John Hickenlooper's 2020 Bid: Rural County Aid, Rejecting Socialism And More

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2020 presidential candidate and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, at WBUR. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
2020 presidential candidate and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, at WBUR. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

With Sacha Pfeiffer

2020 presidential candidate and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says "socialism is not the answer" to achieve progressive goals. He’s with us.


James Pindell, political reporter for the Boston Globe covering the 2020 presidential campaigns. Political analyst for WBUR. (@JamesPindell)

John Hickenlooper, candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president. Governor of Colorado from 2011 to 2018. Mayor of Denver, Colorado, from 2003 to 2011. Author of "The Opposite of Woe: My Life in Beer and Politics." (@Hickenlooper)

Interview Highlights

On his background in business — Hickenlooper became an entrepreneur, founding Wynkoop Brewing Company in 1988 and going on to create more than 20 businesses and 1,000 jobs — and how that factors into the presidential race

"I learned firsthand that a true entrepreneur defines success not by how many times you say 'you're fired,' but how many times you say 'you're hired.' And we demonstrated the ability to create jobs. Part of what I'm running on, is I think I've got the best chance of beating Trump because he promised all these people jobs and didn't deliver. I've created thousands of jobs in the private sector. But when I came in as governor, we were 40th in job creation. For the last three years, Colorado's the No. 1 economy in the country. So I think there's a real credibility point there in terms of, I've done what Trump said he was going to do, and I've also done what all the other candidates have said they'll do."

On part of his campaign messaging — "standing up to bullies" — and whether that's a direct reference to President Trump

"Donald Trump is a classic bully. Bullies are ... generally insecure and narcissistic, and they want to be the center of attention, but they don't have a lot of confidence. So they have this bravado and they attack people. I had these really thick glasses and a name like Hickenlooper. My dad got very sick when I was 5. He died, he passed away right when I turned 8. So I didn't have a lot of confidence, and I dealt with bullies day in and day out.

"I got elected mayor of Denver — and Denver is a strong mayor system of government — I got elected mayor twice. I became governor twice. That's bare-knuckled brawling in those elections."

On his rejection of socialism at the California Democratic Party Convention

"I would like to re-emphasize that socialism is not the answer. This notion of the new Green Deal — part of it guarantees every American a government job. I don't think that's going to sell in the Midwest. This notion of of universal health care, 'Medicare for All,' and you're going to ask over 100 million people that are happy with their private insurance to give up that private insurance? Again, not the not the way to do it.

"And I think what I've done in Colorado demonstrates that you could do these big progressive things without massive expansions of government. We got to near-universal health care coverage in a bipartisan legislature. We went from being 40th in job creation to the No. 1 economy in the country for the last three years. And we beat the NRA with tough new gun laws.

"In many ways, I think I've done what everyone else is talking about. We've achieved these big progressive goals, but we didn't need to go to massive government expansions, which I don't think we're going to sell in Ohio and Michigan and North Carolina."

On whether President Trump should be impeached or not

"That's the tough question that we get asked all the time. And the key — I think we should follow the evidence. I think we should start an impeachment inquiry so that we can use it to make sure that we can compel witnesses and gather the information to see exactly where the trail of facts lead us. But, let's not make any mistake about what Mitch McConnell is going to allow happen in the Senate. We will never be able to impeach Donald Trump. We need to get the facts and put them out there, but we have to beat Donald Trump at the ballot box."

On how President Trump is handling foreign affairs, and what he would do differently

"I think that places like North Korea are a genuine risk. I think they are. We need to make sure that we are having a constant engagement with their diplomats. Same thing with China. China was stealing intellectual properties, cheating on their international agreements — by all means we had to address that. But these tariff laws are hurting our economy. And I don't think they're making us any safer.

"And certainly when you look at North Korea, we have to isolate it and continue doing the same things that President Obama did, and that President Trump is doing. I'm not quibbling with that. I do think treating despots with respect and giving them a platform by which they can spread false information is probably not good public policy for the country. But I do believe that we've got to reach out to everyone.

"The one thing I have the biggest problem on with President Trump's foreign policy is that he has alienated and turned his back on our closest allies. We created NATO at the end of World War II to try to keep this world safe, to make sure we never had another world war. And suddenly, for the first time in my lifetime, our NATO partners are wondering whether they can depend on the United States, whether we'll be there when they need us. And I think that's a question that the United States needs to answer loudly and boldly — that we are still committed to our strategic alliances and that we treat our our allies as our closest partners."

"I think what I've done in Colorado demonstrates that you could do these big progressive things without massive expansions of government."

John Hickenlooper

On gun control — Hickenlooper's messaging has been that there are guns that have their place and those that don't. Colorado, for example, banned high-capacity weapons.

