John Hickenlooper Biography: In His Own Words – Video Exclusive, Platform, Policies
John Wright Hickenlooper, Jr. is the former two-time mayor of Denver and governor of Colorado. He ran as a Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential election against Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and many others. He dropped his campaign on August 15, 2019, and is now a U.S. Senator for Colorado. In this biography, Hickenlooper tells his story in his own words.
JOHN HICKENLOOPER BIO: AGE, EARLY LIFE, FAMILY, BACKGROUND, EDUCATION
Hickenlooper was born in Narberth, Pennsylvania on February 7, 1952 (John Hickenlooper age: 67). His mother, Anne Doughten Kennedy, raised him after his father died prematurely. She came from a Quaker family and brought Hickenlooper not only religious services but also to the American Friends Service Committee, with whom he helped build a free volunteer-run school. Hickenlooper graduated from the Haverford School in 1970 and attended Wesleyan University, where he received a BA his English (1974) and MS in geology (1980).
Upon receiving his Master’s degree, Hickenlooper worked as a geologist for Buckhorn Petroleum in Colorado. He was laid off in 1986 after the company was sold, prompting Hickenlooper to start a business of his own. In October 1988, he and five business partners opened the Wynkoop Brewing Company, one of the first brewpubs in the city. Hickenlooper worked with other restaurants and nearby businesses to gentrify the LoDo district. In 2007, he sold his cut of the company to its managers and employees for $7 million.
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John Hickenlooper, like John Boehner and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has proven that tending bar makes ideal training for politicians. Before entering politics, he was owner of Denver's Wynkoop brewpub.
— POLITICO (@politico) March 29, 2019
In August 2019, Hickenlooper sat down with uPolitics to discuss his platform and vision for America. Not only did he outline his policies on issues such as gun control, impeachment and abortion rights; he also described his unique journey to candidacy.
“I came out to Colorado as a geologist and had five great years in the oil and gas business,” Hickenlooper told uInterview exclusively. “I was an exploration geologist going to the most beautiful landscapes in the world. And then, you know … prices tanked in the mid-80s. I got laid off, our company got sold, everyone got laid off. Something like ten thousand geologists lost their jobs in that six-year period.”
Hickenlooper explained how after two years of unemployment, he opened the Wynkoop Brewing Company. “Like lots of small-business people, I just immersed myself,” he said. “I wasn’t involved in anything but making my business succeed.” After 12 years, he reported, his brewpub was soaring. After 15 years, he had the option of retiring.
Contrary to what one might expect, Hickenlooper was “frustrated” by his early success.
“I mean, I was 49 years old,” he told uInterview. “I’d never been involved in politics literally in any way. And all these people came up and said, ‘You know, Mayor Webb is term-limited out. You should run for mayor.’”
What frustrated Hickenlooper most was what he calls the “fundamental nonsense of government.” He takes great issue with the bureaucracy and corruption historically associated with government. However, once Hickenlooper realized he could “replace the fundamental nonsense with some old-fashioned common sense,” he was all in.
Hickenlooper refused to listen to naysayers. Many warned him that liberal Denver and its conservative suburbs would never reach a consensus and elect him mayor. The candidate flew around America asking its most esteemed mayors whether they believed he could excel in their field. “I just got excited,” Hickenlooper said. “I ran and I made a big commitment to the suburbs and a positive campaign. And I loved it, and I still love it.”
Hickenlooper won with 65% of the vote. He entered the job with great confidence, claiming he “knew that first day that [he] was going to be ten times better being mayor than [he] ever was running a restaurant.” Hickenlooper told uInterview that he cites God as the cause of his unlikely success. “He’s the little beam of light that comes down, and they push you in directions you would never dream,” he said. “And sometimes, it allows you to … achieve something you never even imagined.”
Check out the full autobiographical interview at the top of this page.
JOHN HICKENLOOPER BIO: MAYORAL AND GUBERNATORIAL CAREERS
Hickenlooper established himself as an entrepreneurial and political figurehead during his time at Wynkoop. He joined a number of boards, charitable organizations and inner circles of influential people. These connections gave Hickenlooper a leg up in the Denver political sphere and propelled him to mayordom in 2003.
