Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, right, gestures while his opponent, Republican candidate for governor Bob Beauprez, waits for his turn to speak, during a debate in Denver, Monday Oct. 6, 2014. Gov. Hickenlooper is facing one of the toughest re-election fights of his political career.

(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Editor's Note: Colorado Matters interviewed Bob Beauprez earlier this week.

If he wins a second term as Colorado’s governor, John Hickenlooper wants to “finish” many of the things he worked on in his first term, including reducing prescription drug abuse, improving early childhood education, and fostering a place where young, educated people want to live. Hickenlooper talks about those and other plans for a potential second term as governor in an extended interview with CPR News’ “Colorado Matters.” He also defends his leadership style against criticisms that he’s weak and indecisive.

More: Interview with Beauprez | Governor race voters guide | More voters guides | Election 2014 coverage

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is running against Republican Bob Beauprez, Libertarian Matthew Hess, the Green Party's Harry Hempy, and three unaffiliated candidates. He was elected governor in 2010, and before that served two terms as Denver's mayor. He has worked as a geologist and co-founded the Wynkoop Brewery and other brewpubs.

Oil and gas drilling

Hickenlooper defends the oil and gas drilling commission he helped established this summer.

“We are going to have a good chance of success," he said of the commission that is meant to advise the legislature on a long-term solution to some communities' concerns about drilling. The commission was part of a deal to keep "local control" initiatives to restrict drilling, and measures from drilling proponents, off the ballot this fall. Under the deal, the state also agreed not to pursue a lawsuit against Longmont, which wants to limit drilling there.

“You’ve got two legitimate rights: the right of someone to quiet enjoyment of their home, without a drilling rig across the street, but also someone who owned those mineral rights across the street,” he says. “Government shouldn’t come in and take that away.”

He suggests a few solutions that the commission could adopt: Drill with electric equipment instead of diesel to limit noise that’s created, shroud drill rigs to emit less light, store energy that’s extracted in tanks buried underground, and install gauges to measure escaped natural gas.

He says he will play an active role in helping the commission’s ideas get traction in the legislature.

Hickenlooper’s Republican challenger, Bob Beauprez, says the commission is unnecessary, pointing to his own experience negotiating drilling access on his property.

Economy

Colorado has gone from 40th in job creation to 4th in the past four years and unemployment is at 4.7 percent -- the lowest rate since June 2008. But there is significant inequality around the state. Median incomes (adjusted for inflation) have dropped since 2007, and Colorado is among the top 20 states for income inequality.

Hickenlooper says income inequality is a “serious problem” across the country.

He says one way he wants to address the problem is by helping people who have been unemployed long-term. In Colorado, 51,700 people have been out of work for more than 26 weeks, according to the state’s Department of Labor and Employment. Hickenlooper says he has been working on a proposal to businesses, asking them to hire someone who has been unemployed long-term. In exchange, the state would help train those hires through community colleges or workforce preparedness centers.

He expects the proposal to roll out in January or February, and says it hasn’t been implemented in his first term because he had to prioritize things like disaster responses and helping the overall economy recover from the recession.

“I can give you 50 things that should have come up earlier,” he says. "There are only so many hours in a day."

Education funding

On K-12 education, Hickenlooper says any increase in funding would have to be incremental. In 2013, Hickenlooper supported the failed Amendment 66, which proposed an income tax hike to provide about $1 billion for changing the way schools are financed in the state, and paying for full-day kindergarten and a package of reforms. He says spending significantly more money on education may not produce the results the state wants.

“The direct correlation between how much you spend and how well your students succeed is unclear,” he says.

“I think the state should be looking at solutions like a longer school day, a longer school year,” Hickenlooper adds. Making those changes would, “cost more, but not extravagantly more," he says.

As governor he couldn’t mandate schools increase the length of school days or years, but could provide resources to help them do so, which he says could come from federal funds funneled through the state.

Beauprez has criticized Hickenlooper throughout the campaign for not getting more funding for education from the federal government. In response, Hickenlooper says Colorado’s relative affluence and low levels of state funding prevent it from getting significantly more.

“A lot of these federal grants are provided as an incentive, that states should invest more in their schools,” he says.

“We’ve got full-time people… that go through grants that are available,” he adds. “Certainly there’s always the possibility of finding additional resources.”

Leadership style and the death penalty

Hickenlooper has received significant criticism during the campaign for his leadership style, and particularly for his decision to indefinitely put on hold the execution of convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap. Hickenlooper defends the decision he made.

“The state constitution requires the governor… to make one of three decisions: either execution, clemency, or temporary reprieve,” he says. The reprieve, which he chose in the Dunlap case, “is a full, third, equal measure.”

At least one family member of a Dunlap victim has called Hickenlooper a “coward” for granting the reprieve, while other family members support the decision to keep Dunlap in prison.

Hickenlooper supported capital punishment as a candidate in 2010 but now says he does not support it. When deciding what to do in Dunlap’s case, he says he didn’t want to grant full clemency. “Should I pull the rug out from under the whole legal system… knowing that [capital punishment] is still popular in Colorado?” he asks.

“I am … the leader of the state, but I’m not the dictator,” Hickenlooper says, adding that he wouldn’t want to make that moral decision alone.

“The constitution gives me all kinds of powers I choose not to exercise because I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the state.”

As an example, he says that during an emergency, a governor can take actions that might be against the law in other instances, but he prefers not to take advantage of those privileges.

Regulations on guns

Last year, Hickenlooper signed two controversial gun control measures, restricting the size of ammunition magazines and requiring universal background checks. He later said the magazine size limit was problematic. But Hickenlooper says now he is glad he signed those measures into law.

He does not forsee changes to the magazine restriction if he’s elected to a second term, nor the passage of any other specific gun control measures.

Rural Colorado

Hickenlooper's stand on guns helped motivate efforts in 11 counties, most of them rural, to secede from the state. The secession effort failed, but Hickenlooper vowed to spend more time in rural Colorado. He says he’s done that.

“It allows me to hear their perspective, and I think it will make for better legislation,” Hickenlooper says. “I can’t control what the legislature does … but I can use the bully pulpit to say, 'We need more public hearing time, and more ways to make sure people from the rural part of the state get their voice heard.'”

Hickenlooper did not specify any policy changes he has made or would like to make as a result of visiting rural parts of Colorado more often.

Marijuana

Hickenlooper did not support the legalization of recreational marijuana, and has continued to express concerns about the potential health effects on teenagers. In a recent debate, Hickenlooper made headlines for saying it was “reckless” for voters to make recreational pot legal in Colorado.

He says upon reflection, he realizes that comment is insulting to voters.

“They weren’t reckless," he says. "They recognized the system that was there before had a lot of failings."

He points to the number of young people who have been jailed for selling “small amounts of marijuana.”

Hickenlooper adds, “I was trying to get across there was a great deal of risk” in being among the first states to legalize recreational marijuana.