Hickenlooper Zoom

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper taps the computer's camera on a Zoom call about career reinvention Wednesday afternoon on Wednesday, May 12, 2020.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has experienced his share of inspirations and setbacks in politics, business and life that have helped him reinvent himself after other setbacks.

Hickenlooper spoke online Wednesday with his old friend Andrew Hudson, the Colorado jobs guru, for his "Stories of Reinvention" series for job seekers. Next Wednesday at 10 a.m., Hudson will talk to Walt Keller, former owner of Denver's Lumber Baron Inn and Gardens turned Hollywood actor.

In the last year Hickenlooper has reinvented himself from a candidate for president to a candidate for U.S. Senate. If he emerges from the Democratic primary next month, Hickenlooper would face Republican Cory Gardner, tabbed as one of the most endangered Republicans in Washington this year.

"We didn't get the results we wanted," he said. "But I told my wife, Robin, I did get up to 2% in a couple of polls."

People on the presidential trail cared "tremendously" about the cost of health care, Hickenlooper said.

He and Hudson primarily talked about how Hickenlooper lost his job as a geologist in 1986 when the oil business collapsed in Colorado, and thousands of geologists lost their jobs over a 5-year period. 

Geology was his identity and the foundation of his life's goals, Hickenlooper said. As Colorado's unemployment rate approaches 10% and is still climbing in the pandemic emergency, that message resonates now.

"After about six or eight months you look in the mirror and see a different person," Hickenlooper told Hudson. "You don't appear to yourself as quite the same person. There's not quite the confidence, and I don't know, confidence is such a big part of life.

"If you begin to lose that, I think it's helpful to try to find a way to build that back up, even if you have to pretend."

He remembered that his mom and 32 banks wouldn't invest in his big reinvention, opening the state's first brewpub in a run-down section of Denver called LoDo, which matured into the city's bustling restaurant and bar district.

"It wasn't LoDo, it was skid row," recalled Hudson, asserting the Wynkoop was the catalyst for the area's revitalization. Hickenlooper was known back then as the mayor of LoDo, he said.

That pub was the Wynkoop Brewery, the foundation of his ensuing business success and political identity.

His mother, Anne, wasn't a doubter, but a realist, the former governor said. Others saw LoDo as an opportunity, but nobody had made a business work or generated enough excitement to attract crowds.

His mother raised four kids by herself, twice widowed.

"If we started whining, she would shut us right up," Hickenlooper said. "She said, 'Listen you're never going to control what life throws at you, but you can control whether it makes you a better person, whether you find a way to get some good out of whatever happens.'" 

The former restaurateur says it breaks his heart to see bars and eateries closed, calling a hospitality staff a family.

Optimism, however, is key, and it's a state of mind, Hickenlooper said.

He learned to put a happy face even when he was in a bad mood, because it rubbed off on his coworkers and customers. After a couple of hours of faking it, he realized he was, indeed, in a good mood.

"Why did I have to wait until I was 36 years old to figure that out?" he said. 

During his first term, he guided the state through droughts, historic floods, mass shootings and the assassination of his prisons leader. He recalled attending 34 funerals in his capacity as the state's leader in his first four years.

He tells his 17-year-old son, Teddy, to seek out mentors, and former Mayor Wellington Webb was one for the mayor-turned-governor.

"What a gift," Hickenlooper said.

Earlier Wednesday the former governor held a teleconference with Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet — Hickenlooper's chief of staff in the mayor's office — to talk about seventh anniversary of Hickenlooper signing Colorado’s Medicaid expansion into law. The move was made possible by President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Democrats are seeking to play up Hickenlooper's Medicaid work and bring attention to Gardner's support for repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Hickenlooper sought to reshape Obamacare in 2017 and 2018 with former Republican Gov. John Kasich. The proposal was posted on the state website but has since been removed.

"Colorado’s bipartisan Medicaid expansion has ensured that hundreds of thousands of Coloradans have health care coverage and has been critical to the pandemic response," Eli Rosen, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party said in a press release lambasting Gardner Wednesday.

"While today we celebrate Colorado’s leadership to expand the life-saving program, it is also a grim reminder that Senator Cory Gardner and Trump are still working tirelessly to rip health care from hundreds of thousands of Coloradans, and not even a global pandemic is slowing them down.”

Andrew Romanoff, Hickenlooper's chief rival in the June primary, wasn't asked to participate in Wednesday's webinar, his campaign said.

Romanoff and Gardner's campaign declined to comment about Hickenlooper Wednesday.

Hudson, the namesake of Andrew Hudson's Job List website, has a long relationship with Hickenlooper. 

After he was the spokesman for then-Colorado Sen. Tim Wirth in Washington, D.C., Hudson was the spokesman for the Regional Transportation District in Denver, then he was the press secretary for Webb, Hickenlooper's predecessor.

"I don't know Andrew Romanoff," said Hudson. "I get calls from him every time he runs for office, but other than that I've had maybe one conversation with him in my lifetime. John has been a dear friend of mine since 1992.

"I know his story and am simply trying to offer up people who can give unemployed folks a boost of confidence and hope as they navigate these uncertain times."

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