Private Jet

Then-Gov. John Hickenlooper flew in a Bombardier Challenger 300, similar to this, owned by the brother of battery-car magnate Elon Musk. Two months later Hickenlooper signed an executive order for a battery car mandate in Colorado. (Photo Wikipedia Commons)

While routinely riding in luxurious private jets, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper had less-glamorous plans for people on the ground. They should travel in battery cars to save the planet.

The jet-set governor mandated his vision with an executive order directing the state to adopt California’s electric-car standards.

Hickenlooper’s order came two months after traveling in a plush $27 million private jet belonging to Boulder multimillionaire chain-restauranteur Kimbal Musk. He is the brother of multibillionaire battery-car magnate Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Automotive.

Hickenlooper traveled from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield to Dallas in a Bombardier Challenger 300. The plane consumes nearly 2,000 pounds of fossil fuel each hour to move a maximum of eight or nine passengers. In Dallas, Hickenlooper joined a celebration of Kimbal Musk’s recent wedding to Christiana Wyly in Spain.

“Elon Musk is the founder of Tesla Automotive, which sells electric vehicles in Colorado,” says a complaint cited in a report issued Thursday by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.

“Elon Musk significantly benefited from respondent’s (Hickenlooper’s) Low Emission Vehicle Executive Order which required a higher number of electric vehicles to be sold in Colorado under a state standard that significantly benefits Tesla.”

The report cites testimony from Kimbal Musk confirming he invited Hickenlooper to travel on his plane.

Hickenlooper’s ensuing battery car order led to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission demanding at least 5% of new cars sold in Colorado meet “zero-emission” standards beginning in 2023.

Hickenlooper’s ties to the Musk family could be a coincidence with no nexus to his awkward embrace of California’s battery mandate. Or maybe not. Either way, the optics are disturbing. Colorado residents and car dealers — forced to buy and sell battery cars because of Hickenlooper — need to know more as the former governor runs for the U.S. Senate.

The ethics commission passes no judgment, merely detailing complaints it could not dismiss without additional investigation.

If nothing else, the report proves Hickenlooper’s private-jet life does not begin and end with the Musk family’s wedding celebration. Other 2018 trips under an ethics investigation include:

• Private jet travel to Connecticut on an aircraft owned by MDC Holdings, a Colorado-based company owned by Larry Mizel. Hickenlooper flew for the commissioning of the USS Colorado. Hickenlooper told the commission he tried to reimburse MDC, but the company refused.

• Private jet travel from Washington, D.C., to Jackson, Wyo., for a political conference. Smashburger co-founder Pat Meyers, who served as Hickenlooper’s chief of staff, leased the jet. Hickenlooper told the commission he offered Meyers reimbursement but Meyers refused.

• Private jet travel from New York to Colorado on an aircraft owned by Denver billionaire and TeleTech founder Kenneth Tuchman. Hickenlooper told the commission Tuchman is a personal friend.

• Private jet travel from The Meridian Executive Terminal at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to Colorado.

Hickenlooper’s repeated claims that he “tried” to reimburse do not help. The law does not forbid gifts unless the recipient “tries” to pay for them. Hickenlooper knows the law. He should have negotiated terms before taking off. If these benefactors would not take reimbursements, he should have obeyed the law and refused to board the flight.

We have these laws for good reason. They protect us against people of means buying outcomes from people in public office. They protect us from industrialists who might schmooze new mandates, with arms-length gifts, that force his products into the market. If we must buy battery cars, we deserve assurance the motive is pure.

Attorney and former Colorado Speaker of the House Frank McNulty filed the ethics complaints in October 2018. He believes evidence creates an “open and shut” case of illegal behavior by Hickenlooper. We will wait and see what the commission determines.

The commission owes Colorado a thorough, fair, objective, apolitical investigation of the private-jet gift complaints. The public needs to know if a potential senator flouts ethics rules others have to live by.

Meanwhile, Hickenlooper should listen to Kermit the Frog. It isn’t easy being green. He should study environmental activist Greta Thunberg, of the “OK, Boomer” generation. At age 16, she avoids the appearance of hypocrisy by traveling the world on a solar-paneled boat and other vehicles that reduce carbon emissions.

As a politician with ambition, Hickenlooper should consider the poor judgment of imposing “zero-emission” battery cars on average Coloradans — while looking down from fossil-fueled luxury jets provided for free.

The Gazette Editorial Board

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