Hickenlooper Does NPR

Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is back in the news for the first time since his “Am I A Capitalist?” tour on the late-night talk shows right he announced his presidential candidacy in March. His latest re-emergence is based on his interview with NPR’s Morning Edition, as part of its “Opening Arguments” series of interviews with Democratic hopefuls.

Hickenlooper’s interview has drawn interest from Republicans in particular. He argues that Democrats must base their appeal on economics as opposed to social issues in order to win back the swing voters in 2020.

“But we’ve also got to recognize to win in Ohio and Michigan and North Carolina and Wisconsin, we’re going to have to get more to those kitchen table issues that have to do with somebody’s job, or how many jobs they’re having to work just to balance a household budget,” he said.

Almost as condescending as some Republican efforts to court minorities, the approach isn’t entirely wrong. If adopted, it would at least have the merit of sanity.

Unfortunately for Hickenlooper, he spent much of the rest of the interview proving he’s a flawed messenger. And unfortunately for Democrats, they probably won’t listen to much of what he has to say, anyway. (When Hickenlooper appeared before the California Democratic Party’s state convention over Memorial Day weekend, the crowd booed when he declared “socialism is not the answer.”)

Hickenlooper endorses raising the federal minimum wage, and then immediately laments the slow pace of business formation, as though they were two independent phenomena. His chosen villain—red tape—has been around since at least the first Reagan Administration.

While he rightly distinguishes between excess process and regulation, he accuses the Trump Administration of “get[ting] rid of all the regulations.” The more than 60,000 remaining pages of the Federal Register suggest Hickenlooper is an adept practitioner of rhetorical hyperbole.

Thus, according to Hickenlooper, it’s the process, not the rules themselves, that raise the costs and risks of doing business.

And no surprise. He condemns elements of the Green New Deal like the promise of government-guaranteed jobs. And indeed, as governor, he helped protect the state’s oil and gas industry from the progressive zeal exhibited by his successor, Jared Polis.

But overall, Hickenlooper championed a pro-renewable, anti-consumer energy and electricity plan for Colorado. Xcel will prematurely shutter 700 megawatts of coal plants, replacing them with 2400 megawatts of renewables, earning a guaranteed 10 percent return by passing the costs on to consumers. The state’s taxpayers will build new electric vehicle charging stations for the state’s affluent. That’s a double-whammy for most of us, who will now have to live with California’s vehicle emission standards.

Taken together, these policies wage war on the traditional middle class, transferring their wealth to the upper-middle class, and making his professions of concern for the average worker ring hollow.

None of this should be entirely surprising, given his backers. Hickenlooper has always been popular with the new tech oligarch class in Denver and Boulder. When asked about monopolies, he immediately pointed to Lowe’s and Home Depot making it unlikely that someone could start a neighborhood hardware store. With respect, that’s probably not where most people’s minds go when they hear the word “monopoly.”

Only when pressed did he bring up Amazon’s effects on smaller businesses, and ability to use its data to undercut those who use its platform. It’s what he didn’t say about tech companies that was most telling. Ever since Microsoft’s rise, the big tech companies have used their financial and legal leverage to gobble up potentially competitive innovations. In the context of job creation, there was no room to discuss the galloping strangulation of free speech by the current keepers of the public square.

On closer examination, even Hickenlooper’s choice to de-emphasize social issues looks more like hiding the ball than changing the game. He appointed the members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission who tormented Jack Phillips, and later shelved additional complaints against him mostly to preserve their powers, rather than see them lost altogether in the courts.

And he’s still the guy who signed the 2013 gun controls in the aftermath of the Aurora movie theater shooting. In NPR interview, he calls them “tough” laws and uses them as an example of getting things done. But in 2014, he sang a different tune to the state’s sheriffs, saying he didn’t have as many facts as he wanted. A little later in 2013, he didn’t have as many Democrats in the State Senate as he wanted, with Senate President John Morse and Senator Angela Giron both being recalled by their solidly Democratic districts over those laws.

Hickenlooper brags about “nearly universal” health care, with 93.5 percent of the state covered. Of course, a huge fraction of that increase came not from loosening rules and allowing more insurance competition, but from increasing the state’s Medicaid eligibility under Obamacare. The result has been more coverage, but also higher costs and fatter hospital profits.

In short, Hickenlooper is the pro-business entrepreneurial capitalist who likes only the “right kind” of jobs; the pragmatic centrist who wages social justice war in his spare time; the non-socialist who loves Medicaid expansion.

It’s a brand that, unlike his beer, nobody seems to be buying.

Photo Credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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About Joshua Sharf

Joshua Sharf has headed the Independence Institute’s PERA Project for three years. In that time he has authored a number of Backgrounders and Issue papers on Colorado’s Public Pensions, contributed to the Institute’s weekly newspaper column, and spoken to political and civic groups across the state on the subject. He routinely testifies before the state legislature on proposed pension reform bills. He is Vice Chairman of the Denver Republican Party and has also done original reporting on PERA for Watchdog.org and I2I’s Complete Colorado news site and is a regular guest on local talk radio, discussing this and other state and national political issues. He has an MBA and an MS in Finance from the University of Denver’s Daniels School of Business, and has also worked as a sell-side equities research analyst.