Some Democrats in Colorado see the Electoral College as a place to change the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The body votes on Dec. 19, and a group of electors is trying to recruit others to choose an alternative to Donald Trump. But those efforts are in vain, according to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.
"I think the election is over ... We're going to inaugurate Donald Trump," Hickenlooper said in an interview with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.
The governor anticipates meeting with Trump in February, when the National Governors Association pays the president-elect a visit. Hickenlooper plans to ask him about how he'll create jobs and what he'll do about whole industries that may be replaced by technology.
"I'd want to hear more in terms of his economic development, how he plans to stimulate more jobs. Saving some jobs from getting outsourced -- I fully expect he will pursue that and find some more examples [like his negotiations with the Indiana company Carrier to keep a plant open] but as we know in Colorado first hand, technology is eliminating entire professions in giant, leaping steps," Hickenlooper said.
The governor's prime example was autonomous vehicles, like the one that delivered beer from Fort Collins down to Colorado Springs.
"What happens if all of a sudden, so many of the people that are driving vehicles for a living, if in five years, they're not able to have those jobs? Let's say 10 years, more likely. How are we going to put those people to work?"
Elsewhere in the interview, Hickenlooper spoke about his state budget proposal and how to fund education and transportation more fully; his calls for the legislature to further regulate marijuana home grows; the governor's own political future; and what he learned from the time he tried to replace the "Merry Christmas" signs on the Denver City and County building.
Interview Highlights With Gov. Hickenlooper
Why he wants lawmakers to tighten regulations on at-home marijuana grows:
"Of any state that allows home growing, we have the largest permissible number of plants people can have per home, and it's way out of proportion to what I think anyone should be able to grow just for their home consumption or being a caregiver to a couple of people... We know for a fact that there are organized crime syndicates, in the state of Colorado now, growing marijuana to export it to other states. That is bad for everyone."
What he'd say to schools struggling with a shortage of state funding and a new requirement to raise minimum-wage pay:
"Many people for a long time have talked about how do we consolidate some of these school districts... to get maximum efficiencies out of things like bus drivers...
"They're exactly right, the minimum wage going up is going to have a disproportionate effect [on rural communities], and some of us lobbied that maybe there should've been geographic set-asides for those places where it is much less expensive to live, and where that extra dollar an hour or $1.50 an hour is really critical, but unfortunately we couldn't convince anyone that that was the right approach."
On his political future after his term ends in 2018:
"I really haven't thought too much about it... I don't want to get a PAC and do all the work you do if you want to get ready for [a run for] president... [But] never say never. If, in 2018 when I'm done, if the country seems to be in a terrible position I might help someone else run for president; I could run for president myself. But for most people that are planning that, they go to work right now."
On the prospects that lawmakers will act on his proposal to reclassify a fee hospitals pay in order to create money for schools and roads:
"We have to recognize that there is a serious possibility -- maybe even a probability -- that we're not going to succeed in the Hospital Provider Fee."
Read the transcript:
Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I’m Ryan Warner. There’s no line when you walk through security at the state capitol these days, it’s the lull before the legislative session gets underway next month. So it was a quick walk-up to Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper’s office for our regular conversation. Governor, welcome back to the program.
Governor John Hickenlooper: Glad to be back.
RW: There are members of your party who see the Electoral College as a place to change the outcome of the Presidential election to choose an alternative to Donald Trump. Do you think the Electoral College should take this on or do you see the presidential election as a fait accompli?
JH: Well, certainly, you know, I understand the frustration of these folks but I think the election is over and now, we probably have no choice, I think, but to – we’re going to inaugurate Donald Trump.
RW: Have people tried to persuade you otherwise?
JH: Oh, yes, more than a few. And this is America, right? The pendulum swings one way, it swings back the other and this way, it swung further in a different direction that pretty much everybody thought. But, you know, we didn’t have assassinations, there wasn’t a revolution in the streets. This is where we transition into a new administration.
