Mike Coffman (1955–) is a Colorado politician who is currently the mayor of Aurora, his childhood hometown. From 2009 to 2019, Coffman served in Congress, representing Colorado’s Sixth Congressional District, which includes Aurora. He also previously served as the state’s treasurer and secretary of state. A member of the Republican Party, Coffman is regarded as a moderate, though his positions have oscillated between the political center and the Right.
Before he became a politician, Coffman served in the US Army and Marines, with two tours in the Middle East—the first during the Gulf War and the second during the Iraq War. In Congress, Coffman proposed several bills aimed at improving the Department of Veterans Affairs, including a bill that allowed for the replacement of a VA hospital in Aurora.
Michael Harold Coffman was born on March 19, 1955, in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where his father was stationed. The family soon relocated to Aurora, Colorado. Mike followed in his father’s military footsteps, dropping out of Aurora Central High School at the age of seventeen and joining the army. He completed high school while stationed in Germany, then returned to Colorado and attended the University of Colorado, graduating in 1979. That same year, Coffman left the army and joined the marines.
Coffman avoided disaster on his first tour in 1982, when he was reassigned from Lebanon just one year before the Marine barracks there was bombed. Over the course of his military career, Coffman was deployed twice to combat zones—once to Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm in 1990, and a second time to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, where he held the rank of major. Reflecting on his service years, Coffman considers himself fortunate to have avoided serious injury and to have no trauma that, in his words, “keeps me up at night.”
As a veteran who also ran a property-management business in Aurora, Coffman decided to try his hand at politics in the late 1980s. He was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1988, took a leave of absence for his deployment in 1990, then returned in 1994 to be elected to the State Senate. He was then twice elected state treasurer in 1998 and 2002 before his second deployment to Iraq in 2005. After Coffman returned in 2006, then-governor Bill Owens appointed him as secretary of state. By 2008 Coffman decided he had enough political experience to run for Congress.
On November 4, 2008, Mike Coffman was elected as representative of Colorado’s Sixth Congressional District, which included his hometown of Aurora. He handily defeated Democratic opponent Hank Eng, winning 60 percent of the vote to Eng’s 39. Two years later, he won reelection by a similar margin over Democrat John Flerlage.
Support for Veterans
In Congress, Coffman championed veterans’ issues, sponsoring several bills that sought to reform the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) and allow greater access to its services. In April 2017, for example, Coffman introduced legislation directing the VA to hire “at least 50” specialists “at eligible VA medical centers to ensure veterans who become involved in the criminal justice system have greater access to veterans Treatment Courts.” The bill was signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2018. Coffman was also instrumental in passing legislation to support the replacement of Denver’s VA hospital. Although he was critical of the VA’s stewardship of the project—it came in nearly $1 billion over budget—Coffman was on hand to cut the ribbon when the new hospital opened its doors in August 2018.
Affordable Care Act Opposition
Coffman strongly supported health-care reform for veterans, but he showed considerably less support for general health-care reform. In 2010 he voted against the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare legislation. After the act became law, Coffman joined other House Republicans in votes to repeal the law in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2017.
During his reelection campaign in 2012, Coffman apologized after telling an audience at an Elbert County fundraiser that he was not sure if President Obama was born in the United States and that he was sure the president was not “American.” Coffman went on to a narrow reelection over Democrat Joe Miklosi, earning 47.8 percent of the vote to Miklosi’s 45.8.
After the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, which killed twelve people and injured dozens in Coffman’s district, he acknowledged the right of the Colorado legislature to establish background checks for private gun sales and ban the sales of high-capacity magazines. However, he questioned the laws’ efficacy. Instead of supporting stricter gun control, Coffman has opted for other deterrents, such as when he voted in favor of the STOP School Violence Act of 2018, which funneled grant money to schools to improve security. Overall, Coffman received a 93 percent rating from the National Rifle Association for his tenure in Congress.
The 2012 election was the first under the Sixth Congressional District’s new boundaries, which reflected a surge in Aurora’s immigrant population. Political analysts saw these shifts as making Coffman more electorally vulnerable, especially since he had a record of voting against immigrant protection measures, such as the D.R.E.A.M. Act in 2010. He also voted with Republicans to block the enforcement of President Obama’s 2013 executive order on immigration, which called for increased border security and created a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Coffman also voted in favor of a bill that would punish “state or local governments” for denying law enforcement requests for information on an individual’s citizenship status.
Coffman’s position on immigration became even more of a liability in his district after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. During his 2018 reelection campaign, Coffman was forced to choose between siding with the president’s hardline immigration policies or taking a more moderate approach that would appeal to his constituents but alienate him from Republicans. Coffman opted to distance himself from Trump, calling the president’s order to separate families at the border “a horrible, horrible judgment call.”
2018 Defeat and Congressional Legacy
In 2018 Coffman’s difficult position as a moderate Republican in a district that now leaned Democratic proved to be his undoing. He lost the election by twelve percentage points to Democratic challenger Jason Crow.
For his ten-year congressional career, Coffman received ratings of 90 percent or above from conservative groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, but he also earned a B+ from the more liberal National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). By contrast, Coffman received his lowest ratings from traditionally progressive groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (21 percent) and the League of Conservation Voters (20 percent).
Mayor of Aurora
Retreating from national politics, Coffman decided to run for mayor of his hometown of Aurora in 2019. Coffman believed that Aurora had “the greatest potential for economic growth of any city in Colorado” but also argued that Aurora’s “violent crime” needed to be controlled.
Overall, his vision for the city is to increase resources for public safety as well as focus on sustainable development and support for Aurora’s large immigrant population. He raised $440,000 for his campaign, which set a new city record for political fundraising, and received the endorsement of the Fraternal Orders of Police from both the Aurora Police Department and the Arapahoe County Deputy Sheriff’s office.
In mid-August 2019, just two weeks after Coffman received the endorsement of the Aurora Police Union, Elijah McClain, a twenty-three-year-old black man, died after being in Aurora Police custody. Even though McClain was unarmed and had not committed a crime, officers restrained him with chokeholds and other physical measures. McClain went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and died when his family decided to take him off life support on August 30.
Residents reacted angrily after an autopsy declared in November that McClain’s cause of death was “undetermined” and the district attorney did not recommend punishment for any of the involved officers.
Meanwhile, Coffman was narrowly elected mayor in November, defeating Democrat and Aurora NAACP president Omar Montgomery by just 215 votes. It took county officials nearly nine days to arrive at the final tally.
Elijah McClain’s death put Coffman, a white man who received endorsements from the police and then defeated the local NAACP president, in an awkward position. He was sworn in as mayor just weeks after the district attorney declined to prosecute the officers. At first, Coffman said he wanted to “get to the bottom” of the case and “build bridges” to the city’s African American community; however, he did not take action until June, after McClain's case garnered national press attention in the wake of widespread police brutality protests. In the meantime, state and federal agencies opened investigations into the McClain case.
On June 27, 2020, Coffman told NPR that the delayed response was due to a suspicion of police bias from the independent investigator appointed by city manager Jim Twombly. Although he described McClain's death as "preventable" and "tragic," Coffman also said that McClain's "preexisting conditions as a pretty fragile individual physically" contributed to his death. On July 7, with Coffman's support, Twombly announced that the city will put together an independent panel of "local and national members" to investigate the McClain case on behalf of the city.
In 2005 Coffman married Cynthia Honssinger, an attorney and fellow Republican politician who served as Colorado’s attorney general from 2015 to 2019. The couple divorced in 2017.