Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner, left, interviews Gov. John Hickenlooper in his office at the Capitol, May 16, 2018.

Sam Brasch/CPR News

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says if cities want to control their own fate when it comes to oil and gas drilling, they might consider taking a page from Longmont.

That city has given preliminary approval to a plan to “essentially eliminate oil and gas drilling” within the city limits by paying two companies $3 million, along with a lease to hundreds of acres of city-owned mineral rights. A possible final vote is scheduled for May 22.

“I haven’t seen all the details, but on the surface, it looks like the appropriate way that municipalities can deal with oil and fracking within their city limits,” Hickenlooper told Colorado Matters. “I’ve always said the biggest problem is this is someone’s private property. Now, what the cities are doing, are saying ‘If this is someone’s private property, we will buy that private property and... find a way... to move this activity that we find so odious out of our city limits.’ I don’t have a problem with it; I don’t see it as a negative that governments shouldn’t be doing.”

At a separate city forum held Tuesday to answer questions from the public, the general manager of Longmont’s Public Works and Natural Resources Department emphasized that the deal wasn’t a “no-fracking agreement.” Instead, the Times-Call reports that Dale Rademacher said the agreement with TOP Operating Co. and Cub Creek Energy LLC was a “no-surface-disruption agreement.”

Longmont officials say the agreement bans surface disruption but horizontal drilling could still be used to access underground deposits from outside city limits. Drilling would also still be allowed on land the city owns outside its borders.

Hickenlooper acknowledged that a city’s finances might indeed dictate how it handles the issue, but added that — potentially — assistance might be offered by the state.

“Over time, you might see some communities figure out how to finance it. Maybe they take out bonds,” he said. “[In] education, the state will provide additional revenues. And perhaps this would be a case where the state could provide additional revenues to supplement a less-wealthy community.”

Elsewhere in his conversation with Colorado Matters, the governor commented on his next opportunity to make court appointments. On Wednesday, the Colorado Supreme Court announced Chief Justice Nancy Rice’s July retirement and offered three candidates to replace her. Hickenlooper has until May 31 to appoint the new justice.

That appointment would be Hickenlooper’s fifth as governor. Asked if he had a vision in trying to shape the court, he said, “We try to avoid specific issues — ‘How would you vote on TABOR?’ We don’t ask that... But we have looked at, I think it’s fair to say, core values... One of the first questions, is, ‘How do people stand on civil rights?’ We’ve held that up as a core value that everyone on that court should embrace.”

Interview Highlights With Gov. John Hickenlooper

On learning skills versus earning degrees:

“We always are talking about four-year degrees, two-year degrees. The world is changing so rapidly and automation, imaging, artificial intelligence are going to dismantle and make irrelevant all kinds of jobs and entire professions. We've got to be much faster at responding, and that means you've got to start looking at things from the point of view of what skills does one have and what skills are needed?”

On considering taking executive action on a "Red Flag" law:

“We still are looking at it, but it would never have the same heft and have the same outcomes that we could have gotten through legislation. It would have passed. There were the votes in both houses. It would have passed. Again, as often it seems to happen, a small number of people using the cohesion of a political party, are able to keep something like this from getting out onto the floor.”

On a buyer emerging to purchase The Denver Post:

“There are a lot of stakeholders that have a self-interest in an independent free press. I think it is a great benefit to government to have reporters uncovering corruption of one sort or another. Often times, we wouldn't know about it if it wasn't for the media. And as embarrassing as it sometimes is, the bottom line is it makes government better. And it improves our community.”

Read The Full Transcript

Ryan Warner: Would you bring out your phone for me?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: Sure.

RW: Okay, I remember we followed you for a day, and you told me that you have a countdown on your calendar. It's the number of days left in your administration.

JH: Right the top of, on the calendar, at the top of every day, you can see it here in the upper left hand corner, it says 239.

RW: Okay, 239 days left in this administration. I ask because the last legislative session of your administration has just wrapped up, lots of talk indeed about whether that makes you a lame duck.

JH: Maybe just a limp, not lame.

RW: What do you want to achieve? What can you achieve between now and when your successor is sworn in?

