Democrat John Hickenlooper routinely refers to his executive experience as mayor and restaurateur in his run for governor.

“Whether you’re running a city or a restaurant, there are three things always the same: You never have enough money, you’ve got a diverse group of people you have to make into a great team, and the public is always ticked off about something,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The real truth is while running a small business, a restaurant, you learn there is no margin in having enemies.”

Denver’s mayor hopes his eagerness to collaborate across the aisle – on the state budget, on energy development, on immigration – will make him Colorado’s next governor.

As mayor, he cut Denver’s work force by 7 percent through attrition and by consolidating department computer divisions. He promises to do the same for the state as a start.

His main opponent, American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo, argues Hickenlooper can’t collaborate his way out of the state’s budget crisis and would have to make tough choices – starting with the state payroll.

Tancredo and GOP candidate Dan Maes pledge to revoke an order by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter that allowed state workers to organize. Hickenlooper says he’ll let the order stand because he’d need union cooperation to balance the budget.

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The Colorado WINS union says it now represents about 3,000 of the state’s 30,000 eligible workers.

Hickenlooper, 58, has moved away from Ritter, who is leaving office after one term. Unlike Ritter, he says, he would invite opponents at the outset to negotiate any legislation affecting divisive issues such as college funding and Colorado’s oil and gas industry.

“Ritter asked people to bring him the final facts and he was the prosecutor and he would make the decision,” Hickenlooper said. “Our biggest difference is that we aren’t that way. We try to make sure everybody’s in the room at the same time from the very beginning.”

Hickenlooper brushed aside Tancredo’s claims that he runs a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants. Denver police, Hickenlooper said, have referred 7,300 suspected illegal immigrants to federal immigration officials since 2006.

Hickenlooper also said Colorado doesn’t need an immigration law like the one in Arizona that requires police to check immigration status, and he vowed to veto any legislation like it.

“Most of us agree on the basics,” he said. “We need to secure the border. We need to have a national identification of some sort that works, that can’t be easily forged, that is unique and protected. We need to have a system where we can hold business accountable (for hiring illegal immigrants) and we need to have some appropriate number of guest workers.

“The rest of it is all compromises.”

During debates this summer, Tancredo brought up the 2005 shooting death of Denver police detective Donald Young by an illegal immigrant who worked in a restaurant owned by Hickenlooper.

Raul Gomez-Garcia was convicted of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder for wounding Officer Jack Bishop. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

Hickenlooper said the restaurant was in trust because he is mayor and that he had no control over hiring. “He presented forged legal documents and he committed a truly hideous crime,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper also disputed Republicans’ claims that he and partners had a sweetheart deal to sell conservation easements on property they owned in Park County. He said he paid $52,486 to the Internal Revenue Service in 2008 after it denied some claims for tax credits on the easements. It would have been too expensive to otherwise contest IRS claims that the land was overvalued, he said.

Tax records show Hickenlooper received more than $1.1 million in federal tax write-offs on the land before the IRS asked for part of the money back.