Locals: Hickenlooper’s Evasiveness on Capitalism Reflects His Governing Style

'Purposely vague' … 'conflict averse' … 'TBD'

John Hickenlooper / Getty Images

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John Hickenlooper's refusal to call himself a capitalist—only to submit a day later and confess he was in fact a capitalist—perfectly reflects his indecisive governing style, according to numerous pundits and Colorado Republicans.

Dick Wadhams, a longtime GOP consultant and former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party says the capitalist flip-flop gives the national audience a preview of what they might expect from Hickenlooper on the campaign trail.

"I think this raises the question ‘Is he ready for prime time or not in this race for president?'" Wadhams told the Washington Free Beacon.

"He's going to get much more scrutiny than he ever had as governor. I think he kind of got a free ride a lot of times from the Colorado media—not all the time, but overall. And this wasn't even a tough question. So, I think it raises the legitimate question, ‘Is he ready for this?'"

Wadhams and others believe Hickenlooper's tendency to fudge can be seen in his positioning on gun control, the death penalty, and energy and environmental issues. They also point to a long line of statements from the governor that had to be modified or walked back in the face of controversy, just as with the capitalist question.

"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."

"His style as a governor was more ‘whatever the legislature wants to do' and ‘I'm working with everyone' and trying to appease both sides, and he's not going to be able to do that with the national media," said Lindsey Singer of Colorado Rising Action, a Republican advocacy group and opposition research firm.

Gun Control

The killing of 13 people at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 at a suburban theater in Aurora reignited the gun control debate on a new scale not seen since the 1999 Columbine shooting.

Hickenlooper sounded conservative just days after the shooting when he told CNN, "This person, if there were no assault weapons available, if there were no this or no that, this guy's going to find something, right? He's going to know how to create a bomb. Who knows where his mind would have gone? Clearly a very intelligent individual however twisted."

By December of that year, he embraced gun control measures set to be introduced in the state general assembly's 2013 session. The two most controversial bills expanded background checks and imposed a 15-round capacity on ammunition magazines.

Phone records from March of 2013 showed the governor receiving two phone calls from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg during the session, calls that would become controversial further down the road. The second of those phone calls came just one day before Hickenlooper would sign the measures into law. At the time, Bloomberg was one of the leading gun control advocates in the nation.

That summer, backlash to the new laws helped fuel recall efforts that saw two state Democratic senators thrown out of office mid-term. A third resigned in the wake of those votes.

The recalls came one year before Hickenlooper's 2014 reelection campaign. In July, he spoke to group county sheriffs who had largely opposed the new legislation, and had accused him of leaving them out of the conversations.

After saying he didn’t know the sheriffs desired to be included in the debate until it was too late, Hickenlooper added, "Universal background checks—I'll tell you the funny story—this, and it is a weird—I think we screwed that up completely, and we did a disservice to you and a disservice to ourselves."

On the gun magazines bill, the governor said, "One of my staff had committed us to signing it."

When pressed about why he had spoken with Mayor Bloomberg but not the sheriffs, Hickenlooper said, "Well, let's, let's stick to the facts. I never talked to Mayor Bloomberg. I … Again, that's been out in the press and all this stuff. Just for the record. You know, I met Mayor Bloomberg when I was a mayor, and I know him, uh, I think he's a pretty good mayor."

Hickenlooper had to modify those remarks as controversy from the sheriffs' meeting continued to swell days later.

"The governor often jokes about his ability to put his foot in his mouth, because he does," Eric Brown, the governor's spokesman at the time was quoted as saying in a local television news report.

"When the governor told an audience of sheriffs that he had not talked to Bloomberg, the governor was attempting to convey he never had a conversation with Bloomberg that influenced the decision he made. In no way did the governor intend to mislead the sheriffs or anyone else."

Despite the vacillations, Hickenlooper is currently making background checks one of the central planks in his bid to challenge Trump in 2020.

Death Penalty

During his first campaign for governor in 2010, Hickenlooper supported the death penalty.

