Election 2010: John Hickenlooper

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It's been an unusual race for governor this year: A little-known businessman named Dan Maes captured the Republican nomination. That didn’t sit well with former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo. So he switched parties to run for the office. The two face Democrat John Hickenlooper on November 2nd. Hickenlooper joins us as our Election 2010 coverage continues.


October 20, 2010


John Hickenlooper, thank you for being with us.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER, Democratic Candidate for Colorado Governor:

Glad to be back on your air.

Warner: And here’ s the lay of the land. The state has made up more than $4 billion in budget shortfalls since the recession began. It looks like another $1.25 billion or so will be needed in the next year and a half. School spending has been cut. State employees have taken furloughs. There’ s now talk of cutting people off the Medicaid rolls and raising tuition at some state colleges by up to 25%.

Why do you want to be governor?

Hickenlooper: (laughter) You know, it’ s in times like this that really I think an individual’ s experience does matter and, you know, when I first came out to Colorado, I came out as a geologist in 1981, worked five years in the oil business and when the price of oil collapsed, a number of companies, including my own, got sold. Our entire company was laid off and I couldn’ t find a job, right?

There were no jobs and over the course of the next two-- almost two and a half years, I had to reinvent myself and I think that’ s a lot of what Colorado is going through that a lot of the jobs that were here 10 years ago aren’ t going to be here when we come out of this recession and I think my experience makes-- allows me to add real value.

And I think if you’ re making difficult cuts in budgets, if you’ re trying to find ways of delivering services to the public for less money, I mean, that’ s what we’ ve been doing for seven years. We’ ve balanced seven difficult budgets in the city.

The challenging situations we see now allow someone to create change, right, find ways of reorganizing government. How can you make state government smaller but more effective and more efficient, more elegant?

Warner: Let’ s talk about jobs. This is a question from Drew Bartlett of Denver and he was laid off from his IT job last year. He’ s been making some money here and there as a consultant and he has this question, which he submitted through our Public Insight Network and that we’ re presenting to all the candidates for governor.


My question is, what are you going to do to stimulate job growth in fields of work such as technology where highly qualified candidates such as myself are looking for good-paying jobs?

Warner: And the IT job that Drew lost was for a construction firm, an industry hard hit in the downturn. What is your plan for adding jobs in Colorado?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think you have to look at it in several levels. One is, how do you add jobs by retaining and expanding those companies that are already here? The other is, how do you attract businesses to move here?

In both cases, I think we need to make Colorado a place of innovation, both in government and how government affects and relates to the community. And I include the business community in that.

We want to, in effect, re-brand Colorado as a place that’ s pro business. If every part of our state budgets is underfunded — transportation, education, healthcare, higher ed. If they’ re all underfunded and yet statewide there’ s no appetite to raise taxes, we really have no choice but to try and generate more jobs and become-- you know, hire more people, pay them more salary and generate more income tax that way. That process, I think, is where job creation is going to come.

How do we make state government smaller and yet, at the same time, more effective? How do we cut regulation but make sure that we still have sufficient and appropriate regulation to our business community?

And I understand where Drew’ s coming from because, you know, I got laid off back in 1986. I remember the fear and nervousness and just the anxiety around having been laid off and looking for work and, you know, going month after month after month and not finding a job.

Having been on the other side of building a business, I know the anxiety about when you’ re going to hire the next person. And a lot of that, if you’ re trying to decide whether to hire one more person for your person, the last thing you need is more red tape or just the distraction of having to deal with, you know, filling out papers or dealing with excessive red tape. And I think that’ s part of what we can do is get the red tape out of the way of businesses.

Warner: Give me a specific example of making Colorado pro business. So-- I mean, I understand red tape is an obstacle, but what is-- what is an action you might take as governor that would send a pro-business message out to the world?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think a certain part of this is that we begin looking at those businesses. During the campaign we’ ve driven all over the state and tried to talk to every business we could and meet with the CEOs and find out why they’ re in Colorado. What is it about their DNA that makes them want to be in Colorado? And then, how can we market that and begin to, you know, tell that story in other places?

One example — we were in Steamboat. There’ s a company called SmartWool. And if you hike a lot or you go skiing a lot, SmartWool has become one of the dominant brands in the performance-- you know, athletic sock industry and they were founded in Steamboat. They’ ve been there almost 20 years. They want to stay in Steamboat. And I’ m talking to the CEO and nowhere on the packaging does it say, you know, “ imagined and designed in Colorado.”

And I said, well, how come that doesn’ t say that? And he looked at me and said, “ Well, nobody ever asked.”

I think part of this is, as with any branding, you can look at opportunities to-- I mean, the state already spends somewhere around $15 million on tourism marketing. Well, couldn’ t we begin to explore whether within tourism marketing you can also expand that to business marketing? So a billboard, you know, in Bergen County, New Jersey, outside of New York that says come spend your next vacation in Colorful Colorado, you might just want to open an office here or you might want to build a business here.

We did manage to attract DaVita to Colorado last year.

Warner: This is a dialysis firm.

Hickenlooper: Yeah, a Fortune-- you know, a Fortune-- I think they’ re 342 on the Fortune 500 list. But those large companies only move once in a while.