Hickenlooper’s first term in office marked great progress for the city of Denver. Its budget deficit was eliminated; its career personnel structures were updated; its mass-transit system expanded to include a light rail. In 2005, he was cited in TIME Magazine’s list of the five best big-city American mayors. Hickenlooper’s success earned him 88% of the 2007 mayoral vote, highlighting his strong support from both parties.
As Mayor of Denver, @Hickenlooper expanded pre-K to every 4 year old.
His leadership helped transform the city into a major economic hub. In 2005, with an approval rating of 92%, @TIME rated him one of the 5 best big city mayors in America. #Hickenlooper2020 pic.twitter.com/LLeqW8zqXp
— Reily (@reilyseanconn) March 4, 2019
Hickenlooper resigned from office on January 11, 2011 shortly before being sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado. Democrats and Republicans alike elected him for his pro-business and -oil but generally liberal views. Throughout his terms as governor, Hickenlooper achieved massive economic growth, helping to bring Colorado from the 40th best state for job creation to the fourth. He also helped to expand Medicaid and infrastructure and balance the state’s budget.
Nearly 500,000 Iowans are losing insurance after a few Republicans placed profits over people. In CO, we got near universal coverage by expanding Medicaid and creating a robust exchange. We should build on the ACA, not rip care away from working families.https://t.co/vAOFJef4dO
— John Hickenlooper (@Hickenlooper) March 30, 2019
Hickenlooper was elected vice-chair of the Democratic Governors Association in December 2012. He served as chairman of the National Governors’ Association from July 2014 to July 2015 and currently serves on the Western Governors’ Association.
JOHN HICKENLOOPER BIO: PERSONAL LIFE, WIFE, SON
Even before Hickenlooper’s presidential campaign, his relatives were known for being influential figures. One of his cousins, George Hickenlooper, was an Emmy-winning documentarian. Hickenlooper’s great-grandfather was a lieutenant in the Civil War and his grandfather a federal judge. As his father was close friends with the writer Kurt Vonnegut, Hickenlooper grew up around a celebrated intellectual and cultural influencer.
In 2002, Hickenlooper married writer Helen Thorpe, with whom he had a son named Teddy. They lived together in Denver until 2015, when the couple divorced and Hickenlooper moved into the Governor’s Mansion. He remarried Robin Pringle the following year.
Hickenlooper suffers from prosopagnosia, or “face blindness,” which hinders his ability to recognize familiar faces. However, he does not let his condition keep him from his favorite activities. Hickenlooper plays squash regularly, even ranking in tournaments across the country.
Still the most shocking fact about John Hickenlooper: He discovered that he suffered from prosopagnosia (face blindness) well into his first term as governor, after he had been a successful politician (Denver mayor) for *eight* years. https://t.co/hvZdAnQL9c
— Sudeep Reddy (@Reddy) July 2, 2019
JOHN HICKENLOOPER BIO: 2020 CAMPAIGN
Hickenlooper sat down with uInterview in August 2019 to discuss the 2020 race. He opened up about his performance in the Democratic primary debates and why he appeared at odds with adversary Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) in the second round.
Sanders has historically presented a radical platform of Democratic-socialist ideals. Throughout his 2020 campaign, he called for free public college and Medicare for All, a universal approach to health insurance.
Hickenlooper expressed notable frustration with Sanders’ policies during the second Democratic debate. “I think if we’re going to force Americans to make these radical changes, they’re not going to go along,” he said, prompting Sanders to throw his hands in the air. The two had a minor spat onstage before regaining their decorum, but this disagreement spoke to a greater tension between them.
Hickenlooper addressed that tension with uInterview. “I think the divide is between the idealists – Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – and the pragmatists,” he explained. “Just because you’re a pragmatist doesn’t mean you don’t try to do big things; it means you figure out how to do them.”
Hickenlooper officially dropped out of the 2020 presidential race in August 2019, after it became evident that he did not have enough financial backers to make it to the Democratic debate that took place in September.
