It took a bit to get there, but when he finally did, John Hickenlooper made it crystal clear why he’s running for President.
“I’m running for President of the United States because I think we’re in a crisis, in a real crisis of division,” Hickenlooper said Wednesday during a press event. He added later, “I’m running for president because obviously, I believe, I know, I can beat Donald Trump. But I also think I can bring people together on the other side and get things done.”
He broadly discussed innovation in Denver, the city’s music scene and his regional work with nearby mayors. Hickenlooper will play this aw-shucks persona alongside what he considers his strongest attribute: That he will be a guy who can get things done, and did get things done over the course of eight years as Colorado’s governor.
“We were able to take the economy from 40th in job creation in 2010 to become the number one economy in the country, these last two years,” Hickenlooper said. “I think those accomplishments reflect something about an approach that has real merit in America today.”
The event was a bit of an appetizer for Thursday’s main course. He will be at Civic Center Park for a campaign send-off Thursday evening as he embarks on a quest to become the Democratic nominee for president.
“I felt that it had to be here,” Hickenlooper, who was born and raised in the East Coast, said. “I was such a different person when I arrived.”
After spending some time discussing how he helped open Wynkoop Brewing Company, where Wednesday’s event took place, and a U2-singing dishwasher named Kevin, Hickenlooper started outlining some of the things he would focus on in the White House and some of the policies he will support.
Don’t expect Hickenlooper to be a national spokesperson for legal weed nationwide.
Hickenlooper initially opposed cannabis legalization, citing worries it could lead to an increase in teen usage. He said after voters supported its legalization, he vowed to make sure to make a legal system that worked.
“I’m not saying the system is perfect, but I will say the things that I feared six years ago have not come to pass,” Hickenlooper said. “We have not seen a spike in teenage consumption. We don’t have perfect baselines, but I don’t think we’re seeing an increase of driving while high.”
While he believes in states being “laboratories of Democracy” he doesn’t agree that the federal government should tell states that it should be legalized. He does support changing federal laws to ensure states who have legalized weed can operate efficiently. The question came in light of one of his potential opponents in the Democratic primary, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, saying he supports federal legalization of marijuana.
“The federal government should reclassify marijuana so it’s not a Schedule I narcotic, that’s at the root of many of the problems, make sure that we get the people in the marijuana industry, whether it’s medical or recreational adult use, that those businesses don’t have to do everything in cash,” Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper is fully aware of his current standing within the field of candidates.
It’s a crowded field at this point. And Hickenlooper knows it. He said the press “naturally” gravitates toward the more “celebrity candidates” running.
“The people that have larger names, have created larger reputations,” Hickenlooper said. “I think the fact that we are in many ways the one candidate who’s actually been able to get stuff done and move forward will capture people’s imagination.”
He said his hope as he travels more in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, is that he too will start capturing more media attention.
His policies to protect the environment are slowly brewing.
Hickenlooper likes to mention how he successfully brought the oil and gas industry and environmental advocates to the table to establish the state’s methane emissions regulations. He called methane, at scale, the worst pollutant affecting climate change.
He said what Colorado did might not be as easily replicable on a national basis, but he said it’s a push that needs to be done globally. Unless the U.S. convinces countries like China and India to recognize and embrace emissions reductions, what this country does won’t matter, Hickenlooper said.
“We’re early enough in the campaign that I don’t have a prioritized list, but I will tell you that international alliance will be a huge part of it,” Hickenlooper said. He suggested looking at other steps like increasing electric vehicle use and improving tree canopies.
“For us not to react, with a huge sense of urgency and to being transitioning into clean fuels, is, I think it’s government malpractice,” Hickenlooper said.
On immigration, Hickenlooper is preaching a different approach than the current administration.
He called Trump’s border wall plan “a political vanity” he said was part of an election promise with little value. He called into question its effectiveness and called out the administration’s family separation policy and said “the entire approach” for border security and the relationship between “people in this hemisphere” has to be reviewed.
Hickenlooper specifically cited migrants from Central American countries with struggling economies that have left many people in despair. He said there should be resources placed there to help rebuild their economies.
“Those are small countries,” Hickenlooper said. “That should be part of our plan rather than trying to build a wall.”
Hickenlooper will be in Denver at the Greek Amphitheater at Civic Center Park Thursday evening for a send-off event. The event will include a performance by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, and feature speakers including Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.