John Hickenlooper
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John Hickenlooper

John Hickenlooper
John Hickenlooper by Gage Skidmore.jpg
42nd Governor of Colorado

January 11, 2011 - January 8, 2019
LieutenantJoe García
Donna Lynne
Bill Ritter
Jared Polis
Chair of the National Governors Association

July 13, 2014 - July 25, 2015
Mary Fallin
Gary Herbert
43rd Mayor of Denver

July 21, 2003 - January 11, 2011
Wellington Webb
Bill Vidal
Personal details
John Wright Hickenlooper Jr.

(1952-02-07) February 7, 1952 (age 68)
Narberth, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Helen Thorpe
(m. 2002; div. 2015)

Robin Pringle (m. 2016)
Children1 son
EducationWesleyan University (BA, MS)

John Wright Hickenlooper Jr.[1] (; born February 7, 1952) is an American politician, businessman, and petroleum geologist who was the 42nd governor of Colorado from 2011 to 2019. He is a member of the Democratic Party. In 2019, Hickenlooper campaigned for the 2020 Democratic nomination for the president of the United States but dropped out before any primaries were held. He subsequently announced his candidacy for the United States Senate in 2020 as one of 7 Democrats challenging one-term incumbent Republican Cory Gardner.

Born in Narberth, Pennsylvania, Hickenlooper is a graduate of Wesleyan University. After his career as a geologist[2] in 1988, he began a career in business, co-founding the Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver. Hickenlooper was elected the 43rd mayor of Denver in 2003, serving two terms, until 2011.

After incumbent governor Bill Ritter announced that he would not seek reelection, Hickenlooper announced his intention to run for the Democratic nomination in January 2010. He won an uncontested primary and faced the Constitution Party nominee, former representative Tom Tancredo, and Republican nominee Dan Maes in the general election. Hickenlooper won with 51% of the vote, and was reelected in 2014, defeating Republican former U.S. representative Bob Beauprez, 49% to 46%.

Early life, education, and career

Hickenlooper was born in Narberth, Pennsylvania, a middle-class area of the suburban Main Line of Philadelphia.[3] He is the son of Anne Doughten (née Morris) Kennedy and John Wright Hickenlooper.[4][5][6][7] His great-grandfather Andrew Hickenlooper was a Union general, and his grandfather, Smith Hickenlooper, was a United States federal judge.[8][9] Hickenlooper was raised by his mother from a young age after his father's death. A 1970 graduate of The Haverford School, an independent boys school in Haverford, Pennsylvania, he went on to attend Wesleyan University, where he received a B.A. in English in 1974, and a master's degree in geology in 1980.[10]

Hickenlooper worked as a geologist in Colorado for Buckhorn Petroleum in the early 1980s. When Buckhorn was sold, Hickenlooper was laid off in 1986.[11] He and five business partners opened the Wynkoop Brewing Company brewpub in October 1988 after raising startup funds from dozens of friends and family along with a Denver economic development office loan. The Wynkoop was one of the first brewpubs in the United States. By 1996, Westword reported that Denver had more brewpubs per capita than any other city.[12]

The Wynkoop was opened in Denver's then-derelict LoDo neighborhood. After struggling the first year, Hickenlooper brokered a cooperative arrangement with nearby restaurants and businesses, working together to draw customers and negotiate better pricing with vendors. Their efforts contributed to the redevelopment of the area as a thriving entertainment district.[13] Hickenlooper sold his stake in the Wynkoop in 2007 to a group of managers and employees for a reported $7 million. He said, "Every good entrepreneur's dream is to build an enterprise that is successful enough that someday it will be an enterprise the employees can take over. We are turning it over to the people who helped create the enterprise."[14]

As a successful small business owner, Hickenlooper became naturally involved in civic proceedings. He was a member of local boards, catered and sponsored charity events, and became acquainted with fellow entrepreneurs and city leaders. According to Politico: "This made Hickenlooper a player, an influencer, in a city without any imposing blue-blood establishment. It also exposed Hickenlooper to the inner-workings of a political class he found unresponsive to the needs of the city.[15] "I'm not the typical little guy who makes it big. In the process of building a business, I've been involved with the community and I've never shied away from speaking up when politicians didn't do so," he told the New York Times after his 2003 election to Denver Mayor.[16]

