Governor John Hickenlooper was in Southwest Colorado recently as part of his farewell tour of the state.
It was a great for our editorial board to sit down and talk with a man who is still, even after two terms as mayor of Denver and now two terms as governor, a politician who seems to defy many of our assumptions about politicians.
Looking hard at assumptions and defying them, even when those assumptions have been accepted as gospel truth, seems to be a key to his success.
He did it again last week.
“Look, I am not the voice of the Democrats,” he said early in his interview with the Journal. “Because we should be the voice of small business. We should be the party of farmers and ranchers. Instead we get hammered as the party of red tape, the party of big government.”
And he continued: “Democrats do think that government can be part of the solution, but why can’t we also be the party of smaller government at the same time, using technology and efficiency to reduce its size?”
Defying assumptions played a large role in what he described as one of his proudest accomplishments, Colorado’s methane rules.
The regulations that prevent methane gas emissions – recognized as a model for other states and now being implemented by Canada and likely soon by Mexico – came from efforts to bring environmentalists and executives from the oil and gas industry to the table, opponents most assumed would never see eye to eye.
It was not easy, but Hickenlooper and his staff managed a process that went (in the governor’s words) from “the very essence of the Hatfields and McCoys” to agreement on a set of rules that in terms of greenhouse gas reduction is equivalent to taking 320,000 cars off Colorado roads every year.
“You need to sit down and listen to the person you most disagree with,” he said. “The person you most distrust. And come up with something neither has envisioned. We need to do this at a national level.”
He described his process even better in a recent interview with Colorado Public Radio: “We’re still attacking and dividing each other. What Colorado’s done (has) been about working together, collaborating at the speed of trust.”
We know where John Hickenlooper came from: the kid who struggled with dyslexia in school and had to repeat seventh grade. The college grad with a geology degree who found himself dead-ended in the oil and gas industry. The successful brewpub entrepreneur who played a key role in the revitalization of Denver’s Lower Downtown neighborhood. The man who did not make his first run for public office until the age of 50.
But that does not tell us where he is headed next. Many Coloradans think they know. His farewell tour of the state, they say, was really a hello tour to the rest of the country.
The governor is not saying, and likely won’t until spring. Regardless of election results, we will miss the way he approaches problems, and his stubborn knack for bringing people together until solutions can be found.
We can’t assume to know his future, but we hope he is setting his sights high.