Governor Defends Secrecy Over Aurora Theater Shooter’s Prison Relocation

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<p>(Nathaniel Minor/CPR News)</p>
<p>Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner in the state Capitol on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.</p>
Photo: Gov. John Hickenlooper September 2016 | 1
Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner in the state Capitol on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.

When Colorado Matters invited listeners to suggest questions for our monthly interview with Gov. John Hickenlooper, we got several replies on a single topic: the whereabouts of Aurora theater shooter James Holmes.

State prison officials announced earlier this year that Holmes, who is serving multiple life sentences for the 2012 shootings that killed 12 people and injured 70, had been attacked at the Colorado State Penitentiary and moved to an out-of-state prison. State officials have refused, however, to say where the killer is -- a stance that has angered victims' relatives like Caren Teves, whose son, Alex, died in the attack. Teves wanted to ask Hickenlooper: "What authority as governor do you have, under the Constitution of the United States, to keep a prisoner hidden in America?"

In response, the governors aid that high-profile prisoners like Holmes are often targeted by fellow inmates looking for notoriety. Partly for that reason, Colorado participates in an interstate agreement that allows prisoners to be transferred away from their home states to prisons where they can be anonymous.

"It largely is to protect the staff of the prison who's guarding this person because if that person becomes a target it puts (the staff) at risk. Not to mention making sure the prisoner is protected as well," Hickenlooper said.

The governor did offer some help to Teves, who told Colorado Matters earlier this week she fears she might inadvertently move to a state where Holmes is housed. Hickenlooper said, "Maybe there is a way where I can, if [Teves] is thinking of going to a state, I can go find out... and confirm that state is not where James Holmes is. As long as I can maintain that safety of the prison guards, I'll do whatever I can to ensure that Mrs. Teves has... whatever comfort we can provide."

In a wide-ranging interview, Hickenlooper also predicted across-the-board spending cuts for the state's 2017-2018 budget year. The governor's initial budget proposal is due next week. Current estimates predict a shortfall of $227 million to $330 million.

"We'll probably make cuts everywhere," he said, including K-12 and higher education, where spending is unlikely to be able to keep up with inflation, transportation, and the hospital provider fee, which pays for medical care for uninsured patients.

In the last legislative session, which ended in May, Hickenlooper and Democratic lawmakers tried to free up budget money with a change to the hospital provider fee, but that proposal was rejected by Republicans, who hold a one-vote majority in the state Senate.

Hickenlooper said if Republicans retain Senate control after next month's election, he'll "listen harder" to their objections and try to reach an agreement. But, he said, he's campaigning for Democratic Senate candidates in hopes of gaining the majority.

"I want to build more road infrastructure, I want to build more transit infrastructure and as long as the Republicans aren't willing to negotiate this then maybe we ought to have Democrats running the Senate," the governor said.

Hickenlooper is also campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

"The question I get most often about Secretary Clinton, you know, 'Do you trust her? Is she trustworthy?' " he said. In the couple of hours he spent with Clinton this summer when she considered him for the vice presidential nomination, he said, "she answered every question I asked, candidly, directly, she wasn't nuancing her answers, and I felt a great deal of trust."

While he didn't get the vice presidential nod, the governor's name remains in play as a possible cabinet nominee. Hickenlooper said he's remodeling his house, his son just entered high school and he likes his job in Colorado. "If pressed, if asked, I would probably serve," he said. "I'm not saying I would serve, I'm just saying probably, because it would be a significant sacrifice."

Read the full transcript:

Ryan Warner: Governor, welcome back to the program.

Governor John Hicklenlooper: Glad to be back.

RW: When we invited listeners to ask you questions, Karen Teves responded. I think as you know, her son Alex was killed in the Aurora Theater Shooting in 2012.

JH: Absolutely. 

RW: The perpetrator got life in prison. He served some time at the Colorado State Penitentiary but he was attacked there and in January officials disclosed that he had been moved out of state. They won't say where because they say the move is temporary and that the secrecy is for the perpetrator's safety and for the staff's. Here is Karen Teves' question.

Karen Teves: I'm asking not only as a mother of a murder victim but in the interest of the public and the press. My question to you, Governor Hickenlooper is, by what authority as governor, do you have under the Constitution of the United States to keep a prisoner hidden in America?

