Four steps Hickenlooper can take to salvage his administration
John Hickenlooper has created quite the predicament for himself. Not long ago the guy who could do no wrong, this year the governor has learned that the old sports truism, “you’re only as good as your last game,” also applies to politicians and years.
Invincible and Teflon are terms that no longer apply.
Scoff as the pundits frequently do, a couple of the GOP candidates have the horsepower to ride a combination of Hickenlooper’s weakness, a 2014 Republican tailwind and a multimillion dollar campaign expenditure from a group like the Republican Governor’s Association all the way to the governor’s mansion. Want proof? A new poll out this week shows state Sen. Greg Brophy is in an effective tie with Hickenlooper.
Theories abound as to why Hick put himself into this hole.
Some say he wants to run for president and spent the last 24-7, 365 trying to shore up his liberal bona fides. Others say he has lived a charmed political life and simply managed to avoid tough decisions up until now.
Now confronted with them, the theory goes, Hickenlooper turns out to be not so good at governing. Still others suggest he’s just acting on his conscience and that beneath that open-collared shirt beats the heart of a liberal.
Whatever the explanation, what is clear is that Hickenlooper is in trouble and it is his own fault.
The good news for the governor is that volatility is the term that best describes the new normal in Colorado. What goes up and down surely must go up and down about a dozen more times.
Where there’s a will to clean up this mess, there is a way. Here’s how Hickenlooper could start.
✓ Fix something. Rather than seeding the agenda to liberal legislators like last year, Hick should claim the mantle of leadership himself and return to the center.
Reform Medicaid, the behemoth entitlement making a mess of the budget. Eliminate a department or two and reinvest the money in infrastructure.
Pull the state treasurer and the PERA board into your office and collaboratively build on recent reforms that improve the solvency of the state pension fund.
In other words, make this legislative session about something big and positive and claim the mantle of leadership yourself.
✓ Veto, veto, veto. Most of the really ridiculous bills that became law last year didn’t originate with Hickenlooper, but he owns each every one based on his bizarre unwillingness to veto a single measure.
When you’re governor, the buck stops with you. This year Hick should do some serious buck-stopping. Veto Democrat bills, Republican bills, T-bills, Buffalo Bills — all of it — if for no other reason than to be in charge. A sort of chaos pervades the state capitol these days. A couple dozen vetoes this year would start to change that.
✓ Get out of the business of being judge and jury. No move by Hick offended the centrist sensibilities of Colorado voters more thoroughly than did Hick’s decision to grant a stay on the impending execution of mass murderer Nathan Dunlap. Hick can start to heal some of the damage he’s caused by promising it won’t happen again.
Specifically, he should promise not to grant a permanent pardon to Dunlap. (As it stands now, Dunlap’s execution is only stayed; a future governor could overturn it or Hick could permanently commute it.)
Hick should also pledge to stay out of the James Holmes saga altogether. If a jury gives Holmes death, Hick should commit to allowing that verdict to stand. In other words, Hick should promise to start playing the role of governor a little more and king a whole lot less.
✓ Eat a little crow. When congressional Republicans were swept into power in 1994 on the wings of a Bill Clinton health care overreach, Clinton wasted no time copping to the overreach and promising it wouldn’t happen again. It was a slick move by Slick Willy, one that paved the way for future successes.
The governor would do well to show a little contrition himself — on the death penalty debacle and a range of other issues — and commit to revisiting some of the policy missteps.
As challenging as the last year has been for Hickenlooper, the next year will be tougher. Twelve months ago a Hick defeat in 2014 was almost unthinkable. Without a serious course correction in the year ahead, it is anything but.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He graduated from Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.