Gov. Hickenlooper On New Cakeshop Lawsuit: ‘There Shouldn’t Be Bias In Who You Serve’

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Photo: Gov. Hickenlooper Interivew | Hick And Warner - SBrasch
Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner, left, interviews Gov. John Hickenlooper in his office at the Capitol, May 16, 2018.

Lawyers for the Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips dropped another federal lawsuit on Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk late Tuesday.

The governor said he sides with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission's decision, and opposes discrimination from business owners to marginalized communities.

Hickenlooper said he believes in religious freedom and freedom of expression, but "just because you don't agree with someone's religion, I don't think means that you should be able to deny them service, or deny them goods. That doesn't seem American. It doesn't seem Coloradan."

"If you're making someone a cake or you're making a bicycle, it's something that you do every day for a broad cross-section of people and it's open to the public, I don't think there should be bias involved in who you choose to serve and who you don't."

In another part of the wide-ranging interview, Hickenlooper said he has already made up his mind on two sharply different oil and gas proposals that voters will have to decide on in November. He opposes both.

Secretary of State Wayne Williams is vetting signatures to determine whether they measures will appear on the ballot. One, supported by the oil and gas industry, would require governments to compensate property owners if public policies decrease the value of their holdings.Photo: Colorado Rising Oil and Gas Setback Signatures

The other, backed by those who say energy development in populated areas threatens public safety, would increase the minimum distance between drilling rigs and buildings or water supplies.

Hickenlooper said the measure supported by the oil and gas industry goes too far, and would "wreak havoc" on basic functions of government. As for the other ballot issue, he said if the minimum distance between rigs and buildings is increased, mineral-rights owners will likely go to court and demand payment for their lost income.

The state now requires rigs to be at least 500 feet from homes, or 1,000 feet from public buildings like schools and hospitals. The new rule would be at 2,500 feet.

The governor also responded to complaints from Western Colorado about a major economic move he announced this week: Luring the headquarters of outdoor company VF Corp. to the Denver area with a $27 million incentive package. One of VF's subsidiaries, though, already employs 70 people in Steamboat Springs, and those jobs would move to Denver.

Interview Highlights With Gov. John Hickenlooper

On campaigning for a proposed $6 billion tax hike for transportation

"I’ll go out and try to make sure people understand the facts around that. The voters do get the final word. Part of that having the final word is for me to make sure, or all of us to make sure, we get the real facts out there. And I say, you know, I think it’s a good idea."

On VF Moving its HQ to Denver, but cutting 70 jobs in Steamboat Springs:

“When a smaller community like Steamboat loses a large package of jobs, what can the state to rebuild that? We’re certainly going to look at every opportunity. We recognize they’re going through a hard time.

But they can’t blame Denver, and they shouldn’t blame the state for making sure those jobs at least stayed in Colorado. They were going to leave Steamboat no matter what. The company had made a decision."

On ‘Anti-Growth People’:

"I hear them too. They say 'we’ve grown to fast. I don’t want to grow anymore.' Hey, I was here in the 1980s. I got laid off in 1986. That recession lasted nine years here ... I think what we’re doing is thoughtful growth. We’re trying to grow and make sure we don’t slow down or put on the brakes because once you do that it’s very hard to get the momentum back."

Read The Full Transcript

Ryan Warner: Governor, thank you for joining us again.

Gov. John Hickenlooper: Glad to be back.

RW: I want to get to some economic development news. On Monday, a major outdoor company announced it's moving its headquarters to Colorado. This is VF Corp. I imagine a lot of people did not know what VF Corp. was before this, but it's the parent of brands, including North Face. VF plans to move 800 jobs to Colorado, starting next year. It'll get up to $27 million in state tax incentives.

But this deal has made some folks in Northwestern Colorado really unhappy, because one of VF's companies Smartwool, is already in Steamboat Springs. And under this plan, Smartwool and 70 jobs move to Denver. So here's what Routt County's economic development director just wrote to us. "The governor and his administration talk about spreading the wealth and supporting rural Colorado, but families in Routt County are reeling from this news as their jobs and livelihoods are up in the air." What's your response to that?

