One-To-One, John Hickenlooper And Jared Polis Discuss Transition In The Governor’s Office

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Photo: John Hickenlooper Jared Polis Together State Capitol November 15 2018 | 5 HV
Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, and Gov.-Elect Jared Polis at the state Capitol Thursday Nov. 15, 2018.

While Colorado Democrats made a clean sweep on Election Day, gaining control of the state House, Senate and holding the governor's office, outgoing Gov. John Hickenlooper said he's wanted to approach his successor Jared Polis about the ins-and-outs of Colorado's General Assembly on partisan politics and dynamics.

On Thursday he said he had second thoughts because of Polis's experience in Congress.

"It took me a while to pick that up," Hickenlooper said of the finer points of working with lawmakers. "I'd started to give Governor-Elect Polis some advice along those lines, and I realized...he had about 10 years experience already."

While saying he's looking forward to all the challenges that come with the position, Polis added that he thinks he'll have an advantage. "Colorado functions a lot better than Washington does. Under John and other governors, we just have more of a tradition of working together."

"It's really a historic opportunity that the voters have given to the Democrats, to me, " Polis said. "Can live up to what we said we would work on for voters -- can we save families money on health care, can we expand kindergarten to be full-day for every child in the state? We're ready to work with Republicans on those priorities, but ultimately voters will hold us accountable."

Polis said the recent election would likely temper his approach to issues like transportation. While he comes into office amid a pro-Democratic wave, voters defeated one ballot measure that sought increased taxes to fund roads and transit, and another that would have funded infrastructure work through bonds.

"From my perspective, voters have spoken, and we are ruling out two things with regards to transportation funding," he said. "One is bonding without new revenue, and the second is we're ruling out a sales tax, because the voters have said they don't want those two."

Amazon Snub

Hickenlooper said he wasn't surprised that Denver wasn't chosen for the location of Amazon's second headquarters, but disagreed with the idea that the metro area, along with other locations that weren't chosen, had been "played" by the company in an effort acquire data on the cities.

"That's a two-edged sword. In the process of collecting that information, we brought together a bunch of landlords and land owners of developable sites, and we learned a lot about where our best opportunities are, and how should we be talking about our community, even to the businesses that are already here and looking for a larger headquarters," Hickenlooper said. "When (lifestyle apparel company) VF Corporation was trying to decide whether they were going to move to Colorado -- it's a $35 billion company that's going to move their global headquarters to Denver -- part of the attraction was that we had all that information ready to go."

Polis praised the governor for the way he approached the Amazon package.

"The way that Gov. Hickenlooper spoke out against what I would call corporate welfare, is something I completely agree with. This runaway giveaways to corporations at the expense of taxpayers, I know that many fiscal conservatives and Republicans also agree with what," Polis said. "We're looking at getting rid of as many tax credits and tax expenditures as we can to reduce the tax rate in Colorado. There are some big ticket items where there will be hard discussions where we hope to save the taxpayers money by getting rid of corporate welfare."

Hickenlooper also offered Polis some thoughts on family life as governor.

"You've just gotta carve out certain amounts of time and always look for opportunity to take your kids and the whole family -- your going to have opportunities to experience things as a family that are really unusual. You're going to meet people at parades, like the Brush Fourth of July Parade. Five Points still does the Juneteenth Parade. Those things are a kick, not only for yourself, but for your whole family."

Full Transcript

Ryan Warner: Gentlemen, welcome to the program.

Jared Polis: It's a pleasure, Ryan. 

Gov. John Hickenlooper: Glad to be back.

RW: I wonder, Governor-elect Polis, if we could start with a sense of what you're most interested in hearing from Gov. Hickenlooper about the office you'll hold come January. What are you most eager to know?

JP: Gosh, there's so many great discussions that Gov. Hickenlooper and I have had, both during the campaign and after the election. I think it was the very next day I came down and we got to chat for a while. What was kind of the biggest surprise to you, John, when you were elected and what do you wish that you knew eight years ago that you know now?