RW: The last time we spoke, you had not made contact with Mr. Trump or his transition team. Has that changed?
JH: Well, there are some people on his transition team that I know and we have established contact.
RW: Can you say who they are and what you’ve--
JH: No. At this point, I’m just – we’re trying to build some connections so that as issues arise, we want to have places where we can voice our concerns.
RW: Issues like what?
JH: You name them; any of all -- healthcare issues or transportation issues, immigration issues.
RW: Are you requesting a meeting with Trump himself?
JH: No, not at this point. I mean, he’s – governors don’t say, “Hey, I need an audience with the new president” but that will happen. You know, I’m going to see him in early February. The National Governor’s Association will be there. Generally, that works out so that most governors, I assume I will be one of them that will have an opportunity to meet the new president.
RW: That is to say you are not going to the inauguration.
JH: I didn’t say that.
RW: Oh, that would mean seeing him in January.
JH: Yeah, though I don’t know whether I’m going to do in the inauguration. I haven’t been invited. I’m not sure I can do it in my schedule anyway because I’m going to be at the World Economic Forum. We’ve committed to it and the stuff is very useful to Colorado.
RW: If you got a few moments with Mr. Trump, what do you think you’d say or ask?
JH: Oh, I think I want to hear more in terms of his economic development. How he plans to stimulate more jobs and, you know, saving some jobs from getting outsourced. I fully expect he will pursue that and find some more examples of that but as we know in Colorado firsthand, technology is eliminating entire professions in giant leaping steps. You know, how is he looking at autonomous vehicles and what happens if all of a sudden so many of the people that are driving vehicles for a living, if suddenly in five years they’re not able to have those jobs or let’s say ten years probably more likely, truck drivers. How are we going to put those people to work and what are the ways, does he have ideas in terms of workforce training? I love to talk to him about our apprenticeship program we’re doing here, the work with LinkedIn and the Markle Foundation. I think that’s cutting edge in terms of getting people from one career to a new more promising career.
RW: I want to talk about your budget and Colorado State House now. You recently released your draft budget for 2017-2018. It increases what the state spends on every student but still puts the state miles away from where it agreed to be on school funding. Our education reporter, Jenny Brundin, found that some school districts are really concerned about how this relates to the minimum wage increase that voters just passed. Particularly in rural districts, bus drivers, custodians and classroom aides make less than $12 an hour which is the new minimum wage.
JH: Well, it’s a new minimum wage that we get to in 2020. So --
RW: Sure. But that means --
JH: -- we’ve got a couple of years to get there.
RW: There are potentially increases then coming in those rural salaries. Here’s Superintendent Rob Sanders from the Buffalo School District in Northeast Colorado. This is near Sterling.
JH: Sure, I know Buffalo.
Rob Sanders: How are we supposed to cover this $12 minimum wage increase when we have shrinking revenues and we're already deficit spending across the state? We’ve got districts that are about already to close their doors because they ran out of money.
JH: We have on a per capita basis probably more school districts than almost any state I know of. Many people for a long time have talked about how do we consolidate some of these school districts. There’s going to be more intense financial pressure on school districts with or without the minimum wage, right? This has been going on for years and years.
RW: The idea behind consolidation, by the way, is you save on administrative expenses because you have one central district for a larger number of schools.
JH: Yeah. Traditionally, the way most states work is they’ll have a larger region under one district and try to make sure that they get maximum efficiencies out of things like bus drivers, exactly.
RW: Are you saying that consolidations will be a natural outgrowth of this?
JH: Well, we’ve been saying consolidations are a natural outgrowth for the last decade and this is previous governors as well as myself. Most communities really resist this because they want to have control of their own school district and it becomes increasingly more difficult to do that financially to keep control of your own small district. If you’re a small town that’s not growing, if let’s say commodity prices are low points like we see now.
RW: In a rural area.