JH: Well first, you've got to understand that VF Corporation was looking at reconsolidating, moving their headquarters somewhere. So, we were in a very competitive battle with Portland, Oregon. So, those jobs could have come to Denver, or they could have gone to Portland, Oregon. They were not going to stay in Steamboat Springs.

RW: You know that for a fact?

JH: I know that for a fact.

RW: They were not staying there?

JH: We certainly encouraged their executives to keep those jobs there at numerous points during the process. Luis Benitez, who's our Director of Outdoor Recreation, has been out already before we announced, to Steamboat to see what else can be done. We weren't able to persuade them to keep the jobs out there. It's the whole reason they're doing this move, is to get all their different brands together in one place, which, you can see the business purpose of that.

RW: What emerged from that trip to Steamboat? Any ideas about how you might replace some of those jobs?

JH: I think Luis is going to go back out, and certainly Stephanie Copeland, who runs our Office of Economic Development, has ideas as well. When a smaller community like Steamboat loses a large package of jobs, what can the state do to rebuild that? And we're certainly going to look at every opportunity. We recognize they're going through a hard time, but they can't blame Denver. And they shouldn't blame the state for making sure those jobs at least stayed in Colorado. They were going to leave Steamboat no matter what. The company had made a decision.

The better way to look at it, if I was in Steamboat, I think VF Corporation's going to attract dozens and dozens more businesses. And a lot of them aren't going to want to be in the big city, but they're going to want to be somewhere close. And I think those are the kinds of businesses that are more likely to go to Steamboat, or Grand Junction, or Ridgway, or wherever. The outdoor recreation industry favors rural parts of states.

RW: We're seeing some of that in Grand Junction these days-

JH: Yeah, and I think VF-

RW: ... Montrose.

JH: This is a $32 billion market value company. This is going to be the largest market value company, in terms of an operating company, that we have in Colorado. That's a big deal.

RW: The VF deal isn't the only way that your administration is trying to grow the economy. The state is partnering with the tech industry for a half million dollar campaign to recruit California workers. It's called Pivot to Colorado, and they've placed billboards in Bay area subways saying things like, "Hack your career. Innovation and elevation." And, "Time to reboot." People who go to the website to sign up for more information see a headline that says, "This is a poaching strategy." Why that campaign?

JH: Right now, if you're lucky enough to live in a city or a state where you have rapidly growing technology companies, pretty much everybody is short employees. Our cost of living is way less than Silicon Valley. I mean, way less. And I think that that's the strategy here. And I love it when the tech companies use humor and get a little edgy. We're not the only city that's done this. And the industry's put up most of the money. I think the original $450,000 came from the industry itself.

RW: You're saying that there's opportunity for Colorado in the high cost of living in California. Yet I think there will be people who hear that and say "You are merely bringing the high cost of living to Colorado." I mean the housing supply here is at a record low, prices at a record high. Voters are going to be asked to raise taxes for roads and schools. Even as Colorado's economy is one of the healthiest in the country, why reach out and recruit more people?

JH: A, you're making a mountain out of a molehill with all respect. We're talking maybe they'll get a dozen, or a couple dozen employees out of, this is not-

RW: Wait, wait. You just talked about what a big deal the VF relocation is.

JH: That is a big deal.

RW: And now I'm making a mountain out of the molehill?

JH: Yeah, you changed the subject and you're talking about this Pivot Colorado.

RW: I'm talking about a whole idea.

JH: That is the mountain you're trying to make out of a molehill. If you're talking about that, I'll answer that. That is a few number of employees at a small group of tech companies, they want to be able to compete and get certain types of key employees that aren't in our normal group. That is not a big deal. In terms of if you're anti-growth people. Some people, I hear them too, they say "We've grown too fast. We don't want to grow anymore." Hey, I was here in the 1980s. I got laid off in 1986. That recession lasted nine years here.

