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

Sam Brasch/CPR News

Gov. John Hickenlooper has formed a political action committee, called Giddy Up, to get more involved in national politics as he contemplates a run for president in 2020.

In an interview with Colorado Matters, Hickenlooper said the PAC will initially be used to look at national races.

"I'm going to get a little more involved in some of the other governor campaigns around the United States," Hickenlooper said, citing the governor's race in Georgia and Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams as an example. "We're not going out and doing a gigantic effort on every race, but in a number of races I've gone out and met the candidates, and I think that what they're doing is important and relevant."

The formation of Giddy Up will also help Hickenlooper gauge his own presidential prospects, he said. Hickenlooper has been mentioned in a number of reports as a possible Democratic candidate for President in 2020. He added that he likely won't decide whether or not he'll run until two or three months after he concludes his final term as governor in January 2019.

"It allows me to develop policy ... there's a certain amount of freedom that allows you to continue that exploration of a 2020 campaign," he said of the PAC.

"It really is something that once you do it, it's full-time, seven days a week, 70-80 hours a week for, quite possibly, two years," Hickenlooper said. "I think when you make that kind of commitment, you had better have thought of all the ramifications, not just for myself, but for my family — for my wife, for my son."

Locally, Hickenlooper also discussed Colorado's 2018 ballot, pointing out a number of initiatives that he's planning on backing. That list does not include the "Fix Our Damn Roads" measure, which would require the state to take out $3.5 billion in bonds without raising taxes and put the money toward road projects. 

"They basically want to borrow $3.5 billion and the state would have to pay that back every year, with no new resources," he said. "I think that's crazy. The people proposing this are not willing to say where they're going to make these cuts—how many people are going to lose health care, how much are we going to pull back from our education funding."

Interview Highlights

Hickenlooper on deciding whether or not to run for president in 2020:

"We spent a lot of time talking with friends and traveling and deepening our understanding -- I think there's a lot of stuff we've done in Colorado that's good for national modeling...It seems like the conversations that are taking place aren't the right ones: we're not talking about bringing people together--we're still attacking and dividing."

On concerns that voters may be overwhelmed trying to decide between number fiscal ballot initiatives:

"It a funny thing; every two or four years we get a ballot like this, where there's just a lot of initiatives on it. And each time I think voters are just going to throw up their hands and say no to everything--and they never do. They go through everything, each initiative. They read it and think about it, and they vote according to their values and their hearts."

On the possibility of Amazon's 'HQ2' coming to Colorado: 

"I get my ear so close to the ground, to try and pick up those sounds and vibrations coming out of Seattle... we've heard some rumors that we're still in the running, and that we're higher up — whether that means we're in the top 10, or top five, I don't know...but these are rumors — I don't know if they're factually based."

Full Transcript

Gov. John Hickenlooper: We're not talking about how to bring people together. We're still attacking and dividing people. What Colorado's done is it's been about working together, collaborating at the speed of trust, as we've said. That doesn't mean I'm running for president. It means I'm taking another step towards it.

Ryan Warner: Yes, another step and this step is to form what's called a Leadership PAC.

JH: Well, it's a small PAC. It's a PAC that -

RW: Political Action Committee.

JH: Yeah. So it's a committee that allows you to raise money but no more than $5,000. It's from individuals and I'm going to get a little more involved in some of the other governors' campaigns around the United States.

RW: This year?

JH: Yeah, before the election. We're not going out and doing a gigantic effort for every race, but a number of the races, I know and have met the candidates and think that what they're doing is important and relevant.

RW: Let's take this step by step. So I will ask the presidential question first. Is this a road that allows you to continue that exploration for 2020?

JH: Absolutely. So the Leadership PAC allows me to develop policy. I can - it helps me travel, it allows me to support other candidates. Yeah, there's a certain amount of freedom that allows you to continue that exploration of a 2020 campaign.

RW: OK and now specifically for 2018, give me an example of a race where you'd like to direct support.

JH: Oh, I think there's a woman running for governor in Georgia, an African-American woman named Stacey Abrams. I've spent a bunch of time with her on the phone. She's impressive. I mean she is very progressive socially, but she's also pro-business, right, with wanting to hold high standards. In other words, I think she'd be a great candidate in a place like Georgia.