JH: In a rural area and that there aren’t a lot of alternative jobs, you know. Sterling, I think they’re going to do a little better and some of the other districts to be honest. You go down to Lamar, you go to southeast Colorado, you see a bunch of school districts that are really facing some difficult choices and they’re exactly right, the minimum wage going up is going to have a disproportionate effect and some of us lobbied that maybe there should’ve been geographic set asides for those places where it’s much less expensive to live and where that extra dollar an hour or $1.50 an hour is really critical. But unfortunately, we couldn’t convince anyone that that was the right approach.
RW: Any other insight or advice you’d offer to Rob Sanders?
JH: There’s not much I can say because I know they’ve already looked at every efficiency they can find. I mean, this has been going on for a couple of decades.
RW: And Sander’s district as you’ve hinted, isn’t the only one concerned. Greeley-Evans is considering things like larger class sizes or eliminating bus service to be able to pay these wage increases.
JH: And again, Greeley, relative to many parts of the states is relatively prosperous.
RW: A citizen question now. Seth Levy of Gypsum asks, “With the partisan split in the legislature going unchanged, what is your realistic agenda for 2017?” We don’t have time to go through the whole thing, so what’s at the top of your list?
JH: What’s my realistic agenda? Right. So, you know, Seth, I still think we’ve got to fight for the hospital provider fee. It’s a fee – by any definition, it’s a fee the president, attorney general --
RW: Except by the definition of the Republicans who oppose you in the legislature on this issue.
JH: Really, just the Senate president. I mean, he is the one who keeps it in committee and we’re going to continue to negotiate with him and see if we can find a way that – some sort of a comprise. So.
RW: A reclassification of this fee you believe, would free up more funding for transportation, for education and I'll say that, you know, this would mean that there might not be refunds under the taxpayer bill of rights for --
JH: People wouldn’t get that twenty bucks and I think that’s legitimate. For a lot of people that $20 is meaningful.
RW: It’s a budgeting maneuver and it has been highly controversial.
JH: I don’t think it's that controversial.
RW: But what would change in this coming session?
JH: I think it’s pretty obvious but there’s a small group, right? It’s less than twenty-five percent of the state that opposed to it but that’s not our only – obviously, I think we have to recognize that there’s a serious possibility, maybe even a probability that we’re not going to succeed in the hospital provider fee because as you point out, nothing’s changed.
RW: And so, if there’s that possibility and you realize that it is one, do you have a backup plan?
JH: Yeah. We have a backup plan for transportation, we have a backup plan for, you know, education needs.
RW: What are they?
JH: It’s none of your business.
RW: None of my business?
JH: No. No. I think you have to find – if you really want to address transportation, you have to figure out some new resources, new revenues.
RW: Raising the gas tax?
JH: So that’s – raise the gas tax, add a sales tax.
RW: There would have to be a vote on raising the gas tax.
JH: And there would have – any of these would require a vote.
JH: And my point is, right now, we’re getting clobbered by our competitive neighbors. So Utah right now spends probably double what we spend on transportation, on adding infrastructure, probably triple and they have almost half the population. If you’re a young entrepreneur and looking at where to start a business and where to have your family, in terms of that statistic, transportation, were not competing very well. And this is one of those things – you don’t see it first but all of a sudden, you lose your momentum and people start going and saying, “Oh, Austin, Texas is much better and they’ve expanded that off-ramp and it’s much easier. The traffic jams aren’t anywhere near as bad.” And once you lose that momentum which Colorado has right now, it’s very hard to get it back.
RW: Can I say that there might be people listening who say, “Oh, if only Colorado would lose a little momentum, the roads wouldn’t be so busy and housing wouldn’t be so expensive.”
JH: Yeah. And those same people – and there are plenty of them who say that. So then all of a sudden, you’re shedding population because it’s just too congested and we haven’t invested in our infrastructure and then suddenly, people are getting laid off and suddenly, everyone’s business is going down, sales are down three or four percent and then you go back and talk to those same people and they sing a different tune. I was here in the late 1980s. And kind of going into the '80s, everyone thought we had too many people, you know, there were these, you know, license plate holders that were “Get away Californians. Don’t come here” and all of a sudden, the price will all drop and we had it – we went to a recession; it was a deep recession. Real estate prices dropped, restaurants and retail businesses, their sales went down five, ten, fifteen percent. Nobody wants to see that and it’s – you can’t have it both ways. You’re either going to grow or you’re going to shrink. And when you start shrinking, it puts intense pressure on many, many people.
