In the Halls of Power: Todd Mitchem, Candidate for US House of Representatives, Colorado
“From college students to our seniors and retirees, countless people have been left behind culturally and economically. It’s time to stop the pointless talk and finally take action toward tangible solutions!”
Yitzi: Thank you so much for your time, Todd. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Todd: Born in the small, rural, mining town of Bluefield, West Virginia, I came from humble beginnings. I grew up observing the power of hard work from my WWII veteran and blue collar, coal mining grandfather, Roby, who taught me that you never give up on this country or yourself. I also learned valuable lessons from my father, also a military veteran, who worked for nearly four decades at the same company starting as a meter-reader and retiring as a senior executive leader.
I learned my survival instincts from the powerful women in my life, like my mother, a two-time cancer survivor, who never quit in the face of certain death. After receiving a diagnosis of only six months to live, my mother not only decided to fight cancer, she decided to win. She taught me the power of perseverance and taking risks to beat any obstacle. The health care system failed her during her second cancer by telling her to “give up,” and then sending her massive bills that were not covered by insurance. But being a fighter, my mom turned to cannabis and is still alive today. It is her drive “to never give up” which I have adopted into my own life and business ventures.
For ten years, I worked as a leadership developer and business development expert. During that time, I built learning as well as management change initiatives for companies all over the world. As a senior leader for one of the world’s top change management companies, Eagle’s Flight, I helped to create powerful and efficient solutions for some of the toughest leadership and organizational challenges in many of the world’s fortune 500 companies.
After my mother’s incredible survival miracle from cancer, I became more interested in the fast-growing marijuana industry. So, in 2013 I joined the emerging cannabis industry to help build companies, educate leaders, and raise standards. Never one to back down from a challenge, I quickly developed huge success in spite of incredible odds. I helped develop the largest brand in the space, O.penVAPE with over 1,600% growth in 12 months. I built the world’s first global social network unique to the cannabis consumer called High There! which grew from zero users to over 300K in less than a year. After marijuana legalization, I also developed the world’s first marijuana job fair called, CannaSearch which saw over 3400 job hopefuls, who ended up filling over 1000 new jobs in Colorado alone.
I also lead the industry as the first person to speak to Attorneys General on the need for standards in marijuana tracking, youth prevention, production, and business leadership. Now with my clients like The Green Solution, I works to create jobs, build smart education, and help drive smart business solutions.
Currently, me and my wife, Diana run a successful government affairs and community outreach company, TMC Partners, which develops initiatives in the cannabis space for businesses, including the state’s number one company, The Green Solution. For my expertise and ability to get things done, I was asked to speak to countless conventions, youth prevention summits, and government town hall debates. I have been seen as “The smart level-headed problem solver” by municipalities in which I drive fundamental changes. I have spent the last four years working to protect consumers and workers while building a robust job creating industry, which now employees over 25,000 people in Colorado alone.
I am a loving husband to my wife Diana, who herself is an immigrant to this country. Diana immigrated to the United States from war torn Lithuania at the age of twelve after not seeing her mother for seven years. She taught herself English by the age of fourteen, graduated high school early and went on to get two degrees from CU Boulder. Diana and I live in district two just up the hill from Golden and work each day to make this world better than we found it. Diana and I work together, parent three amazing kids, and we never give up on each other or this country we love!
You can learn more about me in my book, “YOU, DISRUPTED” (Prometheus/Random House) .
I decided it was time to serve my country as my father and grandfather did before me, by entering the race for Congress. Like millions of Americans, I have felt the sting of rising taxes making it hard to thrive. Also like many people, I have felt first hand the blunt force hit of a broken health care system, which nearly destroyed my family financially. Like you, I am tired of the talk in Washington, the fighting, and the massive levels of government waste that pushes each citizen into deeper despair. From college students to our seniors and retirees, countless people have been left behind culturally and economically. It’s time to stop the pointless talk and finally take action toward tangible solutions. We are all in this together, and it is together that we will show the world It’s Time for action.
Yitzi: What are you most proud of?
Todd: I think I see this question as more about my characteristics rather than achievements. To brag about one’s achievements while many people around us are struggling is not what the country needs right now. Instead, I am most proud of my characteristics. The one I am most proud of would have to be my resilience. While I am gifted at collaboration, leadership, communicating a message and seeing all sides of debate, I find that it is my ability never to give up and to get up whenever I am knocked down, which I am most proud of. And I think this is something that we all need right now. We all could benefit from the idea that no matter how hard life is, as long as you are still breathing, you are still able to make anything happen. MY grandfather and father would always say, “There is no such word as can’t.” and they lived by it. This taught me that no matter my obstacle, challenge or failure, it was my ability to get back up that showed my character. I am never afraid to learn, adapt and succeed from even the biggest knockdown.
