Gov. John Hickenlooper formally expressed support for three measures on Colorado's statewide ballot: a minimum wage hike, an increase in tobacco taxes, and a law to allow terminally ill people to end their lives with medication prescribed by a doctor.
Voters will decide on all three measures in November. Related debates:
In an interview with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner, the Democratic governor said he is concerned that people making minimum wage now can't afford to live in many parts of Colorado.
"I'm not sure there's another way to help move more people out of poverty than to raise the minimum wage... I think in this country, if you work 40 hours a week, and you work hard, you ought to be able to afford an apartment somewhere," Hickenlooper said.
The governor also discussed accusations of abuse and neglect at a center in Pueblo that serves people with developmental disabilities; the fallout from a fundraising video recorded in his office; and how he's preparing Colorado for changes that could happen if Republican nominee Donald Trump becomes president.
On his support for the "Colorado End-of-Life Options Act:"
"It's not about suicide; it's about, these people are going to die anyway. They're terminally ill... I think that is something that this state, maybe it's the Libertarian streak in me, but when someone's going through a very difficult, and again, I saw a friend who had ALS, and if they don't want to live those last months, for whatever their reason, I think they should have that right to have medical advice, medical supervision, be able to make sure they have the final say themselves."
On allegations that patients at the Pueblo Regional Center faced abuse:
"Clearly the culture there had deteriorated to a level that is hard to imagine. When I first got the notification a year and a half ago about what had happened there, I just could not believe that these are people with, in some cases, very significant disabilities, and they were being used as objects, almost as if they weren't people. You see a lot of things in this job. This is one of those rare times where I had nightmares for a couple of nights."
On why he doesn't think the state should repay Medicaid money for the poor care in Pueblo, as the federal government has ordered:
"I think that one of the reasons that a culture like this could exist is that the compensation for doing these very difficult jobs is very low. Reducing the resources for that care... is not going to in any way help those people with the serious developmental disabilities. We've tried to get more resources from the state to increase wages down there, to be able to hire a better level of education, a better level of talent for the workers, but as you know we are a low tax state and it's hard to find those resources. Having the federal government take away resources that we used to rely on just exacerbates that challenge."
On whether there will be repercussions for a fundraising video recorded in his office, which was removed from Facebook after it drew criticism:
"To be bluntly honest, I had no idea it was partisan... no where in the video does it say the word 'Democratic.' The moment this office saw that it was a partisan issue, that we got that notification, we took it down. It was up for maybe an hour. Sue me... I don't think I'm going to discipline myself. I think it was an honest mistake. I was not doing something I thought was political."
On the potential presidency of Republican Donald Trump:
"I think the one thing that is perhaps most perplexing is, who knows what he'll really say after he's elected? Is he really going to do these things? And certainly we are sitting down and trying to make lists and look at it, but it's not easily accessible what our options are... [For example] NATO, how do we work with that? Our national guard goes and helps train both in Europe and in Jordan, again strong allies of our country. Does that get upset by [Trump's election]?"
[Note: Trump has called NATO "obsolete" and said the U.S. spends too much money on the military alliance, though on Wednesday he said as president he would strengthen the alliance.]
Click on the audio link to hear the full conversation. And read the transcript below:
This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner.
The governor takes formal positions on some of this year's big ballot measures. That's in our regular conversation at the state Capitol. We sat down with Democrat John Hickenlooper yesterday. He told us he supports increasing the state tobacco tax --- thinks it'll save lives -- especially of low-income people. Another measure he says will benefit the working poor: an initiative to raise the state's minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.
Governor John Hickenlooper: I'm not sure there's another way to help move more people out of poverty than to raise the minimum wage. If you look at the, how fast the cost of housing is growing in this community, our wages are a fraction of that and I do have a strong and abiding faith in market economies and that they make better decisions than we can make ourselves but this is one of those exceptions where, left to their own devices, many people would be getting three or four bucks and hour if there was no minimum wage just because you have in certain places a surplus of labor. So I'm going to support this initiative to raise the minimum wage.
Ryan Warner: I'll say that the Colorado Restaurant Association has been opposed because this proposal doesn't raise the tip credit for tipped employees. You're a former restaurateur, how did you come to the decision to support this?
JH: Well certainly the tipped credit was an issue and I talked to restaurant owners in Seattle, one restaurant owner in Seattle. I talked to the…
RW: Where they raised the minimum wage.
JH: Where they raised the minimum wage and based on the evidence you've seen there, while it's not a perfect initiative and I think there's few initiatives are, I think in this case the good that it brings outweighs the places where it's not the way I might have drafted it. I think in this country if you work forty hours a week and you work hard, you ought to be able to afford an apartment somewhere and right now when you're looking at making eight bucks or nine bucks an hour, you really can't. And I think once we get it up to twelve bucks, people have a much better chance of being able to afford an apartment.