Mayor of Denver

Hickenlooper was elected the 43rd mayor of Denver in 2003. TIME Magazine named him one of America's five best big-city mayors in 2005, noting, "he dispensed with the partisan and sometimes imperious manner of past Denver mayors to accomplish quite a bit during his brief tenure. When Hickenlooper, who is called Mayor Hick, took office in July 2003, he inherited a $70 million budget deficit, the worst in city history."[17]

In his first term, Hickenlooper eliminated the city's budget deficit, changed its career personnel system and won bipartisan support tax increases for quality-of-life initiatives, including a $4.7 billion mass-transit project, bringing a light rail system to Metro Denver.[15]

In May 2007, Hickenlooper won re-election as mayor with 88% of the vote.[18] Considered a "purple" democrat, Hickenlooper was supported by many of Denver's top Republican business leaders. Denver's 5280 magazine said: "As far as real-life political fairy tales go, it was just about impossible to trump Mayor Hickenlooper. He was a new kind of natural, one of those unicorn-rare, truly apolitical politicians that career politicos so often and so fraudulently claim to be."[19]

Hickenlooper resigned as mayor at 8 am on January 11, 2011, hours before his inauguration as Colorado's governor.

Governor of Colorado

Hickenlooper in February 2012

On January 11, 2011, Hickenlooper was sworn in as the 42nd governor of Colorado after winning by fifteen points. Hickenlooper was the second Denver mayor ever elected to Colorado governor. His victory was a landslide despite Democrats' overall poor results in the 2010 elections. Republicans flipped twelve governorships nationwide in 2010.[19] As Colorado governor, Hickenlooper saw bipartisan approval. He achieved economic growth in both the metro area and the Republican-dominated suburbs and rural counties of Colorado. During his tenure, the state went from 40th in job creation to 4th. He accomplished Medicaid expansion, infrastructure growth, reductions in state regulations and a balanced budget. He is considered a pro-business Democrat and a strong supporter of the oil and gas industry.[20]

On December 4, 2012, he was elected to serve as vice chair of the Democratic Governors Association.[21] He currently serves on the Western Governors' Association, and served as the chairman of the National Governors' Association from July 2014 to July 2015.

On August 25, 2017, it was reported that Republican Governor of Ohio John Kasich was considering the possibility of a 2020 unity ticket to run against Donald Trump with Kasich at the top and Hickenlooper as vice president.[22]

Constitutionally limited to two consecutive terms,[23] Hickenlooper could not run for governor in 2018.

Political positions

Hickenlooper during the World Economic Forum 2013


Since 2003, Hickenlooper has campaigned for increasing services to the homeless.[24] As Denver Mayor, he announced a "10 Year Plan to End Homelessness" at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. Cities across the country including Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Atlanta made similar plans.[25] Hickenlooper's Denver Commission on Homelessness included members from public agencies, non-profits, businesses, and the faith community.[26]

Cannabis legalization

In 2000, Colorado voters passed Initiative 20, which legalized marijuana for medical use. In 2006, Denver became one of the first major U.S. cities to legalize the medical use of and decriminalize possession (of less than one ounce [28 g]) of cannabis by those over age 18. Hickenlooper, then a co-owner of the Wynkoop Brewing Company, opposed the cannabis rescheduling initiative, which voters approved 53.49%-46.51%, but did say that the vote "reflect[s] a genuine shift in people's attitudes". The Denver Police interpretation of the law, supported by Hickenlooper, was that it did not usurp Colorado Revised Statutes (CRS). In 2012, Amendment 64 was added to the Colorado constitution allowing possession of up to one ounce (28 g) of cannabis for those over 21 for recreational use. Though Hickenlooper had been publicly against this policy as well, he said he would enforce the will of the people.[27]

On January 23, 2015, he said that "This was a bad idea",[28] that other governors should wait and see what the consequences will be. As Colorado's new laws have been implemented and the results become more clear, Hickenlooper has indicated that his views have evolved, stating in May 2016 that Colorado's approach to cannabis legalization is "beginning to look like it might work".[29]

