Guest Columns

HUDSON: COLORADO’S GOVERNOR ON THE NATIONAL STAGE

The notion of Hickenlooper for President is brewing with possibilities

Contributing Columnist

If the Hancock media team really wants to raise our new Mayor’s national profile they could do worse than to take a lesson from Governor Hickenlooper. It doesn’t get any better for a Democrat than snagging a shout out from George Will. As the dean of (establishment, not Tea Party) conservative punditry, Will’s recent column helps spread the speculation that Hick just might make an appearance on the Democratic national ticket in 2016. A lot of homebrew will need to pass under the bridge before that comes to pass, but who’s to say it’s impossible? Would it be any more improbable than Barack Obama’s unlikely journey to the White House in 2008?

The Governor was reported to have noted that he made a far better saloonkeeper than he did a petroleum geologist. He has also proven a far shrewder non-politician politician than his critics care to admit. Yet, a little more than twenty years ago as he began his transition from unemployed geologist to barkeep, he didn’t know any more about government than most entrepreneurs launching a new business. When he arrived at Denver’s Department of Excise & Licenses to apply for a brewpub license, he was kicked over to the Director’s Office. There was a bureaucratic problem.

Neither state law, nor Denver’s city ordinances envisioned a brewpub. There were pub licenses and brewery licenses. Nothing more. As I looked across my desk at a skinny young man in a lumberjack shirt, I asked him, “What’s a brewpub?” He then recounted a tale of travel after being laid off by his oil company and went on to explain he had visited a pub that brewed its own beer for consumption on the premises. That sounded like a damned fine idea, particularly to a beer drinker like myself. But, I knew enough to realize this wasn’t going to be easy.

As gently as I could, I informed John Hickenlooper that we would have to seek permission from the State Department of Revenue to create a brewpub license, and then work with the Denver City Attorney’s office to draft a new ordinance for approval by the City Council authorizing his business. I indicated this was likely to require some heavy lifting and would probably take several months, if not longer. Undaunted, John indicated he wasn’t going to be ready at his proposed Wynkoop location for some time. He left with my handshake promise to try and expedite the process.

Predictably, the Colorado Department of Revenue wasn’t crazy about this idea. If Denver were allowed to license brewpubs, who knew where this could eventually lead? If the Hickenlooper bar proved successful, then neighborhood brewpubs were likely to metastasize to communities across the state. That was enough to keep a bureaucrat up at night with worry. Who would control the potential for off-premise sales, or diversion to bootleggers? (I’m not making this up.) Eventually, we allayed their fears, promised this would be a trial, and committed to close supervision. Next up was City Council.

Fortunately, the Wynkoop brewery was proposed for a neighborhood then largely without residents. While this is no longer true, it eased passage of the ordinance at the time. NIMBY concerns expressed by Council members included brewing odors, beer spills and the late night or early morning delivery of agricultural products. Assurances of responsible behavior were provided by both John and the Department of Excise and Licenses. The newly minted brewpub license constituted a substantial victory over the enforcement mentality that frequently characterizes government, which often looks first for reasons to squelch new ideas. Perhaps John knew where his brewpub business was headed, but the rest of us were surprised to discover we kick started a whole new industry, not to mention vastly improved beer selections. Colorado’s micro-brewers employ thousands today.

Of course this is how government and business should coordinate. The private sector will always generate our entrepreneurs, while government must undertake the work necessary to make their dreams achievable. It’s their taxes that pay for government. Once public health and safety are guaranteed, bureaucracies can safely get out of the way. That’s a lesson I suspect Colorado’s Governor has spliced into his political DNA. If Michael Hancock follows suit, George Will may come calling at City Hall.

Miller Hudson, a contributing columnist for The Colorado Statesman, will be able to say, like the rest of us here in Colorado, ‘I knew him when…’ if John Hickenlooper is ever elected president.