As the Colorado Statesman’s Ernest Luning reports:
State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Secretary of State Scott Gessler berated Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper for refusing to take controversial positions when the two Republicans spoke on Monday before a conservative audience in Lakewood…
Asked by an audience member to describe their relationships with Hickenlooper, Stapleton and Gessler said they were frustrated with the governor’s ability to maintain stratospheric approval ratings while he avoids wading into potentially divisive fights.
“It’s dawned on me, after spending my entire life in the private sector, that politics is a strange business,” said Stapleton, cracking a bemused smile. The reason, Stapleton said, is that “the less you do, the more popular you are. Think about how backwards that is.”
It’s not like other professions, Stapleton continued, where more ambition and accomplishments usually lead to higher stature. “In politics, as long as you can sit comfortably on the sidelines when it comes to controversial issues, you’re popular. And we have a governor who’s incredibly adept at sitting on the sidelines on consequential issues facing our state.” [Pols emphasis]
Ouch! So much for executive branch comity, we guess.
That said, we do expect a mix of reactions to this story, so far as we know the most explicit criticism of Gov. John Hickenlooper offered by either Treasurer Walker Stapleton or Secretary of State Scott Gessler to date. You could argue that Stapleton and Gessler’s relative “activism” has been the real failure–Gessler has tripped almost every voting rights alarm there is in less than a year in office, failing in court repeatedly, while Stapleton has devoted his time to scrutinizing state public employee retirement funds–two years late to the reform party. Not to mention taking his “moonlighting” investment firm private, inviting charges of personal hypocrisy.
On the other hand…one of Stapleton’s main beefs with Hickenlooper was his failure to take a stand one way or another on Proposition 103, isn’t it? We know more than a few of our readers are likely to agree–or at least did agree around Election Day earlier this month. Unfortunately, the lopsided margin by which Proposition 103 was defeated makes it very difficult to question Hickenlooper’s neutrality: by Democrats or Republicans. In retrospect, it sure doesn’t look like Hickenlooper’s endorsement would have made a difference, and there’s an argument that by staying away from Proposition 103, Hickenlooper has kept his hands clean to propose a more comprehensive solution on his terms. Republicans see a ripe target in Proposition 103 after its defeat, but attempting to tie it to Hickenlooper personally just doesn’t work.
Beyond that, we’re just not sure you can accurately call Hickenlooper’s first year “unproductive” in any sense. Hickenlooper showed leadership defending the state’s new health insurance exchange from nonsensical “Tea Party” attacks, and vetoed legislation that would have hiked premiums on many children insured by the state’s Child Health Plan Plus program. Hickenlooper’s most dramatic use of executive power so far was his sacking of the Limiting Gaming Control Commission after they refused to undo a politically unfathomable vote to cut taxes on the casino industry. Hickenlooper’s personal involvement in negotiations with major businesses is resulting in relocations to Colorado and all-important jobs–for which he doesn’t seem to be getting much credit from the state’s chief financial officer.
It seems like every news story about Hickenlooper these days alludes to the fact that he’s been “mentioned” as a possible presidential candidate beginning in 2016 due to stellar approval. Stapleton says that Hickenlooper’s very high approval ratings are a result of his “staying on the sidelines” on the big issues. We think the truth is somewhere in the middle: Hickenlooper is popular now with much political capital left to spend, but before he runs for President, he’s going to need to spend it. A long-term, comprehensive resolution to Colorado’s perpetual fiscal struggles would indeed be one hell of a success story on which to run for President.
For as much as we hear about Hickenlooper’s possible long-term aspirations for higher office, which is fairly often, we think Hickenlooper knows he has yet to earn his way.