I think the focus is how do we get young entrepreneurs everywhere, East Coast, West Coast, Chicago and Atlanta, how do we make it so they want to be and build their business in Colorado. And that’ s access to capital. It’ s having networks of mentors. I mean, we can, I think, be that place where every young person, you know, if they want to start a business they think, “ Gosh, I hear Colorado is a great place to build a business.”

Warner: So would you call marketing Colorado a keystone of your job creation plan?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think-- again, I think changing the culture of the state government so that, as much as possible, every state employee sees those small businesses as their partners and their next opportunity to get a raise and not have to have furlough days so that instead of just being cranky-- I mean, you talk to small businesses about how they feel treated by state employees and city employees, I mean, I’ m not just holding the state up. We’ ve spent a ton of time in the last seven years of trying to change the culture of the city.

How can we get building permits issued in half the time and yet still make sure that neighborhoods get protected, that they get a chance to voice their concerns about a new development? But realize that these businesses, their success, their ability to expand and get their projects going, creates jobs and those jobs generate taxes and those taxes are what are going to allow city workers or state workers not to have to take furlough days.

So, certainly we want to brand the state as pro business, but I think a big part of this is cutting red tape, getting the state out of the way, and then the last part of it is, making sure we have access to capital, more venture capital money for startups, how do we have--?

Warner: How does the governor affect change there, with venture capital?

Hickenlooper: Well, we’ ve talked to a number of the-- and this is easier said than done, but some of the larger executives, larger corporations, about, you know, what would it take to get 15 or 20 companies, executives, to chip in $5 million or $10 million apiece. Let’ s say we raise $100 million and then try and augment that, either from banks or other places. You know, some discussion about whether you could actually take some money from PERA. But make this an investment fund that is run by business, run like a business, but is focused on Colorado companies.

So that, again, if some young entrepreneur has a great idea for a toy company and they’ re thinking where they want to go, they say, well, you know, Colorado has a whole loan fund. They want to make a high return, but they’ re going to support small businesses in Colorado.

Warner: You’ ve come under some fire for the idea of tapping PERA, the Public Employees Retirement Association. Is it fair to be borrowing from future retirees to fund, you know, VC, venture capital?

Hickenlooper: Well, I wouldn’ t borrow, first. So let’ s be clear. What PERA does — and this would be a decision by the board of PERA. The governor doesn’ t tell PERA what to do.

Warner: Indeed, it’ s a fairly independent organization.

Hickenlooper: Completely-- yeah, “ fairly independent” is a good way to describe it. And-- but the trick there is that we’ re not borrowing the money, they’ re investing. What PERA does right now is they go to fund managers all over the country, hedge funds, all kinds of places, and either they buy stocks or they invest in real estate deals or shopping centers. I mean, they make investments of all different kinds.

Why shouldn’ t they make some investments in Colorado? They’ re-- most-- the vast majority of PERA members are in Colorado and will benefit by having a stronger economy here.

Warner: The average time on unemployment in this state right now is 21 weeks. Will any of the strategies you’ ve talked about work quickly enough to help people who have been without jobs for months now? Or is this a slower process?

Hickenlooper: I mean, there is no way that I know that you’ re going to turn-- suddenly create jobs on November 3rd, right? I always tell people November 2nd is not the end of the campaign, it’ s really the beginning of when the work really starts.

If we can convince enough people in Colorado that this notion you can be pro business but at the same time pro community, right? That you can be ambitious in terms of helping businesses expand and yet still protect neighborhoods, protect land and water so that we can be both, I think just the-- that attitude will be-- send a positive note.

If people look around them and they begin to feel that everyone is pro business, I think they’ ll be more likely to pull the trigger and hire that next person.

Warner: If the state is not currently sending a message that it is pro business today, is that the fault of the current administration? What message is Colorado sending, then, and why?

Hickenlooper: Oh, I don’ t think there’ s a conscious message. I think there’ s been, to be quite honest, a lot of politics has been played. You know, when the legislature had to make some difficult decisions last year around the budget, if you remember the Dirty Dozen, the tax credits that were temporary pulled back--

Warner: Credits and exemptions.

Hickenlooper: Credits and exemptions for various businesses. That became such a fire storm of publicity and, you know, that creates brands. You know, when I go around the state and I ask people, are we pro business or are we anti business in terms of our tax policy, about a third of the people I talk to say that we’ re anti business. About half the people say we’ re average and a relatively small number of people say that we’ re pro business.

And yet, the truth is that Colorado is in the top 10 states in America in terms of our tax environment relative to business. We are pro business, but nobody knows that.

Warner: You mentioned the Dirty Dozen and I want to be careful to say that’ s the name it earned from critics. That package of exemptions and tax credits netted the state about $120 million. Are there any of those that you would change or were those wise decisions to make, given the financial straits of the state?

Hickenlooper: I don’ t think it’ s in my benefit or the state’ s benefit to go back and, again, be an armchair quarterback, whether that was-- was that the right cut or was this a better cut?

Warner: But you could reverse them, presumably, or at least pursue that with the legislature.

Hickenlooper: I certainly think that once the economy comes back-- if the economy is as difficult next year as some are predicting, if we have a $600 million or a $1 billion deficit, I don’ t think you’ re going to be able to bring anything back. But I would like to bring all of those back as quickly as possible, as soon as the economy permits.