JH: So the answer to that is when we have a prisoner who is a celebrity of a sort, who has committed a crime at such a level that they become a target for vigilante efforts, to protect the people that are protecting them, you generally take them out of state and you put them in a place where they have the, to a large extent, the opportunity to become anonymous. So we have an interstate compact with 37 states where we all agree that we're going to keep this information anonymous. So this isn't the first time. We've been doing this since 1971. It's not the first time it's happened, it's pretty much standard operating procedure. And it largely is to protect the staff at the prison who is guarding this person because as that person becomes a target, it puts them at risk. Not to mention making sure that the prisoner is protected as well.

RW: The families of victims cite any number of high profile inmates whose whereabouts are known. They said you could have looked up Jeffrey Dahmer, when he was alive.

JH: Well he was killed in prison because they did not do this. I mean I think that's a classic case in point. Jeffrey Dahmer was left in a prison in Wisconsin. Everyone knew where he was. The other prisoners became a target of vigilantism of some prisoner getting to make a name for himself because he's the person who took down Jeffrey Dahmer. That's what we're trying to avoid.

RW: What do you say to families for whom there is a deep sense of unsettlement, a lack of closure in not knowing where that person is who killed their loved one physically. But what you heard from Karen Teves is she wants to know what state this guy is in so she doesn't move there, if she's thinking of relocating. That there is some psychological comfort to knowing where that person is.

JH: Right and if there was a way I could give her that comfort and yet make sure that the prisoner has anonymity. I mean, trust me, I've met almost all the family members or a large number of the family members of the deceased victims of the Aurora Shooting and no one, I mean I was there. I saw the video the next morning, I went to many of the funerals. I can't even express, I would do anything for them. I feel so profoundly their loss and experienced it in a very real way with them, is going to be a part of my life for as long as I live. And maybe there is some way where I can, if she's thinking of going to a state, or living in a state, I can go find out exactly and confirm, without trying to find out exactly which state, confirm that that state is not where James Holmes is. As long as I can maintain that safety of those prison guards, I'll do whatever I can to make sure that Mrs. Teves has whatever, again, whatever comfort we can provide.

RW: The prosecutor in the Aurora Theater Shooting case, George Brauchler, is also weighing in on behalf of the families. 

George Brauchler:    I am aware of no rule, regulation, law, anything, that prohibits the executive director of DOC or the governor, who you're going to talk to, from revealing this information. If they don’t reveal it, it's by discretion.

RW: Is this your discretion or is there a law or something that you can point to that says I can't reveal this?

JH: Well there is an interstate compact which we are party to, we've signed. Now I do have, I could pull us out of that and we have the other prisoners of ours that are in other prisons in other states, we would probably have them come back to Colorado. It would dismantle an agreement and a system that seems to work quite well. But you're right, that is probably something I could do if I wanted to dismantle that system. But I think what Mr. Brauchler is recommending is extremely reckless.

RW: Let's go to the Presidential Election. You support Democrat Hillary Clinton. How much time are you spending campaigning for her? And I wonder what the biggest concern is about Hillary Clinton is that you hear from voters?

JH: I've got a pretty full-time job so I think last week I did kind of a get out the vote kind of thing late, like five o'clock I think on Friday. I did, maybe three on Saturday and two on Sunday. But that's all I've done that week. The previous week I'm not sure I did anything. 

RW: Do you run into people who have concerns about her?

JH: Sure. Oh my gosh. I spent a lot of time. And I understand how frustrated people are with the system and how many people, both Democrats and Republicans feel that they can't get a fair break. And I also understand how much money has been spent on both sides trying to drag down the other person, the other candidate and as much as possible get people to hate them. It's part of what I hate about politics so I've never done a negative ad. You know I've got an ad up right now I stuck up on the air for state senators and it's a positive ad. But I do get, the questions I get most often about Secretary Clinton is do you trust her? Is she trustworthy?  In the couple hours I spent with her when we were doing the vetting for VP, I had at the end of that, I mean she answered every question I asked, candidly, directly. She wasn't nuancing her answers and I felt a great deal of trust.

RW: How do you feel about the WikiLeaks affecting her trust factor?

JH: Well most of the WikiLeaks, the vast majority are campaign staff who are either being too aggressive, appear to be too aggressive or are trying to navigate some gray area of campaigns. Every campaign at that high level, so I've now been in public service and seen several presidential elections and there are people in those campaigns that are doing everything they can to stay within the law, to make sure that they're not breaking any laws, but they are trying to win and I think that's, part of the distasteful side of politics, that it is scorched earth. But that's not Secretary Clinton's campaign, that's everybody's campaign. 

