Hickenlooper’s second State of the State draws on images of the Colorado West

The Colorado Statesman

It was all about hats as Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered his second State of the State address before a joint session of the Legislature on Thursday at the Capitol.

Recounting the history of John B. Stetson — who ventured west to territorial Colorado, only to discover his “hatting” skills led the way to an extraordinarily lucrative business — Hickenlooper connected the iconic headwear to the audience in the House chamber.

“The story of the Stetson is about one of Colorado’s earliest entrepreneurs,” Hickenlooper said. “Of course, back then almost everyone coming West was an entrepreneur. That same spirit is with us today. Indeed, in some way everyone in this room is an entrepreneur.”

Hickenlooper said entrepreneurial zeal was commonplace across the state.

Gov. John Hickenlooper looks to cheering spectators before delivering his second State of the State address on Jan. 12 in House chambers at the Capitol. Alongside him are state Sens. Evie Hudak, D-Arvada, and Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, and House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“We all have the capacity for creativity and personal reinvention. We all have the capacity to contribute to our communities, and to make Colorado the best state in the nation. Simply,” he said, “we all have the capacity to make a good hat.”

House Minority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, laugh during Gov. John Hickenlooper’s State of the State speech delivered before a joint session of the Colorado Legislature. Lawmakers abandoned their usual seating arrangements for the speech, sitting with members across the aisle, in a gesture toward a bipartisan approach to the session, which began a day earlier.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

He called on legislators to maintain the bipartisan approach of the previous session — when lawmakers collaborated to approve a contentious budget and to establish a health benefits exchange — and suggested that national politicians should heed what happens here.

Colorado First Lady Helen Thorpe watches her husband, Gov. John Hickenlooper, deliver his second State of the State address from the floor of the Colorado House along with Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and his wife, Dr. Claire Garcia, an English professor at Colorado College on Jan. 12.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Unlike Washington D.C., we have shown the rest of the country that Colorado is a place where things get done. The U.S. Congress could learn a thing or two from this General Assembly,” he said, noting that several legislators want to go to Congress to make that point.

State Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, and Assistant Senate Minority Leader Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, sit side-by-side during Gov. John Hickenlooper’s State of the State address on Jan. 12 at the Capitol.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Though he’s sometimes derided for avoiding controversial stands, Hickenlooper endorsed civil unions, the Denver Broncos and an open-ended effort to figure out where Coloradans want to take the state, dubbed “TBD” or “To Be Determined.” (“Really, we tried to come up with a catchy name, but TBD truly captures the intended outcome,” he smiled.)

Gov. John Hickenlooper dons a Denver Broncos cap during his State of the State speech on Jan. 12 at the Capitol. Legislators cheered and waved Broncos towels when the governor wished the team luck in its upcoming playoff game against the New England Patriots.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The governor also laid out an ambitious agenda aimed at overhauling the state’s constitutionally mandated personnel rules, privatizing the state-chartered workers compensation outfit, Pinnacol Assurance, and a proposal to make Colorado a “national model for early literacy.”

Hickenlooper said that attracting jobs was key to vanquishing persistent budget woes.

“We are moving in the right direction, but we are still in rough water. If you account for inflation, the state’s general fund revenue is $1 billion less than it was five years ago when the state had fewer people and was economically stronger — $1 billion,” Hickenlooper said. “And demand for government services has surged.” For that reason, he said, he wants lawmakers to target property tax relief to the neediest seniors and put off restoring a $100 million tax break for longtime senior homeowners.

Striking the same tone that had enveloped the Capitol a day earlier, Hickenlooper repeatedly predicted that lawmakers could set aside party labels to solve problems, something he said helps attract businesses of all sizes to Colorado: “They want to be in states where partisanship gives way to partnership.”

There was something for just about everyone in the 39-minute speech — from a “Pedal the Plains” bicycle tour, a less vertically challenging counterpart to the popular Ride the Rockies event, to a shout-out to farmers Hickenlooper credited with “leading the state out of this recession” as exports have grown 20 percent — and both Republicans and Democrats got plenty of exercise leaping to their feet for frequent ovations.

Nearly all the GOP lawmakers, however, remained planted in their chairs when Hickenlooper threw his support behind a proposal to establish civil unions for same-sex couples in a bill introduced this week by state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver.

“As we strive to make Colorado healthier, we believe in equal rights for all regardless of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation,” Hickenlooper said. “We don’t believe we should legislate what happens inside a church or place of worship, but government should treat all people equally. It’s time to pass civil unions.”

Though he stayed seated while Democrats all around him rose to applaud, state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, tweeted during the speech that he was surprised to hear mention of civil unions, adding, “[I] bet it passes this year.” After the speech, Brophy said he didn’t plan to support the bill but acknowledged “it’s nearly a settled question already,” as same-sex marriage in states like New York will force other states to recognize the unions.

In a bid toward continuing the previous day’s spirit of cross-aisle cooperation, lawmakers mingled throughout the chamber instead of sitting in their assigned seats. The gesture, inspired by a similar effort championed by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall for the president’s State of the Union address, was proposed by state Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, and taken up by legislators of all stripes.

State Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, said that she watched the speech from the seat of state Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and appreciated the chance to demonstrate “some unity and nonpartisanship.” She lauded the focus on economic development and education, giving the speech uniformly high marks. “Everything is something I can get behind, I think it’ll be great for Coloradans.”

The governor’s points about education and entrepreneurship also won praise from state Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs. “I’m really pleased with the points the governor wants the Legislature to work on,” he said.

He lauded Hickenlooper for emphasizing “responsible development of our natural resources, with an emphasis on the environment and its importance — not only to the tourist economy, or the reasons corporations move here, but also because it’s morally the right thing to do, to take care of our state.”

House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, said the governor had hit the mark.

“I thought that it was a very good speech,” she said. “There are a number of issues we started to pursue last year that we are building upon this year.” She credited Hickenlooper the story-teller, and particularly liked the tale of the Stetson hat. “My father owned a Stetson,” she said with a smile, “and that’s one of my most memorable memories, is him buying that hat.”

The leaders of the two chambers praised the speech and said it had set the right tone for a productive session.
“Today the governor reminded us what we can accomplish when we work together,” said Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, in a statement. “He also gave us a realistic picture of the challenges we face in the coming year. We share his commitment to continue working to strengthen our economy and to get Coloradans back to work.”

House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch — who wore a nearly omnipresent smile during the speech — applauded some of Hickenlooper’s stated goals.

“Our House Republicans are ready to build on the successes of last year and pass a budget that is responsible and good for Colorado,” McNulty said in a statement. “We have also introduced a series of bipartisan bills that will ease the regulatory burdens placed on job creators. These measures will create jobs and get our economy back on track.”

“I look forward to working with Gov. Hickenlooper,” he added, “so together, we can build a better Colorado.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com