DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper painted a picture of a resilient state that is growing stronger in the wake of tragedy and disaster in his fourth State of the State address Thursday.
In a speech that set the tone for his re-election campaign this year, he sought to create a spirit of unity after the assassination of his Department of Corrections chief, Tom Clements; another school shooting in the Denver suburbs; and record-breaking natural disasters.
“This past year, Colorado has been scorched. Colorado has been flooded. Colorado – once again – endured senseless, inexplicable violence,” Hickenlooper said.
But those events don’t define the state, he said.
“Colorado does not shut down. Colorado does not quit. Colorado does not break,” he said, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd.
Two Republicans who want his job were in the room, and they said his words about unity rang hollow after Hickenlooper signed several controversial laws in 2013 without vetoing anything.
“The guy stands up there and encourages the Legislature not to be divisive, when he participated in dividing the state last year,” said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray.
“He’s actually more liberal than Governor Moonbeam of California,” Brophy said, referring to Gov. Jerry Brown.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler sat in the front row. Gessler, a Republican, also is running to replace Hickenlooper, and he dismissed the speech as nice-sounding words.
“He said a lot of great things last year, as well, and they ended up being just a lot of empty words,” Gessler said.
But Hickenlooper remained relentlessly positive during his 40-minute address.
To counter Republican arguments that Colorado’s business climate is changing for the worse, Hickenlooper cited studies that rank the state above most others.
And he pointed out that in 2010 – when he took office – Colorado ranked 40th in job growth.
“Now, three years later, in that same ranking, Colorado has the fourth-fastest job growth in the nation. Fortieth to fourth,” he said.
After a lengthy recitation of positive news, the governor laid out his goals for the Legislature in 2014.
Tops on the list was a reform of the telecommunications law. Legislators have tried and failed several times in recent years to update the regulations.
“Rural and other unserved parts of the state should have the same broadband Internet access as urban areas,” he said.
The line brought another standing ovation from both Democrats and Republicans. Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, was the first to his feet.
“I think that is something that has really been overlooked,” McLachlan said. “I want to see a really good telecommunications bill this time.”
Hickenlooper also wants to reduce average wait times at driver’s license offices to 15 minutes, down from an hour currently.
He aims to increase the state’s rainy-day fund to 6.5 percent. Three years ago, it was down to 2 percent, a cushion of less than two weeks. Most Republicans support the effort and have been clamoring for years for a larger reserve fund.
And Hickenlooper said he’s committed this year to strengthening fines for gas and oil spills. His administration helped scuttle a Democratic bill last year that would have raised fines on the industry.
If the past two years of disaster and violence have worn on Hickenlooper, he didn’t betray it Thursday, and he urged legislators to prove they can work together to strengthen the state.
“I’m all in,” Hickenlooper concluded.