Election 2020 Hickenlooper Aurora (copy)

John Hickenlooper. Gazette file photo.

U.S. Senate primary candidate John Hickenlooper could be innocent. Yet, the former governor could not do more to appear guilty. A fair process will judge him, but he is running from that process.

Hickenlooper faces serious ethics complaints about accepting lavish travel internationally and domestically during his last year as governor, in violation of limitations on gifts to people in public office. The restrictions are intended to keep corporations and wealthy individuals from buying influence and outcomes by gifting politicians.

Among the travel in question was a trip aboard a private jet owned by Kimbal Musk of Boulder. He’s the brother of billionaire Tesla founder Elon Musk. Hickenlooper traveled to a Musk family celebration in Texas. A month later, he signed an executive order forcing Colorado auto dealers to sell electric cars, such as those produced by Elon Musk. It doesn’t look good, but we will assume innocence unless a fair process finds otherwise.

The ethics commission wants to question Hickenlooper in a quasi-judicial electronic hearing, which is standard practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hickenlooper refuses to participate.

The commission voted 5-0 Monday to subpoena Hickenlooper and force him to testify Thursday.

Hickenlooper, desperate to avoid facing the commission, doubled down Tuesday by announcing plans to file a motion in Denver District Court to quash the subpoena. To improve his odds, Hickenlooper brought in heavy-hitting Washington lawyer Marc Elias — former general counsel to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016.

Hickenlooper and his high-priced lawyers — one of them paid for with disaster recovery funds left over from the 9/11 attacks — want to delay answering the charges until they can do so in person. Maybe in August, they say, Hickenlooper can meet with the commission without risking the spread or contraction of COVID-19.

Hickenlooper claims a virtual hearing would deny him due process, claiming he could not be in the same room as his attorney.

“In response to questions, Elias said it would not be feasible for Mark Grueskin, who has been representing Hickenlooper on the complaint and is being paid by the state to do so, to be in the same room as the governor for a remote hearing,” explains an article in Colorado Politics, a sister publication of The Gazette.

Of course, it would be feasible. Hickenlooper, like any other healthy adult, can be in the same room as one other person. Average Coloradans have participated in teleconference hearings and meetings, and consultations with physicians, lawyers and accountants throughout the pandemic. Yet, somehow this won’t work for Hickenlooper.

The real reason for wanting to meet at a much later date seems quite obvious. Difficult questions and the potential for an adverse ruling by the commission could hurt his primary chances. Democrats might be hesitant to nominate a man damaged by ethics violations. He’d rather incur those risks after the primary and exploits the pandemic as an excuse.

Colorado has ethics laws to protect the purity of our political process. When suspicions arise about violations of those laws, we use due process to seek the truth. That’s why the commission wants to question John Hickenlooper. Given the candidate’s refusal to cooperate, Coloradans are left to wonder: What is Hickenlooper trying to hide?

The Gazette Editorial Board

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