It now seems all but certain (to use a favorite cliché of political journalists) that two-term Colorado governor John Hickenlooper will run for president.
It’ll be a crowded field, overflowing with prominent Democrats who each believe that they’re the chosen one.
Can Hick prevail against a group that will likely include California Sen. Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and ancient warriors Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden?
Before considering that question, let’s look at Hickenlooper’s qualifications for the job from the perspective of a 1990 Colorado Springs business deal.
A Pennsylvania native, Hickenlooper graduated from Wesleyan University in 1974 (as did Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet in 1987, former Colorado Congressman David Skaggs in 1964 and yours truly attended from 1958-’62 and finally graduated in 1991). He got a degree in petroleum engineering a few years later and moved to Denver to work for Buckhorn Petroleum. After a few years, the local oil and gas industry collapsed, Hick got laid off and there were no jobs available. Like so many of us who come to Colorado, he wanted to stay, so he took his savings and created Denver’s first brewpub, the Wynkoop Brewing Company, in the then-desolate commercial/industrial area of lower downtown.
The business was a success, and Hickenlooper quickly figured out that the business model would work in our sleepy little downtown as well — and that’s when I first crossed paths with our future governor.
In 1990, I was working as a real estate broker/investor and was in over my head in an effort to save the historic Cheyenne Building from the wrecker’s ball. The building belonged to the closely adjacent First National Bank of Colorado Springs, but new federal regulations forbade banks from owning speculative real estate. The Pikes Peak Library District had contracted to buy the building, which they intended to demolish and convert to a parking lot.
I had managed to raise such a stink about the deal that the library and its funders backed out, and I made a deal in 1990 with bank president Dick Gillaspie to buy it and an adjacent lot for $330,000. That’s right: $330K for a major historic building on a prime downtown location!
Should’ve been a slam-dunk, but it wasn’t. I had no money, little credibility and no idea what to do with the property. The savings and loan collapse meant that speculative real estate funding was unavailable, and the local economy was just beginning to emerge from the recession.
That’s when Hickenlooper called me up. He’d heard that I was having trouble financing the deal, and that what I really wanted to do was to save the building. We met for half an hour, and I agreed to step aside in favor of my fellow Wesleyan graduate. He negotiated the bank down to $300K, brought in local partners and opened the Phantom Canyon Brewing Company in 1993. Twenty-five years later, it’s still going strong, as is Wynkoop, which celebrated its 30th anniversary on Sept. 21.
Does being a savvy, prescient entrepreneur qualify Hick for the presidency? Nope, but combined with his success as Denver mayor and Colorado governor, he’s way ahead of his potential rivals.
Like his predecessors, Hickenlooper has been a business friendly centrist governor. Statewide voters have historically favored moderates like Bill Owens, Bill Ritter and Hick, thereby avoiding the divisive partisan turmoil that characterizes our national politics.
Could Hick beat Trump in 2020? He’d bring a reassuring sense of competence, stability and moderation to the race, without the eccentricities of the extreme left. I think that he could carry the Midwest states that couldn’t stomach Hillary in 2016 and rebuild one of the historic bases of the Democratic coalition.
But we’ll see. As one conservative columnist noted, Democrats seldom miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. If they nominate a combative lefty senator, pencil in the Donald for a second term.
So yeah, I’m for Hick — even though I could have negotiated a small equity position in the Cheyenne Building deal if I’d been a little smarter. But so what — you want a president who’s a great negotiator.
What would a 2 percent share in the building and business be worth today? A lot — so Governor, consider it a very early campaign contribution.