Warner: You’ re listening to Colorado Matters. I’ m Ryan Warner and our guest this hour is John Hickenlooper, Democratic candidate for governor of Colorado. We are talking to him as a part of a series of conversations with the gubernatorial candidates as Colorado Public Radio covers Election 2010.

One tactic of your opponents has been to tie you to the current governor. This idea of a kind of Frankensteinian “ Hickenritter” was the term. Where do you most agree with Bill Ritter and where do you disagree with him? And let’ s start with where you agree.

Hickenlooper: Well, in the Hickenritter, you know, they haven’ t done that in a few months, but as someone who grew up on playgrounds hearing “ Chickencooper,” “ Poopenscooper,” you know, “ Hickenritter” was really kind of de minimis. I was disappointed. I thought they could have done better.

You know, I think Gov. Ritter is going to have a number of legacies in the state and I think, obviously, the-- his efforts around creating a new energy economy in Colorado, beginning to define what a future energy landscape would look like and how could Colorado position itself to be a leader there. It is going to be a job generator over the next 50 years. I think it probably is going to take longer to arrive at this new energy economy than many people would like, but Colorado is uniquely positioned now.

And it’ s not just getting companies like Vestas in that, you know, are adding somewhere over — if you include all the support companies — over 1,000 jobs in Colorado now, but it’ s the research that paves the way.

You know, having ConocoPhillips, I mean, their international head of research and development is going to be up in-- outside Boulder. That is a huge jobs and economic generator for the state for years to come and I think, you know, Gov. Ritter’ s efforts there have been-- really, really have been remarkably powerful.

I think that the-- some of the challenges he’ s had-- and, you know, I’ m not going to criticize the governor, because I think he will be remembered as a very good governor, but I think some of the processes-- you know, I think the process around rule-making in oil and gas, some of it got so adversarial, that process is one of the most difficult things you do in public life is how do you get everybody to feel that they have ownership in a set of compromises, without having all the acrimony that sometimes goes along.

Warner: Let’ s clarify that just a little bit. I mean, in terms of an area where you disagree with him. I wasn’ t clear on that.

Hickenlooper: Well, I think that the perception in the oil and gas industry was that the decision was made that they were going to create a new set of regulations around the exploration, the drilling of oil and gas wells. The draft of these regulations came out of, you know, Harris Sherman and his team--

Warner: Director of Natural Resources.

Hickenlooper: Yes, at DNR, the director of Natural Resources. His team created the draft set of regulations and pretty much everybody in the oil and gas industry thought that it had been drafted by the environmental community. It was so, they felt, so one sided and what began was a kind of a pendulum of strongly adversarial relationships between those in the environmental community and those in the oil and gas community, each side fighting to, you know, claw back to get what they thought was most important.

In the end, there was just a great deal of bitterness around the entire process. Most of the senior folks in the oil and gas industry certainly don’ t want to reopen that process. They-- you know, obviously, they feel there’ s some rules that need to be modified in some way, but, relatively speaking, to what was done, the modifications they seek are relatively minor. And yet the bitterness far overshadows the-- you know, whatever significance there is of those modifications they seek.

Warner: And so you don’ t think that was handled, perhaps, as well as it could have been.

Hickenlooper: Yeah, and I’ m an admirer. I think Harris Sherman is-- you know, he was on the Water Board. He’ s a very, very talented guy. I don’ t think he recognized that that draft would come out and be greeted as an expression of the environmental side of things, but that’ s certainly what happened. And perhaps it might have been a little bit more successful if both the oil and gas community and the environmental community had been, you know, in the room together and kind of worked out what the framework of a first draft would look like, you know, so that everybody felt that they were being treated fairly, which, rightly or wrongly, was not the perception.

Warner: Your opponents in this race see a reversing of the more strenuous oil and gas regulations as key to creating jobs in the state. How much do those regulations change in a Hickenlooper administration?

Hickenlooper: Well, we’ ve said from the beginning that the-- and I’ ve talked to the CEOs of a number of the largest oil and gas exploration companies, none of them want to discard those rules and start over, which is what my opponents are seeking. I haven’ t met a single, you know, large oil and gas executive who would seek that or embrace that, because it was so difficult. It took a year-- I mean, you’ d have to go back for another year and a half of this adversarial, acrimonious debate.

What oil and gas debates need is predictability, right? They make-- I mean, it takes time and a lot of money to drill an oil and gas well. First, time to find out where you want to drill it and then you’ ve got to do all the permitting and processing. Oil and gas companies want to have five-year budgets.

To reopen the rule making would be-- you know, would not be constructive. The trick there is find those rules where there should be modification and use the structure that’ s already in place, the Oil and Gas Commission, to create those modifications.

So one example would be down in the Raton Basin in Southeast Colorado, Pioneer Resources has-- for 15 years, they’ ve drilled gas wells and they’ ve produced water that’ s slightly salty and you can’ t drink it. But they put it in the stream. It mixes with the stream water and it’ s of sufficient quality that farmers and ranchers use it for their livestock. They grow grain or wheat with it for their cattle and their horses.

