Hickenlooper Talks Legacy And Future Aspirations At The Place Where It All Began
John Hickenlooper's office at the state Capitol is cluttered.
Boxes pile atop boxes as space is made for his successor, Jared Polis, who will be sworn in next week.
That's one reason why, in his final interview with Colorado Matters as the state's governor, Hickenlooper spoke from the Wynkoop, the brewpub and pool hall he founded in 1988. Another reason is that the Wynkoop played a large role in guiding the choices he made during his eight years leading Colorado.
- A Governorship In Numbers: 8 Charts About 8 Years Under Hickenlooper
- One-To-One: Hickenlooper And Polis Discuss Transition In The Gov's Office
As to the future, Hickenlooper said he's engaging in "active discussions" with his family about what might come next. Besides a much-rumored presidential run in 2020, Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said he's also considering a run for Republican Cory Gardner's U.S. Senate seat. He's even received telephone calls from current Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
"He wants to talk to me," Hickenlooper said. "I have no idea what he's said (about Hickenlooper running) ... Back and forth, we've said 'Yes, I will sit down, happy to talk to you.'"
Interview Highlights With Gov. John Hickenlooper
On TABOR, the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, and how it affects funding for projects:
"What happens is, both for transportation and education ... is the groups that lobby for and support an expansion of transportation infrastructure, or funding for teachers ... because it costs so much money to win a political campaign to get new revenues, that they end up going for larger increases, rather than what a legislature would probably do. They go for bigger chunks of money and they usually fail ... Go look at other states ... Arizona, Utah ... they usually find the money through the legislature. They're taking smaller bites out of their transportation challenges."
- Got TABOR Questions? Listen To 'The Taxman' Podcast
On changing his mind about the death penalty:
"The part that is most powerful is, this is the one final punishment that we give as a society, and it depends on chance. Depending on where you commit this crime, determines whether or not you get the death penalty. You can commit the same grisly crime in neighboring suburbs and in one, the district attorney says 'We're not going to ask for the death penalty,' and in the other, the DA says, 'We're gonna go for it, we're gonna make him suffer.' Something so final as an execution shouldn't be left to chance."
On the death of former Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements:
"I recruited him for the job and he turned me down twice. The irony is that Evan Ebel (who killed Clements at Clements' home) ... was in solitary confinement. If you've got someone with mental health issues and you put them in solitary confinement, you just exaggerate their mental conditions ... this is exactly what I hired Tom Clements to get rid of — this notion that you would have large number of kids, many of them with mental health issues, in solitary confinement ... Tom did agree to come, he took this job and was dramatically reforming solitary confinement."
On governing in the age of social media:
"If you want to look at the worse criticisms of me, maybe it was that I didn't fill out a form right when I filling out a voucher for a trip I took, or maybe think we shouldn't have universal background checks or large capacity magazines. But if that's the worst I've done, I'll accept it ... I know what the haters are like, and I know there are people out there, they can't create a life that satisfies them, and they hate the people around them and they hate elected officials ... You can't do anything about it."
Read The Transcript:
Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I’m Ryan Warner. A pool table is where we met John Hickenlooper for our final interview with him as governor, a pool table at the brew pub he started in Lower Downtown Denver before entering politics. He also lived in this building.
RW: Part of the reason we met here instead of the capitol is that his office there is cluttered. Boxes are being packed to make room for his successor, Jared Polis, will be sworn in next week. Before Hickenlooper was governor, before he was mayor of Denver, he was an unemployed geologist in a down economy when he and some buddies launched this place thirty years ago.
JH: When we first opened in 1988 and the rent was a dollar a square foot per year, I mean this whole area was abandoned, but we kind of caught fire and people were excited to see something happening in LoDo after all the years of people talking about it. So we started doing really well and then that first summer, it went bad, and then people started to open other brew pubs in town. Everyone looked at - after about a year and a half, they said, “Those idiots at Wynkoop are doing pretty well. Let’s - if they can do it, anyone can do it.” So the Champion Brewing Company, I mean a whole bunch of them, Rock Bottom.
RW: He helped turned the neighborhood around and that helped launch Hickenlooper’s political career. Years later in 2014, at this very pool table, something else notable happened. You got, I think, walloped by President Obama.