RW: We talked about the other statewide ballot initiatives last month. You're opposed to the universal health care initiative; you strongly back the measure to make it harder to amend the state constitution; and you lean towards supporting most of the others. We have that conversation at cprnews.org. Anything else you want to take a firm stance on today in terms of ballot measures?
JH: Well I did, have spent a lot of time looking at allowing people who are terminally ill to be able to control those last months of their lives.
RW: The End of Life Options Act.
JH: Yeah, the End of Life Options. And really when you actually look into it, it's not about suicide, it's about these people are going to die anyway. They are terminally ill. Again this is something that I've had conflicts about it but I think that that is something that this state, maybe it's the Libertarian streak in me, but when someone's going through a very difficult, again I saw a friend who had ALS, and if they don't want to live those last months for whatever their reason, I think they should have that right to have medical advice, medical supervision, be able to make sure that they get the, have the final say themselves.
RW: And so you're coming out in favor as well on Prop 106.
RW: Okay. So to sum up, you are supporting the increase in the minimum wage; the medically assisted death measure on the ballot as well as the tobacco tax hike proposal. You're listening to Colorado Matters. I'm Ryan Warner and we're back at the state capitol for our regular conversation with Governor John Hickenlooper. To a story now about mistreatment of people with developmental disabilities. The Denver Post got a hold of a federal report about conditions at the Pueblo Regional Center. This is a state run facility where residents reportedly had words like die and kill scratched into their skin, which some staffers chalked up to paranormal activity. Another resident exchanged a sexual favor for a soda. These allegations, I should say, date back more than a year and a half.
JH: Almost three years.
RW: Your administration did an investigation. Much of the leadership there is gone. But the Post's report says that as recently as April, federal investigators saw improper use of physical restraints that could have resulted in serious injury. Also bruising and rug burns on a resident. What's going on at the Pueblo Center?
JH: Well clearly the culture there had deteriorated to a level that is hard to imagine. You know when I first got the notification a year and a half ago about what had happened there, I just could not believe that these are people with, in some cases, very significant disabilities, and they were being used as objects—almost as if they weren't people. And I, this is one of those rare, you see a lot of things in this job, this is one of those rare times where I would, I had nightmares for a couple of nights of just variations of this. So we did, there's almost complete turnover of the staff but that takes time. The leadership's turned over. Many of the employees have turned over but it is obviously, the culture is still not where it needs to be. And somebody having a rug burn doesn't sound like a big deal but it is a big deal. This is someone who's got a disability and is not able to defend themselves. In many cases they have a hard time articulating their complaints. This is a place where we have to go above and beyond. I do want to say that we are the ones, I mean the folks at the Department of Human Services found out about this and the moment they found out, they acted. They're the ones who wanted to make sure there was a full investigation and they're the ones in the process now of getting an independent monitor to make sure that the cleanup is complete, right. That we change the culture of the entire facility.
RW: I'll say that Medicaid pays for a lot of the care at the Pueblo Center and the federal government thinks that things were so bad, they want the state to return a year's worth of payments, potentially millions of dollars. The agency also has placed a moratorium on new patients there, according the Post.
JH: Well we've set a moratorium ourselves, again until we get this right. So now we're both having moratoriums which is now we can act in harmony. We're still negotiating with what the federal government, what the consequences will be of this failure.
RW: Why should federal taxpayers absorb the cost of that poor care?
JH: I think that one of the reasons that a culture like this could exist is that the compensation for doing these very difficult jobs is very low. Reducing the resources for that care, in other words, that will come out of the care that we're providing going forward, is not going to in any way help those people with the serious developmental disabilities. We've tried to get more resources from the state to increase wages down there, to be able to hire a better level of education, a better level of talent for the workers, but as you know, we are a low tax state and it's hard to find those resources. It's been very difficult to get more resources through the General Assembly. Having the federal government take away resources that we used to rely on, just exacerbates that challenge. I understand there have to be consequences and punishment but I'm not sure that those, that that institution or those patients should be the ones that suffer the consequences.
RW: On the subject of consequences, last year a group of lawmakers said they'd lost faith in the leadership at the Colorado Department of Human Services. The department has faced other controversies, like violent treatment of youth in detention facilities, an overuse of strong, psychotropic drugs for kids in foster care. You have defended the head of the department, Reggie Bicha in the past. Do you still?
JH: Yeah, this is stuff that happened three years ago. So I defended him last year, I'm still defending him. Again I have set for him a very high standard that right, let's make sure that this housecleaning, that we make sure that we change the culture, that it is done through to conclusion. And I understand that again the culture was through and through the entire organization.
Hickenlooper Sept 2016 RW part 2
RW: You recently made a video asking other top democrats to donate to a Democratic campaign fund meant to elect women. And you made the video in your office here, in front of the state seal.
RW: A conservative group called Compass Colorado cried foul after you posted the video on Facebook. Government officials in Colorado aren't supposed to use state resources to contribute to political campaigns. You later removed the video from Facebook. Why did you take it down?
