With an unthreatening demeanor, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper positions himself as the Reasonable Man, able to work with Republicans, co-opting their cooperation, while also slipping the stiletto between the ribs. He showed those aspects when speaking at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday…
“We recognize this in Colorado, where we’ve been able to pass vital legislation with strong bipartisan majorities. I’m luckier than President Obama: after my inauguration, Colorado’s Republican legislators didn’t immediately start planning my defeat. We worked together. Some even complimented me for releasing my tax returns in the campaign – 22 years of them.”
The reference to tax returns brings to mind the Obama campaign’s attack on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney – an issue, by the way, that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said recently is a non-issue for him.
It’s worth reviewing how Hickenlooper operates.
A former brewpub owner who became Denver’s mayor in 2003, he won the governor’s office in 2010, declaring that Coloradans didn’t have any appetite for additional taxes. In the wake of the Aurora theater shootings recently, he resisted the temptation to definitively call for more gun laws, citing the difficulty of squaring new laws with people’s freedoms. He’s angered some of his environmentalist support by defending fracking, from a position of authority as a geologist.
Hickenlooper has also made skillful use of the split in the Colorado legislature. He can count on the Democratic-controlled state Senate to kill bills he doesn’t like, without having to put his own political capital at risk. A change in the House from Republican to Democratic control could force him to sign – or veto – more bills on which there is strong public opinion.
To some extent, he’s gotten away with avoiding difficult decisions, or at least, not dealing with problems until they absolutely have to be dealt with. The risk in Hickenlooper’s centrist governing approach is if multiple problems hit at the same time, or in quick succession, and he finds himself at the mercy of events.
Right now, Hickenlooper’s Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is deciding whether or not to intervene in the dispute between the Douglas County School Board and the Douglas County Federation of Teachers. With the most controversial policies and points of dispute now on the ballot in the fall – and with those policies quite likely to pass popular muster – Hickenlooper could find himself no longer choosing to mediate between a school board and its teachers, but instead between taxpayers and an unpopular – but electorally important – public union.
Assuming Hickenlooper runs for re-election in 2014, a Republican challenger would need not one, but a portfolio of issues, around which to build a campaign, because Hickenlooper would find it relatively easy to co-opt any one issue. If such a challenger could, cheerfully – with a smile and not a scowl – force Hickenlooper to actually deal with multiple substantive issues at once, Hickenlooper could be forced off his comfortable perch in the center.