DENVER – Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday in his last State of the State address that his final 364 days in office will be “an eternity for compromise” that he hopes will bring Democrats and Republicans together to tackle “fiercely urgent” issues like road infrastructure and rural broadband, among others.
Hickenlooper entered the state House chambers to a standing ovation, and upon taking the podium, thanked his fellow Colorado politicians for being there for his final speech. He also thanked Colorado’s veterans, active service members and the National Guard for the service.
Hickenlooper also honored fallen Douglas County Deputy Zack Parrish and firefighters and service members from Colorado who lost their lives over the past year.
His eighth and final address to the state focused on Coloradans’ “topophilia” – their love of Colorado – which he says has emboldened the state to undergo massive changes in his time in office, and which he said he hopes will be carried on after he’s gone.
“Trust in our government, at every level, is a critical part of love of place,” Hickenlooper said.
He said that “rugged individualism and conflict” has always been a part of Colorado history, but added “Cooperation has always been the defining part of our DNA.”
From there, Hickenlooper talked about successful bipartisan efforts that defined last year’s legislative session, which preceded some partisan fighting after the session.
“Last year wasn’t always pretty. Progress isn’t always painless,” Hickenlooper said. “But it was the most impactful, bipartisan legislative session since the Great Recession.”
He pointed to the hospital provider fee deal, a construction deficit reform package, new marijuana tax uses and another expansion rural broadband as successful efforts.
“We reminded everyone: The collaborative Colorado way is the best way,” Hickenlooper said.
He touched on his legacy since taking office as governor in 2011, noting that at the time, Colorado was 26th in unemployment and 40th in job growth among states. Unemployment was high, and the workforce was shrinking, he said.
“So we did what Coloradans do: we rolled up our sleeves and got to work…we created a new blueprint for a new economy,” Hickenlooper said, pointing to all-time low unemployment numbers as of today, burgeoning business along the Front Range, tourism records as things that have since turned around.
He praised the state’s decision to aggressively use the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid in Colorado and decrease the uninsured population here, and touted the state cutting its abortion rate by 64 percent in recent years.
He said the “great experiment” of legalizing recreational marijuana has created a roadmap for other states to follow suit, then took a slight dig at Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent decision to put in question the focus of federal law enforcement in prosecuting marijuana cases.
“We’re not wild about Washington telling us what’s good for us. We expect the federal government will respect the will of Colorado voters,” Hickenlooper said.
Despite the accomplishments, however, Hickenlooper said he wouldn’t sit back and watch in his final year as governor.
“By nearly every measure, Colorado is perhaps stronger now than at any point in history,” he said. “This is an era for the record books. But we can’t rest on our laurels.”
“We won’t stop to enjoy the view,” he continued. “We have a lot to accomplish in the next 119 days.”
He said he wanted the state legislature to focus on the state pension (PERA); oil and gas; the opioid epidemic; education; rural broadband; and making Gallagher Amendment fixes to help rural communities.
“It’s an opportunity for us to continue showing the country how it’s done, that politics need not be a blood sport, that we need not wage war between the ‘blue team’ and the ‘red team,’” Hickenlooper said.
He said rural areas needed to be addressed this session, as they are falling behind Front Range communities in many aspects of infrastructure, health care and education.
“We need to make it easier for anyone to love any part of Colorado and start a business in that place,” he said. “Our economy is undergoing tectonic shifts…yet today, in almost every part of Colorado, zip codes still determine your educational outcome.”
He said the state needed to invest again in K-12 and higher education, saying the state needed to transition away from a degree-based system to one that includes skill-based training. He also suggested that middle and high school students learn to code as an alternative to foreign language requirements.
Hickenlooper also called for the legislature to focus on water for rural and agricultural communities in Colorado, and for an increase in affordable housing credits by 50 percent the current rates.
Lastly, Hickenlooper addressed infrastructure, “the multi-billion-dollar hole in our roads,” he called it.
“it’s time to go to the voters,” he said, saying that Colorado voters should decide what resources are necessary for new road infrastructure and repairs, and where the money should come from.
He said there was bipartisan agreement that there needed to be an ambitious long-term solution to find a sustainable funding source for the transportation needs that face the state.
But he also said that he wanted to take his last year to listen to all sides more often.
“I think the best way to persuade anyone about anything is to listen to them. And really try to hear what their concerns are, what has really gotten them to the place they are,” he told Denver7 in an interview after the speech. “And I think the more clearly you other people and the more clearly they recognize you’re hearing them, then they become a little bit more flexible and you become a little more flexible.”
Hickenlooper told Denver7 he was “looking at this year as the way a 7-year-old looks at dessert,” saying he wants “to eat it very slow.”
“I want to prolong the experience because I think it’s going to be a great year,” he said.
He thanked his staff and all lawmakers and Capitol staffers for their work over his time in office before delivering his final line.
“I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your partnership, your friendship…and for deepening our love of this wonderful, wild place. So one last time from this podium: Giddy up!”
The speech was met with praise from Senate Republicans, whom Hickenlooper will have to work with in order to pass his priority legislation this session.
“Congratulations, Gov. Hickenlooper, on an inspiring State of the State address,” Senate Republicans tweeted afterward. “We look forward to working with you in the next 118 days to get important things done.”
In the interview that followed Hickenlooper’s address, said he was hopeful those relationships would continue to be strong through his final year.
“We’re trying to get big stuff done that no other state’s done, and I think we’re going to get some of it done. I’m going to relish every moment,” Hickenlooper told Denver7. “Sometimes it’s like going up a hill, and you’ve just got to get over the top of the hill. And once you get over the top of the hill, the rest of it becomes – as they say – almost all downhill.”
He also left open most possibilities for his life after leaving the governorship.
“There’s a lot of ground to cover between here and then,” he said. “I think I’m going to look at where I can be of the most use, and who can I work with that are really interesting people – in what platforms, in what places can I make the biggest difference?”