RW: One WikiLeaks email showed a well-known Democrat and former state lawmaker, Alice Madden, writing, "It is no secret that the governor would happily consider a cabinet position in an HRC administration, Hillary Rodham Clinton. " But you have said before that you would be reluctant. Which is it? That seems, let me say that the Clinton campaign has neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of these emails but that seems to indicate that maybe in political circles it's widely known that you would jump at a cabinet position. 

JH: Well I think someone should ask Alice Madden. I have been consistent, all the way along, inside political circles, outside political circles, I have never discussed it with her so she has no fact-based evidence. So what I've said is that I'm not going to lobby for it. I'm not out there trying to seek it. If a president or a president-elect comes to you and says I need you to do this and you're the only one who can do it and here's what I need you to do. You'd have to look at it pretty carefully but I'm in the middle of renovating my house, my son just entered high school, he loves it. It's hard to imagine a worse time for me to consider leaving Colorado. It's certainly not anything I'm lobbying for or would be happy, joyful, if pressed, if asked, I would probably serve. And I'm not saying I would serve, I just say probably because it would be significant sacrifice. 

RW: You will release your proposed 2017 budget next week. The latest estimates show a shortfall of between $227 million and $330 million. What cuts are you considering?

JH: Well because we have less revenue coming in than we anticipated, we are going to have to look at making some cuts and I think we'll probably make cuts everywhere. I think that's probably politically the wrong thing to do because when you make cuts everywhere you have everybody angry at you. Usually you just pick one large account and take the resource out of there. But I'm not sure we're going to be able to keep up with inflation for K12 and teachers, or with higher ed, so probably there'll be some level of cuts for both of them. Obviously the money we've been providing for the hospital provider fee, we'll have to find a way to cut some significant part of that. 

RW:  That has to do with reimbursing for uncompensated medical care.

JH: Exactly. So all those times the hospitals provide care for the indigent, the needy, the hospital provider fee allows them to be compensated and we'll just have to reduce a significant chunk of that. 

RW: Is this the first the hospitals will be hearing about this?

JH: Oh I'm sure they're aware. The bottom line is, and I've been saying this for several weeks that we're probably going to have to cut in almost everywhere. Transportation, we'll probably have to make some cuts in transportation. 

RW: You mentioned higher education. Not being able to keep up with the costs of inflation in that arena. Colorado already ranks 48th in the country for state funding of colleges and universities. That funding fell almost 20% between 2010 and 2015 budget years. Here's a sentence from Hillary Clinton's website on college affordability and student debt. "Everyone will do their part. States will have to step up and invest in higher education and colleges and universities will be held accountable for the success of their students and for controlling tuition costs." Will the state be able to step up and invest if Clinton is elected?

JH: We're the 47th lowest tax state, right? In other words we collect, when you add together all of our taxes, we're right about at the bottom of the list. So we are generally going to be in the bottom five or ten in almost every category of how we fund things. I think what she's saying is if we're going to try and push back over the level of debt that young kids are graduating from college with, especially when they don't graduate and they're coming out with $25,000 or $30,000 of debt and no degree or $60-80-100,000 even with a degree. That's a problem. 

RW: And she's saying that the state has a role in picking up some of the cost.  How does that square with the realities in Colorado?

JH: Well I think we are working very very hard. Over the last couple of years we've been adding more than inflation, adding back into the higher education budget. We're going to do everything we can to continue doing that but in this particular budget year it's going to be hard. 

RW: Back to the hospital provider fee, so again this is money that hospitals pay to help cover care for uninsured patients. This fee is currently subject to the taxpayer's bill of rights so if a certain amount is collected, it triggers taxpayer refunds, revenue the state can't use. Last year you and legislative Democrats tried to take the fee out from under TABOR. That failed largely because Republicans have a majority in the state Senate. If Republicans keep control of the Senate, is there anything you can do differently to try and get this hospital provider fee change done?

JH: Oh sure. I mean I think…

RW: That sounds so optimistic.

JH: Well you can't do this job without being an optimist. You just can't. You wouldn't get out of bed in the morning. I think I would look forward to going back and sitting down with the Republican representatives on the Joint Budget Committee and with the Republican leadership in the Senate and just really try to listen again and listen harder. Try and hear clearly, exactly, what their issues are because we have, over the last eighteen months, continued to I think aggressively look at how can we control the growth of healthcare costs. That has been always a major impediment, a major argument that the Republicans have used against getting rid of the hospital provider fee in order to build roads or infrastructure. I think if I listen hard enough, I'll be able to find a pathway by which we can get that money, get them to agree to the hospital provider fee. And part of it is it is the best way we're going to find, short of passing a whole new tax, to get, begin to get some resources for more capacity on our roads. All the traffic jams we get in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, even in Denver, everywhere. Our congestion is getting out of hand. I think the hospital provider fee is a giant first step to solving that and I think if I listen hard enough, I'll hear what the real problem is and I bet I'll figure out how to address it.