RW: So back to the potential solutions. So raising the gas tax, what else is on the list for transportation?
JH: A possible sales tax.
RW: Statewide sales tax.
JH: Sales tax. Obviously, if we tried to do a sales tax and it was voted down, my guess is that some of these communities like Fort Collins or Colorado Springs or Denver, you know, metropolitan Denver would want to do a regional transportation authority and raise their own money and not use any state money which is all right although historically, we want to make sure the money we raise gets used across the state because the rural areas have greater – obviously, many more roads, less population. So historically, we’ve always helped subsidize them to not a large extent but a certain extent with the revenue from along the Front Range helps maintain the quality of the rural road infrastructure. If all the urban areas start doing their own RTAs, you’re going to lose that connection between the whole state. Personally, I’m against that and it’s not something I want to embrace.
RW: Your predecessor, I remember Bill Ritter, wanted to investigate VMT, Vehicle Miles Traveled, so that you actually have something in your car that measures the miles you travel and charges you accordingly.
JH: So there’d be a fee based on how much road you use in the course of the year. Everybody would pay a proportionate amount to what they’re using the roads. And certainly, the most logical thing you can have – we’re actually doing kind of a test of that now but it has historically been very unpopular. Part of it is, people don’t want government under their hood, right? They don’t want government to know where they’ve driven or even just how many miles they’ve driven.
RW: So not at the top of your list. Briefly, two backups for education funding, if --
JH: Wait. Wait, you said not at the top of my list but I think it is the most equitable solution. I’m just not sure that, politically, people will be willing to put up with it. So.
RW: And backup for education funding if the hospital provider fee reclassification is, again, a nonstarter.
JH: I think in education, we’d have to find something that on a broad scale would appeal to the voters of Colorado because it would have to go through the vote, whatever tax it would be. Let’s say we move the income tax back to where it was ten years ago and say, all right, we’re going to go back from 4.62 to 5.0, which what Utah is – which most of neighbors are in that – most of them are higher than that or in that same range.
RW: The income tax has been decreasing in Colorado.
JH: Yeah, it was decreased about ten years ago. And so, all right, let’s say we went back to that and we’re going to use it only for education and maybe a piece for roads. And here’s what we’re going to give the taxpayers, you know, a longer school day, a longer school year. A clear measurable improvement of achievement, of student achievement. Is that going to pass the voters? As we both know, getting any tax increase of any kind through voters when you’re having this many people losing their jobs and whole professions being eliminated by technology, it would be a steep hill.
RW: So any of these solutions for education or transportation, as you see it, require more money coming into the state coffers?
JH: Yeah, I don’t see what we could cut. I mean, the state’s been running pretty lean now for the last six, seven years.
RW: You’d like to see lawmakers take on marijuana home grows. What problems do you see?
JH: Well, we have, of any state that allows home growing, we have the largest permissible, the number of plants people could have per home and it’s way out of proportion to I think what anyone should be able to grow just for their kind of home consumption or being a caregiver to a couple people. I think that there needs to be a law and perhaps there’s a safeguard so you can say if there is someone who needs more plants and they’re specifically growing them for these people, maybe we’d have them come in, they apply for a special license, they pay a little extra, we go and inspect them on a regular basis and track their plants. But we know for a fact that there are organized crime syndicates in the State of Colorado now growing marijuana to export it to other states. That is bad for everyone.
RW: And you see the home grows as allowing for that?
