Hickenlooper wows Dems, GOP with businessman approach

January 13, 2011
photo - Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is greeted by House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, as he arrives in the House Chambers for his first State of the State address at the Capitol in Denver on Thursday. Photo by ED ANDRIESKI/Associate Press
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is greeted by House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, as he arrives in the House Chambers for his first State of the State address at the Capitol in Denver on Thursday. Photo by ED ANDRIESKI/Associate Press 

DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper has a personal connection to Colorado Springs — he rebuilt the old Cheyenne Hotel downtown, and in the early 1990’s converted it into the Phantom Canyon brewery. The bar is  a favorite watering hole for Springs residents.

He opened his State of the State speech on Thursday with the tale of how he did it, as an analogy for how Colorado can pull itself out of the recession.

At first, Hickenlooper said, he didn’t think he’d succeed. With the help of Springs developer Chuck Murphy, who Hickenlooper called a “legend,” he put together a team of investors to make the brewery a reality.

“From then on, everything was different,” he said. “The stakes are a lot bigger now, but I’m here today to ask you to become our partners in transforming our Colorado.”

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said Hickenlooper’s reminiscence was a perfect opening.

“That’s a great story, and it speaks to a philosophy about everyone having a stake in the system,” said Gardner. “What was striking about it was that it wasn’t a bipartisan speech — it was a nonpartisan speech.”

In his second day on the job, Hickenlooper has a set of 100 flash cards, with the names, pictures and committee assignments of every legislator.

But his first State of the State made it evident that he’s eager to get going.

The governor addressed a multitude of issues Thursday. He wants to create a long-term budget solution, instead of just crunching numbers year to year. He wants legislative staff to examine the possible effects of bills on the business community, instead of only counting the cost to the state. He wants to slash the size of state bureaucracies and maximize the government’s efficiency.

Above all, he wants to create jobs.

On Thursday morning he said the way to do that is to cut regulations on businesses and find ways to support small businesses.

“Sustainable jobs are created by the private sector,” Hickenlooper said. “We need to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that is alive in Colorado.”

That was his major theme, and it resonated with Republicans as strongly as it did with Democrats.

Attorney General John Suthers, who lives in Colorado Springs, commented, “One would be hard-pressed to figure out it was a Democrat up there.”

Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, was equally enthusiastic.

“The governor is basically singing a song that’s one of the CD’s in our collection,” said Cadman. “Reducing regulatory burdens on businesses, promoting private sector employment, building employment through those mechanisms… It sounds like we’ve got someone here who will work with us.”

Springs Democrats Pete Lee and John Morse were delighted with Hickenlooper’s approach. Lee said the governor “hit all the right notes,” and Morse said Republicans can believe in Hickenlooper precisely because of his business background.

“This approach is something that people are dying to really do and not just talk about,” Morse said of how Hickenlooper wants to bolster businesses. “And they know that he’s done it, and that’s the difference.”

The governor reiterated after his speech that he thinks a key component of Colorado’s economic recovery involves the military. He said he’s had conversations with Mike Kazmierski, the CEO of the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corporation, about how it could advise counties around the state on how to win military contracts.

“Their response was enthusiastic. They said, ‘Of course we’d like to help the rest of the state.’ It’s just something that we’ve never tried to organize before,” Hickenlooper said.

He added that there are myriad ways to make Colorado more military-friendly. Off the top of his head, he suggested giving service men and women free hunting licenses.

The governor also pointed out that Fort Carson has the highest re-enlistment rate of any Army base in the nation.

“Every person in every county in this state should be aware of that. They can use that as an indication of why Colorado is a good place for military investments,” Hickenlooper said.

Near the end of his speech, Hickenlooper got his first — and only — standing ovation from the 100 lawmakers who had crowded into the House of Representatives to listen.

“A lot of people don’t think the state can operate in a nonpartisan way for the benefit of Colorado,” he said, pausing before he added: “We don’t agree.”

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