JH: Part of it is just process. So I had never been in a legislative environment, both the city council and the Mayor's office of Denver are nonpartisan. So here it was partisan and the general assembly has a very different dynamic and it took me a while to pick that up. And I started to give Governor-elect Polis advice along that and I realized he had about 10 years of experience already in these kinds of-

RW: Right, having served in Congress, he could probably school you in this.

JP: Well you know what's good, is Colorado functions a lot better than Washington does. Under John, as well as prior governors, we just have more of a tradition of working together. Some of it is structural, the way we have the Joint Budget Committee work with the governor's office but also just more of a tradition of working across the aisle. Unfortunately in Washington, partisan politics on both sides has become more toxic than ever before and I think we can learn about what not to do by some of the partisanship in Washington.

RW: Do you think that's because Colorado has had a history of divided government though, Governor-elect Polis? We're going in to a trifecta where the governor's a Democrat, where the State House and the State Senate are run by Democrats.

JP: Well, it's really a historic opportunity that the voters have given to Democrats, to me to produce. It's only as good as if we can live up to what we said we would work on for voters. Can we save families money on healthcare? Can we expand kindergarten to be full day for every child in the state? I'm optimistic. I think we can. We're ready to take on that challenge and work with Republicans on reaching those priorities but ultimately, voters will hold us accountable.

RW: Is there a legacy of your administration, a policy perhaps, Gov. Hickenlooper, that you most hope Governor-elect Polis will preserve or advance further?

JH: My greatest hope is that the State maintains its momentum for innovation. I think that a lot of the success for the economy and jobs has been around innovation, a lot of our educational successes and even healthcare, we've been around innovation. I think one of the things that Governor-elect Polis has demonstrated again and again throughout his life is he's not afraid of innovation and new ideas. And my guess is that our innovation, our rate of innovation will continue apace.

RW: The midterm election in Colorado saw a pretty clear rejection of the Republican Party. One Denver pollster says, "In the past 20 years, never has one political party been so overwhelming rejected at every level of government by the electorate." And while Democratic candidates fared well, traditionally, Democratic priorities did not. A tax increase for education failed, so did a tax hike for roads and, of course, fundamental tensions over fracking remained unaddressed. So I thought we might zoom in on these issues with the next administration a bit. Perhaps with transportation, Governor-elect Polis, two measures to increase spending actually failed. What's the next step?

JP: Well, I was relieved that one of them in particular failed and that was 109 that would have gotten in the way of our plans to make kindergarten full day, hurt education funding. That was putting the state in debt without new revenue and the state taxpayers would be reliable for the interest payments. The other one which was largely backed by the Chamber. So these are not Democrats, these are mostly Republicans that put the tax increase word. It did not pass either. That was a sales tax. So from my perspective, voters have spoken and we are ruling out two things with regard to transportation funding. One is bonding without new revenue and the second is, we're ruling out sales tax because the voters have said that they don't want those two. Everything else is within the realm of the possible. The voters have spoken very clearly that they don't want to pay for roads with the sales tax and they've spoken very clearly that they don't want to borrow without any new revenue to pay for roads.

RW: What would your top idea be as an alternative? So there's all kinds of ideas, you could raise the gas tax, there's vehicle miles traveled where you actually charge people for how much they drive. Which one is most—

JP: Well here we are a week later. So again, the realm of the possibles, everything except for the two things that the voters said they didn't want to do. And that means is, we need to really lead a discussion with Republicans and Democrats, the Western Slope, the Front Range, the business community, to figure out the best path forward to make sure that we can build out the infrastructure not only for where we are today but for where Colorado expects to be in ten years and twenty years.

RW: Do you think this would be addressed in the coming session?

JP: Well, I think ultimately, of course, 109 and 110 didn't pass. I've said it is appropriate to use general fund money where we have it for roads but you'll never be able to find money in a particular year to meet those needs. It's really a question of how we meet the unfunded need in our roads. And it's a broader discussion than just the legislature.

