Hours before former John Hickenlooper kicked off a rally launching his presidential campaign at Denver's Civic Center Park, a small, single-propeller plane circled overhead trailing a banner: “BIG HICKUP FOR 2020: JETGATE SCANDAL”
The message is likely a reference to an ongoing investigation by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission looking into allegations made by former Republican Speaker of the House Frank McNulty and his newly-formed Public Trust Institute.
Hickenlooper is accused by McNulty, his former statehouse nemesis, of violating Amendment 41, the voter-approved ethics law putting strict limits on the value of gifts an elected official can receive, while Colorado governor.
The current limit is $59 per year for each individual or organization and Hickenlooper is accused of traveling to a number of events, some international, with travel expenses paid for by private parties.
The former governor has denied any wrongdoing and said that McNulty’s organization was formed to give voice to those frivolous accusations.
McNulty told Colorado Politics Thursday evening that he did not hire the plane, but said its presence was humorous.
One Philadelphia native, like Hickenlooper, Richard Ean Patton, stood in the park Thursday evening before the rally began, looked up to the plane and asked those around him to what the message was referencing.
“Oh, I thought it was for something serious,” Patton said after he was told.
The investigation is a waste of time, his, the former governor’s and everybody else’s, Patton said.
“If he wasn’t going to Russia or China, I don’t really care where he goes,” Patton said.
Next to Patton stood Jillian Way, a native of upstate New York, who shook her head while discussing the investigation.
“That’s literally not a big deal,” Way said.
As hundreds funneled into the park, grabbing seats where they could, others standing near the stage, many could be seen glancing toward the sky. Some pointed, others muttered to each other as the plane circled the park and Hickenlooper’s staff prepared for what was sure to be a well-attended campaign launch.