JH: What happened was we stepped up and we started playing pool. I own a pool hall, right. I figured I had a pretty good chance and I was thinking to myself, “What am I thinking? Do I want to beat the leader of the free world?” is what I was really trying to get to, and in the end I said yes, and so I tried to make that hard shot, and I just missed it, and how was I to know that he had a pool table up in the private part of the White House?
RW: You talked about the ups and downs of running the business here in those early days when LoDo was still a little dicey and I wonder how that prepared you, if at all, for political office.
JH: There are a lot of things that prepared me for political office and that - and you’re right. Those first four years, we had the worst wildfires that we’d ever had, the worst flood in the history, we had the shooting in Aurora, we had –
RW: The first four years of your administration?
JH: Right. From 2011 to 2015, I went to fifty funerals and you do learn - well you learn, my mom was widowed twice before I was eight, and she told all of us, “You can’t control what life throws at you, but you can control whether it makes you stronger or weaker, or makes you better or worse.” And I think the restaurant business does that same thing. When things are not going your way and suddenly some competition’s opened up and people aren’t coming in as much as they did before, you can’t sit and feel sorry for yourself. You’ve got to figure out new ways to communicate with them and to get them to come back.
RW: Well you and I have been talking virtually every month for the eight years that you’ve been governor, and I wonder if we might sit down at an actual table, not a pool table, and talk about the highs, the lows, the lessons learned in those eight years. What do you say?
JH: It’d be my pleasure.
RW: Governor, I suppose I want to frame our conversation on today’s show with the idea that you are considering a run for higher office and that a lot of the decisions you made as governor of Colorado may be under the microscope. So let’s be clear. What is your latest thinking on running for president and then let me throw one more idea at you: maybe running for Senate, given that that’s up next year in Colorado?
JH: Sure. I haven’t ruled out a presidential run. Senator Chuck Schumer has called me a couple times. I haven’t ruled out a Senate run, but I certainly think that what I’m good at, what I really enjoy the most, what I find rewarding is building a team and setting high goals and actually operating things, and whether you’re running a restaurant or a city or a state or a country, it’s a great challenge and a great opportunity. As a senator, most senators don’t - you don’t become even the vice chair of a reasonably important committee until your third term.
RW: Chuck Schumer has called you. Has he said, “Run for Senate in Colorado?”
JH: No, he wants to talk to me. I have no idea what he said.
RW: You haven’t had the conversation yet?
JH: No, I have not talked to him yet, but I, back and forth, have said, “Yes, I will sit down; I’d be happy to talk to you,” but by the time I got to my third term, I’d be eighty.
RW: What advice would you offer the 2010 you when you were governor-elect as Jared Polis is now? What advice would you offer that you wish you would have known?
JH: I guess one thing, if I wish I’d known - and I didn’t learn this until I was halfway through - that our education system is totally oriented towards convincing elementary, middle, high school students that they got to go to college, that that’s their ticket to the American dream. And in fact, over the last thirty years, 70 percent of our kids are never going to get a college degree.
RW: Are you saying that when you entered office, that was your perception as well?
JH: Yes, exactly. When I came in, I knew that education was geared towards getting kids to college, making sure that no matter what a kid’s zip code was, right. Whether they were from any neighborhood in the city, we wanted to make sure that they had a fair shot. If they’re willing to work hard enough, they should be able to go to college and graduate, and I still believe that completely, but I think you have to be rational and recognize that if, for thirty years - despite all of our efforts - 70 percent of our kids still aren’t going to - or plus or minus 2 percent, 68 percent of our kids are still not getting a four-year college degree and we’ve cut back dramatically all of our - there used to be shop class and learning how to be a mechanic for automobiles, things like that, but these days, it’s about skills. We cut back all that kind of on-the-job learning of all different kinds just so the kids could all go to college and realizing that only 30 percent are going to go to college.
RW: Now you’ve placed a great deal of emphasis on apprenticeship programs. Are you saying that you wish, perhaps, you could’ve had an earlier start on that as governor?
JH: Exactly; that’s exactly what I’m saying. I - if I had it to do it over again, I would’ve preferred to recognize what a huge challenge it is that so many young kids aren’t going to college and, “How do we get them the skills?” Look at all these emerging professions and emerging industries that are going to need - I mean, robots. We’re going to - someone’s got to operate those robots, someone’s going to have to be the technician who repairs those robots and yet we’re not training kids with the skills to fill those jobs, and there are going to be thousands, there are going to be millions of them, and we’re already behind.