RW: Do you apply the same logic to the school funding measure that is voters rejected a statewide tax increase? Does that mean that approach is dead on arrival to you in terms of boosting K-12 spending in particular?

JP: Well, voters rejected Amendment 73, so obviously, would not to support - trying anything like that again. So again, I think in structuring in it, it's easier to get to 50 percent in this state than 55 percent.

RW: If you're amending the state constitution, you have to get the 55 percent threshold. So your idea would be to do something statutorily?

JP: It's much more likely to pass-

RW: How soon do you think that could happen?

JP: Again, you're talking outside of the legislative session. We're focused on this historic opportunity to save people money on healthcare, establish free full day kindergarten for every kid and keep our economy growing in this session and then, of course, after the next six or seven months, we're happy to continue the discussion.

RW: So you've heard there, Governor-elect Polis' ideas for the session ahead. I want to ask one more that went unaddressed because of the election and that is the tension around oil and gas. To what extent do you think the conversation will take place in the legislature around that?

JP: There's lots of legislators whose constituents are very eager for them to address oil and gas issues. A 2500-foot setback in all cases did not pass. That's never what I thought the solution was. I think the solution is to really figure out the parameters around local input of neighborhoods and cities and counties and the decisions that affect the quality of life in different areas of our state.

RW: Gov. Hickenlooper, I'm hearing a little bit of a contrast here between your administration and perhaps the next, which is perhaps coming into session, the very clear agenda even a bully pulpit and saying this is what I want out of this session. Historically, I feel like you have perhaps been a bit more differential to the legislature. Do you think that's true?

JH: You've been reporting all these years. The General Assembly will come in and the Joint Budget Committee will opine on what they think the final parts of the budget were. We always laid out a strong budget. Oftentimes, it was changed, right? We would have a higher reserve, now we would have money in education. A number of different things would have happened had we had more control. I suspect, again, Congressman Polis, Governor-elect Polis has a lot more experience than I have, than I had in terms of dealing in legislative situations. So maybe he's going to pull a couple rabbits out of his hat. But the structure in this building is slanted against the governor. I mean, there's no—I'm not saying that's a bad thing but it means you've got to work very closely with the general assembly to get things done. My suspicion is, just from what I've heard, part of the campaign with Governor-elect Polis was that he met with a number of the legislators during the campaign and he talked about, All Day Kindergarten and how do we think about that and do you think there's ways to find the financing for that. My guess - well, I can't speak for himself but I think he's halfway down the road in terms of those discussions.

JP: Yeah. And I think we'll get there and I think part of our argument with legislators is, look, I wasn't elected for no reason, I was elected, and Democrats, in general, were elected with a mandate, a very specific mandate. Full-Day Kindergarten is part of that, saving money on healthcare is part of that and many legislators had overlapping areas that they campaigned on. I don't think there was a single legislator that campaigned on increasing healthcare costs or not having kindergarten.

RW: They didn't fare well if they do.

JP: If didn't fare well if they did. So I think you find - you're not going to find 100 percent overlap but I think what you have is very strong overlap with what legislators want to do and want to produce with our constituents. And we're trying to find that alignment and really work in that aligned area to accomplish these goals.

RW: Let's go back to that time when Democrats were in control before and were accused of overreach. Passage of new gun restrictions led to the recall of two Democratic lawmakers. On election night as the results were coming in, we spoke with State GOP Chairman Jeff Hays who had a colorful warning for Democrats.

Jeff Hays: There's a phrase: "Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered."

RW: His version of overreach -

JH: Wait, is he portraying himself as a pig or as a hog?

RW: I think he's perhaps portraying himself as the slaughter but in any case-

JH: Just checking. 

RW: Speak to this idea of your role with the minority party in the coming session, that idea of the mandate on one side that you talk about but also the purplish-ness that Colorado has truly seen in the past.