Now, because of the new regulations and interpretations by the Health Department, they’ re being asked to re-inject that at a great cost, so a couple of million dollars to re-inject water that right now all the farmers and ranchers use. They have consistent and regular measurements of the water quality, so there’ s no sense that it’ s potentially polluting or causing problems downstream.

I mean, that’ s the kind of thing that I think the Oil and Gas Commission should be able to modify and say, well, that was a regulation for the whole state, but it doesn’ t have application here, so we’ re going to create a-- you know, a place of exemption.

As close as I could find — and we drove all over down there, talked to a lot of people — pretty much everybody felt that that water should continue to be used by the farmers and ranchers.

Warner: Would you change the makeup of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think the structure of who’ s on the Oil and Gas Commission, I don’ t have a problem with that. And, you know, I don’ t know most of the people on the Oil and Gas Commission. My goal has always been to, as we make appointments, especially in areas where there’ s a lot of let’ s call them strong feelings, to try and find commissioners who have the-- havesufficient integrity and a reputation that they’ re acceptable to both sides and kind of recognized as a fair witness.

Warner: You mentioned when you were talking about Bill Ritter’ s legacy his push for renewable energy. Will you carry that torch further as governor and how?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think that Bill Ritter did such a remarkable job of creating that legacy and he carried that torch, I think, further up the hill than any other governor in the United States. And I think Colorado will reap the benefits for a long time. I’ m not sure there’ s enough oxygen to go— I’ m just kidding — but to go higher. At this moment, what-- I think what we’ ve got to focus on is back-filling and making sure that we support all those initiatives that he started.

Warner: Give me an example of one that--

Hickenlooper: Oh, I think that the weatherization programs that are just beginning to really gain momentum now. The issue of--

Warner: The idea of energy-wising up your home.

Hickenlooper: Of energy-wising up your home.

Warner: Yeah.

Hickenlooper: The notion of looking at air quality and saying, all right, you know, we’ ve got some of these older coal-burning plants. If we’ re going to convert those, build new plants or, at least, you know, convert those plants, shouldn’ t it be to natural gas? That decision is going to take a number of years to-- you know, it’ s one thing to make the decision, basically take the bite. It’ s another thing to chew it and digest it.

But I certainly will-- I mean, obviously, we need to maintain Colorado’ s leadership as, you know, one of the top places in the country for this new energy economy. And we’ ll, obviously, do everything we can to continue that and carry the banner higher, wherever possible.

Warner: To the $1-billion-plus budget shortfall, what cuts will you make to bring the state budget into balance? And those are decisions that you’ ll likely have to make, well, if elected, right away, or you may even be considering those now, in advance of a potential transition.

Hickenlooper: We certainly have a sense of priorities, but the honest-- the straight forward truth is, if you have a deficit of that large, let’ s call it an $800 million deficit next year, you’ re going to have cut significantly everything. And if you look at the cuts that have already been made in the last three years, the last four years, due to this recession, we’ ve already cut an awful lot of the fat, probably cut most of the fat, and are beginning to carve into the muscle.

Thirty-four percent of the school districts in Colorado now are on a four-day school week this year. That’ s a very sobering statistic for a lot of people.

Objective engineering studies suggest that the state would need an additional $500 million a year just to maintain the roads and bridges that we have now. That we’ re-- just in maintaining what we already have, we’ re $500 million a year short.

Warner: And growing infrastructure would be in excess of $1 billion, that same group found.

Hickenlooper: Exactly. So you look at those-- at those hills you have to climb. Higher ed, right? We’ re already 49th out of 50 in terms of how we fund higher ed and yet we’ ll probably end up having to cut more if this-- if this-- if the budget deficit is as great as people predict.

There is no safe harbor, right? There is no place that you’ re not going to have to cut. Medicaid — we’ re going to have to look very closely at how do we begin to move towards, you know, total coverage and making sure that people get covered with preexisting conditions, but they’re going to cost. How can we find the resources for those additional costs when we’ re so far-- we have such shortfalls in transportation, education and higher education?

Warner: So fair to say, nothing is sacred and let’ s throw this in for some context. Eighty percent of the budget is for K through 12, which you’ ve mentioned, for Medicaid, also for prisons. So let’ s take these sort of step by step.

K through 12, the issue there is that you’ ve got an amendment in the state constitution that guarantees a certain amount of funding for education and increases in that funding year to year. That’ s amendment 23.

Your opponents in this race want to repeal that amendment. Would you favor that?

Hickenlooper: You know, the annual increases has just about finished. I think next year is the
last year that that happens.

Warner: That’ s right.

Hickenlooper: So--

Warner: The inflation will remain.

Hickenlooper: Yeah, so the inflation-- and I don’ t have a problem with the inflation. I think the issue that we face in education is how can we do more with the money that we have and rather than trying to find more money, I look at, you know, issues like CSAP, right? CSAP is the testing system that you we use to measure student achievement and yet the kids take their CSAP tests and the teacher gets the results back, the school gets the results back, four months later, right? What business would ever have a performance measurement system where you don’ t get your results for four months?

Kids-- I was talking to my neighbor--

Warner: Well, let me stop you there. So on 23, it sounds like you might not move to strip it from the constitution? Just quickly on that.

Hickenlooper: Well, a governor can’ t do that.