RW: Is it fair to say anti-growth though? Or is it just smart growth, or different growth or thoughtful growth?

JH: I think what we're doing is thoughtful growth. We're trying to grow and make sure that we don't slow down or put on the brakes. Because once you do that it's very, very hard to get the momentum back. Wiser is to, as you grow, invest in your infrastructure so that you can grow without having these extremes of congestion. If you look at Metro Denver and I think in other ways this is true around Colorado but certainly in Metro Denver, we invested in FasTracks, we don't have the same congestion that they have in San Francisco, or Seattle or Los Angeles.

RW: FasTracks is Light Rail.

JH: Yeah the Light Rail out to the suburbs. As that builds out and around more of these stations you get more housing, we will be able to accommodate more growth with less congestion. That being said we're still going to have to invest in affordable housing, I don't deny that. Doesn't mean you want to stop growing.

RW: On the subject of transportation you've said that you back the idea of a new tax for roads. Indeed, the Denver Chamber of Commerce has submitted petitions for a 20 year, $6 billion tax increase. Will you actively campaign for that?

JH: Yeah I think I'll go out and try to make sure people understand the facts around it. The voters do get the final word. Part of having that final word is for me, to make sure that we get the real facts out there. Yes so I do think I will go out. And I say it, I think it's a good idea.

RW: Another tax has already been approved for the ballot. It would raise $1.6 billion for education. Colorado voters have historically not approved statewide tax increases. Now there could be two on the same ballot. Wonder if you're at all worried about voter fatigue? Will people just decide, eh, none of the above?

JH: It's possible but I think Colorado voters care about really seeing, 'Here's the taxes I'm going to be paying and what do I get for it and is that something I care about?' Making sure that our teachers are properly paid, that we have the right sized classrooms, that we're able to continue to, and expand, the funding we have for kids that don't go on to college, to make sure that there's more vocational training.

RW: That would be envisioned in this tax.

JH: Yeah.

RW: Why don't we stick to the subject of the ballot? There are two major proposals related to oil and gas coming from distinctly different points of view. They await clearance from the Secretary of State to be on the ballot. The first is Initiative 108. It would require governments to compensate property owners if the value of their property drops because of a law or regulation. Supporters say people's property values shouldn't be damaged if for instance a local government limits oil and gas development. Where do you stand on this?

JH: Well we've had a couple long meetings with the Colorado Municipal League. They're the group that represents all the towns and cities in the entire state. I have never seen them so worked up about a specific issue. They really believe, and I think I'm led to side with them, that this would fundamentally weaken their ability just to do the basic functions of government.

RW: Beyond oil and gas regulation?

JH: Oh, completely. This goes way beyond. I mean this is a very broad reaching piece of constitutional change that I think would wreak havoc. My inclination is to come out and say, no, this is not a good idea.

RW: And yet virtually every month that we've spoken, Governor, you've talked about the right people have to their mineral rights.

JH: Yes.

RW: And that laws that further restrict where one can drill is a taking. So, isn't this in that spirit?

JH: Yeah, but it's much broader. Again, that's the problem.

RW: The other proposal would require that oil and gas wells be at least 2500 feet from buildings. The state's current requirement is 500 feet from homes, 1,000 feet from like big public buildings, schools, hospitals. You have consistently opposed increasing setbacks beyond where they've already been increased. Is that still the case?

JH: Yes. I think 2500 feet would be ruled by the courts to be a taking by the state of Colorado, and we would have to pay financial damages to all those lease holders. Many of them retired senior citizens.

RW: I'm thinking of that Dionne Warwick song, Déjà vu, right now.

JH: Déjà vu all over again.

RW: Yeah, because a few years back you help negotiate a deal to keep dueling oil and gas measures off the ballot. But here at the tail end of your time in office this battle rages on. It seems like this was a nut you just weren't able to crack as governor.

