with bipartisan support—even if the Republicans reclaim the majority in the Senate after the November election.
“The writing has been on the wall a long time that we have to get a handle on spending,” said Kopp. “I’m going to aim toward bringing on as much Democratic support as I can in addressing this. The degree of change that we will need to make is so large that it will require broad ownership to make it durable and lasting.”
Democratic Senate President, Brandon Shaffer, of Longmont, said he is looking forward to working with Kopp in the upcoming legislative session next January.
“I’ve known Sen. Kopp for several years now, and I have enjoyed working with him,” said Shaffer. “I’m looking forward to continuing to work with Mike as he steps into his new role as minority leader to build on the bipartisan successes of the previous session.”
Kopp said he is planning on throwing his hat into the ring for Senate President if November favors the Republicans running for Senate seats. That’s barring family obligations that could trump his bid for the leadership position in light of his wife’s ongoing battle with cancer.
Kopp said he is confident on both the home front and on the political front that the future will unfold favorably.
“My wife is truly my number one agenda right now, and my kids, followed by getting our caucus ready for the legislative session next year—and winning Senate seats so that the Republicans are in the majority next year. I think we’re really going to surprise people,” said Kopp.