Warner: Well, a governor can garner the support and get it on the ballot. You know, it could be a referred measure.

Hickenlooper: No, I think we’ re going to have bigger battles to fight than trying to take 23 off the ballot. Again, I don’ t think it’ s going to make that big a difference, one way or the other, because our goal is to get the economy going back, way past inflation, right? I think we are-- in such a recession, historically, when we come out of these recessions, we bounce pretty high.

So, I don’ t think it’ ll be hard for us to make the-- you know, starting two or three years from now, to make that inflationary adjustment.

Warner: Fair enough. And let’ s go back to CSAP. So a test that you feel is antiquated and the current administration has called for a replacement for.

Hickenlooper: Right. We need to have a replacement of some sort for it and work towards that. My neighbor was telling me that when they take-- their kids took the SATs in high school and you take them on a computer these days and when you finish, you hit return, and it immediately gives you your score. You know what you did. Remember when we were kids — and I think I was a kid a little bit longer ago than you were — but we would take the test and you’ d have to wait, you know, a month, three weeks, a month, to finally get your scores back and there was always that period of anxiety.

This is the 21st Century. How can we have a test like CSAP where you have to wait four months? It just doesn’ t make sense.

Warner: To the question of cuts to K through 12, though. What would those look like?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think we-- oh, I think the-- you have to go through and basically the way the schools function is that we delegate those cuts largely to individual school districts. Many of the rural school districts have already gone to a four-day school week, which, candidly, a lot of them favor and would have chosen to stay with.

It’ s funny. I was-- when we were down in Park County, down by Fairplay, the school district there went to four-day weeks in the recession in 1988 and they never went back, because on the fifth day they have a boys and girls club, the kids work out, they have ski passes, so the kids go skiing on Fridays. The county is on a four-day work week. They work four 10-hour days. So they can close all the buildings down. They don’ t have to run buses around, they save that money.

And they think that the four-day school week works for them and they’ ve gotten good test scores and their kids are going to good colleges. It certainly doesn’ t work as well in urban areas or even large suburban areas.

Warner: Is that what they’ re facing, then?

Hickenlooper: Well, I don’ t think big school districts can go to a four-day week. I mean, I just- - it’ s not functional. It would be chaos. But they’ ll look at their cuts in terms of, you know, librarians, how they-- you know, they’ re going to take librarians out of the classroom. Art and music — things like that. They’ re going to make very difficult cuts.

Warner: And in terms of cuts you would make to Medicaid, would you thin the rolls of people on the program now?

Hickenlooper: Oh, I don’ t know. I mean, I haven’ t seen-- those kinds of decisions, you’ ve really got to get a smart team of people to go in and examine the numbers and see how much benefit-- by making a cut, how much money do you really save and what are the other costs? What are the unintended consequences of those cuts?

So, you know, I always kind of hate the notion, well, we’ re going to go and cut 10% here and 10% there. Unless you’ ve got a good management team and you’ ve really explored what are the costs and benefits of each decision, it’ s difficult to make those predictions.

But certainly, you know, in Medicaid, if the budget really was $1 billion-- if there was a deficit of $1 billion, you would probably have to look pretty closely at Medicaid and maybe limiting how many people-- you know, the addition of new people on to Medicaid.

I mean, you hate to say that. I’ m not sure the state’ s every done that, but I don’ t think the state has ever seen consecutive years like what we’ ve seen in this recession.

Warner: And how about in the realm of public safety and prisons?

Hickenlooper: Well, the trick with prisons, prisons are so incredibly expensive and yet the public demands that we don’ t ever let anyone out who puts society at risk, right? We don’ t want violent criminals to be let out early.

I do think there are a number of programs — and this is one of those things I think Gov. Ritter will be known for, down the road, where he’ s begun looking at alternatives. While people are in prison, how can we do more to give them job training? I mean, they’ re sitting there. How can we find very efficient ways and hopefully private dollars to train some of these folks so that when they come out they’ re able to get a job, they’ re less likely to commit a crime and get re-incarcerated?

It’ s staggering when you look at the statistics of how many of the individuals in prison this is their second or their third or their fourth time that they’ ve been jailed. I mean, we’ re all paying a price for that.

If there’ s a way to figure out, to get them back on the right track and get them into a job and keep them in a keep, we save a tremendous amount. I mean, it’ s rough justice, almost $30,000 per person per year to put someone in state prison.

Warner: That’ s a long view, though, isn’ t it?

Hickenlooper: It is a long view.

Warner: That’ s not an-- that doesn’ t lead to immediate efficiencies?

Hickenlooper: Well, it’ s funny how many people are released every year, given the status quo, how many get re-arrested fairly quickly, like within the first six or nine months. So it’ s a long view, but a long view in the sense of one or two years you can begin to see a benefit.

Warner: You’ re listening to Colorado Matters. I’ m Ryan Warner and John Hickenlooper is our guest. He’ s the Democratic candidate for governor of Colorado and we’ re talking to him as part of our week-long series of conversations with both the gubernatorial and senatorial candidates as we cover Election 2010.

Back to education for a moment, the legislature in the last session passed Senate Bill 191. It became widely known as the Teacher Tenure Bill, tying teacher tenure to student performance. What do you see as the next step toward education reform?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think the implementation of 191 is the big challenge. I mean, if you’re going to--

Warner: Especially when there’ s not a lot of money.