Gun control

On March 20, 2013, Hickenlooper signed bills HB1224, HB1228 and HB1229. HB1224 created a limit of 15 rounds in magazines that could be bought, sold or transferred within the state. HB1229 requires background checks for any firearm transfer within the state, and HB1228 taxes firearm transfers to recover costs of the background checks from HB1229.[30] Opponents of these bills gathered enough signatures to trigger special recall elections that resulted in the recall of Democratic senate president John Morse and Democratic senator Angela Giron. Democratic senator Evie Hudak later resigned rather than face her own recall election on this issue.[31]

Hickenlooper is a member of the gun control group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an organization formed in 2006 and co-chaired by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Boston mayor Thomas Menino.

In 2018, Hickenlooper supported a Red Flag or Extreme Risk Protection Order bill in the legislature that would have allowed judges to temporally restrict firearm access to those who were deemed a significant risk to themselves or others.[32] The GOP-controlled State Senate never let the bill out of committee that legislative session.[33]

Hickenlooper in 2015

Capital punishment

On May 22, 2013, Hickenlooper granted an indefinite stay of execution to Nathan Dunlap, who was facing execution for the 1993 murder of four employees at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. The decision came after victims' families asked Hickenlooper to allow the execution of Dunlap to proceed as scheduled.[34] Hickenlooper stated: "It is a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives."[35] In Hickenlooper's 2016 memoir, he came out against the death penalty. He explained that his views on the death penalty changed after becoming more familiarized with the research showing bias against minorities and people with mental illnesses.[36]

Health care

In 2011, Hickenlooper signed SB11-200 which had passed through the Republican-held state house to create Colorado's health care exchange.[37] In 2013, Hickenlooper signed SB13-200 to expand Medicaid as a part of the Affordable Care Act.[38] After these changes, Colorado's insured rate rose to 93.5 percent.[39] He opposes Medicare for all, citing research that more than 100 million Americans are satisfied with their current, employer-provided insurance plan and saying it would "make no sense" to force them into a new program that costs trillions to implement.[]

Disaster recovery

In May 2014, Hickenlooper signed legislation to provide better disaster relief to Coloradans after record-setting floods and wildfires had ravaged the state and destroyed homes, schools, roads, and watersheds. The bills distributed $5 million in grants to remove flood debris from watersheds, earmarked construction funding for flood-damaged schools, and budgeted $17 million in grants for repairs to damaged wastewater and drinking water systems.[40] One of the bills called for the state to pay the property taxes of people who lost homes in Colorado floods or wildfires, which accounted for about 2500 destroyed or damaged homes.

Energy and environment

Hickenlooper's administration created the first methane-capture regulations for oil and gas companies in the entire country. The rules prevented 95% of volatile organic compounds and methane from leaking from hydraulic fracturing wells.[41] The rules were later used as blueprints for California, Canada, and the federal government's own new rules.[42]

After President Trump announced that the United States would leave the Paris Climate Accord, Hickenlooper joined more than a dozen other states in retaining the accord's greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.[43]

Hickenlooper supports the oil and gas industry. Unlike most Democrats, he supports hydraulic fracking, a deep oil drilling procedure that is controversial in Colorado.[44] Before politics, Hickenlooper was a geologist. He believes fracking is a beneficial practice with minimal environmental harm. In a 2013 hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Hickenlooper testified that he drank a glass of fracking fluid produced by Halliburton, claiming that because all of the ingredients had been "sourced from the food industry, " the fluid was safe for humans to drink.[45]

Economic growth

In March 2014, Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1241, which funds the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI). "The program has a total grant budget of $2.7 million, of which $530,000 has been awarded. Right now, seven projects are under consideration, representing $20 million in capital investment and more than 150 new jobs in rural areas."[46]

In 2016, Hickenlooper launched a program called Skillful, with the help of LinkedIn and the Markle Foundation. The program uses online tools and on-the-ground advisors to help businesses create job descriptions to tap into a wider job pool and help job seekers fill high-need jobs and connect them with job training.[47] Twenty other states are now following. In 2017 Skillful added the Governors Coaching Corps. program, a career coaching initiative operated out of workforce center, community colleges, and nonprofits, with the help of a $25.8 million grant from Microsoft.[48] In 2018 US News ranked Colorado's economy the best in the country.[49]

