Sen. John Hickenlooper should consider the example of a great Colorado statesman, the former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Like Campbell, Hickenlooper could change his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.
By changing parties, Hickenlooper would join 21 other senators who changed their party affiliations since 1890. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, a veteran Republican, became a Democrat in 2009 after finding himself at odds with much of the Republican agenda.
Veteran Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman left his party in 2006 to become an independent and in 2008 endorsed then-Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain for president.
Campbell, the first Native American to serve in the Senate, defected to the Republican Party after his fellow Democrats defeated a bill supporting a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget. Three years later, in 1998, he easily won reelection as a Republican.
Hickenlooper, labeled “The Man in the Middle” by Governing magazine, has long been at odds with the base of his party on a few key issues:
• A former employee of the oil and gas industry, Hickenlooper has defended fracking. He persuaded fellow Democrat and then-Rep. Jared Polis, who later became Colorado governor, to back off spearheading a ballot measure written to impose regulations on oil and gas production.
• Hickenlooper caused a crowd of Democrats to boo him during his presidential run in 2019 for saying “socialism is not the answer” for beating then-President Donald Trump. Hickenlooper’s presidential aspirations never gained traction because he appeared too moderate for a party moving swiftly to the left.
• Hickenlooper wrote a 2019 guest column for The Washington Post headlined “The Green New Deal sets us up for failure.”
• Hickenlooper on CNN questioned the value of gun control two days after the Aurora theater shooting in 2012.
• Hickenlooper opposed a ballot measure that would have imposed single-payer health insurance in Colorado.
• “I guess I’m a centrist? A moderate? You know, all those words … I like politics, but I’m kind of apartisan,” Hickenlooper said in 2014.
The latest test of Hickenlooper’s loyalty to the increasingly leftward tilt of his party came last week. He voted with Republicans — gasp! — on a nonbinding amendment to prevent immigrants here illegally from receiving pandemic checks.
The vote was a perfectly reasonable statement. The federal government, mired in debt, has limited ability to help with direct cash assistance. Every dollar given to an immigrant here illegally comes at the expense of an immigrant residing here legally or an American citizen.
We don’t need another financial incentive for foreigners to come to this country in violation of the law. With his vote, Hickenlooper said American’s come first when it comes to spending their tax dollars.
Hickenlooper’s symbolic defense of legal residents and citizens angered leaders in his party so seriously they want an official censure.
Colorado’s three Democratic National Committee members — Joe Salazar, Jeri Shepherd and Radhika Nath — sent a letter to state Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll demanding a censure of Hickenlooper’s “support of a hateful, xenophobic, and racist amendment offered by Republican Senators.”
For the record, Hickenlooper is far from the Republican Party’s vision of a reliable moderate. As governor, he went from marijuana skeptic to full-fledged supporter of Big Marijuana. He supported a proposed billion-dollar tax increase voters rejected. He aggressively supported then-President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, an ultralight version of The Green New Deal. He remains steadfastly in favor of abortion rights, as Campbell did after becoming a Republican.
Also for the record, the fractured Republican Party is fraught with big problems. It falls short of providing an ideal home for Hickenlooper and so many others who seem relatively moderate by today’s extreme standards. Nevertheless, it is not the party that yells “censure” the moment a senator advocates fiscal responsibility to U.S. taxpayers.
Regardless of his party loyalty, Colorado needs Hickenlooper to defend oil and gas production. It needs him to stand up for rural interests, which are under attack in Colorado and the rest of the country. It needs him to serve as a strong advocate of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and free-market economics. It needs him to resoundingly reject his party’s demands for socialism, especially when the agenda is cloaked in “green” concerns for the environment.
Hickenlooper should consider the path of former Sen. Campbell, a respected Colorado icon who changed teams but never abandoned his principles. He should consider joining the other team and parting with a party that won’t let him vote his conscience.
The Gazette Editorial Board