Hickenlooper: Especially when there’ s not a lot of money.

Warner: To sort of monitor these teachers and figure out how they’ re doing and evaluate them.

Hickenlooper: Right. And what is a fair system? I think we have to make sure that teachers are involved in figuring that out. You know, it’ s an interesting question, the whole teacher tenure issue.

You know, I came out to Colorado as a geologist back in 1981 and, you know, when the whole energy economy collapsed in the mid-’ 80s and I got laid off and I couldn’ t find a job in the end I had to go do something else and re-learn a whole new industry. Well, that was the best thing that ever happened to me, because I wasn’ t that good a geologist. I was okay.

I mean, I was an okay geologist, but being forced out of that into something else was a great thing. And I’ m going to guess there are, you know, some percentage of the teachers out there, 5% or 10%, that would probably have much happier lives, make more money, be more fulfilled, if they weren’ t teaching. But they kind of got into teaching and now they’ re there and they’ ve got a good pension and they stay.

The question is, how do we figure out a fair system whereby we can encourage them to, you know, to get into an industry where they would be more successful and, no doubt, happier.

Warner: Let’ s go from K through 12 to higher education. Higher ed’ s been propped by more than $600 million in stimulus money over the last several years. That money is going away and schools have been warned to expect state budget cuts, as well. Some of the campuses are talking about tuition increases of 9% to 25%. Does the governor have a role to play in keeping college affordable?

Hickenlooper: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think, first, there are a number of studies, of demographic studies, based on census data and all kinds of demographic analysis, that shows your investment in higher education is the single closest correlation to your future jobs, to your future economy. The more you invest in higher ed, the stronger your economy is going to become, almost without question.

So, given that, how do we deal with the problem of the huge deficits in the state budget? I think that conundrum of how do we find the funds is one of the more pressing and more difficult that we have.

In one sense, you want to make sure that we maintain accessibility and affordability. And I think that’ s the key that-- accessibility that any kid who works hard enough and gets accepted should be able to go to college and affordability in the sense that if they work hard and graduate from college, they shouldn’ t be burdened with a ridiculous amount of debt. They shouldn’ t owe, you know, $80,000 or $60,000 for-- you know, just to get a B.A.

So how do you do that? Now, the numbers you’ re talking, 9% to 25% increases in tuition, it’ s worth also remembering that for kids that are living on campus, the tuition is actually a relatively small part-- not a relatively small part, but is not the major part of their cost. So it’ s not quite as bad as it sounds, but it is still very bad.

And for-- one thing we’ ve tried to do in Denver is find support from private philanthropy, people like Tim and Bernie Marquez, who created the Denver Scholarship Foundation, where you can go into every fifth grader and say if you work hard enough, it doesn’ t matter how poor your family is, you’ ll be able to go to college. That’ s a huge inspiration.

Now what it also does, in addition to getting all the kids to work harder, which improves the performance of every classroom, I think, it allows state universities and state schools to raise their tuition, because you’ re back-filling with more scholarships. And I think if we have enough scholarships, sometimes that tuition raise isn’ t as devastating as people might think.

Warner: So you would have the private community to be more generous in Colorado about scholarships for in-state kids?

Hickenlooper: Right. I think businesses and corporations and individual philanthropists might in their region decide that they’ re going to make sure that the kids who don’ t have enough money can go to college. And they’ ll help raise that money.

I think it’ s in the state’ s interest to find some money, even in that deficient budget, to put into that scholarship for kids that go to school in Colorado.

Warner: Let me point out a theme that I’ m hearing, which is that one solution to solving the state’ s financial woes is to go out and seek help from the private sector. So you’ ve mentioned getting together money from venture capitalists to help improve the job situation, money from the private sector for scholarships to help mitigate the effects of cuts to higher education.

At what point do you say we need more tax revenue? Hey, Colorado, if you want investment you need higher taxes, higher fees? What does that look like under a Hickenlooper administration?

Hickenlooper: You know, I think the community begins saying that, right? The community comes back and says, wait, we want more. We want better. And they’ re not saying that right now.

Warner: But sometimes isn’ t it the leaders who say that? I mean, I’ m thinking of Referendum C.

Hickenlooper: No, I don’ t think so. I think Referendum C came out of county commissioners and, you know, grassroots people all over the state. I don’ t Referendum C started with, you know, a small group of people in Denver.

Warner: I’ m even thinking of, in Denver, what was known as A through I, this list of, you know, bond issues that were on the ballot.

Hickenlooper: That didn’ t start with me. That did not start with me. That came from, again, a huge cross section of citizens who-- one group cared about the libraries and they didn’ t think the libraries were being maintained. There was a whole little constituency that was adamant that we needed more money for potholes and resurfacing.

There were over 150 people that worked on those commissions and task forces to get A through I to the ballot. And in the end, I think the same has got to be true in terms of any contemplation about increased taxes. It’ s got to come from the community and you just-- you don’ t hear it out there.

Warner: You don’ t hear it out there.

Hickenlooper: And I think it’ s-- I think part of it’ s the economy and I think, you know, most businesses-- If you’ re in a business and your revenues are going down and you’ re struggling, you generally don’ t raise prices unless it’ s an absolute last resort.

