As lawmakers under the golden domeof Colorado's capitol building debated overturning a lawlimiting high-capacity ammunition magazines earlier this month,Governor John Hickenlooper detailed the economic policies onwhich he's staking his re-election.
The 62-year-old Democrat is trying to move beyond divisivedebates over civil unions, legalized pot, fracking and guncontrol that led to a recall of two of his party's statesenators and a push by 11 counties to secede from Colorado.Hickenlooper wants to turn the discussion back to jobs.
More from Bloomberg.com: Venezuela President Calls Allies to Rival Opposition Protest
"We've done 20 town hall meetings up and down the easternplains and out on the west slope with a lot of businessinvolvement to say we want to reorient this boat," Hickenloopersaid in a wide-ranging interview. "What we're doing is working-- we were 40th in job creation and now we're fourth."
Hickenlooper won office in 2010 after running as a centristwith support from powerful Republican business leaders. As heseeks re-election, the former tavern owner is highlighting hiseconomic credentials to try to show the electorate, split amongDemocrats, Republicans and independents, that he hasn't strayedtoo far to the left.
More from Bloomberg.com: Swiss Fault Lines Exposed as Villagers See Risk to Postcard Life
He is one of 36 governors up for re-election in November,in a state where no incumbent has lost in almost four decades.Unlike Kansas, Wyoming, New Mexico and Nevada, where Republicangovernors are considered likely to win, Hickenlooper's prospectsaren't certain, according to recent polls. Both parties view theoutcome in Colorado as critical to the 2016 presidential race,as they duel to control a battleground state carried byPresident Barack Obama in 2012.Most Popular
Hickenlooper's reputation among voters suffered in the pasttwo years after debates over social issues cost him crossoversupport from some Republicans and independents. Hiscollaborative style boosted him into a tie with NebraskaGovernor Dave Heineman as the country's most popular governor inDecember 2011. Two years later, he had dropped to 30th out of 45governors, said Tom Jensen, director of the Raleigh, NorthCarolina-based Public Policy Polling.
More from Bloomberg.com: Kerry Burnishes Green Badge in Asia as Volcano Disrupts Trip
"Most governors in the west are pretty popular," Jensensaid. "Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii is the only one who has worsepoll numbers than Hickenlooper."Mass Shootings
Since Hickenlooper took office, Colorado -- site of two ofthe worst mass shootings in U.S. history -- moved from relaxingconcealed gun laws to passing the toughest firearms restrictionsin a decade, from outlawing gay marriage to approving civilunions, and from rejecting a ballot initiative legalizingpersonal marijuana use to approving pot's sale for recreationaluse in 2012.
The state's political future is at stake Nov. 4, withHickenlooper on the ballot along with all 65 members of theColorado House, about half of the state Senate, all sevenmembers of Congress and one of two U.S. senators. The statelegislature is currently controlled by Democrats.
"2013 was the toughest legislative session I've seen sinceI came here in 1982," said Tom Clark, chief executive officerof the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. "The businesscommunity felt there was a significant overreach on a number ofissues that combined to create a perception of Colorado that didnot show off our purple colors."
Hickenlooper's rise to power is legendary in Colorado.After losing his job as an oil-industry geologist in the late1980s, he checked out a book from the Denver Public Library onhow to write a business plan and opened the state's first brewpub, Wynkoop Brewing Co.Brewery Owner
The tavern helped revitalize Denver's lower downtown,followed by the opening of Coors Field in 1995, home to theColorado Rockies baseball team, and the renovation of abandonedwarehouses into trendy eateries, shops and loft apartments. Bythe late 1990s, Hickenlooper owned more than a dozen pubs andrestaurants nationwide.
He sold off his interest in most of them in the 2000s as heturned to politics. He won the Denver mayor's office in 2003with 65 percent of the vote.
Hickenlooper still enjoys support from some of the mostprominent business people in Colorado, including Liberty MediaCorp. (LMCA) President Greg Maffei, DaVita HealthCare Partners (DVA) CEO Kent Thiry, Ball Corp. (BLL) CEO John Hayes and tw telecom Chief ExecutiveLarissa Herda.
The governor, who eschews ties and wears a silver beltbuckle with the image of a donkey, hosts quarterly dinners toseek economic advice from these and other business leaders, manyof whom he's known since he founded the Wynkoop brewery.Republican Support
"John has a wellspring of support from a lot of guys whoare natural Republicans and who generally vote Republican on anational level," said Maffei, who raised money for RepublicanJohn McCain's presidential campaign in 2008 and for Hickenlooperin 2010.
The governor's re-election campaign reported $1.6 millionin contributions as of Jan. 15, more than the combined total ofabout $988,000 raised by six Republican contenders.