RW: What do you cite as your single biggest accomplishment as governor?
JH: Well, I don’t know if there’s a single biggest accomplishment as governor. We certainly –
RW: Well, let’s say this. Someone’s having a conversation ten years from now; they’re talking about you, your tenure as governor. What is the thing that stands out?
JH: I think that they will look at what we tried to do, what we began, which is to create a mindset in Coloradans that you could be pro-business but at the same time have the highest environmental standards, the highest ethical standards; that you could fight like blue blazes to make sure that companies are accountable and that the jobs that are being created are accessible to people from all different backgrounds, and that we were actually expanding the middle class. That sense of recognizing the importance of jobs and what that means to people in their day-to-day lives - I mean, I knew that from the day that I ran. I focused on the campaign saying that we would try to bring - make sure that the rural economies got the same attention as the urban economies and try to make it a rising tide that would raise all ships, and I think people around the state recognize that.
RW: You talk about creating a state, helping create a state that’s both pro-business and pro-environment, and I think there are any number of your critics who would say, “This is a state with an enormous amount of oil and gas exploration,” even in the face of climate change, huge tensions over how close that oil and gas development comes to homes and to schools, and that that balance was not struck, and that you need look no further than the last ballot to show how much that tension persists.
JH: Oh, that’s nonsense. To say that we didn’t make success in addressing the issues around environmental safety is absurd and you know that. We were the only state, even to this day, to get the oil and gas industry to sit down with the environmental community and really focus on, “Are there fugitive emissions? Is there methane escaping from tanks, pumps, wellheads, anywhere?”
RW: Methane, this incredibly powerful greenhouse gas.
JH: Yeah, forty to sixty times worse for climate change than CO2 and by getting the oil and gas industry to - for the first time, to sit down and spend the fourteen months negotiating with the environmental scientists and getting to that point where their first year, they spent $60 million to literally visit every single pump and tank and wellhead, and it’s the equivalent of taking 320,000 cars a year off the roads. Now, are there still some people out there that don’t want any oil and gas to be used and any carbon energy to be used in the world today? Of course. If there were a way to do that, I’m all for it, but it brings into conflict the fact that we need energy, and there is not sufficient wind and - and we’re building wind and solar at a rate that no one could’ve imagined, even just five years ago, ten years ago, couldn’t have-
RW: And here you have the next governor, Jared Polis, declaring, “I want to be 100 percent renewable.” Is that a departure from the Hickenlooper Administration?
JH: No, we’ve always said - we’ve always said that our goal was to get to a system of energy that was as clean as humanly possible. So that means a complete - a green system of energy that was at the same cost or as close to that cost as - of our old system as possible, and is reliable. Cost matters, reliability matters and making sure our air is clean matters. So Excel began this process of saying, “All right, let’s close these next two coal plants,” and we think even as we close two coal plants, people’s monthly electric bills will go down. I mean, that’s the ticket to the whole show.
RW: When you took office in January 2011, the unemployment rate was 8.8 percent. It’s now about 3.3 percent. The state ranks within the top five nationally in almost every economic category and its population has risen by more than 10 percent since 2011. Now a lot of that reflects, as well, the success in the national economy. So there are some big factors at play there. How much responsibility, how much credit do you take for the economic situation today and for the growth in this state, which thrills some and uneases others?
JH: You can fight over who gets how much credit and that’s - I’ve never done that. I’m not going to start worrying about that now. I do think that you have choices and if you’re not going to have economic growth, you’re going to have contraction because nothing ever stays the same, and when I came out to Colorado in –
RW: Yeah, you - just to be clear, you’ve shared this philosophy with me over the years, which is that you don’t see the possibility of the economy sort of being on zero. It’s either in a negative number, in your mind or in a positive number.
JH: That’s life experience, right; that’s the only way - if you measure our economy, it has never stayed zero for more than six months, to my knowledge, in modern history, measurable history. So if it’s not growing, it’s contracting. That’s what happened in the 1980s. When I first opened the Wynkoop, one of the reasons the rent down here, where we are today, was a dollar a square foot per year was because the economy had contracted so dramatically, people had lost their jobs and no one was spending money in the existing retail businesses –
RW: You had empty skyscrapers downtown.