Warner: In election cycles, you know, there’ s a lot made of people pledging not to raise taxes. I’ m not-- you know, signing a contract to that effect. Are you willing to make that commitment?

Hickenlooper: No. You know, I’ m not going to sign a contract, because, again, I think my job is to really determine what the community wants. And I don’ t think it’ s for me to tell them what they want. I have, obviously, got my opinion, but where government succeeds best is where it becomes the voice of the people.

And I understand participatory democracy and once you’ re elected, you are-- you are not just dependent on those who elected you, but you’ re also speaking in your voice, but that voice is going to have a lot more authority and I think you’ ll be more successful if it does represent, you know, the-- call it the collective unconscious of what people in their heart of hearts really want to see happen.

Warner: And what are the-- I mean, that’ s interesting. What are the clues? What are the indications? What does it sound like when a populace starts to say “ We want to be taxed?” Very few people come out and say that.

Hickenlooper: But they do, though. I mean, with referendum A through I, we had people that came out again and again in different forums. The key is, they’ ve--

Warner: Let me say for folks outstate, A through I paid for all kinds of things, infrastructure improvements of buildings, of sprinklers, of roads.

Hickenlooper: It was all the boring stuff that normally no one would ever vote for or pass, and yet, you know, it came-- the key is to be listening, right? I think strong leaders listen. But that’ s- - I think that’ s one of the great challenges in government is getting to that point where you feel comfortable that you are-- you know, you are fulfilling what people want.

Warner: One place where people feel there was a disconnect between what happened and what people wanted was the hike in registration fees for automobiles. This happened under Gov. Ritter to raise money for transportation. We’ ve hinted at the big needs there.

Would vehicle registration fees go down in your administration, stay where they are, go up? How did you feel about what was known as FASTER? The legislature, of course, passed that.

Hickenlooper: Well, Gov. Ritter spent a lot of time with a lot of different public groups crafting FASTER. There was a lot of push-back. I think there were some parts of it that would have benefited from some more study.

But overall, I mean, the reality is, even with FASTER, we don’ t have enough money for our roads. If you look down the road, look into the future, the United States is changing what they call the CAFE standards. In just a few years, all of our vehicles are all going to have significantly higher mileage requirements.

So we’ re going to get more miles per gallons for all the cars and trucks we drive. You know, suddenly, our gas tax that’ s collected by the federal government is going to go down dramatically. That’ s how we fund our roads. I think we’ ve got to begin looking at what new resource are we going to use to finance our transportation.

Warner: And what are the options that you would consider?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think the obvious one that people always talk about is raising that gas tax. If you’ re even going to consider that, I think you have to look in the rural areas of some sort of an exemption so that rural-- I mean, so many rural folks, every time they drive, I mean, they always drive 40 miles to get anywhere, because it’ s so far from one town to the next. They might have to get some sort of a rebate. Or I’ m not sure how that would work, but there’ s got to be some exemption to help protect those at the margins.

Especially-- you know, I spent a lot of time in this campaign on the Eastern Plains and a lot of those small farmers and ranchers are kind of on the edge.

Warner: So let me bring this back to the gas tax. You would raise the state portion of it and there would, presumably, have to be a vote under TABOR to do such things.

Hickenlooper: Absolutely. There would have to be-- any time you would even talk about this, you would have to raise it. And I’ m not proposing this. I’ m just saying that this is one of the places you’ d have to look at. How do we want to pay for our transportation?

Warner: Just philosophically, people who disagreed with the raising of vehicle registration fees felt that it skirted TABOR. You know, it was a fee increase. It was a new tax, but the voters weren’ t asked for it. Give us your perception of that.

Hickenlooper: Well, again, I’ m not a lawyer. So I don’ t know.

Warner: Well, but the spirit.

Hickenlooper: When you start parsing whether something’ s a fee or a tax, I think there is a difference. Obviously, in this case I think they went close to the line.

I think the more compelling question is, FASTER’ s not enough. So if even those significant fees aren’ t enough, don’ t we have to find some future way of finding additional revenue?

If it was up to me, you know, whether it’ s an increase in gasoline tax, whether it’ s some other tax or, you know, I would want to make sure it gets on the ballot and that people get a chance to vote for it.

Warner: We’ re covering Election 2010 on Colorado Matters today with John Hickenlooper, the Democratic candidate for governor of Colorado.

There is a package of ballot measures this year that deals with government fees and taxes and government borrowing. It is Amendment 60, 61 and Prop 101. Your position on those?

Hickenlooper: They sound good on the surface, but any one of these, I think, would do great damage to the state. In a year where we already have a projected budget deficit that could be as high as $1 billion, to add on another $1 billion or, conceivably, up to $2 billion if all three passed, I mean, I’ m not even sure I could contemplate where those cuts would come from.

And, you know, the state would probably survive but it would be devastating to our ability to attract businesses. It would be devastating to local municipalities’ ability to deliver services. You wouldn’ t be able to build a firehouse or a police station. You wouldn’ t be able to bond to do a lot of things that we do without thinking — schools. It would-- you know, what business is going to want to move to a state which cripples itself?

