2020 candidate John Hickenlooper

Jun 7, 2019  | 27 min  | Ep 4639 | Podcast | Transcript


Running for president in a field of 20 candidates represents significant challenges, even for a former Mayor turned two-term Governor of Colorado. We sit down with democratic presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper on this edition of Iowa Press.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.     


For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, June 7 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.

Yepsen: There's no specific career blueprint to the presidency. But today's guest hopes it looks like this -- a geologist turned businessman developing brewpubs becomes Mayor of Denver and eventually a two-term democratic Governor of Colorado. Presidential candidate John Hickenlooper has previously served as Chair of the National Governor's Association and has spent much of this past few months campaigning for the democratic presidential nomination. Former Governor Hickenlooper joins us today on Iowa Press. Governor, welcome to Iowa Press. It's good to have you with us.

Hickenlooper: Thank you, David. It's a delight to be here.

Yepsen: Across the table, Erin Murphy, Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises and Kay Henderson is News Director at Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Governor, with so many candidates in the race, how does someone such as yourself with so little name recognition in Iowa find a path?

Hickenlooper: Well, thank you, and I appreciate being here. I'm running for President because I think this country is facing a crisis of division and I think it is being fueled by Donald Trump and it is taking the country backwards. But I don't think socialism is the answer, these large expansions of government. In Colorado we were able to bring together republicans and democrats and business and non-profits. We created the almost universal health care coverage. We became for the last three years the number one economy in America. We beat the NRA with tough new gun laws. Always by bringing people together. And I would argue that I'm perhaps the one person running who has actually done what most everybody else has just talked about. And I've got to get that message out. But I do think maybe it's time to take the nonsense in Washington and replace it with some common sense.

Henderson: There are those who argue that you might better serve your party by running for the U.S. Senate seat in Colorado. Why aren't you doing that?

Hickenlooper: Well, I spent my whole life, my adult life, at least since I've been a geologist, both as an entrepreneur and going into an abandoned warehouse district in Denver and turning it into one of the most ambitious urban revitalizations and most successful in the country, then as Mayor of Denver for two terms and Time Magazine called me one of the top five big city mayors, I did the same thing, put a team together, did what people said couldn't be done. When I ran for Governor I became the first Denver Mayor in 120 years to be elected Governor of Colorado and it was because I brought together the suburban mayors and the city of Denver that had been at odds for literally more than a century and building teams, bringing people together and doing the big progressive things that people said couldn't be done is what, it's what gives me energy and it's what wakes me up every morning and I jump out of bed and I can't wait to get to work.

Henderson: And you can't do that as a U.S. Senator?

Hickenlooper: No, I think a U.S. Senator is a much more deliberative process where you're trying to parse the language and make sure that the right bill is the right bill and the wrong bill is the wrong bill. You're trying to, again it is a collaborative process, but it's not the same as building a team and actually setting out to address some of the biggest challenges there are and actually doing it, actually operating an enterprise and proving that your ideas are actually successful when you implement them. I think that's what I bring to the presidential office or the presidential campaign is that history of I am the one person who has done what everyone else is talking about.

Murphy: Governor, you mentioned the warning you have given against democrats running on socialism. You mentioned that recently to California democrats too at an event there and the response was tepid, I think it's fair to say, there were some boos in the crowd. I'm guessing, I'm wondering did you expect that response? And could you expand on that? Why do you think democrats should be wary about running on socialism?

Hickenlooper: Well, I hold myself out as a pragmatic progressive and pragmatic doesn't mean that you don't take on big challenges, it means you figure out how to get them done. And I think if we're going to deal with climate change we've got to be laser focused. The Green New Deal, I admire, I embrace the sense of urgency, but I don't think you're ever going to get it out of Congress if part of that urgency includes a guarantee for a public job for every person in America. When you look at universal health care, we almost got to universal health care in Colorado, I think we need a public option, but to think that we're going to get to universal health care with Medicare for all, to in a space of 12 or 18 months actually expect 160 million Americans to give up their private insurance, and most polls show that two-thirds of them don't want to give up that insurance, again, that's not going to succeed in this country. I think we've got to be focused on actually, and maybe this is my history of actually having gotten stuff done, but we've got to be focused on what is going to work and stay very, very clear that A, B, C, D, here's how we're going to get to universal coverage, here's how we're going to address climate change, go down the list.

Murphy: Did that reaction say something to you about where your party is right now on some of those issues and that maybe there's just a really strong appetite for those kinds of programs that you just said may not be realistic?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think the Democratic Party has always been a big tent and I love that about it, that it's got people that are wildly ambitious and want to do something completely new, start from scratch, build from scratch. History generally demonstrates that's not the best way to create success, it's not the pathway to the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Certainly when people booed it's a little startling. But I think, and I sat there frozen for a moment, but then I think I was right, that we run the risk as democrats that we could end up helping to re-elect the worst President in American history. I think he is, it's a high probability that he's going to go down as one of the worst Presidents we've ever had, and we could end up re-electing him.

