Hickenlooper’s Chance To Recover Some Shine

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

More astute post-election analysis from FOX 31's Eli Stokols we wanted to be sure got a mention:

When three of four northern Colorado cities voted in favor of moratoriums on oil and gas production work that relies on so-called fracking, it, too, served as another shot across the bow at Hickenlooper, a former geologist who has already sued the first city to enact such a ban and is widely perceived as an advocate for his former industry.

“The fracking issue certainly complicates Hickenlooper’s political fortunes,” said political analyst Eric Sondermann. “He has staked out some independent ground — to his credit, in my estimation — but it does pit him against a whole lot of his liberal, environmental, Democratic base.”

The votes to ban fracking by citizens in Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins on Tuesday serve to highlight an emerging confrontation between many left-leaning voters and the governor who will need their votes in 2014, when it’s increasingly likely they’ll also be voting on some sort of statewide fracking ban.

And it puts more pressure on Hickenlooper’s administration heading into the final stage of a rule-making process whereby the Air Quality Control Commission is about to approve a new set of regulations on the oil and gas industry to limit the industry’s impact on poor air quality by forcing it to more closely monitor greenhouse gas-causing emissions from thousands of well sites. [Pols emphasis]

“The votes are more proof that Coloradans don’t trust the industry and are unsure if the governor and his administration will do what it takes to protect public health and the air we breathe,” Conservation Colorado’s Pete Maysmith told FOX31 Denver.

This week's crushing defeat of Amendment 66, an ambitious and comprehensive school finance measure that would have gone a long way toward solving a decades-long chronic shortfall, is just the latest in a long series of brutal moments public relations-wise this year for Gov. John Hickenlooper. With the passage of moratoriums (and one outright ban) on "fracking" in three out of four Front Range residential cities where they were on the ballot, combined with the wholesale slaughter of Amendment 66, arguably no one in the state had a worse night Tuesday than Hickenlooper. This is a man who lost on his left and on his right.

We want to be clear that despite all the political trouble for Hickenlooper this year, we still don't see any viable challenge to him among the current–or even conceivable–slate of Republican challengers in 2014. Hickenlooper is lucky to have the Colorado Republican Party to contend with, as we know of few entities better equipped to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory (see: 2010). That said, Hickenlooper needs to shore up a constituency for next year's elections, and he needs to start with his beleaguered Democratic base.

Luckily for Gov. Hickenlooper, a big conservation win is out there for the taking.

The state's Air Quality Control Commission is going through a high-profile process to draft new rules regulating air emissions from oil and gas operations. What the passage of the anti-"fracking" measures tell us is that Coloradans want strong regulations that will protect public health and the environment. The public doesn't trust the industry, and voters are looking to Gov. Hickenlooper to implement strong rules. All of this spoke clearly despite the industry spending more than $900,000 to defeat these initiatives. And Hickenlooper himself, after so many gaffes by himself personally and his top staff betraying industry favoritism, is broadly understood by the Democratic base now as compromised on the issue.

With all of that in mind, as we said of Hickenlooper's smart decision to sign a hotly contested renewable energy bill this year, a considerable strengthening of these proposed air quality rules should be a no-brainer. As Stokols reports, an early draft of these rules released by Hickenlooper's office last month was blasted by conservationists as not sufficient. Even energy executives say it's time to move toward "zero tolerance" on methane emissions by the industry.

Despite the gloating among Republicans today, Hickenlooper's biggest political need right now is to shore up his downtrodden, and at the moment at least partway disaffected Democratic base. Already identified as industry friendly, It will cost Hickenlooper no political capital to pass tougher air quality rules than he first proposed. But the benefits with the Democratic base of doing so would have real and lasting value.

15 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

    It will cost Hickenlooper no political capital to pass tougher air quality rules than he first proposed.

    But it will…and real capital as well…the folding green kind.

    John Hickenlooper will have to lobby very hard with the boards of directors  of the Colorado Petroleum Association, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, and whoever else it is in the industry who tells him which water to carry. There is big money involved… campaign money to elect our first U.S. president with an impish smirk. They convinced him to go on national television and, like his predecessor in fracking fluid consumption history, Kathy Hall, claim he has consumed the stuff.

    Every current or ex oilfield hand I have told this looks at me with the same astonishment and says, "no he didn't…that stuff will kill you." Or a response to that effect. To my knowledge, to this day…no one, anywhere, has ever used "Clean-Stim" (I believe that was the trade name they used) to frack a well.

    Did he know he was lying when he said it? I think, most assuredly, he did. And, he remains unrepentant.

    These air quality rules are extremely important to every other industry in Colorado. Not just the obvious ones, like tourism and skiing. Agricultural interests need to know about ozones' effect on their crops and livestock. Recruiting top notch aerospace engineers and IT people will be difficult if our air resembles Beijings'. This is not a "fringe" issue.

    Ground level ozone could be the industries' "Achilles heel"…air pollution, unlike water pollution, directly affects a much broader demographic.

    Do you think for a moment that J. Frackenlooper is going to suddenly turn on his "Oily Boys" and stick a wrench in the spokes? Where you guys been…Mars?

    C'mon , man… We are talking about J. Frackenlooper here.


    By the way….

    Even energy executives say it's time to move toward "zero tolerance" on methane emissions by the industry.

    It would be politically naive to give the governor any credit for moving industry on this issue. Hick gets no political capital for any rules about fugitive emissions. The big producers would love to have some help recovering and selling what has been considered by drillers everywhere as a waste of money and effort to recover. With natgas hovering around $3.50 at the Henry Hub, that isn't likely to change soon.

    There are other strong Democrats who will lead progressively, without playing "pattycake" with the good old boys down at the Petroleum Club. One of them needs to destroy the myth of Hicks' invincibility.

    • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

      I understand your frustration, but a primary of Hickenlooper is not going to happen. It's unrealistic to hope for that.

      Hick is soft on energy, but he did sign SB252. You have to give him the chance to do the right thing.

      • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

        The problem, JB, is that I have been watching for him to do that right thing since he placed that industry loving Commissioner from Weld County in Tresi Houpts' chair. It has only gotten worse. How many other Democrats would have signed SB252, were they at the helm?


      • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

        a quote from Gov. Hickenlooper in a recent speech, sent to me by my old friend Pete at Mountain West Strategies…


        “The industry is willing to sit and talk and say we can do this safely and spend extra money on operations when we’re near a neighborhood."

        note the extensive use of the word, "we".

        There is no Jeckyll…only Hyde.



    • gertie97 says:

      I hear you, Duke, but what strong Democrats? Who are they and why would they run?

      • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

        Oh, Gertie…you know them better than I. It's that last question that is so difficult…"why would they?"

        The money and myth, put together, make a daunting pair of reasons no one has stepped forward, I admit. But if they had seen what we have seen, you and I, they would step forward because they love this state and can't stand to see it as industry will leave it someday. With a leader like J.Frackenlooper in charge of regulation…I fear for this states' health and security.

  2. Hawkeye-X says:

    That impish smirk President  has already been (s)elected – his name is *. One of his many nicknames we've called throughout the years is Smirky.

    The guy before Obama.

    So Hickenlooper lost that race…

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