Yitzi: What drives you?
Todd: For as long as I can remember I have had an intense drive to help people see the best in themselves and to develop concepts, companies, or relationships where I work to bring out that best. As a government affairs leader, for example, I never see only one side of the argument. I see all sides and I work with each person in the debate to find solutions that work at every level. Often people only see what they want to see from their individual perspective. That is flawed communication and creates misunderstandings. What drives me is finding that understanding and then using it to get everyone what they need smartly and thoughtfully. The other driving force in my life, my reason for doing all I do, is my family. I have three amazing kids who I know look up to me, for guidance and how to live an example of what it means to be a grown up. I do not take that responsibility lightly.
Then there is my wife, spouse, a partner in all things life and business, Diana. I knew when I met Diana that she was different and dynamic. The night we met I was staring at her from across the room for a long time. She finally came up to me and said, “Are you going to stare and me all night or are you going to actually say something?” I knew we were meant to be in that moment! So I am dedicated to making our relationship the absolute best one possible. So my kids and spouse are a deep driving force to my work and pursuits.
Yitzi: Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Todd: There are so many people who have inspired me. While I am sure most of your interviewees start with some dominant historic figure, I will start much more humble. My grandfather, Roby, was the most inspiring person in my life as a small child. He along with my amazing grandmother taught me the basics of how to be a man, how to respect women, and how to treat your family. He was a hero to me and I was always inspired by his hard work ethic, never-ending loving heart, and his giving nature. I never heard him complain or argue with anyone. He was gentle when needed and a hammer if necessary. He died very young and I never go a day without him in my thoughts. My father carried on Roby’s legacy as a hard worker also who succeeded in many ways. These were the strong male influences in my life.
Yitzi: Who do you aspire to be like one day?
Todd: I love this kind of question because frankly, I hope to aspire to be a better version of myself. Again, if we all looked inside ourselves and said, “How can I be a better me?” the world would change overnight. The key to aspiration is that you don’t put your faith in the qualities of others. Instead, remember that you can become something unique and dynamic. Every human has faults and flaws, but you can see great men and women who you admire say, “I would like to learn to have a certain characteristic from that person.” For example, I aspire to have the resilience of my grandfather, the negotiation skills of my father, the speaking and leadership ability of Ronald Regan, the governing mindset of Thomas Jefferson and the resilience of Oprah Winfrey. I find each of these figures having qualities that I want to add to my mindset so that I become a stronger and more equipped leader who can take on any challenge and see it through to success.
Yitzi: How did you get involved in politics?
Todd: I got involved in politics quite by accident. I remember the moment I became intrigued and then obsessed with getting into politics. I was sitting and meeting with an amazing and dynamic woman who was the Director for the Conference of Western Attorney’s General. As we sat and discussed my potential involvement in one of their upcoming conferences I remember feeling like this person knew how to make things happen. Then the first time I attended the conference, I watched her masterfully negotiate, make connections, and work to drive ideas forward with a room full of Attorneys General. I was hooked. Then I found myself networking and talking with many Attorneys General from over 40 states to great success. It was in that moment of combined influence by her and my realization that I had a gift for politics that I knew I was all in. Then I formed my own government affairs company, which also manages many community outreach initiatives. We have an eye for smaller government which gets things done for the good of people. Every day I am working with Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and Libertarians to move the dial around initiatives. It is so exciting to me to know that already my ideas are impacting people, even before I am elected.
But it was the moment this past summer when I was attending a fundraiser event for the now Candidate for Governor, Jared Polis, when I decided to look at running. A dear friend said, “Why are you not running for something? You would be great!”. In that moment I started to consider it seriously. Since Jared Polis, who is the US Representative for my District 2 in Colorado, decided not to seek his seat again, I felt that I could fill the void and make a difference by replacing him. The problem I faced, however, was that I no longer aligned with either Republicans or Democrats and guess what, neither does the majority of my district. They are mostly unaffiliated. So here we are, me the underdog, the Independent/Libertarian looking to make a difference.
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your campaign so far?
Todd: I can. Diana came home the other day after running into the wife of the person who suggested that I should run. They started talking, and Diana stated in a joking way, “You know I blame your husband for Todd wanting to get into this campaign.” To which my fiend’s wife replied, “Yes, but he meant that Todd should run for a small race, not for the biggest one he could put his hands on.” They both laughed, and Diana said, “Todd does nothing small, he is 6’5” after all.” That sums up how amazing and fun this has been. When no one expects you to shoot for the top it means you might be disruptive enough to get there.