Warner: To another ballot initiative, this is Amendment 63, which would effectively cancel a key provision of federal health care reform in Colorado and that’ s the requirement that people buy health insurance. Your position on 63?

Hickenlooper: Again, I’ m not sure the appropriate way is to do it on the constitution, so, you know, I’ ve said from the beginning I’ m against it. I think our challenge with healthcare — and it is every bit as large a challenge as these other ones — is almost everyone agrees that we want to have universal healthcare and we want to have the ability to get insurance and accept preexisting

If you really believe that — and I think most people do — then you have to have some form that everybody pays. Because otherwise, people wait until they get sick and then they sign up for healthcare. And that’ s the great dilemma of how do we-- if you want to have preexisting conditions covered, if you want to be able to have people leave their business and still be covered by insurance, you almost need-- you almost have to have some system where everybody has
some form of insurance.

Warner: In other words, if insurance companies can’ t discriminate based on preexisting conditions, you need everyone in the pool. You need everyone insured.

Hickenlooper: Exactly.

Warner: And so you agree with the spirit of the individual mandate. That’ s what at the heart of this.

Hickenlooper: Right. Well, I’ m very sympathetic. You know, there’ s a part of me that resists government telling you, you know, what you have to do.

Warner: To buy a product.

Hickenlooper: To buy a product. I have a hard time with that, but I don’ t see any other way to get to the solution that I think almost everyone believes in, that you should be able to get healthcare,
even if you have preexisting conditions.

Warner: On immigration, Tom Tancredo, the former congressman also running in this race on the American Constitution ticket, has called Denver a sanctuary city. And he says Denver police
ignore laws that require them to report people they arrest who may be in the country illegally to ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

What do you say to that?

Hickenlooper: I disagree and it’ s not true. I mean, we have never been a sanctuary city. According to him, almost every city in Colorado is a sanctuary city.

We have full communication between our police force and ICE. We have turned over, over 7,000 names in the last several years. We-- you know, nine out of 10 times when we give them a name or 95 out of 100 times, we give them a name and they don’ t deport the person. They don’ t-- I mean, they don’ t have the resources.

I mean, basically, I don’ t disagree we have a serious problem around immigration. Tom and I agree on that. I would argue that most of us agree with four basic tenets that should be part of a
federal solution.

One, we should have a secure border. Two, we should have an identification system that works, that’ s not easily forged, that is sufficient to make sure that people who are working at a business
have the legal standing to work there. Three, we should have a guest worker system. And then fourth, in the end, we should businesses accountable, right?

So those four things — a secure border, a good ID system, a guest worker system and holding businesses accountable — I think almost everyone agrees to. So why is it that Congress hasn’ t been able to deal with this on a federal level?

It’ s because both parties, not just Democrats or Republicans, but both parties see this as a wedge issue that somehow benefits them to keep it in play. And I’ d like to get 48 governors to figure out what our compromises are and then go to Congress and say, listen, we need you to do this or else we’ re going to start, you know, supporting your opponents, whether they’ re a Republican or Democrat. This is too important to continue, you know, kicking the can down the road.

Warner: You’ ve drawn a lot in this interview on your experience as mayor of Denver, as informing, potentially, how you would govern as governor. The difference-- or a difference between the two offices is that Denver has what’ s called a “ strong mayor” form of government. I mean, you control the budget and most other major decisions. The state, though, has a “ weak governor” system. The legislature writes the budget and has a lot more power than, say, the Denver City Council at the table.

You’ re used to being in charge as Denver’ s mayor. How do you adapt to that different role as governor?

Hickenlooper: Well, I don’ t think I’ m going to have-- I mean, I look forward to working with the legislature. They’ re a bunch of very talented people.

What compels me is how do we find the savings and motivate the workforce and transform how the state bureaucracy, the workforce, works? And how can we make those workers happier in their jobs and yet change their attitude towards the business world around them, that they become more supportive of small businesses and helping them grow?

You know, the budget, where you have such great deficits, so you take $50 million from one pool and put it to the other and we can get into a pitched battle about that, I’ m not sure that’ s going to be as constructive as, you know, saying, all right, how do we-- instead of fighting over how big a piece of the pie our favorite agency gets, let’ s try and make a bigger pie. And I think that there’ s a real opportunity here to get both Republicans and Democrats and unaffiliateds, everybody, to come together and say all right, let’ s work on a bigger pie and not get caught up in the squabbles over the size of our individual piece.

Warner: I want to wrap up with a question we’ ve been asking all of the candidates for governor and that is, given the challenges ahead, this is going to be a stressful job. What do you do, where do you go, how do you relieve stress?

Hickenlooper: I have an eight-year-old son who does a very good job of relieving stress on a regular basis. Teddy is — (laughter) — he is a very compact stress-relieving agent.

You know, I am a-- I love playing squash. I love bike riding. I’ m a bad skier, but I enjoy skiing and hiking. I also think that, for me at least, going to see a play or, you know, kind of immersing yourself in a movie or a play allows you that chance to get out of the world you’ re in and really, you know, put yourself in the life of somebody else and I find that very stress relieving, as well.

Warner: Mayor, thank you so much for being with us.

Hickenlooper: Oh, it’ s been my pleasure. Thank you.