Hickenlooper Knocks Colo. Senator Bennet on Lack of Executive Experience

Sen. Michael Bennet
Sen. Michael Bennet / Getty Images
March 13, 2019

Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper knocked Senator Michael Bennet's presidential hopes, saying his fellow Coloradan's tenure in government is lacking in executive experience.

The swipe is noticeable for the fact that Hickenlooper was something of a sponsor to Bennet's early career in public service. Bennet was chief of staff while Hickenlooper was mayor of Denver. Bennet also went on to serve as Denver Public Schools superintendent while Hickenlooper was still mayor.

"Michael Bennet is one of my favorite people in the world and I think he is a great senator, much better than I ever would be. And if he wants to get into the presidential race, you know, I'm all for it," Hickenlooper began.

"Not unlike the other senators, I have a very different history than Michael does. And you know, he has, he is really brilliant at thinking through complex issues, but I don't think he probably has the same level of experience that I do in terms of bringing teams together and actually, you know, getting stuff done. Really moving things forward."

Hickenlooper's comments came at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, where many presidential hopefuls appeared at the tech, media, and innovation conference which has become one of the largest of its kind in the nation.

Promoting his own experience as an executive in government as opposed to a legislator is emerging as a theme for the two-term governor, just as it is for others such as Washington Governor Jay Inslee and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

However, the conventional wisdom that voters prefer a candidate with executive experience when considering the highest executive office in the land has thus far been turned upside down in the 2020 cycle, as senators in the Democratic field such as Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Bernie Sanders have harvested most of the media attention thus far.

Bennet, meanwhile, has kept a lower profile in his Senate career than those names, but made waves on social media when he unleashed a tirade on the senate floor while debating the government shutdown from earlier in the year.

Bennet, who has not announced a presidential candidacy, later used the attention as the basis for trial-balloon social media ads in the early voting states of New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina.

In qualifying himself strictly as an executive personality, Hickenlooper has also now shut the door to a possible Senate run in 2020 against Republican incumbent Cory Gardner, who Democrats hope to pick off next year in an effort to win a Senate majority.

As Hickenlooper has sought to portray himself as a "doer" instead of a deliberator, many media stories, pundits, and Colorado Republicans say Hickenlooper's legacy is defined more by equivocation than leadership.

"There is no issue that the governor has ever said 'here, and no farther,'" said local district attorney George Brauchler, a Republican. "There is no principle so important it outweighs the need to be liked."

H/T John Frank of the Colorado Sun.