Democratic politicians from all over are looking at the Oval Oaf and thinking, sometimes out loud, “Hey. How hard can it be?”
Among them, as of last week, is John Hickenlooper, now among the 5,000 Democrats who think they couldn’t possibly be any worse than either the current president or the last nominee of their own party.
There are reasons to believe Hickenlooper might be right about himself. If, for no other reason, the substantial evidence that the former governor of Colorado actually thinks democracy is a good idea.
Clearly, Hick is not from Utah. And not just because he made his name and his fortune brewing beer.
Before he was governor of Colorado for two terms, Hickenlooper was the very popular mayor of Denver, winning re-election with 88 percent of the vote.
Before that, he was a barkeep — sorry, craft brewer — in what was then a scroungy Mile High neighborhood that has since become, thanks in part to his Wynkoop Brewing Company, the hip hood of Lo-Do. For people who are way too cool to say “lower downtown.”
He is described, by the journalists who have come West to observe him in his native habitat, as a bright, friendly guy, trained in both English (bachelor’s degree) and science (master’s in geology, former oil field surveyor), skilled in both business and politics, who, in each of those regenerations, never saw any point in picking fights or making anyone else look small. (Not remind you of somebody?)
He also made a campaign commercial decrying dirty politics in which he took a shower fully clothed.
An idea that Utah’s sole Democratic member of Congress, Ben McAdams, was smart enough to steal.
Hickenlooper’s handicaps include being a middle-aged white guy with a funny name who may not be quite telegenic enough to cut through the fog of social media. But there is one big thing that, after observing what passes for leadership in Utah, really makes Hickenlooper stand out.
He believes in democracy.
Colorado, as you may remember — or may have experienced — was a leader in legalizing marijuana, first for medical use, then for, well, the hell of it. For adults. Every time, as a citizen, as mayor and as governor, Hickenlooper was agin’ it. He thought it posed a danger to children, ran afoul of federal law and was too much of a real-time experiment on real-live people to be a good idea.
“Wreckless,” he called it. Then, more calmly, “risky.” Then, more diplomatically still, not something he thought Colorado wanted to be known for. (I have looked around a bit, and not been able to find any evidence that Hick opposed legal weed because it would undermine his beer business.)
Every time, the voters thought otherwise. And every time, Hickenlooper, public servant, did as he was told. Not blindly, but carefully, with everyone at the table, working to find ways to see to it that the people’s will be done, in Colorado if not in Washington. Or Utah.
As governor, he convened panels of real experts and plain folks who were just worried. From all reports, Hickenlooper listened, thought about it and carefully implemented a process to put the will of the voters in place. It worked well enough that nobody in Colorado wants to undo it, other states are looking to copy it, and as a laconic Hickenlooper himself said four years after the measure passed, “It’s beginning to look like it might work.”
Thus is Hickenlooper the opposite of the political leadership of Utah. Here, the voters approved medical marijuana, and the governor and Legislature made short work of replacing that measure with another law that, at least according to some of the initiative’s backers, guts the whole idea.
Here, the voters made it clear they wanted to go for the full expansion of Medicaid, and raise taxes to pay for it, and the governor and Legislature quickly cut the heart, lungs and liver out of it. Without even washing their hands first.
All as Colorado was raking in money from legal cannabis, and suffering few negative side-effects. As the state reached a rate of 95 percent coverage from the expansion of Medicaid and other efforts. As the governor sold new gun-safety laws to a cowboy boot-wearing state.
As he helped broker peace between environmentalists and the oil and gas folks. To the point that Denver, not Salt Lake City, now hosts the twice-yearly cash moose known as the Outdoor Retailers show.
Will, or should, John Hickenlooper be the next president of the United States? Hick if I know. I do wonder, though, if he’d be interested in being governor of Utah.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, started drinking beer when he was 40 years old. He expects to work his way up to marijuana in a few years. firstname.lastname@example.org