JH: Empty skyscrapers, empty restaurants, empty grocery stores. So you want to grow. Now do you want to grow too fast? Some people would argue we’re growing too fast now and I think that’s a point for discussion. How fast is appropriate? Go to some of the cities that aren’t growing.
RW: You’re thinking of the Rust Belt for these?
JH: Yeah, some of the - like let’s say Akron, Ohio where you get so many empty buildings or even still, Detroit. Those communities would do anything to have the problems that we have. We have real issues around affordable housing; we have serious problems about the infrastructure for mobility, right, transportation infrastructure and in Colorado, we’re the only state, still, after all these years, that has TABOR. All these other conservative states have never copied us; they haven’t adopted TABOR because it makes it very hard to adapt and get the resources to deal with your change. Utah right now, I mean they’re spending four times, on new transportation infrastructure, what we’re spending and they don’t have to go to a vote of the people. So they just say, “Well, we need a gas tax; here’s what we’re going to do. We need a little specific sales tax just for transportation mobility.” At a certain point, they will begin to outcompete us.
RW: I’m glad you mentioned TABOR, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which has a number of provisions restricting how quickly government grows and certainly mandating that the voters approve any tax hikes. Supporters of TABOR laud it as the smartest small government piece of legislation ever passed and its critics say essentially what you’ve said just now. It strikes me that TABOR is the elephant in the room when you’re governor of Colorado. It’s governing alongside you, whether you like it or not. How much do you think TABOR affected your vision for Colorado? How many times in a day do you think about it, do you run up against it? Do you like it, do you hate it?
JH: Well it’s what it is and it is a reflection of the will of Colorado, the voters of Colorado. You really don’t think about it, but it does affect how broad your vision can be. I think that if we didn’t have TABOR, we probably would’ve pushed forward a, I think, probably a smaller tax for transportation this last, probably several years ago to really make sure that I-70 had the capacity to deal with all the traffic and the same thing with I-25. My gosh, seven days a week, I-25 gets jammed up and clogged up and slows to a walk.
RW: You’re saying, “Were it not for TABOR, there might have been some smaller preps, more modest requests for transportation funding here and there?”
JH: Right. I mean what happens, both for transportation and education - this is just my opinion - but the groups that are lobbying for and support an expansion of transportation infrastructure like roads and bridges or more funding for teachers, give teachers a better raise - we know that we’re one of the lowest states in the country in terms of how we pay teachers relative to the cost of living here. We know that because it costs so much money to win a political campaign to the voters to get new revenues that they always end up going for larger increases rather than what, I think, a legislature would probably do. You end up with a binary - it’s either yes or no, and since they end up - to support all the costs of the campaign, they end up going for bigger chunks of money, they seem to usually fail.
RW: That’s fascinating. So you read TABOR as, “Go big or go home”.
JH:: Right because you’ve got to figure how to excite the constituency. Whether it’s road builders or educators or whoever, they’ve got to be excited enough to really put millions and millions of dollars into a statewide initiative.
RW: And yet they haven’t been excited on the subject of education, on the subject of transportation. These statewide measures don’t pass.
JH: Because they’re so large.
RW: Isn’t it your job to lead on them and eight years later, if there’s no fundamental fix for transportation or for education, isn’t that part of your legacy too?
JH: No. You - I mean, you can look at it any way you want.
RW: How do you look at it –
JH: I don’t worry about it. It’s’ - you do the best you can with the cards God deals you. I look at TABOR. It puts you - any governor in a difficult position wherein you don’t really have the ability or the General Assembly doesn’t have the ability to go out and say, “We’re going to raise all this money,” I don’t see - I mean we tried everything we could and we could not convince the different constituencies to do smaller ballot initiatives, right. In other words, we tried. They said, “No, it’s - we’re going to put up all the money for this. It’s got to be of a scale that’s going to be - that’s going to make it worth our while.” So we can’t use tax money; I can’t direct any state money towards a ballot initiative. So that’s something that is outside my grasp. I can persuade. I mean maybe my legacy is not being a very good persuader, but you do the best you can with the cards that God deals you.