JH: Well we took it down because there was the, the state seal was kind of in the background. I mean we made it off someone's iPhone. I mean the idea, to be bluntly honest, I had no idea it was a partisan. I thought it was a video to encourage breaking the glass ceiling to get more women into politics. And nowhere in the video does it say the word 'Democratic'. The moment that we saw that it was, or that this office saw that it was a partisan issue and we got that notification, we took it down. It was an accident, a mistake. You know, it was up for maybe an hour. Sue me. We're not going to be perfect but the moment we saw that, and I'm going to guess, I don’t know how many people saw that but it couldn't have been very many. But we took it down as quickly as we could.
RW: This was for the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund.
JH: And so we, what in the ad it says it was the DSCF, the Democrat, but I didn't, you know this was something that someone came in and said can you do this, you got two minutes? I said here, what do I have to read? That? Okay, sure. I did it. I don’t think any of us understood that this was a partisan video that we were making. We thought we were…
RW: Should someone have asked that?
JH: Yeah, sure. Someone made a mistake, there's no question. Heads will roll.
RW: Well let me ask you about heads. Your administration disciplined a staffer two years ago for doing campaign work at the office.
JH: This isn't campaign work. This was an honest mistake that somebody made. It doesn't happen very often. This is, I mean when was the last time, it was two years ago, whenever it was.
RW: So he'd use a state computer to send invitations to a political fundraiser and your Chief of Staff wrote to all state employees at the time saying if you violate this policy, disciplinary action will be taken.
RW: Are you facing any disciplinary action in your own administration?
JH: For having relied on that this was a non-partisan thing?
JH: No. I don’t think I'm going to discipline myself. I think it was an honest mistake. It was not, I was not doing something I thought was political. And the moment we found out it was political, we took it down. My god.
Hickenlooper Sept 2016 RW part 3
RW: I want to talk about the outcome of the presidential race and how it could affect Colorado. If Democrat Hillary Clinton wins, she's expected to largely maintain the status quo, a continuation of much of the Obama presidency. If Republican Donald Trump wins, he says a lot will change. And let me tick off some of those things as they relate to the State. He says he'll deport the tens of thousands of immigrants who are illegally in Colorado. He says he understands communities that want to ban fracking. You've sued to stop those communities from doing so. Trump wants to ramp up coal production at a time when it's largely shutting down in this state. And he wants to renegotiate, if not totally get rid of, NAFTA, the free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, Colorado's two biggest trading partners. How are you preparing Colorado, if at all, for a potential Trump presidency? I wonder if it changes anything for you as Chief Executive in terms of long-range planning.
JH: Well when you read that litany, that list of options that might come about if Trump is elected, I have to say that the hair on the back of my neck stands up just because some of those we don’t have responses for, if he's going to start deporting thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people. That's a very difficult, I mean they own property, they're part of the community, you're going to tear apart families. Very hard to imagine how that works and doesn't, in many ways harm the state. NAFTA, as you pointed out, Mexico and Canada, our two largest trading partners. I don't understand why, why would you totally say we're out, we're throwing these away. Let's just say we're working on them and we're all going to sit down and revisit them and maybe there's a way to make them better.
RW: But it sounds like, to some extent, that list that I presented you, feels like new information to you.
JH: Not new information, it's information from which I don’t have good responses. I think the one thing that is perhaps most perplexing is who knows what he'll really say after he's elected. Is he really going to do these things? And certainly we are sitting down and trying to make lists and look at it but it's not easily accessible what our options are.
RW: You say you are sitting down and making lists?
JH: Sure. Of course. I've got a list.
RW: What else is on it?
JH: Oh my god, NAFTA's part, but NATO, how do we work with that? We have our National Guard goes and helps train both in Europe and in Jordan. Again strong allies of our country. Is that, does that get upset by that? I mean there's…
RW: Donald Trump has talked about the United States' relationship with NATO and reassessing what other nations are contributing to that alliance.
JH: Well or demanding that they pay their share, which in a country like Jordan obviously would almost certainly eliminate our participation in the training of their armed forces.
RW: Anything else on the list?
JH: I have to pull it out somewhere but it's a, it's a list that I don’t think we'll ever get to because I can't imagine any one person would seriously imagine doing such things. But he said it so we have to take it seriously.
RW: You can't imagine it and yet…doing well in the polls, Donald Trump.
JH: Well I'm not sure he's doing as well this week as he was doing last week. But you're right, he's close enough so that I, as I go to bed, this list sits at home on my bedside table and there's like six things on it, five things on it I think that we should have a response to, right. If he's going to start deporting people, what do we do with the families and the people left behind? Are we going to have to step up and if those kids are ten years old or twelve years old, are we going to have to figure out places for them to live? Can the community accommodate that? And I would also say, your point that Hillary would be more of the same, I think when, if you really listen to what she's saying, a lot of what she's saying is different. I mean she's quite ambitious about actually getting comprehensive resolution to our immigration problem.
RW: Governor, thanks for being with us.
JH: Always a pleasure.