RW: I think she'd be the first African-American governor of that state.

JH: That's what they've been telling me.

RW: Is this is a PAC that would spend on Colorado races?

JH: Well evidently, a PAC like this, you can't use in a Colorado campaign, but we'll find other ways to support Jared Polis.

RW: To support Jared Polis. Does he need it?

JH: I think so. I think that - obviously, he's got lots of his own resources in the campaign, but he's trying to reach out to the rest of the state and communicate all across the state, not just along the Front Range, and that takes more resources in the campaign.

RW: But not necessarily more than he has?

JH: Well again, to a certain extent, he has put a bunch of his own money into it, but I think that we as a community - and certainly, I've donated to him as an individual - there's always a limit to what people are willing to spend, and I don't know how wealthy Jared is, but at a certain point, I want to be able to support his campaign, and I think there are a lot of people out there that would like to support his campaign.

RW: You are not announcing, with the formation of this Leadership PAC, that you're running for president, let's be clear.

JH: Absolutely not.

RW: It - so what is your timeline to announce and what do you get out of delaying this announcement?

JH: Well I get to really think it through and understand, at an ever-deeper level, exactly what are the ramifications and I get to educate myself on not only the time, commitment and sacrifices for me and my family. I mean, once you really get in and talk to people that have done this - I had a wonderful conversation with Gary Hart about a month ago -

RW: Former U.S. Senator from Colorado and of course, former presidential candidate.

JH: Right and it really is something that once you do it, it's full-time, seven days a week, seventy hours, eighty hours a week for, quite possibly, two years, and I think when you make that kind of a commitment, you better have thought of all the ramifications, all the alternatives, but not just for myself but for my family, for my wife, Robin and for my son.

RW: What is the timeline to say yay or nay to the big presidential question?

JH: I think, certainly, after I'm out of office and probably a month or two or three months after I'm out of office, sometime in the late winter or spring.

RW: Fueling the fire here is an op-ed in The Washington Post. It was written by a columnist named Jennifer Rubin, who describes herself as center-right. She suggests that you could run for president in 2020 as the perfect opposite of Donald Trump. We're going to do a little bit of what on the late-night shows has been called "mean tweets". Are you familiar with mean tweets? This is where you get people to read what those in social media land are saying about them because what struck me in part about this op-ed were the comments beneath it and I thought they reflect some of what the Democratic Party is struggling with. Would you mind reading these?

JH: Sure. Well, I'll look at them. I'm not sure I'm going to read them. "Yeah, let's challenge Trump with a boring, neoliberal centrist with a long, well-documented history of being cozy with big money and special interests. Why haven't we thought of that before? Oh wait." Yeah.

RW: So this is someone who is comparing you, essentially, I think, to Hillary Clinton, the losing candidate in 2016 and says, "Why should the Democratic Party put its force behind someone who's middle-of-the-road?"

JH: Who's been a small business person, who has fought hard for - to expand and get universal coverage for healthcare, who's tried to make sure that there are jobs and that - economic opportunities for everyone. I don't know.

RW: Who, some would say, is far too cozy with oil and gas.

JH: Well I'm - I have a relationship with oil and gas, but worked with the environmental community to create the first methane regulations in the United States, or the world. I mean if you don't have a relationship with people, you cannot get those compromises that allows us to create methane regulations. We took the equivalent of pollution out of the air, the same as if we'd taken 320,000 automobiles off the road every year. That's progress.

RW: Are you progressive enough for what the Democrats need to win in 2020?

JH: Am I socially liberal enough? I think we fought every step for equal rights for everyone with the GLBTQ community, with the African-American and Latino community, the immigrants. I mean that progressivism, I think, has been from the beginning, long before I ever ran for office, right. There's a letter to the editor I wrote to a little newspaper in Connecticut from 1978 that a friend of mine showed me where I was saying, "Healthcare should be a right. Basic healthcare should be a right and not a privilege." So that's a long history of progressive work. Now -

RW: Can I tell you what it says to me when you cite an article you wrote from 1978?

JH: Yes.

