DENVER – Wednesday marks the midpoint of John Hickenlooper’s final term as governor, as well as the beginning of the 2017 legislative session.
And discussions of what legacy Hickenlooper will leave are stirring.
For Republicans in the Senate, the jury is still out, said Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City.
That is because Grantham believes most of what the governor has accomplished comes from the 69th General Assembly, the 2013 and 2014 sessions, when Democrats held the majority in both chambers and the executive office, he said.
Otherwise, every assembly under Hickenlooper has been with a split Legislature where the Republicans held a majority in the state Senate and the Democrats in the House, Grantham said.
“If we’re going to look at a legacy for him, apart from what happens the next two years, it’s what he and the left-wing of the Democratic Party accomplished in those two years.”
Grantham said despite issues he may have with specific legislation passed during the years of the Democratic trifecta, he holds Hickenlooper in high esteem and believes there is real potential for the governor to expand his legacy by addressing such hot-button issues as construction defects and regulations and the growing transportation funding needs.
“I think the potential for his legacy to be able to point towards things like that is still out there. I don’t think it’s there yet, but maybe that’s a better question for two years from now,” Grantham said.
Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, said Hickenlooper’s legacy will form in the years after his final term, and it will involve his work promoting renewable energy and civil rights.
“Probably the biggest thing is the movement we’ve made in the last six years around civil rights, specifically around LBGT issues and the civil unions bill that he signed in his first term,” Kerr said.
During an availability with reporters on Tuesday, Hickenlooper was hesitant to answer questions about his legacy.
“I will address that in great detail when I get to my final General Assembly (session),” he said.
Even so, Hickenlooper said, “I’m always going to be proud that we fought for civil rights, same-sex marriages, making sure that the DREAMers were able to get in-state tuitions,” he said. DREAMers are immigrants in the country illegally who meet the requirements for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.
Colorado Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Denver, said the governor is acutely aware that his time in office is coming to an end.
“I trust the governor that he’s looking for opportunities. His staff is looking for opportunities on transportation, constructions defects and really anything else that may come down the line,” Holbert said. “I think that is going to be a healthy working relationship. I hope it is.”
Both Grantham and Holbert cited Hickenlooper’s ability to work across the aisle as a reason for optimism for the upcoming session.
One such occasion occurred in the 2015 legislative session, Holbert recalled during a pre-session briefing with the Capitol press corps on Monday.
He said he was approached by the governor regarding a controversial bill that would allow students to opt-out of state testing that Holbert was sponsoring.
After a news conference was held by Hickenlooper in which the opt-out bill was criticized, Holbert had a private meeting with the governor, he said.
The meeting provided an opportunity for the two to air differences on state testing in K-12 education and begin finding common ground toward what became House Bill 1323, Holbert said. “I am grateful for Governor Hickenlooper for making that invitation and taking the time for that conversation because that really was the basis that brought Senator Kerr and I together.”
Kerr said Hickenlooper was influential in the process behind H.B. 1323 and he appreciated how upfront and inclusive the governor was.
“If it had been a governor who was less interested in education, if it had been a governor who was less interested in really getting people with different views into the same room and hammering those out, it might not have happened,” Kerr said.