On Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper’s campaign across the state, whether in formal settings with industry leaders or at random meet-and-greets in bars and restaurants, one issue cuts across all voter demographics and comes up again and again: the economy.
Coloradans he is meeting with complain about taxes and appeal for reductions in state fees, but they also ask whether slashed funding can be restored to this or that government program.
Denver Mayor Hickenlooper listens, nods and sometimes grimaces. He expresses empathy. He even occasionally expresses outrage. What he doesn’t do is promise tax cuts. He doesn’t promise to reduce fees. He doesn’t pledge to restore funding to important programs. He doesn’t promise to eliminate unfunded mandates that hog-tie local governments.
He only pledges to take what he has learned building and running a very successful restaurant chain and apply it to government. He promises a more collaborative way of running government. He talks about his successes as mayor in improving services during a time of reduced budgets.
He wants to create a master economic development plan, a template, that any city or county could use as a model. He aims to discover why one town or county is thriving and apply the lessons to places that need help. He talks about finding mentors to work with struggling businesses.
As much as possible this past week, he has said government should leave business alone, keeping in mind the necessity of such things as safety and environmental rules. “Half of my appointees as mayor came from the private sector,” he said.
“We will drive business out of Colorado with taxes, if we aren’t careful,” he acknowledged to 20 or so people gathered for lunch Monday at Millonzi’s Restaurant in Fairplay. He said decisions to increase state spending or reduce tax rates should depend partly on the overall economic situation.
“Sometimes it feels like it is open season on government,” he said, “but look anywhere in the world to find a better system, look at any time in history to find a better way. You can’t do it.
“We need people to be more engaged in the process. We need people to talk to each other. We don’t need bi-partisanship. We need non-partisanship,” he said.
Addressing problems with a sanitation district in Fairplay, where residents said the state has placed difficult requirements on the district but has not been willing to help or even advise the district on how best to meet the requirements, Hickenlooper said, “The state should be your partner and should guide you toward the best solution.
“The state should never be a bully,” he added.
As mayor of Denver, he said he has worked hard to act in ways that benefit not only Denver, but also the suburbs and the rest of the state.
In the past, he said marketing funds had been spent to convince conventioneers to spend more time in Denver. “That’s short-sighted. We have to look at self-interest from a larger perspective. So, now we encourage conventioneers to visit the rest of the state as well.”
In Fairplay, Hickenlooper said Denver has cut per capita water usage by 20 percent since he became mayor. “I think that’s the largest reduction by any big American city ever,” he said. “Here’s the thing, it is not Denver’s water; it’s Colorado’s water.”
In Alma, a few minutes later, emerging from the nine-year-old Ford he uses for the campaign, Hickenlooper announced, “Alma feels like my second home.”
Tiny Alma welcomed him as if it were true, half the people who gathered at the South Park Saloon there taking home pictures of themselves arm in arm with the candidate.
He didn’t give a formal speech in Alma. He sat at a large table surrounded by locals.
He told them how his mother refused to invest in his fledgling brewpub, but that his mother’s sister ponied up $10,000. “I was so determined not to lose her money that I worked at least 80 hours a week. It was grueling, but I loved it. I was absolutely terrified of losing her money,” he said.
Park County Commissioner Mark Dowaliby, a Republican, attended both the Fairplay and Alma meetings. He said that despite holding office as a Republican, he votes for the person, not the party. He said he has been very unhappy with Republican leadership in Colorado. He stopped short of saying he would vote for Hickenlooper.
“If McInnis comes to Park County, I’ll listen to him, but he would have to impress me a lot to get my vote,” he said.
Bob Narozanick, who owns an excavation business in Park County, was more blunt. “I’m voting for him. I’m sick of Republicans.”