JP: Well, I immediately called Republican legislative leadership right after they were selected. I got to speak to most members of their leadership team just today, left messages with the House and Senate minority leaders and I look forward to meeting with their caucus as well. On most of these areas that we want to accomplish, we expected the main challenges won't necessarily be ideological but will be taking on the special interests and we'd love Republican help to do that to reduce healthcare cost. There's been a long time champions of Full Day Kindergarten in the state legislature on the Republican side of the aisle. Representative Jim Wilson of Salida. So I think we have really big opportunities to do this and again, Republicans will have to choose to cooperate where they can and where goals overlap and we expect them to be the party of opposition where we're trying to accomplish things that they don't feel are the correct things for their constituents.

RW: So you think that the special interests might be the dividing line but might the price tag of some of this stuff also be where there are divisions, how you pay for this, and perhaps even the size and the role of government.

JP: Well again, I think that there'll be principal disagreements between Democrats or Republicans but I would hope that Republicans are at the table, around a lot of our ideas to reduce healthcare cost whether it's expanding scope of care or negotiating better prices for prescription drugs. None of these are inherently liberal or conservative things. 
And one of the things that I convey to Republican leadership and will convey to Republicans across the state, and Independents is, we want ideas from all over the political spectrum. I mean, the left or the right doesn't have a monopoly on good ideas and it's really a time where we might have the opportunity to turn some of those ideas into policy. 

RW: I have heard pundits say that with you, Gov. Hickenlooper, this is the end of a moderate streak in Colorado and that in Jared Polis', Coloradans have elected a more liberal governor. I wonder what you two make of that. Is this a sea change in some regards in your view?

JP: Pundits make up whatever they want to say. I think we'll both be judged by our records. John's been an amazing governor for the state, he leaves a strong economy as his greatest legacy and, of course, we're looking forward to continuing that work to make the economy work for everybody. When people, half the people call both of us too liberal or too conservative. I mean, it just depends on who you're talking to.

JH: I don't see him as coming in as a wild liberal and I don't feel I'm so moderate, right. I think those words don't mean as much as they used to.

JP: Yeah, I don't really view that as a fundamental divide. I think it's many ways forwards versus backwards, right? Forwards towards covering more people and reducing cost on healthcare. Forwards towards full-day kindergarten instead of backwards to four-day a week for many school districts.

JH: Shocking, very - I just - I was shocked to hear that information.

RW: Denver, of course, had been named as a finalist. The entire process with cities and regions falling over each other to lure HQ2 came under some harsh criticism. Before the decision was announced, The Urbanist, Richard Florida, was quoted at saying, "Amazon's very public search was really about creating a large scale, crowd-sourced corporate locational strategy." In other words, Amazon leveraged the $5 billion corporate headquarters and the 50,000 high-paying jobs to get cities to hand over comprehensive data about potential locations for the future." Gov. Hickenlooper, did Amazon play metro Denver?

JH: I don't know. I mean, I think what their intention was was to provide an incentive to get every, all these cities all across this country, and across Canada, to put everything they have on the table and that's in their self-interest. I do think it's interesting to look at Metro Denver. All the municipalities in Metro Denver made an agreement way back and I believe it was finally done end of 2003, beginning of 2004, where we don't offer incentives to businesses. If Aurora has a business, they're thinking they might move. Denver will not give them an incentive.

RW: No poaching within the metro.

JH: No poaching.

RW: Going back to this fundamental question, were we played?

JH: No. Would you let me finish my sentence? You'll only have to put up for me for another month and a half.

RW: Unless you run for president.

JH: Yeah, then you'll really be stuck with me. I think that what I was talking about was the fact that there was no other metropolitan area in the country that has a no poaching agreement and then maybe we should be looking around the country as why isn't there more metro areas and why isn't this done on a more systemic level? Because this - it obviously—I think what Richard Florida was getting at, it's not a good idea for the whole country, for municipalities to give gifts to - I mean, we all do it. Colorado's, our incentives for job creation are among the smallest in United States.

RW: I think what I hear you saying is that there's this agreement of no poaching within the metro area. There ought to be such an agreement within the country -

JH: Well, that should be contemplated and discussed. Yes.

RW: Were we played?

JH: No, I don't think so.