RW: You're doing the pre-opposition research to make sure that the skeletons are out of the closet before you announce.

JH: No, no, they're - trust me, there's still plenty of skeletons around.

RW: Well this is public radio, so it's not pure mean tweets. Read the second reaction to this op-ed in The Washington Post.

JH: Oh, this is a different - all right. "I absolutely adore the guy and while I'm a Democrat, I 100% agree that what we need as a country is a regular, thoughtful, slightly dorky guy who lives in the gray areas and honestly doesn't think of himself as party-first. Here's to building a Hick coalition of moderate Dems and disaffected GOPers in 2020."

RW: Now the people who posted these used handles, "Millennial Liberal" and "Luke Says". You're not "Luke Says", are you?

JH: No.

RW: OK. What do you make of that comment?

JH: I think it's obviously very complimentary and one always likes to get a complimentary comment, even if they do refer to me as "slightly dorky". "Slightly" is a good word to moderate the dorkiness.

RW: I think you like that you're dorky. Is that possible?

JH: Well I was a nerd and a dork that kind of struggled my way through, and in a funny way, it does prepare you for some of life's attacks. The haters are always going to hate and if you've been a - someone's who been ostracized when you were in elementary school or high school or high school, that's - you build up a little scar tissue.

RW: Jennifer Rubin, the center-right columnist, described you as a "policy wonk" in her piece, calling you the sort of antidote to Donald Trump. OK, let's get to - yeah.

JH: But the one thing I'd say on this thing about the "Hick Coalition of moderate Dems and disaffected GOPers": I think when you actually get down to it, I mean if I were going to do this, what I'd want is to have a coalition of all measure of Democrats and a bunch of independents and a bunch of GOPers. In other words, I think the goal we should be looking at is bringing a much broader cross-section of people together.

RW: You - it sounds like a big tent, almost.

JH: I would never use a cliché. We reserve that for media.

RW: More on the election and specifically, the rather long ballot. Voters are going to decide a number of serious issues, ranging from transportation funding to campaign contributions to payday loans. What jumps out at you?

JH: Well I think we'll support a bunch of these in various ways, but I think the Fair Maps Initiatives, which is -

RW: This is fighting gerrymandering, essentially.

JH: Right, Amendment Y and Amendment Z. The goal there is to take a lot of the political advantage out of making maps for the local districts and the congressional districts.

RW: What's second on your list? And maybe this is in no particular order. I don't know. You tell me.

JH: No, but - yeah, in no particular order, but I think the Let's Go, Colorado - the transportation initiative whereby we begin to get enough resources to really keep up with the economic growth we've seen, all the people moving in, that's just going to take more resources for infrastructure, so.

RW: This is a sales tax increase. Alongside it on the ballot is something called Fix Our Damn Roads. I think "damn" is in the title.

JH: Which is, again -

RW: And this is about bonding.

JH: Right.

RW: But it's not the route that you want to take.

JH: No, the - Fix Our Damn Roads would want to bond - basically borrow $3.5 billion and the state would have to pay that back every year with no new resources, and I think that's crazy. The people proposing this are not willing to say where they're going to make these cuts, how many people are going to lose healthcare coverage, how much we're going to pull back from our education funding.

RW: I think they're focused on the cuts that people might have to make to their household budgets if taxes rise and there are a lot of tax measures between statewide ones and local ones on these ballots.

JH: Yeah, there are a number of initiatives, but I think Let's Go, Colorado, really going after the basic infrastructure of the state should be a pretty high priority and I don't think we should go out and borrow $3.5 million without knowing how we're going to pay for it, which is Fix Our Damn Roads. So say - I'd say I'm against that. The campaign limitations, the thing that allows - if someone puts a lot of money into a campaign, that allows other candidates to collect a larger sum from everybody else, like five times or four times more money.

RW: Trying to even the playing field.

JH: Trying to even the playing field. I support that. I think that's a good initiative.

RW: Do you have a concern that the ballot might be so full of questions, many of them fiscal, that voters might just throw up their hands and say no to all of it?

JH: Well it's a funny thing about - and each year - or not each year, but every two or every four years, we get a ballot like this where there's just a lot of initiatives on it, and each time I think voters are going to throw up their hands and they're just going to say no to everything, they never do. They go through each initiative, they read it, they think about it and then they vote according to their values and their heart.