Murphy: Does it get to the old primary versus general election campaign message? It sounds like what you're delivering is more of a general election pitch. Can you get to the general election though? Can you win a primary, a democratic primary, with that kind of a message?

Hickenlooper: I'm an entrepreneur, I'm a small business person. What that is, is a Hickenlooper pitch. And when I was trying to raise money for brewpubs or to renovate historical warehouse buildings I gave the same information to everybody. And when I ran for Mayor, what you see is what you get. Here's where I came from, my original rent in lower downtown was $1 a square foot per year, here's what we built, here's the success. I think I can do a good job bringing those entrepreneurial approaches into local government into city government. And the same thing when I ran for Governor. Everyone said, well, just because you did well in the city that's not going to apply. Well it absolutely does apply. And I think, again, it may be not a question of primary approach versus general election, maybe it's just an authentic approach of here's who I am and here's what I want to do.

Yepsen: Governor, we've got lots of issues to go through with you. I want to ask you, your state has had, tragically, a lot of experience with gun violence. What lessons do you learn? What should the country take from that? What do you do as President?

Hickenlooper: Well, certainly, and this obviously orange tie today is a day in terms of gun violence remembrance. I will never forget going to the mobile command center in Aurora July 21st of 2012 and seeing the first footage of that crime scene, the most sobering images I'll ever see. And we came out of that and we tried to negotiate with the NRA and we couldn't. We wanted to get universal background checks and we wanted to limit the capacity of magazines for semiautomatic weapons. And in the end they wouldn't compromise so we just did it, we pushed it through and we knew it was going to be a battle. And two democratic state senators were recalled because of that effort. But sometimes you just don't back down. And I think that right now, when we went and got the local data from Colorado getting to just half the gun purchases and we found that over 3,000 violent criminals had tried to buy a gun and we stopped them, including 38 people convicted of homicide. This is just in Colorado. Imagine that the other half of the gun purchases went through. So that means 38 people convicted of homicide got to buy a gun, 3,000 violent criminals got to buy a gun. It just makes sense. And I think we've got to go further than that. I think when you take those statistics and show each state that this is in your community, the people that are getting access to not just handguns but all kinds of guns, assault weapons, we've got to go further. And I think just as in this country if a person wants to learn how to drive and get a driver's license they have to pass a test. And I think when a young person wants to purchase a gun they should have to take a class or two, they should have to demonstrate that they know how to operate and safely store firearms before they get a license to buy firearms.

Yepsen: Governor, we've got way too many questions. Kay?

Henderson: Governor, your party is currently having a debate among the presidential candidates about public funding of abortions and what is called the Hyde Amendment. What is your view on that?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think the Hyde Amendment unfairly restricts poor, low income women's access to women's reproductive rights and women's health. In Colorado we took the opposite attack. We expanded access across the state originally with five years of philanthropic grants. But we, over the last eight years, have reduced teenage abortions by 64%, we've reduced teenage pregnancy by 54% and in the process we saved the taxpayers of Colorado $70 million.

Murphy: Governor, the trade issue continues to impact Iowa farmers here. Most of the democratic candidates have said that they disagree with the administration, the Trump administration's approach to applying tariffs and escalating trade war. But at the same time, Iowa farmers talk about China as a bad faith trading partner at times over the years, there's the issue of intellectual property theft. If the tariffs aren't the way to improve these trade deals or make for better trading partners what is the path to that?

Hickenlooper: Well, the tariff wars are I think a terrible mistake and farmers and ranchers across this country are paying the cost. I view it as the Trump tax. It's basically the equivalent of charging every household in this country about $1,200 a year. But the burden is unfairly placed on ranchers and farmers more than anyone else, not that they're the only ones who suffer, but they're telling me now that a soybean farmer in Iowa would require eight consecutive good years just to get back to where they were two years ago. Tariffs, I've talked to a couple of the, the Economics Chair at the University of Chicago, is there ever any historic example of a tariff war in the end benefiting either party? And no one has been able to give me an example. And I think the bottom line is that there have got to be obviously other ways. You can't allow China to steal intellectual property, you can't allow them to cheat on international agreements, but you've got to go through negotiations and no matter how difficult and frustrating those negotiations are a tariff war has never been, historically never been the answer.

Yepsen: Yet, Governor, rural America, farmers, ranchers, they all voted for Trump. And polling indicates they still like the job he's doing. Is this the price they pay? You keep voting for Trump you're going to keep getting tariffs. Is this the price farmers are going to pay?