RW: Did we play our hand?

JH: No. We used the incentives we have, which we recognize were a fraction of what places like New York or Texas would offer.

RW: But we gave up a lot of information about this market.

JH: Well, that's a two-edged sword. So we collected a bunch of information and gave it to them but in the process of collecting that information, we brought together a bunch of landlords or property owners of developable sites and we learned a lot. What are our best opportunities, how should we be talking about our community, even to the businesses that are already here and looking for a larger headquarters or VF Corporation, when they were trying to decide whether they were going to move to Colorado and they are now—

RW: This is the brand that has North Face, a lot of outdoor brands -

JH: SmartWool, you go down the list, Jansport. That's a $35 billion company that's going to move their global headquarter to Denver and part of the attraction process was we had all that information ready to go. So I mean, we did give it to Amazon and if we've gotten Amazon, we could've disbanded all our economic development offices for at least five years, right, maybe ten years.

RW: Governor-elect Polis, are you relieved that Denver wasn't chosen? Is there some part of you that's relieved?

JP: Well, look, I think that the way that Gov. Hickenlooper spoke out against what I would call corporate welfare is something I completely agree with, this runaway, giveaways to corporations at the expense of taxpayers. I know that many fiscal conservatives and Republicans also agree with what he said and what I feel about that. So I think we've got to stop handing out taxpayer money to big corporations with lobbyists and we should not take it from taxpayers in the first place if we're just going to give it out to specialist interests. So again—

RW: Should there be even fewer incentives than -

JP: Yeah, absolutely. We look at getting rid of as many tax credits and tax expenditures as we can to reduce the tax rate in Colorado. Not all of them but as many as we can.

RW: Film incentives?

JP: You're talking nickels and dimes there. There's some big ticket items that are going to be hard discussions where we hope that we can save the taxpayers' money by reducing corporate welfare.

RW: Are you relieved about Amazon?

JP: No, look, I'm excited for all the challenges that the governorship entails. If figuring out how to integrate Amazon successfully in our community was one of them, I'd be up for it. And it's not so I don't have to worry about that. I have a hundred other things to worry about.

RW: Let's get back to our interview with Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Democrat he's passing the baton to, Jared Polis. One of the big stories in recent days: Amazon chose the location for its second headquarters, to be split between two cities—Long Island City, New York and Arlington, Virginia.

JP: John, do you have any advice on the personal front about how to successfully be a great governor and make sure you're a great father as well, and husband and how do you make sure that that side comes along and isn't a sacrifice?

JH: I guess at some point, you have to sit down with your scheduler, who can be a hard, hard boss in a funny way and you know this from the campaign you just been through. But you just got to carve off certain amounts of time and always looking for opportunities to take your kids, take the whole family. Marlon's - you're going to have opportunities to experience things as a family that are really unusual. You're going to get a chance to meet people at parades like the Brush 4th of July parade, couple of thousand people in a town that is only 2,000 people that live there. It's amazing. Five Points still does the Juneteenth parade. These things are a kick not just for yourself but for your whole family. The one thing you'll have to figure out and I'm sure you got your ground rules already but we certainly for Teddy, up until he was about 14, we never let—and the media in Denver has been amazing but if you for ask them not to put pictures in the paper and stuff like that, they've been very reasonable and that's something you guys have to work out on your own.

RW: I'm curious if the First Man, Marlon, if he plans to have a very public role which is sometimes had been true of previous First Ladies and what issue he might gravitate towards if so.

JP: I think like under John Hickenlooper, Robin and Helen, have not had a huge public profile, which is their choice, and that's just who they are. I think Marlon is actually very similar that way. He's passionate about certainly some issues and animal welfare, one that he cares near and dear about. He's a vegan. We have a nine-year old Terrier rescue and it's certainly talked about a lot in our home. But yeah, we have two great kids and a very great family life outside of—I don't think he'll be having his main identity as the First Gentleman.

RW: Governor, Governor-elect, thanks for your time.

JH: You bet.

JP: Thank you.