JOHN HICKENLOOPER BIO: COLORADO SENATOR
After conceding from the 2020 presidential election, Hickenlooper was urged by Colorado Democrats to challenge former Republican Sen. Cory Gardner for his Colorado seat. He won by a wide margin and has been serving as a United States Senator for Colorado since 2021.
His accomplishments as Senator include negotiating and writing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which is the nation’s largest investment in infrastructure since the New Deal, and supporting the American Rescue Plan to help families and small businesses deal with the repercussions of Covid-19.
Check out the uPolitics YouTube channel for more exclusive Hickenlooper interviews.
When my fellow candidates offer free college with no way to pay for it. #ThrowYourHandsUp
In Colorado, we pioneered the successful CareerWise program, which offers high school students apprenticeships with all types of businesses, while earning college credit and a paycheck. pic.twitter.com/5Qb1OsiPs4
— John Hickenlooper (@Hickenlooper) August 2, 2019
Political Views (with Links to Exclusive UPolitics Interviews)
- Hickenlooper was insistent during his uInterview that America focus on the “global marketplace.” He stressed the importance of fair trade goods, worker protections, livable wages and holding trading partners accountable.
- Hickenlooper was especially vocal about Trump’s tariff wars with China, which he claims are “crippling our economy.” He reiterated that each American household now pays $800-$1,200 more “for the same stuff they bought last year.”
- This candidate noted the added consequences of Trump’s massive tax breaks for the wealthy. The way he sees it, the tariff war is taking even more from the middle class, who are now taxed at higher rates than the top earners in America. “Their taxes went down,” Hickenlooper said of the rich, “and everyone else who’s paying for this tariff war, their taxes went up.”
- In terms of employment, Hickenlooper cited apprenticeship as a key form of job preparation and a necessity for a successful economy. He detailed the apprenticeship program he created in his home state, now “rolling out” in 22 others, which he aimed to implement nationwide as president. Hickenlooper described the program as a “skill-based learning system for new emerging professions,” such as artificial intelligence and other technology-based enterprises.
- Hickenlooper supports many facets of the Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as “Obamacare”) but believes others are lacking. He told uInterview that the ACA “did not go far enough, but it was a great start.”
- This candidate does not support Medicare for All, the healthcare plan favored by Sanders and Warren (D-Massachusetts). He believes it would be detrimental to the 180 million Americans afforded private insurance through their employer. “I think [it’s] better to have a public option,” Hickenlooper said, because government-provided plans might attract enough people that the “quality will improve and costs will go down.”
- Hickenlooper favors a gradual transition from solely privatized insurance to a program like Medicare for All. “Fifteen, twenty years from now, we could end up with Medicare for All,” he told uInterview. “But it would be an evolution, not a revolution.”
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, one of 23 candidates running for the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination, told NPR why he doesn't believe in some of the party's major policy proposals, such as the Green New Deal and "Medicare for All." https://t.co/NIYr4r6Kkb
— NPR (@NPR) May 27, 2019
- Hickenlooper has a call to action regarding illegal immigrants: “Let’s recognize that we need a comprehensive solution to our immigration system.”
- He believes that the current border crisis is a “manufactured crisis by Donald Trump.” He believes we need to make facilities more humane and deploy more resources, more judges and administrators to “speed up the process.”
- Hickenlooper does not believe immigration should be a free-for-all by any means. He pushes for a secure border with functional identification systems. He also supports deporting illegal immigrants who have committed crimes but does not consider border-crossing itself a crime worthy of deportation.
- Hickenlooper advocates for a more civil and humanistic approach to immigration. He told uInterview that 80% of America’s current illegal immigrants are “just here to be reunited with family” and sees no reason to throw them all out of the country.
- This candidate also sees illegal immigrants as a valuable economic asset. He suggests affording them work visas “adjustable after ten years” so they might advance the economy alongside other American residents.
- Hickenlooper believes that “climate change is the single greatest danger that mankind has ever faced.”
- Due to his Master’s degree in geology, Hickenlooper feels he is “the only person running who’s got even a semblance of a scientific background.” Consequently, he is confident in his proposals to slow climate change and global warming.
