October 7, 2014


PARTY OF ONE : In a country clamoring for independent-spirited politicians who disdain politics as usual, John Hickenlooper seems to fit the bill perfectly. So why is his political life in peril? (NORA CAPLAN-BRICKER, 10/04/14, National Journal)

The morning sun slanted through the windows of the Limelight Hotel, high in the mountains in Aspen, as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper stood before the state's sheriffs at a conference in June. The Democrat was fielding questions about controversial gun-control legislation he'd signed the year before--legislation that this group had fiercely opposed.

"You made a comment about, sometimes to get somebody who disagrees with you to come over to your side, you just have to sit there and listen more, and you find that's a way to get them to turn to your side," said Sheriff John Cooke of conservative Weld County, referring to one of the governor's favorite talking points. "My question is, though, when these gun laws came up, why wouldn't you listen to the sheriffs? Why wouldn't, when a couple of sheriffs wanted to meet with you, you wouldn't listen to them and hear our side of the story?"

Your average politician would have had a well-rehearsed answer to that question; after all, signing the gun-control legislation 15 months earlier had been the most politically unpopular move of Hickenlooper's career. But Hickenlooper's stock-in-trade has always been that he's not your average politician--nothing of the kind--and so, characteristically, he winged it. "You know, I would say in, in the gun stuff that we, uh, certainly could've done a better job," he began, one hand jammed deep into his pocket as he gesticulated limply with the other. "And this is--I'm not defending this--there's no--I didn't find out that the sheriffs were trying to talk to me until a week afterwards--10 days afterwards. By that time, all the--whatever was gonna hit the fan had hit it." He scratched the back of his head. "I think we screwed that up completely, and I think we did a disservice to you and a disservice to ourselves."

When Hickenlooper's stammering apology went viral, it only hastened the slide his approval ratings have taken as he runs for reelection in November. The very qualities that allowed him to waltz into office four years ago, that made him America's best-loved swing-state governor in 2011 polling, have turned into liabilities. His self-deprecating style once helped defuse conflict; now his candid apologies open him up to fresh criticism. He once won voters' trust by refusing to talk like a "professional politician"; now his casual style is often considered amateurish, unserious--or worse. As he fumbled around for a way to connect with the sheriffs (dropping a jokey f-bomb that some found insulting), he made a most un-politician-like admission: He'd only agreed to sign a law barring high-capacity magazines because a staffer had promised legislators he would. "If we'd known it was going to divide the state so intensely," he said, "I think we probably would've thought about it twice."

Posted by at October 7, 2014 6:21 PM

blog comments powered by Disqus