Hickenlooper calls himself "a fiscal conservative." He has said, "I don't think the government needs to be bigger. I think the government's got to work, and people have got to believe in government, and I think that's part of the problem", and "I think what a lot of Americans want is better government, not bigger government."[15]

Political campaigns

2006 Colorado gubernatorial race

Hickenlooper was viewed as a possible contender for governor of Colorado in the November 2006 election to replace term-limited Republican governor Bill Owens. Despite a "Draft Hick" campaign, he officially announced on February 6, 2006, that he would not seek the Democratic nomination for governor. Later, he threw his support behind Democratic candidate Bill Ritter, Denver's former district attorney, who was subsequently elected.[50]

2008 Democratic National Convention

Hickenlooper speaks on the first day of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Hickenlooper was an executive member of the Denver 2008 Convention Host Committee and helped lead the successful campaign for Denver to host the landmark 2008 Democratic National Convention, which was also the centennial anniversary of the city's hosting of the 1908 Democratic National Convention.

In a controversial move decried by critics as breaching partisan ethics, the Hickenlooper administration arranged for the DNC host committee, a private nonprofit organization, to get untaxed fuel from Denver city-owned pumps, saving them $0.404 per gallon.[51] Once the arrangement came to light, the host committee agreed to pay taxes on the fuel already consumed and on all future fuel purchases.[52] Also, Coors brewing company, based in Golden, Colorado, used "waste beer" to provide the ethanol to power a fleet of FlexFuel vehicles used during the convention.[53]

2008 Senate seat appointment

According to The Denver Post, Hickenlooper was considered the frontrunner to fill the United States Senate seat to be vacated by Ken Salazar upon his confirmation as Secretary of the Interior in the Obama Administration.[54] He confirmed his interest in the seat.[55] But on January 3, 2009, Governor Bill Ritter appointed Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to the position.[56] Bennet previously served as Mayor Hickenlooper's chief of staff.

2010 Colorado gubernatorial race

After Ritter announced on January 6, 2010, that he would step down at the end of his term, Hickenlooper was cited as a potential candidate for governor.[57] Hickenlooper said that if Salazar mounted a bid for governor, he would likely not challenge him in a Democratic primary.[58] On January 7, 2010, Salazar confirmed that he would not run for governor in 2010 and endorsed Hickenlooper.[59] On January 12, 2010, media outlets reported that Hickenlooper would begin a campaign for governor.[60] On August 5, 2010, Hickenlooper selected CSU-Pueblo president Joseph A. Garcia as his running mate.[61] Hickenlooper was elected with 51% of the vote, ahead of former congressman Tom Tancredo, running on the American Constitution Party ticket, who finished with 36.4% of the vote.[62]

2014 Colorado gubernatorial race

Hickenlooper won a tightly contested gubernatorial election with a plurality of 49.0% of the vote against Republican businessman Bob Beauprez.[63]

2020 presidential campaign

Hickenlooper 2020
John Hickenlooper 2020 presidential campaign logo.png
Campaign2020 United States presidential election (Democratic Party primaries)
CandidateJohn Hickenlooper
Governor of Colorado (2011-2019)
Mayor of Denver (2003-2011)
AffiliationDemocratic Party
AnnouncedMarch 4, 2019
LaunchedMarch 7, 2019
SuspendedAugust 15, 2019
HeadquartersDenver, Colorado
Key peopleBrad Komar (campaign manager)[64]
ReceiptsUS$3,508,447.82[65] (9/30/2019)
SloganStand Tall
Hickenlooper speaking to the California Democratic Party State Convention in June 2019.

