Hick’s victory lap: Outgoing governor John Hickenlooper reflects on how he started, and what went right
DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper and his staff started counting their days in the statehouse, not for celebration or sadness, but to make sure they get everything done.
Hickenlooper invited housing specialists from around Colorado to the Governor’s Mansion for a thank you lunch. He worked the room — smiling, greeting people, remembering names — like the politician he has become, but did not start as.
Standing in front of a massive Christmas tree, the governor looked around the room and saw several people old enough to remember Colorado in the 1980s, in the wake of that decade’s oil industry bust. Hickenlooper was a geologist when he migrated to Colorado as the bust hit. He was out of work for two years, he said.
“There were no jobs for geologists. So I had to make beer,” Hickenlooper said smiling, as the room erupted in laughter. Hickenlooper launched the Wynkoop Brewery in Denver.
He has high praise for governor-elect Jared Polis, his successor, who is also a successful entrepreneur.
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“I can’t think of another state that has had two successive governors who were entrepreneurs, who built a business from scratch and who signed both sides of a paycheck,” Hickenlooper said.
Looking back, moving forward
Hickenlooper did not allude to what might be next for him, but regaled the crowd with tales of his unlikely win in that first Denver mayoral race.
“When I first ran for Denver mayor in 2003, no one took me seriously. People kept telling me they wanted to back a winner, ‘and that’s not you,’” Hickenlooper said he was told. “No one gave me a snowball’s chance … until the Denver Board of Realtors endorsed me. I will remember that for the rest of my life,” Hickenlooper said.
Denver and the suburbs are in this together, Hickenlooper kept saying during that mayoral campaign.
“The historic animosity between Denver and the suburbs was a tremendous waste of energy and resources,” Hickenlooper said. “People are fed up with partisan fighting over every little thing, to try to make political points.”
Get past the politics to create progress, he said.
“There’s more appetite for that now than there ever has been,” he said.
During his mayoral campaigns, he pledged that Denver would not poach businesses from the suburbs. He was told that it was a non-starter for two reasons.
“First, you’re never gonna win, and second, even if you win and do half of what you’re talking about, you’ll never get re-elected,” Hickenlooper said he was told.
He won that first mayoral run, and won re-election with 87 percent of the vote.
Listing what went right
During that thank you lunch, the governor rattled off a list of accomplishments, including the affordable housing tax credit, affordable housing for creative workers, cleaning up the state’s Draconian construction defects law, public/private partnerships in transitional housing, government transparency, increased health insurance coverage, reducing teenage pregnancy and teenage abortion by 60 percent in the last eight years — the list grows as his administration wanes.
“Every one of these ideas started out in the community. People and organizations stepped up and said, ‘I’ve got a suggestion. Maybe you could look at it this way,’” Hickenlooper said.
That works, he said. Colorado’s economic growth is about twice the national average, while the state’s unemployment rate is about half the national average, Hickenlooper said.
Last year, Colorado ranked in the country’s top five rural economies. This year, it might be in the top one or two, Hickenlooper said.
Business startups in rural areas do not pay taxes to the state for five years, he said. By the end of 2020, Colorado will have high-speed internet and broadband in every town, the first large state to accomplish that, Hickenlooper said.
“In a town like Craig, Colorado, if you start a business that creates 40 new jobs, that’s a big deal,” Hickenlooper said. “I have never had a business person from Denver or the Front Range tell me they don’t want their tax dollars spent on the Western Slope or the Eastern Plains.”
Hickenlooper and his staff are creating all sorts of transition plans for Polis and his staff.
“For now, though, I’m still allowed to say, on behalf of the entire state of Colorado, thank you very much,” he said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.