John Hickenlooper for President: Then and Now
A quick caveat and then a 2014 historical artifact asking one of America’s most successful Governor’s to take the plunge.
This morning on Crooked Media’s esteemed politics and humor podcast, Lovett or Leave It, I listened to Governor John Hickenlooper talk about how the Democratic Party is not encouraging the right people to run for office.
I have been sitting on this article that I wrote for a failed media venture (a generous description) where a couple friends and I had dreamed of making something like Crooked Media. It is not my best writing. At one point I call President Obama “divisive,” which is a not wrong but definitely not right assessment of Obama’s presidency that I now regret. I wrote it in 2014 and despite some regrets and editorial errors, I feel the piece says something worth saying now.
I have paid attention to Governor Hickenlooper’s work since I wrote this plea for him to run for President of the United States in the 2016 Election. I even got a chance to see him speak last fall in Denver. I have read his biography “The Opposite of Woe,” which inspired me to live a more optimistic life, something greater than just a political call to action.
The evidence that John Hickenlooper ought to run for president continues to mount. I wanted to share this piece as it was written back in 2014 for nostalgia and for the record. I am on the record asking John Hickenlooper to run. I know he’s probably thinking it. And I am definitely not unique in this belief. Still, I believe in saying what you want to say to whomever you want to say it. That’s how you start a conversation, and then you continue it by listening. I know John Hickenlooper believes the same thing, and I hope he’s our next President of the United States.
Written sometime in 2014:
John Hickenlooper should be the President of the United States. After the midterms, the media has run to cover Hillary Clinton’s next move, like where she puts her campaign headquarters (even though no campaign exists yet). They have also urged Senator Elizabeth Warren to throw her progressive tough-on-Wall Street hat into the ring. But very few are taking a visit to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, where John Hickenlooper sits licking his wounds from a tough 2014 re-election battle, despite being one of the nation’s most popular governors. Squeaking out a 49 percent to 47 percent victory, one would think that Hickenlooper’s popularity is waning. But it is his resiliency when combined with his record, personal story, and ideology that make him the best fit to succeed President Obama’s divisive presidency.
Governor Hickenlooper was not a politician by birth. Born in the Philadelphia area, Hickenlooper attended Wesleyan University where he studied geology. He moved west to work in the oil industry. Hard times hit and then all paths led to Denver. There, he started a local brewery called Wynkoop Brewery, named after one of Denver’s founders. Perhaps an allusion to Hickenlooper’s centrist intuitions, the Governor surveyed the people of Denver to arrive at Wynkoop as the name for his brewery. Of all the options, Wynkoop was neither the most liked nor the least liked option. It fell right in the middle.
To survive in Colorado politics requires finding the “Wynkoop” name on any given political issue. Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat who bucked the trend and won a tough 2010 race believes that “What a politician needs to be successful here is to not land in the middle of partisan political battles.” Throughout his political career, Hickenlooper has managed to successfully operate within this conundrum, even as his policies turned more and more progressive.
Hickenlooper is able to straddle the Rocky Mountain peaks of partisanship in Colorado because of his affable attitude. Frank Bruni wrote in a personal profile in the New York Times Magazine that Hickenloooper is a “virtuoso goofball, and he’s much more inclined toward accommodation than confrontation.”
Hickenlooper’s affable nature has left its mark all over his political record. Hickenlooper got into politics when he rallied Denver citizens to preserve the “Mile High” label for the Denver Bronco’s football stadium. He became Mayor with no political or executive experience beyond his ability to build consensus.
His time as Mayor of Denver was no cakewalk. But his skills in consensus building made him a successful Mayor. Facing the largest budget deficit in Denver history, Hickenlooper raised taxes and cut expenses, two actions that annoy Democrats and Republicans alike. In addition, Mayor Hickenlooper convinced the city unions to take contract concessions and pay cuts, targeting a huge historical portion of the Democratic base. Nonetheless, Hickenlooper brought Denver back to its mile high perch as a prosperous mountain metropolis.
Overall, voters approved every ballot initiative that “Mayor Hick” pushed. Polling data erases any doubt about how Mayor Hick’s bipartisan popularity. In the democratic confines of Denver, his approval ratings were hardly ever below 70 percent. In the Republican suburbs, his approval ratings were consistently above 60 percent.
After a wildly popular tenure as Mayor, Hickenlooper ran for Governor in 2010, a tough year for Democrats. Hickenlooper campaigned on a nonpartisan, accommodative message. He focused on creating jobs and cutting spending, a familiar formula for the former brewer turned mayor.
What came next for Governor Hickenlooper bucked his trend of championing noncontroversial issues. Faced with opportunities on gun control, gay rights, marijuana, and the dealth penalty, Hickenlooper has taken the progressive road less traveled, even when it has required personal compromise.
On gun control, Hickenlooper helped pass mandatory background checks that the gun purchaser must pay for, 15 bullet magazine limits, and barring convicted domestic abusers from purchasing guns. After using his state of the union to impress upon the Colorado legislature the importance of legal civil unions, Colorado joined other traditional liberal powerhouses with legal gay marriage. He is in opposition to the death penalty and is considering pardoning an inmate on death row. And perhaps his most liberal agenda item is the legalization of marijuana, a law he has helped implement despite personal opposition. At the same time, Hickenlooper has brought the Colorado economy back on track with unemployment falling from nine to four percent during his first term.
These liberal causes came at a cost. Hickenlooper edged past Bob Beauprez this month because of his liberal bent on social issues. According to Public Policy Polling, the once highly popular governor saw his disapproval rating skyrocket from 26 percent last November to 44 percent right before the election. The evangelical-Conservative community in Colorado has jumped ship, now that Hickenlooper has played his hand.
But Hickenlooper won. He did not win in a landslide but he was one of the only Demcorats to survive the 2014 blue purge, a wave election that saw Senator Mark Udall from the same state lost his seat to an inexperienced tea partier. Hickenlooper survived because even though he has pushed forward on progressive issues, he has not forgotten the importance of affability. He is a consensus-maker, and his victory in 2014 shows that Democrats can move to the left on any issue and still make a play in divided electorates.
Hickenlooper looks to lead his second term much like his first. In an interview with Colorado Public Radio after the election, Hickenlooper remarked, “I think the challenge for us, as it always has been, is to really try to manage from the middle. And to make sure both sides of each issue, they don’t just listen to each other, but make sure that they hear each other.”
After what will have been eight years of hyperpartisanship, where neither the Obama administration or the Republican leadership are willing to make congenial compromises for the sake of action, Governor Hickenlooper is exactly the kind of leader this country needs. He has a record of success that has survived adversity.
His legislative record is strong, he is not in tight with the Beltway or Wall Street. His first priority is to build bridges in Washington, literally. According to the Governor, had he been in President Obama’s shoes in 2008, “rather than going to health care first, I would have gone, I think, to transportation infrastructure…here’s something everybody cares about. Maybe we focus on that to build bridges.”
John Hickenlooper insists that he should not run for President. When asked if he would consider running in 2016, he affably responded, “First separated but not divorced Presidential candidate! That would be fun, that would be good for the media.” And he is right. It would be fun and it would be good for the media. With a candidate like John Hickenlooper, we would all be forced to start thinking about to accommodate, how to listen, and how to create unity for action. If John Hickenlooper ran for president, it would be good for the county.