State of the State Focuses on Colorado’s Entrepreneurs

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I-70 will finally get wider, government regulations will be leaner and same-sex partners should be able to get civil unions. Those were a few of the more concrete statements in Governor John Hickenlooper’s second State of the State address Thursday morning, as CPR's Megan Verlee reports.....

REPORTER MEGAN VERLEE: It seems to be mandatory for any Colorado governor giving this address to plunder state history for a suitably rugged metaphor to capture his theme. In bad times, governors invoke hardy pioneers and killing winters, in good, the fruited plain and booming frontiers. For his speech this year, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper said he considered talking about wagon trains, and Buffalo Bill...

GOVERNOR JOHN HICKENLOOPER: "But let’s talk about hats."

REPORTER: That’s right: hats.

HICKENLOOPER: "John B. Stetson left Pennsylvania in the early 1860s, suffering from tuberculosis..."

REPORTER: Hickenlooper built the story of Stetson’s eventual cowboy hat empire into a theme of entrepreneurship that ran through his whole speech. Urging bipartisanship, he told lawmakers that entrepreneurs work together to solve problems. He said his office’s efforts to streamline regulations will make it easier for new businesses to start up. And he put entrepreneurship at the center of Colorado’s identity.

HICKENLOOPER: "Our vision for Colorado includes successfully branding the state as a place that embraces entrepreneurship, supports a strong business climate, creates jobs, educates its kids, supports working families and protects an unparalleled quality of life."

REPORTER: Big goals. But amid the heady rhetoric, Hickenlooper did get down to a few brass tacks. He announced two widening projects for the most congested stretches of I-70.

HICKENLOOPER: "It will be the first project to provide additional capacity since I-70 was built in the 1960s."

REPORTER: He asked lawmakers for $9 million to fund economic development projects and bring films to Colorado.

HICKENLOOPER: "These investments will repay the state many, many times over."

REPORTER: He warned cities and counties that want to regulate natural gas development and the controversial process known as fracking -- don’t.

HICKENLOOPER: "The state can’t have 64 or even more different sets of rules."

REPORTER: And he took a decisive stand on what is likely to be the social issue of the legislative session.

HICKENLOOPER: "Government should treat all people equally. It’s time to pass civil unions."

REPORTER: That applause came almost exclusively from Democrats. The governor’s statement definitely perked up ears on both sides of the aisle, but it’s not likely to make much of a difference. The bill will almost certainly be assigned to the same committee where it died last year. Republican lawmakers did find a lot of things to agree with in the speech, but House Speaker Frank McNulty warned the devil is in the details.

HOUSE SPEAKER FRANK McNULTY: "If I had one thing to ask of the governor’s speech today, it would be, “what are the specifics?” we do need to have specifics."

REPORTER: The governor did hit a lot of points both sides seem to agree on. For instance, he said the state must find a way to reduce its Medicaid costs. But he didn’t wade into the muddy partisan divisions over how the government should do that.

SPEAKER McNULTY: "The governor’s recognition that Medicaid is unsustainable is a positive move and we appreciate the governor saying that. We do need to have a more in-depth substantive conversation about how we create a Colorado-specific solution and we’d like the governor to engage us on that. We’ve asked, we’d love to have him at the table."

REPORTER: Republicans are trying to put together a bipartisan group to lobby the federal government for more state control over Medicaid money, an effort Democrats in the legislature have called a fantasy. One thing was sure – this was a different Hickenlooper than the one who took the podium a year ago, two days into his term. Many lawmakers said he looked more confident. But Republican representative Mark Waller points out the governor faced a new audience, too.

WALLER: "The consistent thing that we’ve heard for the last year is ‘this is the governor’s first year; cut him a lot of slack.’ Well, the honeymoon phase is over, and it’s time to get to work."

REPORTER: But Waller says he did like a lot of what he heard the governor wants to work on.

[Photo: CPR/Megan Verlee]