John Hickenlooper – Governor
John Hickenlooper has served as Governor of Colorado since 2011, and in that time has seen his state rise from 40th to fourth in job creation, something that he’s understandably proud of. “Forbes Magazine ranked us as having the number one workforce in America,” he says. “Business Insider ranked us as having the number one fastest growing economy. We came in and our real focus was, you can talk all you want about social issues and this and that, but quality of life starts with a good job, and we’ve worked hard to get entrepreneurs to come here and have Colorado be the place where they want to not just build a business but build a life.”J
When asked what work is still to be done, Hickenlooper offers two answers. “With the economy, we’ve got to continue the momentum,” he says. “We started out with a billion dollar deficit with the state budget, and now we’ve got $600 million rainy day fund. We’re also, in terms of certain issues like the long-term unemployed, we’re doing better than other states but we’re not doing good enough. Young people coming right out of high school or college, the recession in 2010-2011 was as bad a it has been in 30 years. We’ve made progress, but there are people with huge student loan. We have to figure out a way to find more resources in higher ed, and just make it more cost effective. I’d love to get to the point where we can say that nobody graduating from high education should have more that a $10,000 or $20,000 total debt. I met a guy last week who is 26 years old, a school teacher, and he has $125,000 of college debt. The other thing I would say is that we are the thinnest state, but we’re not the healthiest. We took that on as our challenge. We reduced teenage pregnancy by 40 percent, and reduced the number of abortions between 15-25 year olds by 35 percent. We have reduced prescription drug abuse by 20 percent. We have a very clear goal that we want to be the healthiest state, and that folds back into, if we can clearly say that we are the healthiest state in America, that will help attract more entrepreneurs and small businesses. It becomes a positive feedback loop.”
Yellow Scene was in Denver recently to hear Hickenlooper and his opponent Bob Beauprez speak at the Gubernational forum, and it was impressive to hear the Governor speak about the dangers of keeping mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement until their release. That is admirable, but what is a realistic alternative? “It’s challenging but I think we’ve got a good plan.,” Hickenlooper says. “I think our effort is to take a facility that’s more like a hospital and make sure it has the security infrastructure. You can have mentally ill and potentially dangerous patients there as well. We have five inmates who are in prison who really haven’t committed a crime – they’re just so dangerous and so violent, and clearly have severe mental illness, that they’re families committed them. I don’t think that individuals such as them belong in a prison. I think they belong in a hospital. Again, it’s got to be a very secure hospital.”
We ask the Governor if he thinks the issue of the homeless people in Colorado gets dismissed and ignored because it’s not perhaps a overt as it is in other cities. “Part of the reason it’s not so in-your- face here is because we worked on it for so long” he says. “Especially the chronically homeless, what was amazing to me is how much money society already spends in maintaining the lives of suffering. People sleeping under a bridge, on average we spend $42,000 per person per year, maintaining a life of misery. These people have diseases like diabetes and they get to the hospital, their arm is already turning blue – the average cost per visit to the hospital is $28,000 for the chronically homeless. We can get them into a home, a small, one bedroom home, but into housing and total wrap-around services. If they have mental illnesses, we can get them the appropriate doctor supervision, we can make sure if they’ve got addictions we can get them counseling, and most importantly we can get them job training. Even if it only pays $8 an hour, we get them into a job. Many of the chronically homeless are emotionally fragile. That structure that a job provides is invaluable. But anyway, we can get them into housing with total wrap-around services for about $15,000-$16,000 a year. Nb the present circumstances, we paying over $40,000 a year. So it makes financial sense, and it gets these folks a second chance at a life. We don’t succeed with every individual, but it’s amazing, we succeed with a great number. Instead of giving them a hand- out, we’re giving them a hand-up. The opportunities to control their destinies and create a life that they’d imagined.”
Many people were outraged recently when learning that the police in Lafayette were armed with 42 M-16s, and Lafayette isn’t an isolated incident. Hickenlooper is also perplexed by that program. “This whole program of taking surplus military hardware and then distributing it to communities all over the country, a) in many case those communities don’t need as much firepower as they’re getting and b) it really does send out the wrong message,” he says. “It implies that there’s something to be fearful of, that the government is fearful of being attacked. I don’t think that’s the case anywhere – not in Lafayette, not anywhere. I think that program is going to be reevaluated now, and we’ll see if it doesn’t get reconfigured in a more constructive way. You look at some of the gigantic vehicles that these small communities have – it’s hard to imagine them ever needing a vehicle like that.”
Finally, and again at the Gubernational forum, Bob Beauprez said that Hickenlooper made a good Mayor in Denver, but has been a disappointing Governor. Hickenlooper’s response is typically witty.
“He would have to say that, wouldn’t he? If he’s running, trying to convince people that he would be a better Governor, he’s got to say that I was disappointing, he says. “The key issue here is that all of the things that he says, like he wants to reduce regulation – we already eliminated 1,500 regulations and significantly made simpler another 5,500 regulations. He said he wants to attract businesses here, and a I said we’re the number one destination for start-ups in the country with the number one workforce. He said he wants to fuel the economy by making it grow faster – we’re already the number one fastest growing economy in America, so I keep asking him, if these are the primary things you’re planning on doing, we’re already doing them so maybe I can count on your vote.”