A Feb. 5 poll found Hickenlooper regained ground he lostafter signing gun-control legislation in March and acontroversial decision to delay the execution of death rowinmate Nathan Dunlap in May.
"He's got a comfortable lead on all Republicanchallengers," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of theHamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University PollingInstitute. "But people are completely split on whether hedeserves to be re-elected -- it's not a total green light."Second Term
The poll found that 45 percent of voters didn't feelHickenlooper deserved a second term. Although a majority ofthose polled oppose new firearm laws, they approved by 53percent to 37 percent how Hickenlooper is handling the economy.
"In this election, the economy will be the No. 1 issue,"said Tom Cronin, a political science professor at ColoradoCollege in Colorado Springs and co-author of "Colorado Politicsand Policy: Governing a Purple State."
"The economy is getting better in Colorado, unemploymentis coming down and housing starts are up, those are the broadindicators people digest in their gut," he said.
Hickenlooper's opponents say Colorado's economy isbenefiting from a nationwide recovery rather than his policies.‘Tax Burden'
"We have one of the worst unemployment rates in theregion, worse than Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakotaand South Dakota," said Colorado Secretary of State ScottGessler, a Republican candidate for governor. "When you look atthe regulatory and tax burden, Colorado doesn't do well and hasslipped over time."
Hickenlooper's administration reviewed almost 11,000 staterules and eliminated or modified some of them to "take thefriction out of business," the governor said in his wood-paneled office as his dog, Skye, scratched at the door.
A series of calamities over the past two years forced thegovernor to turn away from economic initiatives. These includedfatal wildfires that burned hundreds of homes, a shooting duringa midnight movie that left 12 dead and 70 injured, the murder ofhis prisons chief and a 100-year flood.
Business leaders say his quick response to these disasters-- he was aboard a helicopter that rescued residents from risingwaters shortly after hip surgery -- brought him nationalvisibility and expanded his network of allies.Build Relationships
"His leadership around these tragedies, whether shootings,floods or fires, helped him build relationships that are helpingto drive the economy," said Bruce Alexander, president ofDenver-based Vectra Bank. (ZION) Alexander, who met Hickenlooper whenhe was a restaurant owner, credits the governor with helping himjump-start the flow of capital to his small business customersafter the recession.
Other executives say the governor's affable manner, abilityto negotiate deals between competing interests, and passion forselling the state persuaded them to locate their firms, andhundreds of jobs, at the base of the Rocky Mountains.
"He's a force of nature when it comes to recruitingcompanies and extolling the virtues of this city and state,"said Thiry, who decided to move DaVita to Denver in 2009 aftermeeting with Hickenlooper, who was then mayor. "What wassupposed to be a half hour meeting grew to 90 minutes or more."Gun-Control Laws
The governor's challengers said that by signing toughergun-control laws, including requirements for background checkson all firearms purchases, Hickenlooper prompted companies toleave.
"He's run business out of the state of Colorado,specifically Magpul and their associated vendors," said stateSenator Greg Brophy, a Republican from Wray who is running forgovernor.
Erie, Colorado-based Magpul Industries, a closely heldfirearms accessories manufacturer, said last year it would moveif the legislature enacted a law limiting magazines to 15rounds. The law passed, and on Jan. 2, the company announcedthat it's relocating to Wyoming and Texas.
Some small business owners are unhappy with Hickenlooper'srecord, said Tony Gagliardi, the Colorado director for theNational Federation of Independent Business. A 2013 law thatrequires rural electric providers to double the amount of powerthey receive from renewable sources by 2020 will raise costs forhis members, he said.Magazine Legislation
Several bills that would have modified the renewable energymandate died in committee last month. A measure to repeal limitson high-capacity magazines met a similar fate on Feb. 10.
"The Democrats on this committee killed a bill that hadbipartisan support in the legislature and majority support inthe state senate," said Chris Holbert, a Republican from Parkerwho co-sponsored the bill.
Hickenlooper said in the gun debate he didn't "really pushboth sides, both Republicans and Democrats, to bettercompromises, finding a middle ground."
The governor said he wants to move on and continue his workto promote Colorado as a place for entrepreneurs.
"The Kauffman Foundation last year did an analysis ofstartups per capita and they looked at the best start upcommunities in America and four of the top 10 were inColorado," he said. "I think that's partly tied into all thedifferent things we've been doing to make this a pro-businessstate."
To contact the reporter on this story:Jennifer Oldham in Denver at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story:Stephen Merelman at email@example.com
- FX Traders Facing Extinction as Computers Replace Humans
- Invading Switzerland? Try Before 8 or After 5
- Samsung's New Galaxy Is Said to Feature Bigger, Sharper Display
- Politics & Government
- John Hickenlooper