JH: What do you mean crack? You're talking about eggshells here. When there is a natural dynamic tension between local communities and oil and gas extraction companies, there's no absolute solution. All you can do is the state's job is to guarantee that the oil and gas industry operates at absolute safety, the maximum safety standards, their activities are not in any way jeopardizing people's health.

RW: But in that previous iteration when there were those dueling ballot measures, you did play a mediating role. Could you have done that more here?

JH: At a certain point, in Colorado people want to be able to vote.

RW: You're hearing our regular conversation with Colorado's governor, John Hickenlooper. When we come back: his response to being sued, this week, over religious freedom.

A Lakewood baker, at the center of a US Supreme Court ruling this year, is in the news again. Baker Jack Phillips is suing the governor, the state attorney general, and Colorado's Civil Rights Commission-- saying "Colorado has been on a crusade to crush him because officials despise what he believes." The suit came down just before our regular interview with the governor at the Capitol. Let's get back to that now.

The case that reached the US Supreme Court was sparked by a gay couple requesting a wedding cake. More recently though the lawsuit says Phillips was asked to make a cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate a gender transition, and he refused. So once again the state's Civil Rights Commission thinks there's reason to investigate. Phillips' lawsuit says the new investigation amounts to religious persecution. I wonder if I could get your comment?

JH: I believe, and I think almost everyone in Colorado believes, in freedom of religion and freedom of expression, but just because you don't agree with someone's religion, I don't think means that you should be able to deny them service, or deny them goods. That doesn't seem American. It doesn't seem Coloradan.

RW: Or if not their religion maybe their homosexuality, or their gender, or something like that.

JH: Right, exactly.

RW: When the Supreme Court ruled in the wedding cake case, known as The Masterpiece Decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy based the ruling on what he said was religious hostility by the Civil Rights Commission. Kennedy wrote, "The commission's treatment of his a case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection." His being Jack Phillips. Do you think all of the people who come before the Civil Rights Commission get a fair shake?

JH: I don't have enough information to give you an exact answer there, but certainly that's the goal. Obviously, the Supreme Court, it seemed to me that they were more concerned about the tone in some of the conversations of how the commission got to their ruling. So maybe this case will, maybe that tone is not there, or maybe this was a little more, without any of the emotion.

RW: Don't artists have a right to say, "I don't want to make that expression."

JH: Again this is what the Supreme Court has to decide. But if you're making someone a cake, or you're making a bicycle, let's say, something that you do every day for a broad cross section of people, and it's open to the public. I don't think there should be bias involved of who you chose to serve and who you don't.

RW: Should you be forced to make a cake with a swastika on it?

JH: Again, I'm not sure how that is worked out in terms of the courts. I'm not a lawyer. That's certainly not a religious belief, but it is certainly, under many categories, considered a hate message.

RW: All right, a different topic. In 2013, your corrections chief, Tom Clemens, was killed by a former inmate, and you've established a couple of awards in his honor. This year, one of them went to a program that makes it easier for veterans to get professional licenses and credentials, so that they can more quickly become architects, engineers, nurses. Why did you want to highlight that work in particular?

JH: Almost every veteran made significant sacrifices while they were in the service. And I think doing everything we can to make sure that they can get as fair a shot as possible at building a dream, their version of the American dream. We owe it to our veterans to bend over backwards to give them, to accelerate their success. We should be trying to do it.

RW: There was talk about you making a decision this summer whether to run for president. I'm so sick of this question. I wonder if you're as sick of it as I am?

JH: Well I don’t get, I'm not as sick as I am about Marijuana. Every, if I'm talking to somebody.

RW: Not from using it but being asked about it I'm guessing?

JH: I'll tell you the one question I'm most sick of is people asking me "How's Colorado's experiment in Marijuana?" That's the worst. This is a close second.

RW: And the answer?

JH: Yeah, we're still talking about it and plugging away.

RW: Governor, thanks for being with us.

JH: Always a pleasure.