Hickenlooper’s indecisiveness may help Republicans

The “Loop” was loose in Mesa County last weekend, as Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper visited Western Colorado’s Club 20, an economic and policy organization for the 20 counties on the Western Slope. It always seems to me the former mayor of Denver is a little unsure on how to connect with Mesa County voters, who were not particularly supportive of him during the last election.

Part of the problem probably arises from the way he reached the governor’s office. It was almost by default due to self-destruction by Republican candidates. Because of this, it wasn’t necessary to really test his policy positions and he didn’t receive much examination. It was so much more fun to study the other, imploding candidates.

When the primaries were over and the wheels really came off on the Republican side, there was little serious testing of the mayor to see if he really had leadership ability in general and, specifically, skills in pulling together parts of the state that were uncooperative in his election.

What seems clear is that this is a politician who functions best in urban situations and wants to be liked. Unfortunately for him, he hasn’t managed to convey a warm and fuzzy feeling about conservative rural voters.

Those with far-reaching memories may recall late 2009, when Hickenlooper was discussing the tragic murder of gay teen Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. He remarked that Wyoming and rural parts of Colorado shared much of the same “backwards thinking.” While his musings were discussed in national publications, many in the state said little, and with no effective campaign apparatus on the other side, he was never really confronted with the issues in a way that would be done in a normal campaign season.

But it’s not just we here on the Western Slope who have questions about this new governor. Even some among the Democrat glitterati are disenchanted with his ambiguous stances on their projects and positions. Former Gov. Bill Ritter reached a point in his tenure where his support for almost anything did more harm than good, and Democratic leaders hoped a new face on their old positions would help sell them to an increasingly restive electorate. Instead, the new governor has ridden the fence so hard and often it might become painful.

Consider his “position” on efforts to change Colorado’s Constitution, which he told Denver’s 9 News in February was a “huge issue.” However, he said he was not ready to take a position because it might “color the conversation” and people shouldn’t be trying to decide if they are “against the governor … or for the governor.” He also took no stance on whether he’d support a Democratic plan for tax hikes to cover state budget gaps.

This is not exactly the kind of executive moxie Democrats were seeking.

This is not surprising however, if you look at his history as Denver mayor, where his management style for problems was to avoid them or direct the decision-making to someone else. For example, in August 2010, the Denver Police Department was under fire for a controversial video of an officer making a forcible arrest. Hickenlooper wanted to bring in the FBI to look into the case because the city’s Office of the Independent Monitor and the Denver police chief disagreed on the conduct.

At that point, the mayor should be the final decision-maker. Instead, Hickenlooper wanted to call in another agency, and a federal one at that, to make the call. This kind of process is in line with the mayor’s handling of the apparently racially motivated attacks on LoDo patrons in late 2009. Hickenlooper gave a conflicting series of statements concerning when he learned of the attacks and their motives, most seeming to try and explain a lack of action from his office.

This role of non-decider, while vexing to Democrats, is helpful to Republicans who narrowly control the House and face a Democrat majority in the Senate. Given the left’s agenda, his management style might be as good for conservative voters as you could hope for from a Democratic governor.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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