John Hickenlooper doesn't worry about whether people “get” him.
His “aw, shucks,” nerd-like personality and his imperfect — and sometimes meandering — way of speaking are a far cry from anything that resembles a polished, …
This item is available in full to subscribers.
If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.
Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.
If you made a voluntary contribution in 2022-2023 of $50 or more, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one at no additional charge. VIP Digital Access includes access to all websites and online content.
His “aw, shucks,” nerd-like personality and his imperfect — and sometimes meandering — way of speaking are a far cry from anything that resembles a polished, focus-group-driven politician.
Through three elections, the quirky Hickenlooper brand has resonated with voters, as evidenced by a landslide win for governor in 2010, and before that, two decisive victories in Denver mayoral races.
But it is that same style that has left him wide open for political attacks. He has become fodder for Republican press releases that blast the governor as being a wishy-washy failed leader who struggles while deciding over a breakfast menu, much less over areas of public policy.
“Obviously, I'm a different kind of politician, but that's what most people said they wanted,” said Hickenlooper during a recent one-on-one interview with Colorado Community Media from inside his re-election campaign office in Denver's Lower Highland neighborhood.
“They said they're sick of the same old talking head who gets up in there in a robotic fashion and says the same platitudes that we've heard for a million years. That's one of the reasons why people like me run for office. I think people deserve more.”
Hickenlooper has heard the criticism before. But as he enters the final stretch of a tight re-election campaign against former Congressman Bob Beauprez, he prefers to talk about his economic record as governor.
There is no question that the economy has gained steam and jobs have been created under his watch. And he largely received praised for his response to crises that made national headlines, such as the Aurora theater shooting, wildfires and last year's statewide flooding.
But Hickenlooper's own words haven't done him any favors this campaign.
Sometimes when the governor speaks, the result is reminiscent of the Grateful Dead during an off night — the trademark style is there, but it will sometimes run off the rails, leaving those listening scratching their heads.
His decision last year to grant a reprieve to death-row inmate Nathan Dunlap — who killed four people inside an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese's restaurant in 1993 — was met with confusion and criticism.
And in television interviews this year, the governor said that he has moved away from being a supporter of the death penalty (he told voters in 2010 that he was in favor of capital punishment).
And he suggested during a CNN interview that clemency for Dunlap may still end up being an option. The Hickenlooper campaign has said he was responding to a hypothetical question and maintains that Dunlap will die in prison.
Also this year, the governor caused a stir over remarks on gun-control legislation that he gave to a group of sheriffs meeting in Aspen. There, he apologized to lawmen for not better including them in the legislative process that led to him signing measures into law that created universal background checks on gun sales and banned high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Those measure were opposed by the majority of sheriffs in the state, many of whom were onetime plaintiffs in an unsuccessful lawsuit against the new laws.
Those are a few examples of what has led to a lambasting of Hickenlooper over his “indecisiveness” and “failed leadership” on the part of Beauprez and the rest of the Republican Party.
“Where have I been indecisive?” Hickenlooper said. “Nathan Dunlap? The (Colorado) Constitution gives you three choices: Execution, clemency or a reprieve. We chose reprieve two months before the decision was made.”
“And background checks ... I did say I wish we had gone and allowed the other side a greater opportunity to discuss, but I never went back on the decision.”
No to negative ads
Hickenlooper said his political opponents are “looking for anything they can get” to defeat him, while ignoring his accomplishments.
The governor said he is proud of his work during the flooding that ravaged many parts of the state last year. While rain was wreaking havoc, the governor held a meeting with Colorado Department of Transportation administrators, during which he urged them to reopen roads around Lyons and Estes Park more than a month ahead of the time they believed was possible.
Had those roads not reopened when they did, Hickenlooper believes businesses in those small towns would have shut down.
“We made that decision in 48 hours while the rain was still falling — and we did it,” he said. “That's indecision?”
In spite of a barrage of attack ads that target him, Hickenlooper sticks to the promise he made to voters years ago — that his campaign would never run a negative ad.
“Sure it works,” Hickenlooper said of negative campaigning. “If all you care about is winning one short-term election, sure, go out and have a field day; load the cannons and fire off the missiles.”
“But, at the end of the election, after all those negative ads, no one is satisfied ... Whoever the winner is, there's so many negative ads against them, they are going to have a hard time leading.”
Hickenlooper said he doesn't regret any decision he's made in office. And he points to an economy that has been among the best in the nation in many post-recession categories.
The Business Insider website ranks Colorado's economy tops in the nation. And Forbes magazine recently listed the state among the best states for businesses.
However, other economic models show the rest of the state lagging behind the strengthening Denver metro area's economy with median household incomes decreasing over the last seven years.
Still, Hickenlooper believes his stewardship has helped the state move in a stronger economic direction.
“I sit there and look back over the past four years (and) I think during all the significant issues, I think we made the right decisions,” he said.
Hickenlooper said this is “probably” his last political campaign and that he has “no intention” of running for national office.
Hickenlooper said he never imagined that he would be running a re-election campaign for governor while he was opening the Wynkoop Brewery in lower downtown Denver in 1988, Colorado's first brewpub and microbrewery.
“If you would have talked to me even in 1998, I would have said, `No way. Why would I do that? Those guys get attacked,'” he said of running for political office.
“Can you really make a difference? Is it really worth the sacrifice? Well, it turns out you really can make a difference. And in my opinion it was worth the sacrifice.”
Other items that may interest you
We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.
The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.