DENVER – Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered a fiery defense of his pragmatic approach to politics Thursday night as he held the first rally of his presidential campaign in the state that nurtured his unlikely career in public office.
“Being a pragmatist doesn’t mean saying no to bold ideas,” Hickenlooper, 67, told a crowd of more than a thousand people at a downtown Denver park. “It means knowing how to make them happen.”
Hickenlooper, who announced his presidential bid Monday via video, hopes to stand out in a crowded Democratic presidential field of national figures making big, liberal proposals for “Medicare for all,” universal child care and high taxes on the wealthy. He’ll travel to Iowa Friday for a two-day swing through the early state, on which he is pinning his hopes in his underdog presidential bid.
As governor of Colorado, Hickenlooper signed laws expanding gun control, regulating methane emissions from energy exploration and expanded Medicaid. He also governed as a nonpartisan centrist and has long talked up the value of compromise and collaboration -- notions that may be out of favor with chunks of the Democratic electorate under President Donald Trump.
Normally a toned-down public speaker, Hickenlooper devoted some of his 20-minute speech to Trump, accusing the president of “kidnapping” children separated from their families at the border, “endangering our planet and destroying our democracy.”
“He measures progress by the number of enemies he creates,” Hickenlooper said of the president.
The former governor tried to contrast that with his own career. Hickenlooper was a laid-off geologist in the 1980s when he and friends decided to start a brewpub in a then-desolate slice of downtown Denver. The business took off, helped revitalize the neighborhood and made Hickenlooper wealthy. He parlayed his success into a quixotic mayoral run in 2003 at age 50, and was elected governor in 2010.
Hickenlooper’s unusual style has dominated Colorado politics for much of the past two decades. He jumped out of an airplane to support one ballot measure related to the state budget and rappelled down a high rise to raise money to fight cancer. He disavowed negative ads and frustrated some Democrats with his reluctance to engage in partisan battles.
He’s tried to adjust to the political realities of 2019. Hickenlooper once said he was too “moderate” to win a Democratic presidential primary, but on Thursday he tried to turn his nonconfrontational approach into an asset.
“This isn’t about unity for unity’s sake,” Hickenlooper said. “America stops working when we work against each other....It’s time to end this American crisis of division. It’s time to bring all Americans together. And that’s why I’m running to be President of the United States.”
Echoing in the background of Hickenlooper’s address were chants of a few dozen activists protesting Hickenlooper’s reluctance to stop hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” Activists for years have seethed at Hickenlooper, who remained close to the energy industry while he was governor.
“This is going to be a major issue in his campaign,” vowed organizer Suzanne Spiegel.
Hickenlooper, meanwhile, sounded more like a traditional Democratic candidate as he rattled off a list of ambitious liberal proposals. He vowed to make health care a “right” as president, to close corporate tax loopholes, address racial bias in the criminal justice system, rejoin the Paris climate accords and “build a green economy that creates jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.”
“At the end of my presidency,” Hickenlooper said, “I want Americans to say: It feels like the cloud has lifted, we feel closer to our neighbors and we’ve gotten big things done.”