On March 4, 2019, Hickenlooper announced his campaign to seek the Democratic nomination for president of the United States in 2020.[66][67][68] His candidacy had been a matter of media speculation for months before his announcement.[69][70] Hickenlooper formally launched his campaign on March 7, 2019, in Denver, Colorado.[71] A video titled "Stand Tall" was released to announce the campaign and outline his reasons for running.[68] Hickenlooper formed Giddy Up PAC in 2018 in anticipation of a presidential campaign, raising more than $600,000 in the midterm cycle.[72] The campaign struggled to gain traction in the crowded and increasingly competitive Democratic presidential primary field, and Hickenlooper ended his candidacy in a YouTube video on August 15, 2019.[73][74][75]


2020 Senate bid

In a YouTube video published to his campaign channel on August 22, 2019, Hickenlooper announced that he would run for the United States Senate in 2020.[76] Some preliminary polling data shows him with a substantial lead against incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner.[77] Hickenlooper was also leading the Democratic primary field by a fairly wide margin before he announced.[78] He was quickly endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, an endorsement protested by many of the candidates who were already running before Hickenlooper's entry.[79]

Personal life

Hickenlooper married Robin Pringle on January 16, 2016.[80] His first wife, Helen Thorpe, is a writer whose work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, George, and Texas Monthly. Prior to the separation, they lived in Denver's Park Hill neighborhood with their son, Teddy.[81] Upon taking office as governor, Hickenlooper and his family decided to maintain their private residence instead of moving to the Colorado Governor's Mansion.[82] On July 31, 2012, Hickenlooper announced that he and Thorpe were separating after 10 years of marriage.[83] Following his divorce, Hickenlooper moved into the Governor's Mansion.

Hickenlooper's mother's family were practicing Quakers. He spent a summer in his teens volunteering with the American Friends Service Committee in Robbinston, Maine, helping establish a volunteer-run free school.[84] In 2010, Hickenlooper told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he and Thorpe attended Quaker meetings and tried to live by Quaker values.[85] In a 2018 speech to the Economic Club of Chicago, Hickenlooper said "I'm not a Quaker", but spoke about the role of Quaker teaching in his approach to government.[86]

A cousin, George Hickenlooper, who died in 2010, was an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker.[87] He is the great-grandson of Civil War Lt. Colonel Andrew Hickenlooper and the grandson of Federal Judge Smith Hickenlooper. Other relatives include pianist Olga Samaroff (née Lucy Mary Olga Agnes Hickenlooper), who was the first wife of conductor Leopold Stokowski; and Bourke Hickenlooper, who served as governor of Iowa and a U.S. senator from Iowa.[88]

Writer Kurt Vonnegut was a friend of Hickenlooper's father. Meeting later in life, Vonnegut offered advice that came to guide Hickenlooper's life: "Be very careful who you pretend to be, because that's who you're going to be."[15]

Hickenlooper is an avid squash player and continues to compete as a ranked player in national tournaments.

Hickenlooper suffers from prosopagnosia, commonly known as "face blindness".[89]

In popular culture

Electoral history

2003 Denver mayoral election
Candidates General Election[93] Run-off Election[94]
Votes % Votes %
John Hickenlooper 49,185 43.33 69,526 64.58
Donald J. Mares 25,308 22.29 38,126 35.42
Aristedes 'Ari' Zavaras 14,145 12.46
Penfield Tate III 13,450 11.85
Susan Casey 8,162 7.19
Elizabeth Schlosser 1,812 1.60
Phil Perington 1,247 1.10
Write-in 211 0.19
Total 113,520 100 107,652 100
2007 Denver mayoral election


Candidates Votes %
John Hickenlooper 68,568 86.30
Danny F. Lopez 10,053 12.65
Write-ins 834 1.05
Total 79,455 100
Colorado gubernatorial election, 2010
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic John Hickenlooper 915,436 51.05
Constitution Tom Tancredo 652,376 36.38
Republican Dan Maes 199,792 11.14
Colorado gubernatorial election, 2014
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic John Hickenlooper 1,006,433 49.30
Republican Bob Beauprez 938,195 45.95


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Further reading

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Wellington Webb
Mayor of Denver
Succeeded by
Bill Vidal
Preceded by
Bill Ritter
Governor of Colorado
Succeeded by
Jared Polis
Preceded by
Mary Fallin
Chair of the National Governors Association
Succeeded by
Gary Herbert
Party political offices
Preceded by
Bill Ritter
Democratic nominee for Governor of Colorado
2010, 2014
Succeeded by
Jared Polis

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