DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday highlighted support from Colorado’s business community in an effort to distinguish himself from Republican challenger Bob Beauprez.
The former brewpub owner, who had a successful entrepreneurial run in Denver before becoming mayor and then governor, has long touted his business achievements. He campaigned in 2010 on his ability to connect with chief executives in order to spur economic development.
The numbers are hard to argue with, which is likely why the campaign wanted to get ahead of the business angle. During the last four years, Colorado has created more than 200,000 jobs; unemployment dropped from 9.1 percent to 5.5 percent; it has grown from 40th to fourth in the nation for job creation; and it is ranked second in the country to start a business.
Hickenlooper also pointed to 32 consecutive months of job creation and a nearly doubling of agricultural exports.
The message is critical as the governor heads into what is sure to be a tight and divisive campaign season. Republicans call Hickenlooper a “failed leader,” and they constantly suggest the GOP has a better understanding of economics and job creation.
Beauprez said he has been hearing a different story than the governor while on the campaign trail. The former congressman from Lafayette said government roadblocks remain a problem.
“There are a lot of businesses in Colorado who feel like John Hickenlooper has forgotten them,” Beauprez said in a statement after the governor’s conference call. “I’ve been in meetings with business leaders for the past several weeks. Over and over again, we’ve heard job creators say they are blocked from hiring more people because of government regulation and red tape.”
Beauprez’s camp pointed to their own statistics, including that Colorado dropped from second to 22nd on economic opportunity; private-sector jobs are shrinking; and the state’s unemployment rate lags its neighbors.
Hickenlooper touted support from Republicans within his list of more than 120 fans from the business sector, including high-profile developer Chad McWhinney, chief executive of McWhinney, and longtime business leader Dan Ritchie, chairman and chief executive of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
“These folks are long-term major forces in the Republican Party,” Hickenlooper said during a conference call unveiling the list of supporters. “There’s a bunch of Republicans who have a long history of supporting the Republican Party, but in the end, they say the person matters more than the party.”
Beauprez also highlighted Hickenlooper’s support for Amendment 66, which would have raised taxes by nearly $1 billion to fund K-12 education, and his signing of a measure that increased the renewable-energy standard in rural parts of the state. Beauprez said those moves hurt economic development.
Tony Gagliardi, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said his organization has not yet endorsed a candidate, but that members have concerns with Hickenlooper.
“My membership remains disappointed in the governor’s actions ...” Gagliardi said. “He signed bills that are detrimental to small businesses.”