Hickenlooper: Well, it certainly seems to be. And I think that, again, I recognize that so many people in rural America feel that Trump is the first person who has stood up for them and told their story, recognized how difficult their lives were. But, you know, when I ran for Governor in 2010 one of the ways I became the first Denver Mayor in 120 years to get elected Governor of Colorado was I went to bat for the rural farmers and ranchers in Colorado and I said, we're going to turn this economy around. We were 40th in job creation in 2010. I said, we're going to become the number one state, which we had been the last three years. But we wouldn't leave rural areas behind. So we'll be the first state, by the end of 2020 we'll have broadband in every city and town in the state of Colorado, we're already in every county. We put in something we called Rural Jumpstart, which I think we could expand across the country, that provides a tax incentive for entrepreneurs or small businesses to locate an office or start a business in a rural part of the state. And it has been, it's not expensive because we've only created about 800 or 1,000 jobs. But if you're in a town with a couple of thousand people and all of a sudden there's a new business with 25 or 30 new jobs it makes a difference on how you think about your future. And I think that is what attracted so many people to support Trump was he promised them a vision of a better future. I think as they see that that better vision, that better future is not coming to pass, if we can go out and show them here's job training, here's how expanding community colleges and providing skills training is going ot really improve the prospects for people not just in the cities but across our rural areas, we'll see how long they stay with supporting Trump.

Henderson: As we cover the presidential candidates out here meeting with Iowans they're always asked about climate change. What is your view in how best the government should address this issue?

Hickenlooper: Well, I think we have to have a fierce sense of urgency. We're within 10 or 12 years of irreversible results. I have that, I think I'm the only geologist ever getting elected Governor of a state in the United States. I know I'm the first brewer since Sam Adams in 1792 to become elected Governor. But that awareness of the science around climate change is very powerful. And I think we have to look at those things where we know we have open markets to help us, let's get rid of the coal fired electrical generation and use the wind that Iowa is so famous for. How do we get to make sure that we retrofit our buildings to be more energy conservative.

Henderson: What about a carbon tax?

Hickenlooper: I think a carbon tax or a cap and trade, something that puts a value on carbon is really going to allow us to accelerate addressing climate change. I think it's important also when we talk about our relationship with China that however embattled we may become these tariffs wars divide us so deeply part of what we've got to do in the United States, and we've got to be laser focused and have a fierce sense of urgency, as I said, but we've also got to recognize we have to bring the rest of the country along as well and that we are creating the best practices and hopefully inspiring them and we need relationships with China, with India, with everyone because this is a planet for all of us and we won't get a second one.

Henderson: There is currently a fight between the Trump administration and the state of California about mileage standards for new cars. How would you resolve that?

Hickenlooper: I think that's, that is the fundamental nonsense of government. When I say I'd like to replace the nonsense in Washington with some common sense, this isn't going to cost people more money. In almost every circumstance, every vehicle grade, you can get low vehicle, low emissions vehicles and over the life of that vehicle you'll end up saving money. So why would we go backwards on that? Most of the auto manufacturers weren't asking for this. This was a symbolic statement of President Trump that he didn't believe in climate change. Well, last time I checked every major oil and gas company now says that they believe in climate change. They're sold. The Koch brothers, who are infamous as climate deniers, they're now saying that they won't fund, the Americans for Prosperity, won't fund any climate deniers. Let's get with the program, President Trump. We're facing perhaps the largest existential crisis of any of our lifetimes and he's like an ostrich, he's putting his head in the sand and saying, well it's probably not really true. And we know it is true.

Murphy: Governor, another issue that we hear a lot on the campaign trail is the cost of college, student loan debts. Your fellow candidates have a wide range of ways to approach that and, to get back to your warnings about socialism, for example, there are some who are suggesting tuition free college. Where do you fall on that spectrum of helping students A, with the cost of college, and B, with student loan debt?

Hickenlooper: Well, it is a serious problem and I see it as that. My executive assistant who worked for me the first six and a half years I was Governor had almost $70,000 in college debt and she was almost 40 and trying to work her way out from under it. It was almost impossible. I think we have to A, the federal government has the ability to lower the interest rates down to whatever the 10-year note is, 2.5, I think now it's 2.25%. But take some of that burden off. And then provide more ways that students can work their way through it whether it is as teachers or other public service type jobs, they could over two to five years they could kind of work off that college debt. I think we should also though not forget that 65% of the kids in this country are never going to get a four-year degree and one of the things we have really focused on in Colorado is apprenticeships for young people to learn how the workplace works, not just as electricians, but in banks, insurance companies, advanced manufacturing and really spreading that over your life so we create skills training. This automation and artificial intelligence is going to turn our workplace upside down. But if we're prepared and make sure kids have the skills that they need, what turns out to be so threatening can turn out to be a great benefit. And I think we're proposing the largest expansion of community colleges and skills training in the history of this country. And then the fear that people have can be turned into optimism and excitement.

