Washington wonders what’s next for Gov. John Hickenlooper

Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 12:57 AM
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, right, joined by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, speaks during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington in June 2017. Kasich, a Republican, and Hickenlooper, a Democrat, met in Washington on Friday to outline their latest bipartisan policy work for improving the nation’s health care system.

WASHINGTON – The political horse race junkies in Washington are dying to know if a presidential run is in the cards for Gov. John Hickenlooper.

But the Colorado Democrat refuses to show his hand.

The first attempt to coerce a straight answer out of the governor came from Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti early Friday afternoon, who asked Hickenlooper in a sit-down when the public would see him campaigning in New Hampshire, the second stop on the road to the presidential nomination.

“Since I was about 21, 22, I’ve gone to New Hampshire every summer,” Hickenlooper said. “There’s a beautiful lake up in North Central New Hampshire ... it’s a lovely place, and my brother and I rent a place there.”

Hickenlooper quickly returned to his canned answer.

“On my cellphone, on all my cabinet members’, we have a counter (that) shows how many days we have left,” Hickenlooper said. “We have 321 days right now (as of Friday) before the end of the term.”

At an event Friday evening, a reporter asked directly if the governor was thinking of running for president.

“I still have 321 days left,” Hickenlooper said. “I have a counter on my cellphone just like President Obama had. All my cabinet have the counters.”

What about a Senate bid against Republican Cory Gardner in 2020?

No luck. Hickenlooper immediately reverted to what his administration is working on in Colorado through the end of his term.

“We’re doing an apprenticeship, a skills-based educational movement for kids that don’t go to college – that’s two-thirds of our kids,” Hickenlooper said. “We’re doing some work around outdoor recreation that is going to be around health and conservation.”

So don’t ask him, at least for 320 more days.

“We’re doing big stuff that no one else is doing,” Hickenlooper said. “The moment I start talking about who I’m going to run against or what I’m going to do, I get distracted. My cabinet gets distracted.”

Finally, he relented just a little.

He said he’d start thinking about what’s next for him “in the fall.”

Hickenlooper has gained national stature over the past few months after striking a strong, bipartisan relationship with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican. The two governors have joined hands in pushing Congress, fruitlessly, to address struggling health care markets.

“Governor Kasich and I disagree on a lot of things,” Hickenlooper said. “We think it’s important to demonstrate that ... there are a lot of things we can work on.”

Although Hickenlooper remains mum on his future, his visit to Washington has some hints of a man potentially looking for higher office.

He started his Friday by discussing the success of the stricter gun laws he has signed as governor of Colorado on MSNBC’s popular morning program “Morning Joe.” He introduced a bipartisan path forward on health care with Kasich and Gov. Bill Walker (I-Alaska). He decried the partisan gridlock, while touting the accomplishments of his administration.

“Has it gotten to the point where this city can only do one thing at a time?” Hickenlooper asked at the Politico event. “That’s not the way this city used to be ... It’s like we’ve forgotten how to work in a bipartisan way.”

Hickenlooper faced questions on a range of national and international policy issues – from Chinese investment in Colorado to trade deals with Canadian dairy farmers to gun laws.

Hickenlooper is one of a few governors in Washington this week with rumors swirling about presidential ambitions. The other two are fellow Democrat Steve Bullock of Montana, vice chairman of the National Governors Association, and Kasich, who ran in 2016.

But Hickenlooper’s sights remain set, at least publicly, on the issues facing Colorado.

“I want Colorado, when I finish, to be a national model on a whole bunch of different levels,” Hickenlooper said. “If I do that much, then I’ve helped my country and I’m probably going to give myself choices. Maybe I’ll run a foundation; maybe I can run a private-sector company.”

But who knows? It’s only Feb. 26, 2018, and Hickenlooper now has 318 days left. After that, 663 days remain until Election Day 2020.

Andrew Eversden is an intern with The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.