DaVita CEO Kent Thiry is shown Feb. 10, 2011.
Flamboyant DaVita Inc. CEO Kent Thiry announced on Monday that he would not join Colorado’s crowded race for governor — ending months of speculation about his political ambitions.
Instead, Thiry said in a statement that he would focus on other pursuits, such as supporting “centrist candidates” and “common sense causes” in next year’s election, though he did not elaborate on whom or what.
“I have held onto the dream of running for office since I was 10 years old. That’s why it is with deeply mixed feelings that my wife Denise and I have decided now is not the right time for me to run for governor of Colorado,” Thiry said in a statement.
His decision removes one of the biggest wildcards left in the governor’s race, as Thiry — who earned a salary of at least $12.3 million last year — had the potential to upend the Republican primary by sinking his own fortune into the pursuit of the nomination.
With Thiry out, it keeps the GOP nomination within reach for Republican candidates who can’t self-fund. It also could help businessman and former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell, who gave himself an early edge with a not-insignificant loan of $3 million.
Thiry’s decision may also embolden state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman to jump into the fray, as the two candidates likely would have competed for moderate Republican voters. Coffman said earlier this month that she was exploring a gubernatorial bid.
Only a couple of major Republicans remain undeclared: State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, who is widely expected to run, and former U.S. Senate candidate Jack Graham, who is mulling another shot at elected office.
In addition to Mitchell, the GOP field currently includes George Brauchler, prosecutor of the Aurora theater shooter; Doug Robinson, Mitt Romney’s nephew and a former investment banker; and Steve Barlock, Donald Trump’s Colorado campaign co-chair.
There’s been speculation since last November, however, about a possible Thiry bid.
Thiry and his company dropped $2.5 million into two successful ballot initiatives that paved the way for unaffiliated voters to participate in Democratic and Republican primaries — a move seen by some Colorado politicos as a stepping stone for a Thiry governor’s run.
He also changed his registration from independent to Republican in March and booked the political firm EIS Solutions to give him advice.
“Kent had a unique path in the race — social moderates, independents, fiscal conservatives and disaffected voters who are just tired of it all,” said Kate Roberts, one of Thiry’s advisers at EIS Solutions, in a statement. “Those are still his voters, and Kent is still deeply committed to pursuing real change on their behalf.”
But Thiry had several hurdles to overcome, too. His company has spent nearly $1 billion in recent years to settle legal fights related to its business practices in the dialysis industry. And Thiry’s personality as a cheerleader CEO was lampooned earlier this year on the HBO program “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.”
Both of those issues likely would come up again on the campaign trail.