RW: I want to talk about the Aurora Theatre shooting in 2012 that killed twelve people. Why don’t we go back to your comments at a press conference that same day?
JH: It’s an act that defies description. You can’t connect emotions that we commonly think of. I mean, everyone I’ve talked to all day is filled with an anger that can’t find focus.
RW: During the legislative session after the Aurora shootings, you had Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. The legislature passed and you signed bills banning high-capacity magazines and requiring universal background checks, but Democrats in Colorado suffered for that. Two lawmakers were recalled. What message did that recall send to you?
JH:: Well I think that in a way, we didn’t get the facts out properly, either - before the legislation was passed. We had national statistics, but we didn’t get the statistics on universal background checks just for the state of Colorado, just for the 50 percent of gun purchases that we were getting in the previous year and in 2012, the gun purchases we got were - there were thirty-eight people convicted of homicide who tried to buy a gun and we stopped them, 133 people convicted of sexual assault. You go down this whole long list. Over 3,000 violent criminals tried to buy a gun and this is just getting to half the gun purchases. Once we got that information, which was after the whole battle and the fight, it really was too late, and I think had I to do it over again, I would’ve gotten our local statistics, taken a little more time and not allowed the process to go - kind of get rushed through so quickly. I mean part of it was it became this rallying cry for Republicans to cast out those Democrats because they’re trying - with universal background checks, they’re trying to limit your ability to own a gun, which - nothing could be further from the truth. No one was trying to take people’s guns away; people were trying to make sure that dangerous people couldn’t get guns.
RW: You were taking people’s magazines away of a certain size.
JH: Those magazines - if you look at the pictures after the shootings in Las Vegas at that country-western concert, the picture in the hotel room where that shooting took place, it was littered with Magpul magazines, right, these large magazines that could be cobbled together so you could shoot up to - I think some of them can get up to about ninety rounds without having to stop, just continuing to fire away. That certainly magnifies the damage that any shooter can inflict on a concert or community. The high-capacity magazines was very unpopular and I’ve said at the time, “Maybe we should’ve done that more slowly; maybe should - that shouldn’t have all been done in one way,” because the political damage was significant. That doesn’t mean what we did was wrong in getting universal background checks passed. Once we got those statistics and you go around, go check out a poll and look how universal background checks are today in Colorado. It’s over 90 percent. Now that anyone - I don’t care which party has which control of which House. Universal background checks are going to be in Colorado for as long as we have any form of government.
RW: Your position on the death penalty has changed as you’ve been in office. Quoting from your autobiography, The Opposite of Woe, “I’m against the death penalty. Well first, I was for it, but now I am against it.” This surfaced in the case of Nathan Dunlap. He was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1993 murders of four people at an Aurora restaurant. You issued an order that delayed his execution at least through the remainder of your term but left future governors the ability to reinstate it. Critics have said this is a case where you should’ve taken a firmer stance. “If you’re against the death penalty, simply commute Dunlap’s sentence to life in prison.” I suppose you could still do that; there are a few days left. Will you, will you?
JH: Well I think the key to look at on this - certainly, I was against - I did become convinced that the death penalty was a bad idea. I grew up, my father was a Sunday school teacher. I was raised an Episcopalian and, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” that’s what I took away from that. And it was really, actually, the Catholic Archbishop, Charles Chaput, who - on the day he was leaving to go to Philadelphia, he sat down and invited me over for breakfast, and we spent a couple hours talking solely about the death penalty, and when you get into it, right, it costs ten or fifteen million dollars for the court cases and the appeals. It is no deterrent. In other words, states that got rid of the death penalty fifty years ago are no more likely to have mass killings or grisly killings than states that actually execute people, ten or twelve people a year. The families of victims, when you have all these appeals over years, you’re dragging those families through the worst experiences of their life again and again, and the part that is most powerful - this is the one final punishment that we give as a society, and it depends on chance. Depending on which - where you commit this crime, it determines whether you get the death penalty. So you can commit the same grisly crime in two neighboring suburbs and one, the district attorney will say, “Well, we’re not going to do the death penalty,” and the other, “We’re going to go for it, we’re going to make him suffer.” It’s just chance and something so final as an execution should not be left to chance. So I understood all that. I also respected the amount of investment of judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors. I thought that to just come in and give them a complete commutation from the ultimate verdict would be disrespectful to that judicial process, and –
RW: And specifically in the Dunlap case. So –
JH: Well, I think what the point of it was is that you couldn’t - that was the hardest decision. I knew it would be unpopular on everybody’s side. There was a –
RW: Is the message that you were sending with it to simply say, “It’s not going to happen on my watch; it may happen on a future watch, but it’s not going to happen on my conscience?”