JH: Yeah, it makes it almost impossible to enforce. If you talk to local law enforcements and say, “Well, how do I know? We arrest these guys and they say ‘They’re home grow’ and we say, ‘Well, you’ve got ninety plants in here.’”. They go, “Yeah, that’s what we’re allowed to do; ninety plants.” And they say where's your license, “Well, we don’t need a license." The state doesn’t require you to have a license for a home grow.
RW: So you’d like to see a limit that’s something closer to twelve plants per –
JH: I think that’s something that makes a lot more sense.
RW: On a more personal note, you’re just back from a meeting of the western governors. There was a panel where you and other governors talked about failure, a setback that taught you a lesson and you talked about a moment when you were mayor when you proposed replacing the “Merry Christmas” sign outside the Denver City and County Building with a “Happy Holidays” sign.
JH: Well, it’s because we were replacing them anyway. They were worn out, so Public Works had come to me and said they’re being replaced, yes.
RW: And you thought we’ll do the sort of more inclusive “Happy Holidays”. You got some backlash and reversed your decision. This was more than a decade ago, I’ll point out. What lesson did you get from that?
JH: So the next morning, I got a call in my office and one of the reporters for the Denver Post was talking about one thing or another and they said, “Oh, I heard you replaced the signs up. They’re putting new signs in and you’re going to get rid of the “Merry Christmas” one and put in something, “Season’s Greetings”. And I said, “Yeah, and it’s not going to cost anything extra. We’re going to be so inclusive.” The next day, the headline was, “Hickenlooper, or Hick hates Christmas.”
JH: Or something like that. I can go find you the exact --
RW: We’ll look in the archives.
JH: It was pretty bold and the talk radio lit up. I mean, they were having a feel that here’s this new mayor who’ve only been in the office four months or five months and, you know – well, some of my staff they said, “Well, once you take a position like that, you can't, the dignity and the authority of the office of the mayor, you can’t just say one thing one day and then the next day, reverse it,” I said, “Why can’t I? Shouldn’t we just say we’re sorry?” And they go, “No, I’m not sure you can do it.” And so we discussed this for fifteen minutes and finally, I convinced them it wasn’t the worst idea to say sorry. And I’m pretty sure Lindy Eichenbaum led, who was my communications director back then, I think she was the one who said just because there’s two Os in Hickenlooper doesn’t mean that I’m Scrooge.
RW: And that taught you that it’s okay to say I’m sorry as a politician? You know, I imagine there were Jewish people who thought I like the idea of “Happy Holidays.”
JH: There were. And trust me, many of them were my good friends. But to a person, every one of them who I talked to said, “Boy, I understand exactly where you’re coming from.” It’s not worth that battle for you to sacrifice major initiatives so that we get a Merry Christmas off the City Hall. But I thought what was even more interesting was that the talk radio audience suddenly swung from attacking me relentlessly to saying, “Hey, here’s a guy who just got elected and he’s willing to say he made a mistake and reverse himself. He doesn’t sound like a politician, he sounds like what I would’ve done or what my neighbor Joe would’ve done.”
RW: One last citizen question about your future. I think a lot of people are curious about what you’ll do after your term ends in 2018. Justin Sykes of Denver asks, will you consider running for president or against Senator Cory Gardner in 2020?
JH: You know, I think – unfortunately, my primary goal, my sight was really set on being commissioner of baseball. But Bud Selig retired last year and so they have a new commissioner of baseball. I really haven’t thought too much about it. I want to take this next two years and I don’t want to get a PAC and do all the work you do to if you want to get ready for president. I want to make every effort in terms of workforce training, in terms of controlling the rise and the cost of healthcare, in terms of outdoor recreation and how we protect our landscapes. I want Colorado to be the model where people with different opinions are willing to come together and work together.
RW: Is it possible that 2014 was the last time you run for office?
JH: Yeah, I think there’s a pretty good chance that that’s the last time. Again, never say never. And if in 2018 when I’m done, if the country seems to be in a terrible position, I might well help someone else run for president. I could run for president for myself but I think it’s – for most people, that are planning that they go to work right now.
RW: Thanks for being with us.
JH: Always a pleasure.