Both Democrats competing to take on incumbent Cory Gardner in the fall have long records in Colorado politics. John Hickenlooper has said he’ll use his experience as a two-term former governor to spur action in Washington, D.C. Andrew Romanoff has positioned himself as a progressive challenger to the national Democratic establishment.
Here’s what we’ve learned about their policy positions as the June 30 election approaches, based on their platforms, interviews, news articles and recent debates.
Both candidates agree that the United States must reduce its carbon emissions to zero in the coming decades. Romanoff named a 2040 goal for zero emissions, while Hickenlooper said 2050, though he suggested an earlier date as possible. Both say the U.S. needs to invest in research, train people for climate mitigation jobs and strengthen environmental regulations. And both support a tax on carbon emissions.
However, Romanoff has called for more immediate action to slow fossil fuel production and has criticized Hickenlooper as moving too slowly.
Green New Deal
- Romanoff supports the Green New Deal, a potentially $1 trillion plan that calls for a top-to-bottom overhaul of the United States. “We could put millions of Americans back to work building a clean energy infrastructure, transforming our electrical grid, our building codes, our transportation system,” he told CPR News.
- Hickenlooper supports the “concept” of the Green New Deal but wrote in 2019 that the government needed to work with private industry and cushion the financial impact. He has billed himself as a pragmatist and told The Washington Post that “big, massive government expansions are not going to be as successful” for addressing health care and climate change.
Hydraulic fracturing and drilling
- Romanoff calls for an immediate ban on oil and gas drilling on public lands, and for a total ban on fracking. He has made climate a central theme of his campaign.
- Hickenlooper does not support a ban on fracking, nor an immediate ban on public lands drilling. He does want to prohibit future expansions of public lands drilling.
Policing & immigration
Both men were asked about policing during a 9News debate on June 9, amid demonstrations in Denver and elsewhere against racism and police brutality. Hickenlooper has called for reform, while Romanoff has talked more explicitly about moving funding away from police departments. Both would support ending qualified legal immunity for police officers.
- Hickenlooper said he does not think the police should be defunded, but he believes the police should be reformed. He passed police reforms as Denver’s mayor but “didn’t get far enough.” He said that changes like ensuring cops turn on their body-worn cameras and banning strangle-holds must be part of reform efforts. He said this is a moment in time where people are demanding everyone has equality under the law.
- Romanoff said reform is not enough, and that resources need to be shifted and police need to be demilitarized. He wants to see more investment in community services. He called out Hickenlooper for “not understanding the moment” and not understanding Black Lives Matter. Romanoff said there need to be independent oversight bodies to hold the police department accountable, more body cameras, and a ban on strangleholds and chokeholds. He said incarceration should not be treated as a solution for social problems.
Both men call for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but they differ in their opinions of the nation’s immigration enforcement.
- Romanoff has called for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be “dismantled,” saying it’s been “hopelessly compromised by corruption and a loss of integrity.”
- Hickenlooper said that ICE “has become a menace in many of our cities” but stopped short of calling for its abolition.
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Both candidates say that the United States needs to achieve universal health care coverage, but they disagree on how.
- Romanoff supports Medicare for All, a “single-payer” plan championed by Bernie Sanders. As proposed, it would provide a single federal insurance program for all Americans. People should still be allowed to buy supplemental insurance on the private market, he told CPR News.
- Hickenlooper supports a public option, calling for an “evolution, not a revolution” in the health care system. A public option would essentially offer government-backed insurance as an option, supplementing but not replacing the private market.
Hickenlooper claimed in a recent debate that his plan would cover everyone, though he said in 2019 that he was “not sure we’re able to provide full health care to 11 million undocumented workers yet because we haven’t provided it to all of our people.” That could happen after immigration reform, he said.
Hickenlooper’s platform outlines specific steps to take on the opioid and overdose crisis, including the broad availability of the Naloxone overdose reversal drug, and he outlined plans to allow pharmaceutical imports. Romanoff endorsed those ideas, too.
Taxes & the economy
Both candidates want to raise the minimum wage, and they want to expand the earned income tax credit, which benefits low- and moderate-income people. Both candidates say that internships could help workers, and Hickenlooper’s platform calls for free community college. Both say they support unions, and both support higher taxes on high-income brackets.
Hickenlooper consistently focuses on small businesses. Asked about pandemic recovery, he recently said: “First, we’ve got to make sure we measure and stop any future outbreak of the virus, and then we have to make sure that small businesses have access to resources and capital.”
Romanoff has described an “unholy alliance” of big businesses and politicians, including some Democrats, as corrupting the nation. “I'm in this race and in this fight, because I know too many folks in Colorado who feel like their voices are drowned out by the kind of pay-to-play politics that's corrupted Congress and soured people on even participating in the process itself.”
- Romanoff told CPR News that he would “raise rates on the top, strengthen enforcement of existing tax laws, and close loopholes that allow corporations to avoid paying their fair share—or anything at all.” In other words, he supports a more progressive tax system that would have higher income earners paying higher taxes. He’s also talked about ending tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas.
- Hickenlooper wants to undo the 2017 federal tax cut, which delivered most of its tax savings to the top 20% of income earners, according to one analysis. He also proposed higher taxes on capital gains and an end to “tax loopholes for ‘very wealthy’ Americans who pass portfolios to their children,” as Politico reported. His campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for more detail.
Romanoff calls for a couple of significant changes to the governance of the U.S., while Hickenlooper is more cautious on this front. Both support an end to gerrymandering, the practice of drawing political districts to benefit one party.
The Electoral College
- Romanoff supports the elimination of the Electoral College, the system that allowed Donald Trump and George W. Bush to win the presidency despite losing the popular vote. The “winner-take-all” approach used by most states focuses much of the attention on swing states and dilutes the influence of voters in solidly partisan states.
- Hickenlooper said at a recent debate that he supports the popular vote. He didn’t directly call for the abolition of the Electoral College; his statement could also be read as support for the National Popular Vote project to circumvent the college. It’s a change: He told The Colorado Sun in 2019 that he wasn’t ready to change the system, saying the “Founding Fathers got things pretty right.”
A maneuver known as the filibuster allows U.S. Senators to shut down bills they don’t like if those measures don’t have 60 votes. Either party could try to eliminate the filibuster, allowing legislation to pass on a simple majority.
- Romanoff wants to eliminate the filibuster, a position he’s held for at least 10 years.
- Hickenlooper didn’t give a firm answer; his campaign told The Washington Post he supported rule changes on a case-by-case basis.
- Romanoff supports the national legalization of cannabis.
- Hickenlooper calls for national decriminalization, with the option for states to decide whether to legalize the substance. He opposed legalization in Colorado but takes credit for its successful implementation.
Where they agree
In lightning-round questions at a recent debate, the candidates largely said they support numerous liberal positions, including:
- Doctors should not have legal protections if they refuse to treat transgender patients
- DACA recipients should be given U.S citizenship
- The U.S should increase social security benefits, although Hickenlooper said he would back that “cautiously”
- A ban on all assault-style weapons
- Colorado should not ban abortions after 22 weeks
- Colorado should increase taxes on tobacco
- Support a U.S Senate resolution to make Juneteenth a federal holiday
- Some sort of reparations to right the wrongs of the impact of slavery in U.S history
Denverite’s Esteban L. Hernandez contributed to this article. This article was updated to reflect that Andrew Romanoff supports a public option as an interim step toward Medicare for All.