JH: Oh my gosh. We're doing the apprenticeship program and the workforce training, skillful.com, the skills-based platform that's going to allow kids of all ages, right, so throughout their entire lives be able to look at taking the skills they've learned, see what skills they're lacking for a specific profession, and then skillful.com will tell them where they can get those skills, what it'll cost. We're trying to get, by the end of my term, a coherent integrated plan around workforce that's going move this state, and I think the country's going to have to do this, but move this state towards a skills-based discussion, day in and day out-

RW: Skills-based versus what? What's the paradigm shift?

JH: Degrees. Degrees. We always are talking about four-year degrees, two-year degrees. The world is changing so rapidly and automation, imaging, artificial intelligence are going to dismantle and make irrelevant all kinds of jobs and entire professions. We've got to be much faster at responding, and that means you've got to start looking at things from the point of view of what skills does one have and what skills are needed?

RW: If I'm in higher education, maybe I'm the president of CU or CSU, should I be shaking in my boots that the governor is speaking this way about-

JH: No, of course not. I mean college degree is always going to retain its value. It is the first choice of ambitious people, generally.

RW: And yet under criticism for being too expensive for what it yields in some cases.

JH: And I think that's sometimes fair criticism. But again, keep in mind that 65 percent to 70 percent of our kids, and this is all across the country, are never going to get a four-year degree. We've been holding this up as the holy grail of how you're going to have a great life. Get this college degree, and only 30 percent, 35 percent of our kids get it? The rest of them, we kind of pull out our resources and leave them to fend for themselves. At the same time, we have all these new emerging industries where we need technicians and data analysts and people that just know a little tech. They don't need a four-year degree in it. But they need to acquire the right skills.

RW: I want to focus on another issue related to young people, because earlier this week you announced the formation of a task force to look into the juvenile justice system. You said this is part of an ongoing effort to keep youth out of jails and prisons. I wonder if there's a particular story or trend that moved you to do this.

JH: Well, three Saturdays ago, I was at a National Governor's Association meeting, and the Governor of Connecticut, Dannel Malloy was describing to me seven years ago he did a very similar convening of all the stakeholders, and they went full tilt at making sure that kids don't go into prison. They do everything they can to get those kids reoriented. So not only has their prison population gone down dramatically, so they're saving tens and ultimately hundreds of millions of dollars, but their crime rate has gone down. So the rest of us in society are actually safer even as we're saving money. That is a model that is worth pursuing.

RW: Where does the change have to come to make that happen here?

JH: So you need to work with district attorneys. You need to work with judges. You need to work with a lot of the nonprofits that provide interventions and a mentoring to young kids who've made a mistake. We have youth facilities, detention facilities that they aren't jails, but they're the next step before you go to jail. Part of this is looking at how do you change the activities within youth detention facilities, to get them job training, get them really material benefits, counseling for instance. But things are going to greatly improve the probability that they're going to not end up in jail.

RW: Now, late in the most recent legislative session, one of the measures that came up had to do with a so-called red flag gun law. It would have allowed judges to prevent people from having firearms who are a threat to themselves or others. It passed the House, but it didn't make it out of committee in the Senate, although it had bipartisan support, a lot of law enforcement backing. I know you'd considered taking executive action on a red flag law, but you decided against it. Why?

JH: We looked at an executive order. We still are looking at it, but it would never have the same heft and have the same outcomes that we could have gotten through legislation. It would have passed. There were the votes in both houses. It would have passed. Again, as often it seems to happen, a small number of people using the cohesion of a political party, are able to keep something like this from getting out onto the floor.

RW: You were assured there were votes in the Republican-led Senate.

JH: You only needed a couple votes, right? Really, you only needed one vote to flip that, and there were several people that had expressed a strong interest. Do I have a proxy that anyone signed? No. But-

RW: You said you might still be considering something?

JH: Yeah, we're certainly looking if there's something we could do that would have a material benefit, but in a thing like this, a statute is really where you're going to get maximum benefit.

RW: The legislature made inroads on three areas that have been tricky for governors even before you: Transportation, education, and the state pension system, PERA. Hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2019 budget were poured in to address those areas. I want you to speak to the next governor about the budgetary issues that he or she will inherit.