- Hickenlooper suggests replacing coal plants with wind and solar energy production. He also foresees universal electric automation and lower-carbon alternatives to concrete. “We gotta start looking at these things,” he told uInterview, “and use innovation, use technology, use science.”
- Hickenlooper fears “we’re already too far behind” in the carbon capture race. He feels strongly that our planet is doomed unless we devote billions of dollars to environmental research and emission prevention.
- In Hickenlooper’s eyes, economic policies may be part of the solution. He suggests placing a fee on carbon and rebating taxpayers. Not only will participants be refunded; they will also “have an incentive to use less carbon.”
I will incorporate my bold climate change goals into our trade agreements, because we need the global community to work with us to combat climate change. Open and fair trade should not come at the expense of our environment.
— John Hickenlooper (@Hickenlooper) August 7, 2019
- Hickenlooper is strongly pro-choice when it comes to abortion rights. “Women’s reproductive rights have been under assault for years now,” he told uInterview.
- As governor of Colorado, Hickenlooper expanded women’s reproductive rights and opted for long-acting reversible contraception. “We allowed young women to decide with certainty when they wanted to start a family,” he said. “And we reduced unintended pregnancies in Colorado by 54%, and we reduced teenage abortion by 64%.” Hickenlooper aims to achieve similar reproductive freedom nationwide.
- Hickenlooper was quick to condemn President Trump’s “reckless and isolationist policy” in his uPolitics interview. He described the soaring tariffs on Chinese goods as “a joke” and opined that neither party involved in a trade war can benefit.
- “Tariff wars are for losers, Mr. President!” he said, detailing how such arrangements hurt farmers and other rural Americans. He slammed Trump’s policies for alienating those waiting on small manufacturing and other industries unlikely to return to the United States.
- Hickenlooper called for a “multilateral” trade agreement between America and nations like China to prevent them from cheating to get a leg up on the U.S. economy and climate. He criticized one multilateral agreement, the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), in particular, claiming it “wasn’t right.” Hickenlooper believed the TPP “needed more protections around the world” to keep the climate – both economic and environmental – secure.
My open and fair trade policy goes beyond imposing a new tariff on China whenever the wind changes direction. I’ll fight for policies that benefit American workforce. This is how we’ll build an economy that works for everyone. #TariffWarsAreForLosers
— John Hickenlooper (@Hickenlooper) August 7, 2019
- Hickenlooper expressed mixed feelings about the current electoral system. “The electoral system was designed to protect the smaller states, the more rural states,” he said, stepping in line with the general Democratic view that small states have the upper hand in the electoral college system.
- He explained how his state falls somewhere between small and large due to its rural and urban areas. He expressed that, while he takes great pride in how “rapidly” Denver is growing, he is also proud of rural Colorado’s progress. Hickenlooper boasted that his state has “one of the top rural economies,” thanks in part to the tax cuts he implemented as governor for those starting businesses in desolate areas.
- Hickenlooper hopes to implement his models for Coloradoan success on a national scale. He noted that he helped spread broadband Internet to every town and city in his state as governor and said, “The whole country has to do that!”
- He hopes to “evolve” the electoral system rather than abolish it, unlike many Democrats. “We don’t want to have our president elected just on what the largest states think is best at this moment,” he told uInterview. “I think we want the balance of the whole country participating in our democracy.”
- Gun control is an issue particularly close to Hickenlooper’s heart, as he served as governor of Colorado during the Aurora shooting. “When we had the shooting in the Aurora movie theater in 2012, I was in the mobile command vehicle and saw the video footage from the crime scene,” he said. “It is traumatic. We have trauma. I will remember those images forever.”
- After mourning the Aurora tragedy, Hickenlooper and his team took a stand against gun violence. In under eight months, they passed a law for universal background checks on potential gun owners and limited magazine capacities for their weapons. He reports a major decrease in gun-related homicides in Colorado after passing that measure.