JH: What I was saying was that I think death penalty - the death penalty is wrong, but I am not all the voters in Colorado. I am not the General Assembly of Colorado and I think that the General Assembly is the one who should step up, and I think we’ll see, but if you look at polling now in the state of Colorado, it’s down - it’s approaching fifty-fifty, which is a dramatic change from where it was when we had to deal with the Dunlap case. I think maybe we’ve finally gotten to the point where we’re going to say when you take someone and you put them to death, you make them into two-bit celebrities. All of a sudden, they’re in the newspaper all the time. We know that when we have death penalty executions, we have copycats. We - people relive the crimes that these people created. They seem them in the newspaper, they hear about them on TV. That sometimes leads to copycats. What - to what point?
RW: You’re not going to commute his sentence?
JH: No, I don’t have any intention. I mean, we did it for a purpose. We knew it was going to be an unpopular decision, but we did it.
RW: I want to go back to 2013 when a member of your cabinet was murdered. This was Corrections Chief Tom Clements. He was shot at his home by a parolee named Evan Ebel. Clements was a friend of yours and you spoke about him the next morning at the capitol.
JH: He was a great friend. To me, to, I think, all of us, in many ways, he helped define what a public servant is. He did his job quietly and intently. He cared deeply about his staff and his family and the community.
RW: How did Tom Clements’ death change the way you did your job or lived your life?
JH: It certainly changed how I dealt with being governor in a way that I could never imagine. Tom Clements, I recruited him. He turned me down twice. What’s ironic is that Evan Ebel - I knew his father and his father was wild with grief and upset that his son, who was almost a sociopath, who as a child would drop cinderblocks on kittens and had real mental health issues, and had a really violent side - so when he went into prison for armed robbery, they - within a few weeks, he was - punched some guard, and they put him in solitary confinement. If you’ve got a young person with mental health issues who’s maybe twenty, twenty-one years old and you put him in solitary confinement for long periods - because every time he got out, he just did something worse - you exaggerate all the conditions of their mental health instability, and when we released Evan Ebel, we released him directly into society. There was no transition. This was exactly what I hired Tom Clements to get rid of, this notion that you would have large numbers of people, especially young kids, most of them with mental health issues, in solitary confinement. And the great irony of this was that Tom did agree to come, took this job and was dramatically reforming solitary confinement, and for whatever reason - and we’ve never figured out what the thinking was in Evan Ebel’s head, but Evan got out, and within a week of being granted his freedom, he killed Tom Clements. So I’ll never forget the night. I was having dinner in the Cherry Cricket and I got the call –
RW: This is in Denver?
JH: I never will forget the - I mean all the events there and after, and when it turned out to be Evan Ebel, I mean, Evan Ebel’s dad had talked to me relentlessly about the dangers of keeping mentally unstable people in solitary confinement, how destructive that was, and then it turns out to be his son that creates this unthinkable deed.
RW: You said that it changed the way you govern in ways you could not have imagined. What do you mean by that?
JH: Well, Tom Clements was such a - kind of a - it’s funny. He was dealing with the - some of the worst people in society in the darkest, most dangerous places and yet he was pretty happy-go-lucky, and he loved biking, he loved hiking, he loved the outdoors, and it was just so infectious. And I was more - I don’t know what’d you say. I was more driven and always a sense of urgency. We had to do more, had to get this done. I certainly wasn’t spending time to enjoy life and it took a toll, right. I got divorced in that first term. I went through a lot of difficult stuff. Really when Tom Clements was killed, it began a process of me kind of reexamining my role in government and how I led, and really pushed me to the next level saying, “All right, I’ve got to have more fun, I’ve got to get more out of life as I do this job.” It’s just not right for it to be a sacrifice of everything. You’ve got to be able to enjoy life and still do a good job.
