John Hickenlooper, who served two terms as governor of Colorado, announced Monday that he is running for president, touting his accomplishments in a state that moved to the left during his time in office.
As governor, Hickenlooper presided over steady economic growth, the legalization of marijuana — which he initially opposed — and a surge that put Democrats in full control of a once-conservative state.
“I’m running for president because we need dreamers in Washington, but we also need to get things done,” Hickenlooper says in a video announcing his candidacy. “I’ve proven again and again I can bring people together to produce the progressive change Washington has failed to deliver.”
Aides said Hickenlooper plans a kickoff rally in Denver on Thursday before heading to Iowa, the first presidential nominating state, this weekend.
Until recently, Hickenlooper said he saw little path to the presidency.
“I am so moderate I would be a difficult candidate to imagine succeeding anywhere,” Hickenlooper told the Associated Press in 2012.
Hickenlooper, 67, spent the first 50 years of his life far from politics. Born in the suburbs of Philadelphia, he earned a geology degree from Wesleyan University and traveled to Colorado to work in the oil industry. Laid off at age 36, he co-founded a microbrewery in a distressed Denver neighborhood — the first in a state that would become known for its craft beers. Within a few years, Hickenlooper was a rich man, though he encountered setbacks as his team bought up more restaurants and brewpubs.
“We learned the hard way how critical it is to have the right team and a strong structure,” Hickenlooper wrote in a 2016 memoir. “We learned that when you make a mistake, you admit it.”
In 1999, Hickenlooper entered Denver politics as a leader in a coalition to prevent Mile High Stadium from being purchased and re-branded by a corporate owner. After that victory, he was encouraged to run for mayor, winning easily in 2003 and encountering almost no opposition in 2007, as the city boomed. While the mayoralty was a nonpartisan office, Hickenlooper identified as Democrat and helped bring the 2008 Democratic National Convention to the city.
“The independent-minded, pro-business, pro-environment, collaborative spirit of the West represents the future of American politics,” Hickenlooper said in his address to the convention.
Two years later, Democrats persuaded Hickenlooper to run for governor, hoping his popularity and discursive, anti-politician style could get them past a national backlash to the party. Hickenlooper won, helped by a memorable ad in which he entered a shower, fully clothed, to dramatize how much he hated negative campaigning.
“Pitting one group against another doesn’t help anyone,” Hickenlooper said in the ad as he toweled off. “Besides, we need the water.”
Hickenlooper took office with Republicans in control of the state legislature and the state still grappling with the end of the recession. He signed off on austere budgets that attracted bipartisan support; he allied with Republicans to boost natural gas exploration, and with Democrats to legalize civil unions. In 2012, when a man shot and killed 12 people in a suburban Denver movie theater, Hickenlooper began to advocate a ban on extended magazines, and he has criticized the United States’ gun laws more robustly since then.
“We’re terrorizing ourselves,” Hickenlooper told NPR in 2018. “If you were trying to harm this country, what better thing could you do than to create a context where kids were too scared to go to school, or, when they got to school, they were too scared to learn?”
After surviving a close reelection battle in 2014, Hickenlooper grew more involved in national politics. In 2017, he and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) led a bipartisan group of governors to oppose Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That led to speculation of Kasich and Hickenlooper seeking the presidency on a unity ticket, though the two governors’ disagreements on social issues made it unlikely.
“Kasich/Hickenlooper; first of all, you couldn’t pronounce it, [and] second, you couldn’t fit it on a bumper sticker,” Kasich joked in a 2017 “Meet the Press” interview.
Yet few Democrats with 2020 ambitions have touted these kinds of team-ups with Republicans, and few have tangled as much with their party’s left. In 2018, Hickenlooper threatened to call a special legislative session to undo an anti-fracking ballot measure, if voters passed it; he backed down only after the measure failed.
John Wagner contributed to this report.