Gov. John Hickenlooper has been making the rounds this week reminding people he’s headed out the door. It’s a chance for him to reflect on something he said Friday he’s not that interested in discussing: His legacy.
Speaking during Denver Chamber of Commerce’s State of the State at the Hilton Denver City Center, Hickenlooper talked about the legislative session that ended this week, which he called the most successful under his tenure. But he went a step further, giving what sounded like a farewell speech to his current office and opening remarks for his next one.
In front of an audience of 700 area business leaders, Hickenlooper said he’s not ready to talk about how people will look back at his two terms.
“I’m often asked about my legacy,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s a question I hate, because we’ve still got 244 days left and this is my favorite job. But the more I reflect, it’s not necessarily about the environment, or the economy, or the workforce, healthcare, any of more traditional success, it’s the model we’ve created. The example we’ve set.”
He pivoted to a broader, perhaps even national scope during portions of his speech. It all led to a portrait of a state that by his account, is the healthiest, most bipartisan and most economically prosperous in the country.
“Colorado isn’t just about rugged individualism and conflict,” Hickenlooper said. “Cooperation has always been the defining part of our DNA.”
Hickenlooper said he was happy he completed much of his work behind bipartisan efforts. He criticized how politics today are starting to become too much like shouting matches; he used the example of people at a restaurant raising their voices as more people come in.
“Pretty soon, if you’re not careful, you can only hear your own voice,” Hickenlooper said. “That’s sometimes what politics seems to be getting towards. We tried to make sure that we kept the (voices) down so that people could, if they listen hard enough, hear the other person and really understand why they were arguing their point of view.”
Hickenlooper said Colorado is a truly “deeply purple state,” that was able to pass laws like regulating methane emission and background checks for firearm purchases.
“We created the best place for business with the highest environmental and ethical standards,” Hickenlooper said. “The U.S. News and World Report three weeks ago… rated us as the number one economy in the country. We went from 40th to first in job creation. Last summer we had the lowest unemployment in the country.”
The state has also tapped into the “entrepreneurial” spirit of rural areas, which he said has helped some of its rural counties become some of the most successful in the country in terms of growth.
The state has also created “a marijuana road map,” Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper also urged some caution.
He said that if the state continues pushing for economic development, it’s “malpractice” for the state not to push for sufficient resources to build infrastructure to accommodate that growth.
“At a certain point, young entrepreneurs and people building businesses and lives are going to start choosing other states to go to if we don’t address this,” Hickenlooper said.
After recapping the success, Hickenlooper talked a bit about economy-related bills passed and ones that got away.
Business-related bills Hickenlooper mentioned Friday included an update to the state’s tax code to market-based sourcing, which he said allow the state to tax companies for services they provide only in the state.
Funding transportation was also a big win for Hicknelooper and the Chamber, which followed its progress closely. The funding will provide $645 million in one-time funding over the next two years for roads and transit, Hickenlooper said.
“We certainly made a lot of progress in transportation, that’s a lot of money,” Hickenlooper said. “But when you look at the list of $9 billion that we have of genuine priorities, we really did not get as far as we need to.”
Similarly to Thursday’s press conference before reporters, Hickenlooper highlighted what he was most proud of from this year’s session. He again expressed disappointment over the failure of the red-flag bill, but also brought up another bill whose failure he lamented — an equal pay bill. He said it would have helped take some concrete steps and tools to close the gender wage gap.
“There are some places where the inequality of what people are paid is, I think, by any measure would be blatant,” Hickenlooper said.
There was also a bill under consideration that Hickenlooper said most people probably never heard of. It would have moved the state’s pay periods to bi-weekly payments instead of the monthly system the state currently has. This could end up costing the state extra money, with Hickenlooper estimating the figure at $1 million.
“For whatever reason, again, that could not get through the General Assembly,” Hickenlooper said. “The state’s always been paid on a monthly paycheck, which is crazy. The state ends up having to front, in many cases depending on when people are hired… pay them in advance of when they’ve done the work.”
“Almost the entire world is bi-weekly,” Hickenlooper said. “Certainly, every place I’ve ever worked since I first got a job mowing lawns when I was 14 years old, we got paid every other week.”
Hickenlooper ended his remarks by said he was honored to have been the state’s governor, before posing a question to the audience.
“Now, who’s hiring?” Hickenlooper said.