Early spring, 2003. Newly elected Congressman Bob Beauprez was the guest of honor at a business-sponsored event in Aurora. Another familiar figure was present, a sandy-haired political newcomer who soon would become mayor of Denver.
“I’m here to talk to Congressman Beauprez,” said John Hickenlooper. “If I’m elected, he’ll be one of the folks I’ll want to collaborate with.”
As in Colorado Springs, Denver’s mayor is chosen in a non-partisan election. Hickenlooper, an entrepreneur who had no political experience before launching his mayoral campaign, maintained friendly relationships with the Denver business community.
Uncomfortable with the angry posturing and vicious infighting of partisan politics, he didn’t let himself get sucked into battle.
It worked. In the 2010 gubernatorial election, Hickenlooper ran as a can-do executive, an unpretentious guy who just wanted to lift the state out of recession and get things done. Republican politicians obligingly cleared the way for Hickenlooper by committing political seppuku.
Caught up in a plagiarism scandal, GOP frontrunner Scott McInnis was defeated in the Republican primary by obscure newcomer Dan Maes. Within weeks, damaging information about Maes’ past surfaced that seemed to make him unelectable. That in turn prompted former GOP Congressman Tom Tancredo to run as an independent, splitting the GOP and guaranteeing an easy Hickenlooper victory.
“I’m sorry about Scott,” said Hickenlooper of McInnis at a campaign event on election eve. “I would have liked to have run against him one-on-one. I think I would have beaten him anyway.”
By most measures, Hickenlooper has done a good job as governor. He’s been a capable administrator and an astute leader, most notably when he successfully brokered a compromise between pro- and anti-fracking groups, which kept two potentially disastrous initiatives off the ballot. At the beginning of the process, it seemed that fracking had become, like abortion and global warming, a viciously divisive issue without middle ground.
Hick defused the bomb and set the stage for reasoned debate.
And despite claims to the contrary, the Colorado economy has dramatically recovered during his watch. We’re not doing as well in Colorado Springs as we’d like, but things are a whole lot better statewide than they were in 2010.
Given Hickenlooper’s laid-back, folksy personality and his successful tenure in office, you’d think that running against him would be a suicide mission. It might have been, but for three factors.
• Nathan Dunlap. The convicted murderer had languished on Colorado’s death row for nearly 20 years. It was decision time: Sign the death warrant or commute his sentence to life imprisonment. Hickenlooper did neither, kicking the can down the road to the indefinite future.
• Guns. Democrats in the Colorado Legislature put together an extensive menu of gun control measures, and Hickenlooper signed them. The sleeping beast awoke — lots of Coloradans love their guns, and they think politicians ought to respect their beliefs. Can you spell recall, Sens. John Morse, Angela Giron and Evie Hudak?
• Bulldog Bob Beauprez.
Beauprez was a terrible candidate when he ran for governor in 2006 against Democrat Bill Ritter. Beauprez was repeatedly off-message, got caught in meaningless scandals such as wearing what looked like a uniform when he was never in the military, and tapping illegally into the National Crime Information Center data base. Thus he earned his nickname: Bothways Bob.
That’s all over. When the two candidates debated here last week before a packed house at UCCS, Beauprez went on the attack and never let up. He characterized Hickenlooper as weak and indecisive, and scoffed at the governor’s “success” in defusing the fracking fracas. Beauprez forcefully cited recent analyses that have dropped Colorado’s economic outlook from second in the nation to 22nd — and blamed Hick’s policies for the drop.
Trial attorneys know this maxim: “When the facts are with you, pound the facts. When the law is with you, pound the law. And when neither are with you, pound the table!”
Beauprez’s pounding the table, and it may work. Obamacare, Ebola, Putin, ISIS, Dunlap, VA … plenty of tables for Republicans to pound. This may be Bulldog Bob’s last election, and he’s all in.
If he wins, he could get a parting gift from the ever-collaborative Hick, who may commute Dunlap’s sentence to life before he leaves office. And although Beauprez would enforce the death sentence, it’s hard to believe that he would delight in doing so.
You’re welcome, Bob — good luck!