RW: They have often said no to statewide tax increases. Those haven't fared well in the state.

JH: Yeah and I think that's - again, those are steep hills to go up just because many people in the state want to have more explicit detail of how every dollar is going to be spent, and they get that kind of granular connection on local initiatives. So statewide initiatives are more difficult, but it doesn't mean they're not important and I think Let's Go, Colorado is one of those cases where when we passed Referendum C some number of years ago -

RW: The sort of TABOR timeout; TABOR, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

JH: Yep.

RW: I'm actually glad you brought that up because TABOR isn't specifically on the ballot, but it's never far away from the political consciousness. The end of your term, it seems to me, marks twelve years of Democratic governors trying to reign in or make changes to TABOR, even to get rid of it. None of that ever happened. I sat here with Bill Ritter for four years, I've sat here for you - with you for eight years and TABOR remains intact, I'm sure, much to the pleasure of its supporters.

JH: Well, but I think what we talked about was flexibility within TABOR and I think - I mean, TABOR limits growth of spending from the state. Voters want a say in new taxes, which they got. I mean I'm not - I've never said, "We should pull that back and repeal that." It is worth pointing out that no other state has imitated TABOR. So we're still, decades later, the only state that has TABOR in place, but -

RW: There are many other constitutional provisions, by the way, that have to do with budgeting as well along with TABOR. This has been called having the foot on the gas pedal and the brake at the same time. It's been - I think Bill Ritter called it the Gordian Knot, your predecessor.

JH: I called it the fiscal thicket.

RW: The fiscal thicket. Say that five times fast.

JH: But to say that we've done nothing, I think you're missing - I mean, the hospital provider fee was a battle that was fought over three years.

RW: This was a way to raise money, especially to pay for healthcare.

JH: Well, it was a way to raise the TABOR cap by close to a billion dollars and I think that provided just what I was talking about. That provided a huge amount of flexibility that has allowed us to increase funding for education, keep pace with the increases in healthcare, I mean really be able to look at keeping up with our economic growth. In other words, we're growing so rapidly economically that we need more infrastructure or we need more resources for some capital spending - like for instance, schools, in many cases - and hospital provider fee was a huge lever point to allow to - us some of that flexibility.

RW: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says his online retail giant will choose the location for a second headquarters by the end of the year. Talk about another announcement that people are dragging out that everyone wants to know the answer to. As far as we know, Denver is still in the running for the Amazon HQ2. What have you heard, if anything?

JH: Well, I get my ear so close to the ground to try and pick up those sounds and vibrations coming out of Seattle.

RW: Or do you just pick up the phone and talk to Jeff Bezos?

JH: No, I've never talked to Jeff Bezos.

RW: Really?

JH: Yep, I've never - well I've talked to him in - about other things, but I've never talked to him about this issue.

RW: You couldn't call him up today and ask?

JH: I would - I could. I think it would not be in the state's best interest to do that. I think it's better to keep him - he knows - you know, he knows -

RW: You think that's too pushy?

JH: Yeah. Well I just - there's a process that one goes through in these things and I think following the process - not always, but it's usually the right path.

RW: But you haven't heard either way that Denver is in the running still, is out of the running?

JH: We've heard some rumors that we're still in the running and that we are higher up. Now whether that means we're in the top ten or the top five, I don't know, but I - again, these are just rumors. These aren't factually-based.

RW: Right. I don't - I'm not in the habit of reporting rumors. Can you -

JH: Well then, don't report it.

RW: Can you tell us who you're hearing it from?

JH: Edit this out. No, I can't remember - these are people that maybe don't work for Amazon but are vendors or have relationships with Amazon, but they don't know. This is what they hear from people at Amazon. This is like whisper around the table, right, where you start and say a statement to one person, and everyone goes around the dinner table, and by the time it comes back, it's a completely different statement.

RW: Like telephone.

JH: I'm just bringing it up to titillate you, to give you a little bit of excitement in your - what is obviously a very busy day.

RW: Governor, thank you for being with us.

JH: You bet, my pleasure.