"I think there's got to be some advances beyond where we are now. And one of the things — I mean, before someone can drive an automobile, they have to pass a driver's test and they get a driver's license. Why shouldn't there also be a license for buying a gun so that you have to take a test to demonstrate you know how to handle a firearm and then safely store it in the same sense? In most states we have hunter safety classes. When young people want to get a hunting license, they have to pass a test before they get the hunting license. Why not have a pass, a license to be able to buy a gun?"

After the Aurora, Colorado, shooting, Hickenlooper said: "This guy was diabolical. He would have found explosives, he would have found something else, some sort of poisonous gas, he would have found something else to create this horror."

Has his position changed on this?

"We are having almost one mass shooting a day — and by mass shooting I'm saying four people shot, is the data that I was shown. Everyone has to evolve. We cannot accept the risk that we are subjecting our kids — when our kids go to school, when our kids are in their neighborhoods, kids shooting kids has become all too common. So, yes, I've evolved. I think after the Aurora shooting, I felt it was very important to try and keep the politics out of the discussion in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy because people were mourning the loss."

On the legalization of marijuana — in 2014, Hickenlooper warned other governors against legalization

Has he changed his stance?

"I opposed it. I voted against it. I opposed it in every way I could.

"But the things we most feared haven't happened. We did not see a spike in youth consumption. We did not see an increase in youth or anybody driving while high. I think that the old system where we sent millions of kids — mostly from low-income backgrounds — we sent millions of kids to prison, we made many of them felons so that their entire lives were made more difficult, that was an awful system.

"And I think what we're seeing now — and our data is based on over 20,000 people surveyed every two years on a public health service survey we use in the state, so when I say we don't see a spike in consumption, I have good fact basis for that. We've seen an increase in one demographic, that's senior citizens.

"I think the federal government shouldn't tell other states like Alabama or Maine that they have to legalize medical marijuana. But I think the federal government should decriminalize it. And in those states where they've chosen to legalize it, they should allow it to be banked. They should take marijuana off, remove it or declassify it as a Schedule 1 narcotic, so that those states that have legalized it can safely implement a new system. States are the laboratories of democracy. This is going to turn out, I think, to be one of those places where a lot of us thought the worst, and yet the new system is going to be better."

On abortion rights

"I believe that part of a woman's inalienable right is the control her own body, and that means that she determines what happens to her body. And if in her or her doctor's discussion, between a doctor and a woman, they make the final decision, and if abortion is that decision, then they have the right to do that abortion."

From The Reading List

The Hill: "Hickenlooper unveils sweeping plan for rural communities" — "Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper Friday unveiled a sweeping plan to invest billions in federal funds to buoy rural communities across the country as part of his 2020 presidential platform.

"Hickenlooper said he would 'be a champion for our rural communities' promoting small businesses, expanding access to broadband, education and health care and investing in renewable energy, while also fighting the mushrooming opioid crisis.

"Hickenlooper touted his accomplishments in rural areas over two terms as governor of Colorado, including helping expand broadband internet access to all 64 of Colorado’s rural counties.

"He also said that more than 80 percent of Colorado rural counties rank in the top half of employment growth of all such areas as a result of his initiatives."

CNN: "John Hickenlooper booed for saying 'socialism is not the answer'" — "The welcoming cheers 2020 presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper received when he first graced the stage at California's Democratic Convention quickly crumbled into boos and jeers after he rejected socialism as the answer to Democrats' problems.

"'If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer,' Hickenlooper said to a crowd of more than 4,500 delegates and observers on Saturday.

"Before he could get finish his next sentence, a chorus of boos along with a sea of waving 'Bernie' signs overtook his speech, lasting for more than 30 seconds. The moment prompted Hickenlooper to attempt a smile and eventually break from his remarks to add, 'You know, if we're not careful, we're going to end up helping to re-elect the worst president in history.'

"The former Colorado governor is one of 15 Democratic candidates to address the San Francisco crowd, which is known to be home to some of the party's furthest left progressives."

Denver Post: "Hickenlooper is latest Democrat to make guns a priority in 2020 presidential race" — "At a library two miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 students were among those killed in one of the nation’s most horrific mass shootings, John Hickenlooper sat Saturday among two dozen survivors, listening to their ideas on how to curb gun violence and pitching a few of his own.

"Universal background checks are a must, the former two-term Colorado governor said. Then, maybe, an assault weapons ban. As president, he would go community by community, House district by House district, with data to convince reluctant federal lawmakers to pass meaningful gun control legislation.

"'Every great social triumph was built on the ashes of previous failures,' Hickenlooper told the crowd. 'We’re at a point now where we have critical mass. I really feel now we’re at an inflection point, where if everyone continues their efforts in the next year or two, after 2020 we will have the momentum — it really is momentum — to address gun violence issues.'

"It’s conversations like the one Hickenlooper had Saturday on the presidential campaign trail that give gun control advocates hope that the 2020 election will be a watershed moment for an agenda that has stalled at the national level."

Stefano Kotsonis and Brian Hardzinski produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on June 11, 2019.

This program aired on June 11, 2019.



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