Dylan Roberts: Hickenlooper is the best candidate

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Memo for John Hickenlooper: Governor Bill Ritter is not running for re-election this year — victory for Scott McInnis and Colorado Republicans, right? That was the instant diagnosis echoed across the state following Ritter’s surprising announcement. However, now that John Hickenlooper has entered the race, McInnis should think twice about measuring the drapes at the Capitol.

Many Democratic operatives and pundits think Ritter actually helped the prospects of keeping the governor’s office in Democratic hands. Because of the current economic situation, Ritter has had to make many tough but necessary decisions during his four years. Our citizens felt the effects of these TABOR-driven decisions. Ritter, as well as other sitting governors across the nation, faced a strong anti-incumbent mood. Now, with the governor not running, the 2010 election features two candidates free of the “incumbent” label.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is the best candidate for Democrats. Other than Secretary Salazar, who passed on the race and pledged his support to Hickenlooper, no other Democratic politician is more suited to face the challenges of the next four years. He has the right charisma, candor and widespread support to make an ideal candidate and the experience, background and knowledge of the current problems in Colorado to be a successful governor. However, given all his advantages, Hickenlooper will face many decisions about his campaign.

Here are some suggestions for Hickenlooper’s campaign: To begin, he needs to focus on jobs. Fortunately, Ritter’s New Energy Economy has set the stage for Colorado and has given us a lower than average unemployment rate. Hickenlooper can add his expertise and entrepreneurial creativity to carry us forward. He originally came to Colorado to work as a geologist. When the energy market collapsed, he found himself out of a job and became one of the original founders of the Wynkoop Brewing Co., now a LoDo mainstay. Hickenlooper opened several other restaurants in the area and is credited as one of the principle architects in LoDo’s revival. All the talk in the political world about creating jobs and fostering small business success: Hickenlooper has done it. His personal story illustrates a solution that can jump-start Colorado’s economy, and he should make this success a centerpiece of his campaign.

His record as Denver mayor also needs to be touted. Hickenlooper enjoys an approval rating by Denver citizens north of 80 percent, and that popularity is deserved based on his policies. At the onset of his first term, Denver ranked near the top for homelessness among major U.S. cities. Hickenlooper implemented a 10-year plan to end homelessness that has been adopted by various other cities, as it has dramatically reduced the number of homeless people on the streets of Denver. Also, his work in bringing the 2008 Democratic Convention to Denver proved to be a boon for the city’s economy.

As the chief officer of Colorado’s largest city, Hickenlooper faced a budget crisis when he first took office, which he has effectively managed. The next governor of Colorado will face a similar and much larger crisis, and Hickenlooper would be wise to highlight his successful experience with such a difficulty. Critics will contend that managing Denver’s budget is nothing like the task of balancing an entire state’s budget, but Hickenlooper can point to the near absence of such experience by his opponent. Running Colorado’s largest city makes a candidate more prepared for the governorship than any other governmental position, and Hickenlooper would be remiss if he did not highlight that fact every day.

When the Republicans are slinging baseless attacks at Hickenlooper about not understanding Colorado, he has the capability to take the high road and offer honest, well-thought-out policy solutions. Keep in mind that one of rural Colorado’s strongest advocates is Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and he was the first to endorse Hickenlooper.

Colorado is a vast state, geographically and politically. It is challenging for any candidate running for statewide office to truly have a perfect understanding of the many issues and problems that Colorado faces. That is a reality of any statewide race. For this reason, John Hickenlooper must stay true to who he is: a statewide geologist and the successful entrepreneur who helped revitalize downtown Denver and the popular, thriving mayor of our state’s largest city because that record has prepared him well to be our next governor. During the worst economic downfall since the Great Depression, Colorado needs a successful businessman to lead our state.

Roberts was Barack Obama’s field organizer for Northwest Colorado during the 2008 presidential campaign. He is a junior at Boston College pursuing a degree in political science and environmental studies.

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