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EDITORIAL: Governor fails on pot; scores on education and economy

By: The Gazette editorial board
January 12, 2018 Updated: January 12, 2018 at 7:48 am
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Term-limited Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, back, is greeted by a lawmakers after he delivered his final State of the State address to a joint assembly Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, in the State Capitol in Denver. Hickenlooper encouraged lawmakers to take steps to improve the state's crumbling roadways and to commit to education efforts to prepare the populous for jobs in the ever-changing economy. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Gov. John Hickenlooper isn't going to phone it in during his last 364 days in office, as evidenced by a home run State of the State speech delivered to a joint session of the General Assembly on Thursday.

Hickenlooper highlighted multiple cultural and economic indicators that make Colorado the envy of the rest of the country, and he can take credit for a crucial role in much of our recent success.

History won't remember details of 2018's roaring economy and may leave Hickenlooper with a twofold legacy that future generations will applaud and bemoan.

Education = applause.

Marijuana = boos, regret and a cautionary tale.

"We were the first state to legalize recreational marijuana while creating a road map for other states," Hickenlooper said. "By the way - we're not wild about Washington telling us what's best for us. We expect the federal government will respect the will of Colorado voters."

Hickenlooper has failed to warn the world about the failures of Colorado's recreational drug "road map," which other states plan to avoid after studying the data.

An investigation by The Denver Post found traffic fatalities linked to pot "are up sharply" since legalization began in 2013, with drivers testing "at levels that indicated use within a few hours" of crashes.

Another investigation by the Post found school resource officers report significant increases in teenage marijuana use that correlates with legalization. Teachers and drug counselors tell The Gazette of sharp increases in use of pot and other drugs among teens that began with legalization.

As the toll of big marijuana matures and grows, Hickenlooper will be on record defending legalization as a success others replicated after hearing his advice.

On the bright side, Hickenlooper should be credited as a driving force behind an educational revolution that stands to bolster Colorado's longstanding stature as a hub of innovation and economic development.

The governor reiterated his vision of a K-12 school system that prepares children for practical careers the economy has a difficult time filling. We don't need more waiters with advanced degrees in art therapy and community organizing, while aerospace, cybersecurity and other emerging industries struggle to find qualified technicians and analysts.

"To create the kind of workforce that will keep our state at the forefront of the new economy, we need to go beyond the funding issue - we need to rethink and retool our approach," Hickenlooper said. "We need to transition from a degree-based education system to one that also includes skill-based training."

The National Federation of Independent Business was quick to applaud Hickenlooper's leadership after the speech.

"His desire to move our education system from degree-based training to skills-based training is worthy of real consideration since there are already jobs for those who know how to weld or operate a milling machine, but finding qualified applicants is a big problem," said a statement by Tony Gagliardi, the federation's Colorado state director.

With Hickenlooper, it is not just talk. He has worked with the Colorado State Board of Education to increase computer coding curriculum in middle and high schools. He plays a key role in an "apprenticeship renaissance" that brings public schools into private partnerships with businesses.

He has supported and encouraged new apprenticeship programs at 31 schools in four districts, partnering with 40 businesses.

Mostly, Hickenlooper has brilliantly redirected the harmful mindset that views the college degree as exclusive passage to a superior social stratum.

Hickenlooper concluded his final State of the State by declaring his remaining days a potential "eternity for compromise" toward positive outcomes.

With slightly less than a year left in office for Hickenlooper, 2018 could disproportionately shape the governor's legacy. He has time to warn against big commercial pot, leaving history to focus more on his role in economic development and an educational shift other states followed.

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