RW: There’s a very wet subject that often is dry, which is water, but it’s so important in this state, especially in the face of climate change and the idea that the state is getting hotter and dryer, and we’re already a pretty dry state. It was under your administration that the first statewide water plan emerged. What is most important for this next administration to do out of that water plan to ensure that there is enough water to go around for all the people moving here?
JH: The key unfunded parts of the water plan are a variety of steps in terms of building capacity because –
JH: Well reservoirs or looking at and modeling, “How do you store water underground?” A lot of people think that we can successfully store water there much more efficiently than in a reservoir. A reservoir will lose 5 percent, 6 percent of the water every year just to evaporation. That doesn’t happen when you put the water underground and over a period of time, the underground storage might be more successful.
RW: Isn’t underground storage free? There’s already room under there in the aquifers.
JH: Well, there’s all kinds of safety situations when you’re putting water back underground to make sure that you don’t have contamination. It’s not as easy as it thinks. Arizona’s been doing this for a number of years. It was actually - Governor Ducey in Arizona was the first person to kind of lay out and say, “Here’s what we’ve learned. Actually you can do this and this and this,” and I think that the state is looking much more aggressively now at storing in reservoirs or storing in underground reservoirs but also taking some of the reservoirs we have and just adding a little bit onto the top of a dam, and suddenly you get a significant increase in the capacity.
RW: Why is that so important? Just help folks understand.
JH: Well building a new reservoir is, I think, almost impossible these days because people have settled and live in all these rural valleys, and they love it. It’s their home and it’s hard to come to large numbers of people and say, “Well, we’re going to use eminent domain. We’re going to give you a fair price for your property, but you’re going to have to move and leave behind something, and you’ll never be able to go back and visit; we’re going to fill it up with water.”
RW: And the storage and particular, why is that so important?
JH: We are not perfect at understanding climate change yet. We are aggressive in trying to get better specifics and understand what the changes are going to look like, but most people are pretty convinced that it’s - that climate change is occurring, that the Earth is warming. Many of the models demonstrate that Colorado could end up in a - what they call a rain shadow and we might end up getting, on most years, less precipitation than we got before. If that’s the case, we need to get a lot better at storing and be prepared for that downturn.
RW: Is it rewarding to be in public office in the Twitter age? And the reason I ask that is that your harshest critics can be anonymous, they can be incredibly ugly, they never have to face you and they can have huge audiences when they do this, and maybe they’re right about their worst criticism of you, but you have access to it in a way that just wasn’t true before, perhaps, Twitter and Facebook.
JH: Which worst criticism do you think is true that they use, my worst critics?
RW: I’ll leave that to them, but I wonder –
JH: Now don’t validate them that maybe it’s true, right. So far, I haven’t seen - any of their worst criticisms of me have very little to do with the truth, right. If you want to look at my worst criticisms, it’s that I maybe didn’t fill out a form right when I was filling out a voucher for a trip I took or something, or maybe people think that we shouldn’t have universal background checks or large-capacity magazines, but if that’s the worst I’ve done, I’ll accept it. I look at Twitter - I mean, I grew up with a name like Hickenlooper. I was a skinny kid on the playground with the funny last name. I know what the haters are like and I know that there are people out there that they can’t create a life that satisfies them and they hate the people around them, and they hate elected officials. They hate everything outside their sphere of influence and oftentimes, they hate their own family. You can’t do anything about it. They’ve always - haters have always been there and haters are going to hate. You just got to go ahead and live your life and do the best you can.
RW: You had a glancing blow there at the ethics investigation or complained, at least, that it has been lodged against you at the tail end of your term. Do you have concerns that it might put a patina on your legacy?
JH: “Put a patina on my legacy.” We took all the checks, all the receipts and everything. We sat down with the editorial board of the Denver Post and we said, “Here’s what they’re - here’s what they said. Here’s all the reasons why it’s nonsense.” They wrote the most scathing editorial against the people - the haters - that are trying to lodge these attacks against the ethics of our administration and I feel very comfortable that we’ve done everything right, and if there is, by chance, some piece of paperwork or form we haven’t filled out, something we didn’t understand, then we’ll happily rectify it. But we have stressed the ethical conduct of our administration as hard as humans can focus on something, and I think if you go back over the eight years, show me someone who’s - was embezzling money or some scandal from anyone that I appointed or hired. You don’t find it. These are all people that are doing their absolute best to be public servants and to try and get people to believe in government again, and you get these haters on the Internet and the tweeters, and you get nitwits who, for political purposes, lodge complaints. That’s what it is, but it doesn’t mean that you have to let it affect your life. It doesn’t meant that the media needs to keep bringing it up and trying to drum home, “This is a conflict or a danger.” I view that as a failing of the media, not my failing.