JH: Well we were cautious. Maybe not as cautious as some would like, but we really did look at what are the parts of the investment that are base building, in other words, the next governor. These are revenues that they're going to have to spend year after year after year. Most of those were dedicated towards education and PERA. Obviously, PERA, a large part of PERA serves school teachers, and not just school teachers but other school employees. So that's where most of the base building with. The transportation, the largest amount of transportation this year was one-time-only money, right? It was just this year and next year under $600 million, but that's it.

RW: You're saying that the recurring funding is just not happening, as you would have liked perhaps in transportation, and there is the question of whether voters might pass a tax increase that the business community might put on the ballot. There's the question of whether voters would approve some bonding. You have said in the past that you'd support a tax increase for roads. Would you actively campaign for it?

JH: Well it depends on what it looks like, but I certainly, I mean, if you're going to have an economy grow, like the Colorado economy, you better be willing to invest in infrastructure so that you don't suffer the congestion and the traffic delays and all the negative outcomes of that growth, and to do that takes resources. If you look each year between inflation, overall, the fuel efficiency in vehicles, and this is only going to increase, means that we're getting less money through the gas tax, whereas concrete, asphalt, all the things it takes to build a road are increasing by more than inflation in most cases. Each year, we're having less and less money to put on transportation.

RW: One thing I'm hearing for the candidates for governor, especially on the Republican side is that there are efficiencies to have, that CDOT is budgetarily fat and that it could be leaner, and meaner, and do more with what it has.

JH: Yeah, and you know what's interesting is most of the Republicans who are so critical haven't ever opened the books, haven't gone and looked. Some of them have never really run a large enterprise. But CDOT is a bunch of engineers, right, trying to use science and data to find the highest quality, lowest cost solutions to road issues. And whether you're talking about plowing mountain passes, or whether you're designing guard rails, they are about the best at trying to find the lowest cost and the highest benefit.

They all get paid less than they would get in the private sector. I don't know where these people think they're going to find all this fat. It's a wonderful, and I'm not sure when this became the Republican mantra that everything in government's fat. We went through the great recession. We leaned everything down and we've been very careful not to pull it back up. We've tried to make sure that as we get more funding back, how do we make sure that we're getting the maximum benefit?

RW: Anything else you've heard on the campaign trail that has caught your ear?

JH: I think most, both Republicans and Democrats, on the gubernatorial campaign trail recognize we have a need for transportation infrastructure. It'll be interesting to see whether they have concrete plans. I haven't seen very many.

RW: Or plans for concrete. You're listening to Colorado Matters. I'm Ryan Warner and we're back at the State Capitol for our regular conversation with Colorado's Governor John Hickenlooper. I want to move on to energy and specifically as it relates to Longmont. That city tried to ban fracking and the state Supreme Court smacked it down. Now the city is poised to pay a pair of oil and gas companies three million dollars never to drill in city limits. Longmont would in exchange lease 516 acres of city owned mineral rights in Weld County to the companies. A final vote on this is scheduled in Longmont for next week. What do you make of this approach?

JH: Well, I haven't seen all the details, but on the surface it looks like the appropriate way that municipalities can deal with drilling and fracking within their city limits. I've always said the biggest problem is this is someone's private property, and now what the cities are doing are saying, "All right, if this is someone's private property, we will buy that private property and we will make sure that we trade them other leases. We will find a way to make sure that we haven't taken their private property, we're just going to move this activity that we find so odious, we're going to move it out of our city limits." I don't see a problem with it. I don't see it in any way as a negative thing, the government shouldn't be doing this. Again, we're not Russia. We're not China. We can't just snatch someone's private property because we don't approve of that activity.

RW: Could it lead to a have and have not, though? In other words, cities that then can afford to pay drillers to go elsewhere will do so and those that can't, won't. So, you'll have patches of drilling in poor communities, for instance.