Yitzi: What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects that you will plan to work on if elected Congressman?
Todd: There are so many issues that we must solve, but I am out on the campaign trail listening to voters. The men and women in my district are very concerned about why leaders in Washington are spending more time fighting and less time working. The gridlock is unprecedented, and my voters are fed up. I think first when we start to elect more third and fourth party candidates; we begin to break those barricades that grind government to a halt. So first is that I will go in, as I do here in Colorado with all my government relationships, as a voice of reason. Someone needs to start acting like a leader and I will. The next top issues, that hard-working people, who want the American Dream, are (in no particular order) Healthcare costs, huge government spending, tax reform, and helping small business. Education and the environment are also key. What people tell me that they like me as a potential leader in Washington because I believe in smaller government, fewer taxes, and government staying out of your personal life as long as you do not hurt others. Of course, I will also seek to immediately and swiftly to draft legislation which legalizes marijuana in a way that creates over 3 million jobs nationwide, lowers opioid overdose abuse, drives new revenue to the government, and overall gives the pharma industry some very compelling competition to motivate them to reduce costs.
These are simple concepts but complex in execution because the government made them complicated.
Yitzi: Countless politicians make campaign promises, and when they get to Congress, they find that the levers are so gummed up, that they can’t deliver any of their signature promises. Why will you be different?
Todd: My background and skills are very different than most typical politicians. I am not naive enough to say it will be easy; it won’t. But I do this kind of work every day in our business. I know that at the end of the day humans are all equal and that means we can find common bonds. I also know that life is short so I am not afraid to take a risk, push back, and solve challenges. I’m not running to get re-elected, I’m running to make a difference. I feel that if I win, do a good job, and create a new path for my voters; they will keep me. If I fail, they should not vote for me again, and no amount of campaigning will change that!
Yitzi: What would you say are the top 5 most important, but correctable domestic problems that our country faces today?
- Respect and Tolerance – Somewhere along the way, Americans started to believe the lie of “Me only” and became cynical and self-centered. Through technology, media, and the horrific leadership of the recent past, we all started to believe that only the individual mattered. But this can be corrected with leadership and leaders who demonstrate respect for ALL people.
- Healthcare – If you look at the system now and listen to the politicians we have elected, you quickly learn they are arguing for the wrong things. Instead of debating who should pay for our healthcare, we need to seriously discuss and solve why it’s so damn expensive in the first place. We need to start asking the right questions that will solve the big problems.
- Respect of life – Somewhere along the way we lost our humanity in this Country. What I mean is that we have become so distracted by the government, president, and the divisiveness created by our system that we forgot the two most important parts of being human on this planet; We are all humans, and No one gets out alive! It may not be very motivating to realize that you, everyone around you, and me will eventually perish, but when you remember it, you remember that we are all the same. IF we work together for common goals, we can have a far better life, no matter how long or short.
- Jobs and Income – I see jobs as a critical part of any community. But I am not focused on jobs in the sense of putting a person in a seat to do some task they hate, I am focused on creating careers that will lead people into a greater sense of fulfillment. We need to start to look at work differently and allow people to pursue careers they enjoy instead of forcing them into schools, jobs, and lives they regret. We need more skilled trade labor, firemen, police officers, teachers, and jobs that hold up the very fabric of our country.
- Education – Our educational system needs a serious overhaul. I see every day at our kids’ schools, amazing teachers, principles, and dedicated parents are all caught in a system that is archaic at best, and the government has tainted that with useless “mandatory testing” as well as forced lesson plans. Teachers have little freedom to truly educate our kids. This must change. We need to actually listen to teachers and the people who educate, because they are the experts in this field. For far too long politicians have not talked to teachers about what they see as solutions. This must stop.
Yitzi: Do you think the process of running for office has changed over the past 30 years? How.
Todd: It certainly has. With our government, mostly a two party system, has become more and more divided, we are seeing the election process becoming more divisive and forcing voters into a binary option spectrum. This is the fundamental problem with our government and the election process today. The reason we say in our campaign, “#ItsTime” is because we feel it is time for this gridlock to end. It is time for a new kind of leader, and it is time for more parties and independents to finally have a voice. Also, it’s time to stop voting only for a party and to start voting for individual leaders. The American people are FED UP with this mess, and they are demanding a change. I think 2018 will be a banner year for Independents and Libertarians in that for the first time voters will start electing people and not the party.
Yitzi: Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in politics?
