John Hickenlooper has run in to some stumbling blocks on the way to his presumed coronation as the Democratic Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate next year. That’s not an unusual situation for a frontrunner in a contested primary since merely occupying that position lights one up brightly for the well-honed daggers of those seeking the spot for themselves. What makes Hickenlooper’s travails different is that they are all, or nearly all, to borrow the marvelously useful baseball term, unforced errors.
He got off to a bad start. Coming off two terms as governor basking in the endorphin rush of popularity, fueled by a mildly eccentric (widely described as “quirky”) populism and an uncanny run of exceptional good luck, Saint John of Hickenlooper saw a president of the United States staring back at him in the bathroom mirror as he emerged, fully clothed, from the shower. About the only memorable thing from that abortive campaign was his denigration of the office he now seeks as being an unworthy endeavor, and his insistence, clung to until a few minutes prior to announcing his candidacy for Senate, that he “was not cut out to be a senator.”
Nevertheless, he persisted, and unsurprisingly materialized as the favorite among an almost comically crowded field. All he really had to do was not bugger anything up and the nomination was his as surely as the throne of a monarch’s firstborn.
Then he started to bugger everything up.
His most egregious mistake was the one which spurred an ethics investigation against him. It seems Hickenlooper made rather extensive use of a private jet for official campaign travel, courtesy of his good friend Elon Musk.
This stings on a couple levels, the most immediate being legal; state law, as a former governor who ran twice for the position ought to know, limits the value of gifts which a politician can accept to $53. The seat cushions in Musk’s (curiously not-electric) airplane cost more than that.
There is the image challenge as well. The former governor’s jet-setting habits are ironic in a couple of ways: first, you may recall that in his final year in office Hickenlooper vetoed a bill (that act itself being so rare as to be remarkable) that would have extended the same tax treatment to on-demand commercial airlines (think charters, air ambulance, cargo flights, that sort of thing) that the big scheduled airlines enjoyed. His reasoning for the veto betrayed a dazzling lack of understanding of the aviation industry — confusing private aircraft with commercial operations — in addition to revealing some rather petty political grudges; but it was also made, in part, to appease the class-warrior wing of his party by pretending to go after conspicuous symbols of wealth (here defined as small general aviation businesses in regional airports operating on razor-thin margins.)
Essentially, one of his last acts as governor was to mistakenly think he was attacking something he subsequently found himself doing while running for U.S. Senate.
As poetic as that is, it gets better. The headline of a recent editorial in the Colorado Springs Gazette captured it perfectly with a delightfully well-aimed rhetorical bullet: “Private Jets for Hickenlooper; Battery Cars for Everyone Else.”
You see, another of his final gubernatorial acts was to sign an Executive Order chaining Colorado to California’s Low-Emission Vehicle mandate, and setting up his successor’s order extending that to include the California Zero-Emission Vehicle mandate, both of which amount to little more than corporate welfare for Tesla, which just so happens to be owned by Elon Musk, purveyor of Gov. Hickenlooper’s expensive private flights.
To compound the misery, it has now been revealed that Hickenlooper is paying his lawyer, who seems to be as gold-plated as his transportation, with funds earmarked to help the state pay for security and first-responder concerns in the wake of 9-11. And then complains to the media for not defending him.
As if all that weren’t enough, now some of his own side are turning on him. The Sunrise Movement, the geniuses behind the Green New Deal, publicly announced their backing of his chief rival, Andrew Romanoff, calling Hickenlooper “a danger” in league with Sen. Cory Gardner, ExxonMobil, and the Skull and Bones Society because once upon a time he, like most Coloradans, was insufficiently convinced of the wisdom of living in wigwams heated only by organic, GMO-free candles.
Okay, let’s allow that getting on the wrong side of the Sunrise Movement doesn’t qualify as a fault. But coming on top of his self-inflicted wounds, it certainly makes his preordained anointing a little shakier.
His statement about not being cut out for Senate may turn out to be more prophetic than he had intended. It certainly appears as though he is not terribly cut out to campaign for Senate.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.