NOONAN: What will it take to launch Hick’s presidential bid?
Author: Paula Noonan - January 24, 2018 - Updated: January 24, 2018
Commentators on Chris Matthews’ Hard Ball gave Gov. John Hickenlooper a laughing shout out recently, referring to his possible run for POTUS. Matthews appeared doubtful, especially with Oprah Winfrey on the radar.
So what would it take for Hickenlooper to move from dubious to highly likely? Gimmicky commercials won’t work. He has to pull together bipartisan legislative successes. This is the year to do it.
Issue Number 1: Some say PERA deficits are the toughest issue. But the hardest and longest problem is substandard k-12 education funding. This fact has been true at least since 2008.
Activists plan for a tax initiative. The last try in 2013, developed by current candidate for governor Michael Johnston, got pounded by voters. It received lukewarm support from Hickenlooper.
To win, the governor must bring Republican Senate leadership into the game. Both Senate President Kevin Grantham and President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg, representing rural districts, have a large stake. Their schools suffer from inadequate funding for buildings, transportation, and teacher compensation. A focus on rural schools will be critical for any initiative to gain GOP support.
Suburban Republicans don’t want more money in public schools because of the teachers’ unions. Democrats generally support higher funding for public education. The governor and Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran may have some leverage as legislators juggle dollars between education and the next issue: transportation.
Issue Number 2: Duran and Grantham sponsored a tax initiative in 2017 to put more money into transportation. That bill went down. Sonnenberg jumped in with the Sustainability of Rural Colorado Act which passed.
Four Republicans are sponsoring SB18-001 to replace the 2017 bill’s lease agreements on public buildings. The bill will divert 10 percent sales and use tax from the General Fund to the State Highway Fund.
Ten percent of those funds would be allocated to “transit needs” and 25 percent would go to mostly rural communities. The bill doesn’t ask for a tax increase. The governor will need to lead on the squabble over the percentages of dollar distributions and whether new taxes are needed. That no Democrats are sponsors on SB18-001 indicates that Republicans haven’t undertaken negotiations with their competitor party. So is this a serious bill on a serious issue and, if not, can Hickenlooper get a deal done on another transportation package?
Issue Number 3: Oil and gas drilling/fracking is roiling northern FrontRange communities and is about to move into Park County, the source of Denver’s water supply. Communities have lots of worries: Where are the pipes, are the pipes leaking, are surface water and ground water safe, is the air safe. Drillers and extractors don’t want to deal with more regulation. Fiery arguments are blazing hotter.
Hickenlooper and the legislature have not doused the flames. The governor will have to make tough calls and twist arms. Isn’t that why he may want to run for president?
Outstanding Issue No. 4: PERA, the state employee and public teacher pension fund, has arcane problems at the micro level. But they’re easy to understand at the macro: there’s not enough money to cover long-term commitments. On the public school educator side, the governor could try to work on an education funding initiative that would raise salaries, especially for teachers with under 10 years in, with some portion of those new dollars funding PERA. The Republicans’ SB18-001, diverting money from the General Fund to the State Highway Fund, will only make education and PERA money problems worse.
If the governor succeeds in any one of these ongoing issues, it’s enough to run against Sen. Cory Gardner and have a great chance. For POTUS, he needs to take all four. That’s the cost of kicking the can down our potholed roads.