Todd: Take the risk and go for it. We need many voices of all ages in the process. One thing I have learned is that with many diverse opinions from passionate people who are willing to listen and learn from others, the government can work better and leaner. The key is to drop your ego at the door, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. If we treated government like a lean start-up, with the goal of recruiting smart talent, we would change our country to something better very quickly. If you are young, you have a valuable opinion, and we need to hear it. Just be ready to learn in the process. When I was in my 20’s I had one talent that served me well, I was teachable. Any young person, with drive and a sense of teachability, can make a difference in politics.
Yitzi: Which skills are most important to being a successful politician?
Todd: I take these from my business skills:
- Business leaders get things done - One of the main concepts that Washington, in particular, has forgotten is how to accomplish goals and get things done. As a business leader for several companies, I could not survive without a unanimous focus on a common goal. We as leaders work day in and day out to achieve real results for our team, our clients, and our customers. This skill is critical is for any politician to stop the gridlock in Washington, finally.
- Business leaders MUST collaborate - An essential skill for any successful business leader is collaboration. In fact, no good thing happens in a company, or a government, without people behaving like adults, and collaborating for the best result. Collaboration also includes how we interact with the consumer or in the case of the political official, the public, and media. To get a great message out, the business leader knows that collaboration is key, rather than a divisive stance. Good leaders can bring all types of people together, regardless of differences, and get things done!
- We know how to negotiate - It’s true. GREAT leaders are masters of negotiation and have the discernment to find common bonds for a negotiation. We give and take fluidly for the benefit of all. The phrase “win, win” came from leaders who focused on mutual results, rather than egoic self-interests. This is a skill missing in Washington.
- We can manage many projects at once and many moving parts - When I worked for an app company as the CEO and Co-Founder, there were many moving parts. We were a ground-up startup and had to work in a lean way to hit our deadlines and targets. If we missed a deadline, we lost time, money, and users on our app. To be a great CEO means you must be a great manager of your time and the many projects happening all around you.
- To be a great leader, you must have excellent communication skills - From talking to the media to conducting consumer town halls to communicating daily to a team and speaking at employee events, a great leader needs to be able to convey the message in a succinct and forward focused message each time. The leader’s goal is to achieve and articulate understanding when sharing a vision, changing the direction for the company, or overall working to build a new consensus. Communication is CRITICAL for any leader and any politician. We need people to lead our politics who know how to deliver and receive a message in a way that they can integrate into the company or country.
- We know a thing or two about budgets and managing them - Why are taxes so high and the government continues to get bigger? The simple reason: budget management. Ask any great leader, and they will tell you that managing a budget is critical to the success of the business. A company does not, if it’s smart, spend more than it has in revenue. The government currently has forgotten this and continues to make itself bigger while creating a tax burden for the American people. Politicians could learn a thing or two about how to manage a budget from some of the top business leaders. We don’t charge the customer more just because we feel like adding more people to expand the business, who serve no real purpose. If we did that, we would be out of business. Business leaders get no “debt ceiling” to raise.
- A business leader MUST manage people and need to know how to hire properly - When I hire a person to work for or with me, I am VERY discerning. Our team puts people through a test to make sure they can do the job and that we are a fit. Then we work with each team member on their journey and we work to make sure that they are happy and productive parts of the team. This is the same for government. The government leaders need to work together to hire smarter and manage better. This is where we, the leaders come in. By electing business leaders to office, the American people will get a diverse set of skills to help manage all sorts of people and hire in a smart way.
Yitzi: You are in a position of influence. How have you used your position and skill to help people’s lives?
Todd: I respect the influence I have on our political system here in Colorado and in general with my businesses. I only seek to do good with my influence. One case as an example happened recently. When I came into the marijuana industry, my goal was to help raise the standards and build the industry in a way that created jobs, drove the economy, and made a difference in the lives of people like my mother who need cannabis to help with cancer. When I ran the first ever job fair for the industry back in 2014 and 1200 people showed up, I knew I was making a difference. Then as I progressed in the industry and ended up on countless news outlets talking about marijuana from a mainstream perspective, I would get messages from all sorts of Americans thanking me for the work that I am doing and helping them better understand the plant of cannabis. Knowing that I have used my influence to uplift the industry’s standards is amazing. Seeing the impact of my effort to educate youth prevention experts inspires me. But the best is when I meet patients, like my mother, who thank me for all that I have done to help them, that is the best reward anyone can ask for.
The bottom line to me is this. I will work each and every day to fight for what is right for people. I will listen to every perspective and every position. I talk to teachers, factory workers, executives, government leaders, and work each day to apply their thinking to our government. I am a disruptive person, but I know the difference between disruption and destruction, which our government has failed to discern. And even if you don’t agree with me on marijuana, guns, healthcare, or other issues, I will still work with you to get your understanding while respecting your views.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for you time, Todd. I learned a great deal