Welcome to our recurring series “Who The Fuck Are All These Fucks?” in which we profile, in brief, each of the 2020 candidates for president. This series is not meant to be exhaustive, and you’re encouraged to look into each candidate on your own.
Another day, another torment. We continue our nonstop around the clock coverage of the slow-moving train crash that is the 2020 Democratic primaries with another installment in what some are calling “I wish you would stop trying to make me learn and let me live in sweet, blessed ignorance.”
NAME: John Wright Hickenlooper Jr.
OCCUPATION: Governor of Colorado
PREVIOUS OCCUPATION: Mayor of Denver
ARE YOU SURE THAT’S HOW YOU SPELL HIS NAME: No
John Wright Hickenlooper Jr., was born in 1952 to Anne Kennedy and John Wright Hickenlooper Sr., who had absolutely no wright – er, right – to pass that name on to anyone. He got a degree in English in ‘74 and in geology in 1980, and used that knowledge to start a brewpub in 1988. Starting a brewpub in the late 80’s in Colorado is, in hindsight, one of them best business moves anyone could have taken, and in 2003 he was elected Mayor of Denver per what I can only assume is a Colorado state law where the mayor is selected from the owners of brewpubs and now, presumably, cannabis dispensaries.
Interestingly, Hickenlooper was pretty opposed to cannabis legalization early on. He opposed it as Mayor of Denver, where it first became decriminalized, and he opposed it in 2012 when it became legalized statewide during his first term as Governor of Colorado. Three years later, he warned that legalization “was a bad idea” and that other states should wait to see what the long-term effects of legalization in Colorado were. He stressed that cannabis posed a threat to public health and safety, especially to children’s health. By 2016, Hickenlooper had come around to legalization, and he has begun promoting Colorado’s regulatory model as one that might work in other states.
As Denver’s mayor, Hickenlooper took the lead in organizing an expansion of the region’s rail network. He expanded pre-K and created a scholarship fund for students to lessen the financial burden of attending college. As Colorado’s governor, his signature accomplishments have been enacting strict gun safety laws, growing the state’s economy to become one of the best in the country, and enacting strict rules on methane capture that were later adopted by the federal government.
There’s an olde tyme rumor from 2017 that Hickenlooper and Ohio Governor John Kasich considered a unity ticket – Kasich is a Republican – for 2020. Hickenlooper said in response that he didn’t think Kasich would actually be willing to participate “but I do like the idea of working with him in some context at some point.” Hickenlooper is more fiscally moderate than most of the other candidates, and it’s easy to see how he might find some common ground with Kasich who, while conservative overall, has taken not-particularly-maintstream-Republican views like ‘climate change is real’ and ‘maybe we should regulate police departments better’ and ‘It is not good to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals.’ I don’t bring up the Kasich/Hickenlooper ticket to suggest that I think it’s going to happen, but to suggest that Hickenlooper might see himself as a very good vice presidential pick (he would have been Kasich’s VP in this scenario) and potentially as the old wise Joe Biden to a younger candidate like Cory Booker.
But let’s assume for now that Hickenlooper is truly in it to win it. Can he? As candidates have filled the primary cauldron to the brim, many have sought to paint themselves as the “[noun]” candidate: Jay Inslee as the climate candidate, Bernie Sanders as the revolution candidate, Cory Booker as the “I guess” candidate. What’s Hickenlooper’s strategy? The cowboy candidate.
His campaign’s theme, “stand tall”, is part of an ongoing effort to present the Colorado governor as a kind of mythical wild west figure and to pretend he wasn’t born in Pennsylvania. It’s a crowded field and you can’t blame a man for trying, but Hickenlooper doesn’t feel like a man with staying power.