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Hickenlooper makes campaign stop in Pagosa

John Hickenlooper, Democratic candidate for Colorado governor and current mayor of Denver, stopped in Pagosa Springs June 16, speaking to a crowd of about 75 people at Pagosa Brewing Company.

Touting his experience as an entrepreneur and businessman, “With real experience in creating jobs and balancing budgets,” Hickenlooper told the crowd how he brought those skills to the Denver mayor’s office. Those two qualifications on his resumé, Hickenlooper told the audience, made him the best choice for governor.

“I’ve run on this notion of smaller government,” Hickenlooper said. “We want the best people who know how to manage agencies. We’re trying to bring the principles of business to government.”

As far as those principles apply to the economy, Hickenlooper said that Colorado needs to take a new approach to attracting new business to the state while helping those already in existence, struggling in a recession that continues to linger.

“We’ve got to help our small businesses and get this economy back on track. And we have to rebrand ourselves, as a state that is pro-business and pro-innovation to attract new businesses and create jobs in this state. We need to brand ourselves to make us more attractive to young entrepreneurs,” he said.

One aspect of innovation that Hickenlooper pointed to was the pursuit of the “new energy economy,” a common theme among state Democratic candidates and representatives. Applying that theme locally, Hickenlooper said, “Geothermal has much more potential than wind and solar. As an old geologist, with a master’s degree in geology, I think I know what I’m talking about.”

Included in that “new energy economy” was drilling for natural gas, a fast-growing sector of the economy.

When asked by an audience member about energy independence and its place in national security, Hickenlooper said, “We have enormous amounts of untapped natural gas resources, but it’s a transition fuel, it allows us the ability to break our dependence on fossil fuels as we move more towards renewables.”

In a follow-up question regarding fracking (hydraulic fracturing), a process used in natural gas extraction involving huge amounts of water infused with chemicals, Hickenlooper responded that he supports tighter regulations and industry transparency.

“Water is important in this state and we need to know that water is safe, in our wells, in our lakes, rivers and streams. We need transparency as to what is going into those wells.”

Scoffing at industry claims that the chemicals used in fracking are proprietary, Hickenlooper said, “We regulate what goes into Coca-Cola. You look on the side of a can of Coke and you see the exact ingredients — the secret ingredients, the recipe locked up in a safe — and we know the ingredients of the ‘secret sauce’ on a Big Mac. It shouldn’t be any different for the natural gas industry.

“If we know what we’re eating is safe, we should know what we’re drinking is safe,” he added.

Regarding questions on education (and recent budget cuts by the state that have slashed funding for K-12 education), Hickenlooper said the state needs to place more emphasis on the quality of education and reassess how schools are funded throughout the state. However, Hickenlooper conceded that he was not well-versed on the situation in Archuleta county, where the rate of return on disproportionately high property taxes is exceptionally low relative to other districts in the state, especially considering the numbers of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have a good answer for that and I should,” Hickenlooper said. “However, I promise I will look into it and get back to you.”

As of press time, neither Hickenlooper nor his staff had offered a statement in response to the question.

On other matters of education, Hickenlooper stated that student evaluations, specifically the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP), were an inadequate and insufficient means for measuring student achievement.

“When students take a test and then it takes four months to get those results back — well, there’s something seriously wrong there. We need to identify problems in learning as they happen, not four months after the problem, when the student has fallen too far behind,” Hickenlooper said. “We need to change how we test our students and CSAP is not the answer.”

Finishing up, Hickenlooper distinguished the differences between state Democrats and Republicans, accusing the Republicans of a double-standard, saying that while Colorado Republicans accuse Democrats of supporting big government, the GOP continues trying to expand government’s role in private enterprise and individual rights. On the other hand, Hickenlooper pointed to broad Republican support for Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61 (although Republican candidates Dan Maes and Scott McInnis are on the record opposing the measures).

“This is an open season on government,” Hickenlooper said regarding tea party sentiments throughout the state encouraged by the GOP. “60, 61 and 101 is just another example of that.”

With Democratic candidates Bruce Whitehead (for Senate District 61), Brian O’Donnell (House District 59) and Fred Uehling (Archuleta County Assessor), along with Michael Whiting (independent candidate for Archuleta County Commissioner), Hickenlooper was not alone in attempting to woo voters for the November elections. Optimistic in his aspirations for becoming the next governor of Colorado, Hickenlooper thanked the audience and ended the evening with the same positive note as he had begun his stump speech.

“This is a remarkable state,” he’d said at the start of the evening, “and everywhere you go, people are looking to the common good.”

jim@pagosasun.com