Hickenlooper addresses health

Governor gives annual speech to Colorado Rotarians

Photo by Hannah Garcia
Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks during his annual State of the State address Jan. 8, 2014.

Expanded Medicaid and mental-health programs, strident environmental protections, a successful insurance exchange, a rapidly recovering economy and an influx of young people are converging to make Colorado the eighth-healthiest state in the nation, according to the United Health Foundation.

“I’m proud of whatever we’re doing for Colorado, but it’s always about tomorrow,” Gov. John Hicklenlooper told a full house of Rotarians from around the state on Jan. 24 at the seventh annual State of the State Address to Rotarians.

The event, held in the convention center at the Denver Marriott Tech Center, focused on a topic near and dear to Rotarians’ hearts: health.

Locally, the service clubs support things like free clinics, Shots for Tots and Project CURE. Internationally, Rotary has spent millions eradicating polio in every country in the world except for Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where efforts are ongoing. During his speech, Hickenlooper personally pledged $1,000 to support that work.

Referencing the state’s recent tragic shootings, the governor took time to discuss advances in mental-health care. He spoke of a bill he signed last year that creates a “behavioral-health crisis-response system” to include things like mobile and walk-in clinics, expanded residential care, a 24-hour hotline, a public-awareness campaign, and outreach through schools — all available regardless of a person’s ability to pay.

“Guns are only part of the puzzle,” he said.

Asked about the outcry against proposed gun-control measures last year, Hickenlooper acknowledged that his team didn’t carefully consider attitudes in some areas of the state.

“We didn’t do a good enough job of going out and listening to rural Colorado,” he said. “We’re doing that now. And it’s no surprise, they’ve got some pretty good ideas.”

Lots of folks in the audience also had questions about how legalized marijuana will affect not just the health but the reputation of Colorado. The measure was voted into law by the people over his objections, he notes, and now the question is how to manage what he calls the “greatest social experiment of the century.”

Hickenlooper hired the founder of Noodles and Company, Aaron Kennedy, as the state’s first marketing director last summer, and hopes the tourism industry will keep sending out positive, family-friendly messages about Colorado. But he doesn’t think daily life for Coloradoans will change much.

“The people who smoke pot, who were buying it illegally, are now going to buy it legally,” he said. “The people who don’t smoke pot aren’t going to start.”

He said he’d sent a letter to the White House to express disagreement with President Obama’s recent remark that pot isn’t as bad as alcohol.

“It’s not as bad as heroin, but should it be legal? I voted against it,” he said.

Going forward, Hickenlooper said he envisions the business community stepping up in many ways to further the physical, mental, fiscal and environmental health of the community.

“Business has to be a partner in this conversation,” he said. “Business is always going to be more innovative and rapid than government.”

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