Henderson: You've talked about the rural economy in Colorado. Is it time for some sort of effort like the electrification of America to have sort of a federal role in extending broadband to rural spaces in this country?

Hickenlooper: Absolutely. And the amazing thing is that the will of the public is there. So, in Colorado I went in front of the chamber of commerce and we proposed and we implemented I think it was $1.07 per month on your cell phone bill. And I said to these people, this money is going to go to make sure that everyone in this state, all the rural areas, have access to broadband, have high speed Internet. I never got one complaint. No one came up and said, how dare you use our tax money. They recognized that we are never going to be any stronger than our weakest link and that this country has historically been based on a connection between rural and urban. Three of my four grandparents were rural. We never drove by a, driving back to Cincinnati in Ohio we would never drive by a vegetable stand without stopping and my uncle or my father would say, how's the rain? How has your spring been? How does the crop look like? If we'd go there in July or August they wanted to know what the conditions were. And that connection we need to rekindle and rebuild that connection.

Murphy: Governor, your state is well known for the legalization of recreational marijuana use. In Iowa the medicinal, the medical cannabis program has taken off in recent years, has been expanded recently, but a recent round of expansion was vetoed by the Governor in an effort to allow people to get more potent THC parts of that program. Forgive me. So what would you have, what advice would you have for people in Iowa who are advocates of that program, would like to see it expand even just on the medicinal side, setting aside the recreational aspect?

Hickenlooper: Sure. Well, we have, I mean, at this point two-thirds of the states have either medicinal or recreational available. I think it does look increasingly like the situation we faced after the repeal of the Volstead Act when alcohol was legalized. And I think there's no question in my mind and I think most medical minds that there are certain types of seizures and autism where cannabidiol oil and THC obviously have beneficial effects. So from the federal point of view what I would argue is that we should decriminalize on a federal level marijuana so that they're not in conflict with these different states. We should take it away, or declassify it, from a Schedule I narcotic, because that means we can't even test it and figure out, the FDA can't even do trials to find out which types of autism it is most effective for, are there any side effects. We should make sure that banking can be done legally in those states where it has been legalized. Let the Department of Agriculture make sure that pesticides, that we're not using things that are unsafe. But I also think that even as the federal government should make it practical that we have safe industries in those states that have chosen to legalize it, I don't think the federal government should go to Alabama or Maine where they don't want to legalize any part of marijuana, I don't think the federal government should tell those states that they have to legalize it.

Yepsen: Just a couple more minutes.

Henderson: What is the practical path for you if you are the democratic nominee in facing President Trump who has made immigration policy the centerpiece of his 2016 campaign and it's shaping up to be the centerpiece of his 2020 campaign as well?

Hickenlooper: Well, certainly President Trump has made the centerpiece of his re-election campaign division and as I said, I'm running for President because this country faces a crisis of division, it has been going on before President Trump but he is fueling it. And, again, I don't think socialism is the answer. I don't think we want to have massive expansions of government. But what I've done in Colorado is demonstrate that by bringing people together and businesses and non-profits, republicans and democrats, we've been able to get to universal health care or almost universal health care, we've become the number one economy from 40th to number one for the last three years and we have also been able to get methane regulations. We're the first state in the country to deal with methane, one of the worst climate pollutants there is. This is what I'm going to take to Donald Trump all day long and say all right, I'm going to bring this country together to solve these problems instead of just dividing us so that we can't solve them.

Yepsen: Governor, we've got just a minute left. What are the elements of the health care plan that you'd propose?

Hickenlooper: Well, we need a single payer, I mean, we need a public option to get to someday a single payer but it might take 10 or 15 years, it would become an evolution, not a revolution, as I sometimes say. But I think we also have to recognize that the escalating costs mean that we need transparency in hospitals and clinics and community health centers so people can see what it will cost. I think we have to re-regulate pharmaceuticals in the drug industry. Right now the American public is subsidizing the incredible research that has created miracle drugs. If you’re buying any kind of pharmaceutical in Iowa or Colorado and comparing it to Canada we're paying 20 or 30 times more in the United States. So re-regulate so we're not subsidizing the rest of the world in terms of pharmaceuticals, have transparency and have a public option.

Yepsen: Governor, we've only got a few seconds left and there's a lot of older viewers who are probably wondering what is your relationship with former Iowa Senator Bourke Hickenlooper?

Hickenlooper: So Bourke Hickenlooper was Lieutenant Governor, Governor and then for 24 years a U.S. Senator until 1970. He was my grandfather's first cousin. So not a close family connection but a namesake I take proudly and celebrate.

Yepsen: I have to let it go at that. Thank you very much, Governor, for being with us today.

Hickenlooper: My pleasure. Thank you all so much.

Yepsen: And thank you for joining us. We'll be back next week for another edition of Iowa Press at our regular times, 7:30 Friday night and Noon on Sunday and anytime at Iowa PBS.org. For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.     

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