JH: I don't know how broadly this will be carried on, because it's not inexpensive, right? You're talking millions of dollars for a relatively small town. I think that over time, you might see other communities trying to figure out some way to finance it. Maybe they take out bonds or whatever they try. But I don't, there are wealthier cities, right? And there are less wealthy cities, and oftentimes that distribution, we try to moderate wherever we can. Education, the state will provide additional revenues, and perhaps this would be a case where the state could provide additional revenues to supplement a less wealthy community. But with this General Assembly, I think that would probably be very difficult to-

RW: With the make up of the legislature, you're saying?

JH: Yes.

RW: So, it could result in some unevenness if you will.

JH: I don't see, yeah I don't see if the state is unwilling to come in and try to create some balance based on the relative affluence of the community. But not every community hates drilling at the same level. In some places, the community's kind of decided, "Hey, we accept this."

RW: A vacancy is coming on the State Supreme Court, and you've just gotten three names from a judicial nominating committee that you'll choose from. You've got two sitting judges on this list, including actually the man who presided over the Aurora Theater shooting trial. You also have a former judge on the list. I think this means, once this appointment is through, that you'll have appointed five of the seven justices on the State Supreme Court. Have you done so with an intentional eye of saying, "I want the court to look like this." Is there a longer strategy here?

JH: You know we try to avoid specific issues, how would you vote on TABOR, we don't ask that.

RW: Sort of litmus test.

JH: Yeah we have avoided any litmus test. But we have looked for core values. Judges that recognize the importance of small businesses. And that small businesses have rights as well. And that they are often don't have the money to successfully lobby or adjudicate in other ways their needs or their difficulties. I think we've always put at the top of every list that one of the first questions is, how do people stand on civil rights and making sure that every single person in this state is treated fairly.

RW: Is that a litmus test?

JH: Yes, I think that is. If you were going to give one litmus test, that people have to recognize that every citizen, every human being in Colorado has certain inalienable rights.

RW: I mean I think you'd be hard pressed to find a judge who'd say no to that.

JH: No, I think you're right. But I think asking the questions and listening to how they articulate and talk about it, is illuminating.

RW: Finally, I'm interested in your thoughts on the ongoing saga of the Denver Post. Recently the editorial page editor, Chuck Plunkett resigned, protesting the paper's hedge fund owner. Which has gutted the newsroom. A short time later, two other senior editors quit, and Dean Singleton the former owner of the Post, resigned as its chairman, and left his position on the editorial board as well.

In an interview last month with none other than the Denver Post, you said, you've had close to two dozen discussions with various people about the paper. Adding, "I don't think it's inappropriate if I could get the right people together, if there was some opportunity. Mostly what I am is," you said, "I think a sounding board to put people together." Obvious questions of wanting the press to be independent from government here. But I wonder if there's been anything specific that has come up?

JH: There are a lot of stakeholders that have a self-interest in an independent free press. I think it is a great benefit to government to have reporters uncovering corruption of one sort or another. Often times, we wouldn't know about it if it wasn't for the media. And as embarrassing as it sometimes is, the bottom line is it makes government better. And it improves our community.

RW: Anything solid come out of these? I mean I've heard a lot talk. There's different groups that are talking about how they might buy the Post, which is an uphill battle.

JH: Well certainly Alden has given no indication that they have any interest in selling their interest in The Denver Post.

RW: So that's the line you're hearing as well?

JH: Yeah. I think there's a pretty close to a zero chance of that, at least in the short term. I do hear from a couple different groups that they're trying to rustle up some investors and look at, what would an alternative news media instrument look like. Would it be in the form of paper or would it be completely technologic? Would they start out with certain advertisers. I mean…

RW: Won't the free market take care of this?

JH: Well I think the real trouble, the reason, the problem we have is that the free market no longer can find a way to monetize the value of independent reporting. Independent reporting is expensive if it's done right.

RW: I'm not sure if this is a leap but your wife Robin, is an executive at Liberty Media, which is one of the world's largest media companies. Does that qualify as the right people? I mean have those conversations you referenced been with John Malone who owns Liberty?

JH: I have not talked to John Malone. But I have talked to Robin. Frequently. Certainly she sees it as a, in a similar vein. This is a serious concern.

RW: Governor, thank you for being with us.

JH: Always a pleasure.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.