Hickenlooper promises to bolster business climate in Colorado

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper Friday called Tom Tancredo “pretty much a lifetime politician.”

That’s about as spicy as it got when the Democratic nominee for governor spent 20 minutes on the phone with the Colorado Independent.

He discussed the campaign, oil and gas regulations, creating a healthier business environment in the state, immigration, water and the state budget crisis.

Through it all, he sounded relaxed, confident, often cracking jokes and never hesitating before answering a question.

Asked whether it looked to him like American Constitution Party candidate Tancredo was trying to move toward the middle now that he seems to be running ahead of Republican nominee Dan Maes, he noted that Tancredo has indeed changed his tune on the three tax-cutting measures on the ballot.

“He was in favor of all three, but now he seems to be rethinking that, which reveals him as a lifetime politician. I’ve been in business most of my life and I’ve been opposed to all three of those from the beginning,” he said.

“In the next two years, we will struggle to fund the bare necessities in the Department of Transportation,” he said.

In the long-term, he said the answer to transportation funding is the same as the answer to all other state funding — creating a stronger business environment in Colorado. “We need to have a more pro-business attitude all across the state,” he said.

When he talks to people on the campaign trail about the state’s business environment, he said about a third of the people tell him they think the state is anti-business. Hickenlooper said it isn’t really true. He said Colorado is one of the 10 most business-friendly states in the country but that not enough people know it.

“We need people to get the word out. So much of that is word of mouth. The really giant companies don’t move that often, but smaller entrepreneurial companies do move. We need to make Colorado a magnet to entrepreneurs and to lure small businesses from around the country. When people think of Colorado, we want them to think of innovation, not just skiing.”

He said people want to be in Colorado, but that the state needs to make sure it keeps education up to snuff and continues to provide the lifestyle amenities people want as well as a business-friendly environment.

Hickenlooper took exception to claims by Maes and Tancredo that Colorado’s current oil and gas regulations are driving business from the state and that the regulations need to be gutted.

“We have said the same thing all along. Don’t throw the rules out,” he said.

Hickenlooper said he has met with oil and gas executives from the Western Slope and that they don’t want the regulations gutted. “They rebel against the one-size-fits-all quality to some of the rules, but they don’t want them gutted. They want predictability.”

He said oil and gas companies agree that environmental regulations are necessary and that they recognize the need for the highest environmental standards as long as those standard take each project’s specific conditions into account.

“I’m convinced that we can have it both ways — that we can keep and attract oil and gas business while at the same time protecting our groundwater and enforcing environmental standards.

“We all drive automobiles; we all use oil and gas,” he said, adding that Americans currently send hundreds of billions of dollars a year to “foreign dictatorships” for oil. He said it would be better to get as much of our oil at home as we can, without putting communities at risk of environmental and groundwater damage.

Asked whether Colorado should raise oil and gas severance taxes, which are among the lowest among major gas-producing states, he said no. “I don’t think we should impose higher taxes right now,” he said. He added, though, that many of the companies already contribute to communities they do business in and that he has had discussions about companies increasing their contributions to communities.

Asked about claims Tancredo and Maes have made that they would make drastic cuts in state spending as soon as they take office, Hickenlooper said he would take a different approach.

“My record speaks for itself,” he said, referring to the number of jobs he has cut in Denver city government. “But I did not come in and make across-the-board cuts.”

When he ran for mayor the first time, he said, he did not promise to cut a certain number of jobs or trim spending by a certain amount. “What I promised was to bring a business perspective to the office, and that’s what I will do in the governor’s office as well.

“I’ve spent most of my life in business. I started with nothing and I built a pretty successful business, so if you want a business perspective in the office, that’s what I represent,” he said.

He said the two places he would cut last are education and Medicaid.

On immigration, he said, “Most of us agree that we need a secure border, that we need an ID system that works and cannot be breached, and that we need to hold businesses accountable” for their hiring once we have an identification system that works.

Beyond that, he said there is room for compromise on things like how many guest workers are allowed in the country at one time, and for how long.

He said the immigration controversy has dragged on longer than it should have. “It’s not just Republicans, it’s Democrats — they all think they have something to gain by dragging this out.”

If he’s elected, he said he would work with other governors to put pressure on Congress to come to a reasonable resolution.

One of the biggest issues facing the state — and one that is seldom talked about, according to Hickenlooper — is water.

He said Colorado, at some point in the future, may not have enough water to meet the state’s needs while also satisfying its obligations to downstream states.

“We need a collaborative solution to water,” he said.

He pointed out that Denver has reduced per-capita water usage by about 20 percent during his time as mayor. In doing so, he said Denver has been able to voluntarily use less than its allocation and has allowed the difference to “stay in the rivers” for recreational uses and for use by agriculture. “We need to stop fighting about water,” he said.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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