Littwin: The old Hick is back, but in a brand new world
If you watched John Hickenlooper deliver his State of the State address, you didn’t have to look very hard for the Trump effect.
It was as obvious as, well, Hickenlooper himself.
In an alternative world, the one many of us expected to live in, Hickenlooper might not have made it to this year’s big speech. Hillary Clinton would be president and Hickenlooper would probably be in Washington preparing for a new job, maybe one needing a Senate confirmation hearing, in which case he’d have had the opportunity to introduce the Hickenlooper “giddy up” to a whole new audience.
It was comforting, in its way, to see Hick back in his familiar, if not always convincing, we’re not Democrats, we’re not Republicans, we’re Coloradans mode.
He made his career as the quirky guy who doesn’t go negative, who offers Colorado as a striking contrast to Washington dysfunction and division, who pretends, even after all these years, to being an accidental politician. It’s part act and it’s part Hickenlooper.
But it’s certainly far more Hickenlooper than the partisan attack dog he played during the 2016 campaign, in which each shot he took at Donald Trump seemed painfully forced. But give him credit, it worked, in its way. He wrote a book, got a lot of favorable press and made Clinton’s vice-presidential short list. I’ve even seen him mentioned as a 2020 presidential candidate on the theory that the Democrats will have to nominate someone.
The only thing that went wrong for Hickenlooper was that Clinton forgot to win. Let’s just say I doubt James Comey will be over for dinner any time soon.
But that wasn’t the only visible Trump effect. The people — or at least those in the Electoral College — sent Trump to the White House to either remake Washington or simply to wreak havoc. I’m thinking it’s more havoc than revolution, or maybe you missed the Trump news conference, but the point is the same. As Hickenlooper noted early in his speech, we just suffered through a terribly divisive campaign that leaves us with “a new administration and Congress seek(ing) a different relationship between the federal government and the states.”
“Different” would be an understatement. The relationship will be radically different, and even that’s probably an understatement. But the subtext was clear: Washington was moving in one direction and Colorado would keep going in another. History, Hickenlooper said, has its eye on Colorado.
And while history may be more agnostic about Colorado than Hickenlooper would have it — my guess is that California will get most of history’s attention here —you get the point. There will be a blue-state resistance to Trump, just as there was a red-state resistance to Obama. It will play out in Obamacare, where state Senate Republicans already want to eliminate the troubled Colorado health care exchange even as the GOP Congress attempts to eliminate the whole law. Meanwhile, Hickenlooper pointedly said in his speech that health care was a right and not a privilege. Watching the audience, it seemed like this very obvious concept was the most controversial idea in the room.
While most of Hickenlooper’s speech was about the things that are grounded in bipartisanship, if not in actual agreement —money for highways, money for rural broadband — it was also about things that have nothing to do with Washington, like a return of the hospital provider fee debate and the fact of our longstanding fiscal thicket. Yes, it’s a continuing embarrassment that Colorado can’t extricate itself from our fiscal straightjacket, but that’s a column for another day.
On this day, what’s clear is that Trump’s EPA will try to turn around rules on the environment that Colorado will and should resist. And that the new Interior Department will be ready to reconstitute policy on public lands, policies that Colorado also will and should resist. There’s more. Education, housing, a long list.
But mostly, there’s health care reform. In Washington, the fight is about repeal and replace. The problem for Republicans is at least twofold. One, they don’t have a replacement now. Two, they’ll never find one that allows them to keep the so-called good things about Obamacare without also needing to come up with a way to pay for them.
But let’s assume that Congress will just settle for repeal and delay and that the system, thus crippled, will collapse into itself and that both sides will blame the other. That would mean that in 2018, and no doubt in 2020, we’ll be voting on this all over again.
Meanwhile, what would happen in Colorado to the many thousands of people who could well lose their insurance? That’s not going to be an issue for this session. The Colorado Health Exchange is not immediately doomed. Obamacare may be doomed, but the dooming will take a while. But when Hickenlooper tried out the old saw about states being the laboratory of democracy, we’ll assume he means to set up shop in Colorado.
If Hickenlooper does have political ambitions extending beyond 2018 — when he’ll be term limited out of office — this is where he could stake his claim. In his speech, he said Washington was a threat to Colorado health care and that he “will fight for a replacement plan that protects the people who are covered now and doesn’t take us backward.”
What was funny is that in making his case, Hickenlooper said the last thing we want in Colorado is for Washington to tell us what to do about healthcare, which is sort of what Republicans have been saying about Obamacare for years. What Hickenlooper meant, of course, was the new Washington, the new president and the new reality. Giddy up.
Photo of Gov. John Hickenlooper by Allen Tian/The Colorado Independent
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