- Hickenlooper aimed to take the same approach as president. He told uInterview, “If I was president, I would take that state to state, purple state to purple state. I’d pick a few red states. And once I’d beaten the NRA in state after state, I’d make it national policy. And I think we should go further; I think we should step out. We make everybody in this country pass a driver’s license [test] before they can operate a vehicle. Why aren’t they passing a gun license [test] to be able to own and store firearms?”
- Hickenlooper criticizes his competition for not taking stronger action against gun violence. “How can we not have universal background checks as national policy?” he said. “[The others] can’t stand up to the NRA? We beat the NRA in Colorado. The bottom line is that universal background checks are supported by almost 90% of Americans.” The candidate hoped to act upon that support as president.
As a former governor, I know how important down ballot races are. It's how in we passed universal background checks for gun purchases and high-capacity magazine limits in Colorado. #DownBallotPledge #EveryTown #NotOneMore https://t.co/TYnWKW0Ka9
— John Hickenlooper (@Hickenlooper) August 6, 2019
- According to Hickenlooper, “Our criminal justice system is a long way from justice.” He cited examples such as slavery, Jim Crowe, unpaid convict labor, lynchings, “legalized terrorism,” redlining, housing bias, segregation in schools and housing.
- Hickenlooper called slavery “the nagging persistent shame of this country that, to this day, denies a big part of our country’s promise to too many people.”
- Hickenlooper recalled the assassination of a 15-year-old black boy shortly after he took mayoral office. He told uInterview about the coalition he formed with 35 reverends and pastors “at churches in the black communities.” Together, they negotiated with the police union to pass major police reform, including a civilian oversight commission and de-escalation training for officers.
- Hickenlooper noted that Trump is ordering the Justice Department to back off from consent decrees, which make police forces in “clearly biased neighborhoods” more justice-oriented. In response, he said, “Let’s have our Justice Department empowered to really push and make these best practices the law of the land.”
- When asked what he thought of impeaching Donald Trump, Hickenlooper said, “Without question, the Mueller report demonstrates that there are a number [of] – eight, I think, maybe ten – examples where [Trump] is probably guilty of a crime.”
- He is in strong favor of beginning an impeachment inquiry but cautions that “we don’t want to write articles of impeachment until we know what the facts are.” (By “the facts,” Hickenlooper means the crimes allegedly committed by Trump.)
- Hickenlooper’s plan as president would be to start an inquiry, get subpoena power until all the facts of the case were revealed, and see where they led. In his own words, “I think we’ve got a Constitutional responsibility to follow those facts where they lead.”
"After listening to Mueller, and I wanted to hear what he had to say… I think he laid the responsibility clearly at the doorstep of Congress. I think we have to begin an impeachment inquiry." https://t.co/ZN94BgWKvB
— John Hickenlooper (@Hickenlooper) May 30, 2019
- Hickenlooper is outraged with the current state of income inequality. “A quarter of the population is worse off than they were in 1980,” he told uInterview. “That’s unthinkable.”
- Hickenlooper attributes some of America’s poverty to its paltry minimum wage. “We’ve got to have a livable wage,” he said. “We do have to increase the minimum wage.”
- He recognizes that for many poorer Americans, upward mobility is not a tangible option. He urges citizens to “recognize that people just getting their arm around the ladder of their careers” is not enough. “They’ve gotta be able to pull themselves up.”
- Hickenlooper pushes for earned income tax credits. He believes they will motivate people to work and invest in the economy by spending their credits.
- Hickenlooper also stressed the importance of competition in the marketplace. He explained that since the Reagan administration, large corporate mergers have deterred entrepreneurs from creating start-ups. He owes much of his success to his past entrepreneurship and hopes to create an economy where others can live out their dreams.
- One of Hickenlooper’s strongest political beliefs is that education shapes our nation. “We’re never going to get to our dream of a more perfect union … if we don’t transform our education system,” he said.
- Hickenlooper spoke of his past educational achievements in Colorado. Under his mayorship, Denver became the first city in America to afford each four-year-old universal Pre-K.
- As governor of Colorado, Hickenlooper implemented a comprehensive education system for early learners. He began a third-grade literacy program to assist struggling readers and “repattern how they read,” with the option of summer school. This initiative increased the number of third-graders reading at grade level by 50%. Hickenlooper took a similar approach to boosting sixth-grade mathematical abilities.