RW: I wonder if you think the better avenue is helping Democrats win majorities in the state legislature so that you have a less difficult path. You talked earlier about doing ads for some state senators. 

JH: And that is, obviously, I worked, I worked as hard and I listened as hard as I thought I could last session and we still couldn't get that out of committee. So this is the first time I've actually gone out and made an ad for state senators and really tried to lean in a little bit and say hey, it matters. I can't, I want to build more road infrastructure, I want to build more transits infrastructure. And as long as the Republicans aren't willing to negotiate this and maybe we ought to look at having the Democrats running the Senate. 

RW: To be clear, you've not done an ad before for a state lawmaker, is that right?

JH: No. Not to my, again, never put it past me that I might have had my picture used in somebody's ad, but this is the first time where I've been in a television ad for state senators. 

RW: Let's add a little bit of good financial news here. The recent announcement of a $9.5 million contribution from Bloomberg Philanthropies and JPMorgan Chase to partner with the state on an apprenticeship program for high school students. You've been a big booster of apprenticeships. If there's a kid listening or a the parent of a kid who thinks gosh, I'd love to get Joey or Susie into an apprenticeship in cyber security or something like that, what would they do to take advantage of this?

JH: So we're rolling this out right now in Mesa County, Cherry Creek Schools, Denver Schools, JeffCo. The challenge is how do we make sure we afford all the kids the opportunity. And a big part of this is we don’t want to just do this for one industry, and the beauty of this apprenticeship program, so a kid going into their junior year of high school can decide well I'm going to go to work. And they go to work for three days and then the two days they go back to their school or to community college or to workforce training center. And the two days of curriculum, of schoolwork that they get there, is specifically tailored to where they work. So not only are they getting real on-the-job experience when they're 17 years old, and they're getting paid for it, but they're going to get their school to be very directly connected, their schoolwork. 

RW: So this is a high school program?

JH: Yeah, junior and senior years. It's the way we're looking at it. So instead of going into your junior, if a kid wants to, they'll be able to go work and yet continue, ultimately they'll get their high school degree and they'll probably have a credit or two or some credits towards college. And they'll have a relationship with a business. You know this isn't like the old apprenticeships where it's only trade, right, electricians, or plumbers or pipefitters. This is going to be for everybody. So you can go to work at an insurance company or advanced manufacturing company or a cyber security company. 

RW: Does this remove the incentive to go to college and just to immediately join the workforce, which you know some might think is great and some might think is not.

JH: I don’t think it, I don’t think it, I mean for the last thirty years we've been pushing as hard as we can to get people to go to college. And thirty years ago, 29 percent, 28.5 percent, 29 percent of our young people got a college degree, a four-year degree in six years. All this, thirty years later and billions of dollars later, we're now up to a little over 30 percent, right. In other words, there are a large number of our young people that are never going to get that four year degree and most of them…

RW: And you see this as a way of supporting them?

JH: Yeah. Why not? They're our citizens, they deserve an education. They deserve support in making their careers and their lives happy. This is a way I think that we get to reach out to many, many, many other students who we haven't been helping. We're still going to do everything we can to get kids to go to college. We're going to keep raising money for scholarships. We're going to really push in every way we can to make our higher education system the best in the country even if we are low funded as you pointed out. But I think we should be beginning to think about what about all those other kids? Let's not turn our backs on them. Let's give them a hand up and some real support.

RW: And maybe they'll wind up earning more than you. 

JH: Quite likely.

RW: I say that because you make $90,000 a year as governor. The Denver Business Journal reported the other day that puts you 49th, the second lowest paid among the nation's governors. Do you want to guess who gets paid less than you?

JH: You know I couldn't help but look it up so I know. The governor of Maine.

RW: Yes. Paul LePage. 

JH: Paul LePage. 

RW: Yes. $70,000.

JH: Who, if you read down through the story, his wife spent this summer waiting tables to augment the household budget. I think I probably speak for almost all the former governors, it should be paid higher but most of us would do it, you know.

RW: Don't tell the legislature this.

JH: I would do it for free.

RW: Governor, thanks for being with us.

JH: Aw, it's my pleasure. Thank you.