Gov. John Hickenlooper sounded like a man running for re-election during his annual State of the State address inside the Capitol on Jan. 9, as he touted Colorado’s economic rebound and called on lawmakers to “ignore divisive politics.”
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The governor sounded themes of unity throughout his speech, but particularly when he lauded Coloradans’ resilience during times of tragedy last year — which led to one of the most enthusiastically-received lines of the day.
“Colorado does not shutdown. Colorado does not quit. Colorado does not break,” he said, to a standing ovation inside the House chamber, where all 100 state lawmakers were gathered.
Hickenlooper hyped Colorado as a magnet for businesses and a state where job numbers continue to grow. And, for the most part, he stayed away from contentious issues that dominated the Legislature last year.
While Democrats walked away glowingly from the governor’s speech, many Republicans voiced a “wait and see” response.
“Well it felt good, but let’s see if those feelings continue for the rest of the year,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock. “When he talked about not wanting parties to lock down, I hope he holds to that with his own party.”
Much of the governor’s speech focused on the state’s improving economic numbers. Hickenlooper said that the state has experienced a significant rebound in job numbers since 2010, when the state was ranked 40th in the nation in job growth.
Now, the state ranks fourth in that category, has added 170,000 jobs over the last few years, and has seen its unemployment rate drop from 9 percent in 2010, to its current rate of 6.5 percent.
“But let’s be clear,” the governor cautioned, “the unemployment rate is not low enough, and all of us share a commitment to keep a statewide focus on this issue.”
The state’s improving economy has also allowed lawmakers to work with more budget reserves than it had in recent years, which Hickenlooper said has been important when natural disasters have struck.
“The single most critical factor in Colorado being able to stay open for business throughout hell fires and high waters has been reserves,” he said.
Hickenlooper also talked about new business that lawmakers will attend to this session. They included legislation that seeks to cap college tuition rate hikes and provide more financial aid for students, a part of the speech that received a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle.
The governor also talked about other priorities, such as improving technology to reduce wait times at Department of Motor Vehicles offices; expanding Internet access across rural areas; and extending job-creation tax credits for businesses.
The governor — who is up for re-election in November — stayed away from controversy. His only mention of gun laws that were placed into law last year were done so in a way that addressed the mental health aspect of gun tragedies, while touting recent laws that created more mental health services.
On oil and gas industry regulations, Hickenlooper — a former geologist and a friend of the industry — said that it’s important to recognize that oil and gas companies contribute billions of dollars to the state economy. At the same, industry leaders should “recognize their moral and legal obligation to protect our air and water.”
Democrats praised Hickenlooper’s speech.
“I was very impressed with the collaborative nature of the visionary and positive message,” Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge said. “The theme of his speech was really about recovery.”
Rep. Cheri Gerou, an Evergreen Republican, who is known to cross the aisle on certain issues, said that the governor’s speech was well-received.
“The governor was able brag about his accomplishments and he should,” she said. “And the economy is recovering. Granted, we’ll never have enough money for all of our issues, but we’re making headway.”
But other Republicans said it’s convenient for Hickenlooper to talk about unity without referencing the polarizing bills that he signed into law last year.
“What was negative here last year was how things were handled,” Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs said. “The record was negative and the people said no. You can’t run from that.”
Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton, pointed out that the governor made no mention of measures that will be taken up again this year, such as repeal efforts on gun bills, renewable energy mandates for rural communities, and same-day voter registration.
“We’re not looking to repeal everything that was passed last year, but there are corrections that need to be made,” Lawrence said.
But Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, said that is yesterday’s news.
“Last session was last session,” he said. ‘We’re looking forward. The governor highlighted the key things we need to do to bring us together, and that’s what we need to do.”
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