- Hickenlooper’s main educational goal is to “make sure that every kid, when they finish high school … [has] a chance at a great life.” To see this through, he pioneered an apprenticeship program which gradually exposes high school students to the workforce. They work and study part-time at community colleges to accrue $30,000, a high school diploma and a year’s college credit by the time they graduate. “If I get elected president,” Hickenlooper told uInterview, “we’ll have a million apprentices a year.”
- Hickenlooper also stressed the importance of proactively preventing joblessness. He worked with LinkedIn and Microsoft to create skillful.com, a platform where kids research other industries in case theirs become endangered. “We need to get four to five years ahead of it,” Hickenlooper explained, “so you can have choices if there’s a problem.”
Let's close the skills gap through the largest investment in apprenticeships and community college this country has ever seen. That's my #BigIdea to support American workers.
Find out more here: https://t.co/ojKAKX3lXx"
— John Hickenlooper (@Hickenlooper) June 18, 2019
- When asked about Russia’s interference with the 2016 election, Hickenlooper was adamant about preventing future collusion. “We don’t have any protocol for cybersecurity,” he lamented. “There’s no punishment when Russia tries to involve and change and direct the outcome of our most sacred democratic institutions: our elections.”
- Hickenlooper told uInterview that as times and technology change, so should our security cybersystems. “We are more interconnected than we ever dreamed we would be,” he said. “It’s glaring how vulnerable we can be.”
- The presidential hopeful is fervently opposed to America’s current isolationist stance. He argues that we must connect with other nations in terms of climate change and the economy but also cybersecurity. On a smaller scale, he promoted Colorado’s mail-in ballot system, which increases voter turnout and includes paper backups to optimize elections. He hoped to spread this system to all states if he were elected president.
- Among Hickenlooper’s “outside-the-box” ideas is setting term limits for Supreme Court justices. He believes doing so would allow “a certain amount of fluidity” throughout the Court and help to modernize the justice system.
- Hickenlooper also supports nominating Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. for statehood, which has been highly contested by other (and often conservative) candidates.
- Hickenlooper, unlike fundamentalist Americans, supports amending the Constitution. “We’ve gone several hundred years and the basic foundations haven’t changed that much,” he told uInterview. “We should be very thoughtful before we start pulling our Constitution one way or another.”
- When asked whether he supported reparations for the descendants of slaves, Hickenlooper was careful not to give a direct yes-or-no answer. “I support doing a study to look at what would reparations look like, how would that feel…” he said.
- Hickenlooper noted that Germany has been paying over $80 billion since the Holocaust ended. He raised the issue of just how many groups America owes reparations, including Native Americans. “How do we find the relative measures by which we would approach this?” he asked.
- The candidate cited special housing, educational funds and studies as possible forms of reparation. He was particularly keen on the last item, stating, “I fully support the Bill in Congress that would allow us to do a more thorough study”
- Hickenlooper believes his entrepreneurial past sets him apart from his competition for the Democratic nomination. “I know how to put a team together and build a business,” he told uInterview. He described how he was out of work for two years and knows “what it’s like to lose not just your job but your profession.”
- He attributed his uniqueness to his journey from laid-off geologist to restauranteur to mayor. For more information on Hickenlooper’s career path, see “Geology Career and Early Entrepreneurship.”
- Hickenlooper’s tangible success as mayor of Denver and governor of Colorado leads him to believe that he is fit for office. “What we’ve done in Colorado is the model for what we need to do as a country,” he told uInterview.
On August 15, Hickenlooper announced the end of his presidential campaign. “While this campaign didn’t have the outcome we were hoping for,” he tweeted, “every moment has been worthwhile.” Now out of the presidential race, Hickenlooper may run for Senate in 2020.
This morning, I’m announcing that I’m no longer running for President. While this campaign didn’t have the outcome we were hoping for, every moment has been worthwhile & I’m thankful to everyone who supported this campaign and our entire team.https://t.co/1ijSjkbzzd
— John Hickenlooper (@Hickenlooper) August 15, 2019
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