RW: You brought it up.
JH: I didn’t bring it up.
RW: Yeah you did.
JH: No, I talked to - I didn’t talk about any of the things that they brought up in terms of the ethics violation. I talked about filling out a voucher, I think, is what I said.
RW: Yeah, I think you did; that’s right. I want to talk about the arts. It’s an area you’ve championed both as Denver’s mayor and as Colorado’s governor. You’ve talked about the need for a variety of arts programs. You, in particular, have a love of music. You’ve jammed with some big stars: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Isaac Slade, Old Crow Medicine Show, OneRepublic. You also have a guitar in your office covered in autographs.
JH: I love music and I have since I was a kid. My mom was widowed twice before she was forty and it was a place - it was almost a refuge, in a funny way, and I remember getting the first 45s, some of those early Beatle records, and my older brother had and my sister had Elvis Presley records and some of that early kind of ‘50s and ‘60s rock and roll, and for me, it was a way to find myself, in a funny way, and I went to Woodstock. I mean I’m not sure how many governors went to Woodstock, but my friend, George Lansdorf and I, we were working at a summer job at a place called the Alan Wood Steel Company. I think I was - I don’t know - seventeen, perhaps and we decided we were going to go up to Woodstock for this - no one knew what a musical festival was back then, and we got –
RW: It was pre-Coachella.
JH: Pre-Coachella and we went up there, and it was pouring rain, and we didn’t have enough food, we didn’t understand what it was going to be like, and we were stuck on the New York Thruway literally for seven hours, bumper to bumper, just inching along. Finally got off at the exit for Bethel. We made another mile and a half, and it’s still pouring rain. It’s one o’clock in the morning so we pulled over in the ditch and started walking towards the concert, which was - the festival grounds were still a couple miles away, and everyone coming towards us was, “Oh, it’s so awful; you’re going to hate it. Oh my God, there’s no food, there’s no place to take a leak. It’s just awful,” and after about an hour of hiking, we turned around and we went back and said, “This is clearly not what it was supposed to be,” and we got back in our car, and we drove all the way back to Philadelphia.
RW: Oh, so you were almost at Woodstock?
JH: No, no, I got to - I could see it. I could see it. I was at Woodstock. I did not hear one note of music, I will say. It was one of my - I wouldn’t say it’s a great regret, but it was a mess, let me tell you. You - talk to anyone who really was there and they’ll tell you that Thursday, Friday, Saturday were the worst days you could ever imagine, and then the sun came out on Sunday.
RW: So it sounds like there’s a lot about music that is, for you, comfort and nostalgia. I mentioned that guitar you have in your office. I wonder, as you’ve been packing up, making way for Jared Polis, is there a memento you found, something - I don’t know - maybe you’d forgotten you had that sparked a particular memory before we go?
JH: It’s funny. When you’re clearing out an office - and I’m a packrat. Many people think that when a child loses a parent at a young age, sometimes they tend to hold onto material possessions more than normal. So I find some of these old pictures. Dean Singleton, who used to be the publisher of the Denver Post, when he turned sixty, he had this five-hour concert of all his favorite bands. He figured out how to get them to come perform and there used to be a musician named Ben E. King. He passed away and he had a song called “Stand by Me”. It’s just really one of the most beautiful songs that there is and he - Dean called me up at for o’clock in the afternoon and he said, “Ben E. King would like you to come up and sing a verse of ‘Stand by Me’,” and I can’t sing, even though I love music. Dean insisted and then before the show, I went and introduced myself to Ben E. King, and he could not have been more gracious. That time with Ben E. King, that was something that was just - that - it was a moment in my life that was - I don’t know. I’d just become governor. We had a lot of stuff that was not going perfectly and those fires, floods - again, fifty funerals in four years. Having Ben E. King share a mic with me and after the first verse, saying, “Go ahead and sing louder” - he just whispered, “Go ahead and sing louder,” I mean, it - I’ll never forget it.