In 2013, the governor was faced with what appeared to be a binary decision on the impending execution of Nathan Dunlap, a man convicted of murdering four people at a "Chuck E. Cheese's" restaurant in 1993. Hickenlooper could spare Dunlap's life by commuting the death penalty portion of the sentence but still leaving him imprisoned for life, or allow the execution to proceed.

"He did not make a decision," Wadhams explained. "He found a third way that I don't think anybody was aware existed, and that is: Kick it to your successor."

Hickenlooper issued a "temporary reprieve," meaning the execution would be put on hold, Dunlap's sentence would remain intact but delayed. The full decision would fall to the next governor.

By mid-August of 2014, Hickenlooper announced he had a change of mind and he was officially against capital punishment.

Days after he announced the new stance, audio surfaced from a CNN interview taped earlier in the year in which Hickenlooper said he might commute the death-penalty portion of Dunlap's sentence if he were to lose reelection that November. He later said those comments to CNN—which were never aired and were only discovered via open records request—were only a hypothetical.

David Lane, a prominent Colorado attorney and capital punishment opponent, criticized the governor's leadership style in the wake of those developments, and slammed him for derailing a repeal of the death penalty in 2013.

"The legislature in Colorado, last year [2013] had the votes to abolish the death penalty," Lane said in an interview on local talk radio. "That bill was killed amazingly, and shockingly, and disappointingly by Gov. Hickenlooper. He killed the bill and lobbied against it, while at the same time he was giving Nathan Dunlap a reprieve, not a commutation to life without parole."

"The governor called for a statewide conversation on the death penalty, and has studiously avoided having that conversation since he called for it," Lane said later.

Lane said he personally called the governor's office and volunteered to go "around the state debating the death penalty," or offered to hold town hall events, but  "I never heard another word from them."

The death penalty issue has drawn more coverage now that Hickenlooper is a committed candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Liberal critics are now resurrecting the episode. An article this week from Mother Jones accused him trying "Too Hard to Find a Middle Ground," in the debate.

Climate Action Plan

The governor announced in August of 2016 he was considering an executive order to create a climate plan thought to be tougher than the Clean Power Plan proposed by the Obama administration. He walked back the dramatic plan after the fall elections saying he would instead perhaps just publish an op-ed, sparking some subtle mocking from local media.

Hickenlooper was also critical of President Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, calling it a "serious mistake." Yet at the same time, the governor hedged on whether he was willing to join a coalition of states pursing their own separate climate action plan.

Democrats in particular have criticized his governing style when it came to oil and gas regulation. One state senator from his party said the governor's approach to oil and gas regulation could be summed up with one word: stalemate.

"TBD"

At the start of his second year as governor, Hickenlooper announced a listening tour of the state to help better prioritize elements of his agenda, dubbing the whole effort "TBD," or "to be determined."

"He remained purposely vague about everything about the new tour, down to the name TBD Colorado," a report from the Durango Herald noted at the time.

"Hickenlooper's TBD Initiative Still TBD," a followup report eight months later declared.

In his current run for president, including the days before he officially announced, the former geologist and brewpub owner has softly shut the door on the idea of a senate run in 2020, calling himself a "doer."

It is a self-appraisal many Colorado politicos aren't buying.

"In politics, decisions make enemies and who wants those?" Brauchler added. "Throughout his whole career, Hickenlooper has gone to great lengths to thread the needle between two clear choices to avoid making a decision."

Emails sent to Hickenlooper's leadership PAC requesting comment were not returned.

Todd Shepherd

Todd Shepherd   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Todd Shepherd is a staff writer at the Washington Free Beacon. He began his reporting career in radio, working as an anchor and reporter for KOMA in Oklahoma City and KOA in Denver. He spent eight years as the investigative reporter for the Independence Institute in Colorado, a free-market-based think tank. Campaigns and Elections magazine named him a "Top Colorado Influencer" for his reporting and news blog. He’s a graduate of the media studies program from Oklahoma Baptist University. His Twitter handle is @shepherdreports.

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