If Hillary Clinton runs in 2016, I vote for Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado as her running mate.
He's the antithesis of all the halitotic miseries that define the choked-up discord of politics in the capital, where expectations of passing effective legislation are now so low we are all ecstatic when John McCain rescues a lame attempt to reduce the historic number of filibusters.
Colorado today brings the ticket the right winds of change. Let’s face it: innovation in the U.S. is now the province of our thriving city-states. We all know that nothing happens in Washington anymore. Immigration is stalled in the House because of a knuckle-dragging core of Republican congressmen gerrymandered into safe seats. Meanwhile, back on Main Street America, reform is supported by coalitions that range from business to Bibles to badges.
I've been in Denver this week watching Governor Hickenlooper at close range. With his dynamo friend Mike Fries, the president and CEO of Liberty Global, he's co-hosting the Biennial of the Americas summit to galvanize the economic opportunities in Latin America we're still strangely blind to. (On a panel I moderated Tuesday night, famously liberal Google exec Eric Schmidt, the granite-willed libertarian John Malone, and the attending audience were all rowdy in their support of immigration reform.)
The idea for an Americas conference epitomizes what a smart convener the rangy Hickenlooper is and how exuberantly he’s driving his state into the future. He regards the last 12 years of our country’s preoccupation with the Middle East—and now our obsession with China and pivot to Asia—as a massive distraction from engaging with our sexy, surging neighbors. From Mexico, for instance, why do we hear only about drugs, thugs, and immigration? The whacking of drug cartel monster Z-40 this week was riveting Scarface reading, but most of us haven't caught up with Mexico's astonishing recent uptick in economic growth. It’s a stunning fact that the number of users of the Internet in Latin America has exploded from 8 million people in 2000 to 129 million regular users today, most leapfrogging straight to mobile devices, transforming local business, civic participation, and crime protection at a rollicking pace.
Hickenlooper understands the vital connections between the Americas. That perspective could bring refreshing things to our national conversation during the next presidential cycle. Plus, as befits a guy with the fresh gusts off the Rockies at his back, he's breezy, loose, and accessible, an enterprising entrepreneur who's also a sophisticated mover between the worlds of commerce, culture, and tech. Now that the votes of intransigent congressmen can no longer be bought off with earmarks, a capacity for charm and collaboration has never been more important. Hickenlooper built his success in the brewery business, and he’s as welcoming as your local neighborhood tavern.
In his previous job as mayor of Denver, Hickenlooper brought together the civic community—the nonprofit, public, and private sectors—to lower the homeless rate in the city. When radio listeners called in to trash his Denver’s Road Home initiative, his staff was assigned to call those unenlightened people and invite them to be part of the conversation.
As governor, Hickenlooper has found himself labeled a bit of a liberal hero. Such framing in Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker profile in May, I’m told, created agita in his political director’s breast. Being the liberals’ darling is not really that good for the Hickenlooper brand. He's always been a centrist beloved by the Denver CEOs he regularly invites to join him for lunch. But he’s been pushed leftward by the fast-paced demographic and cultural shifts driving the reinvention of Colorado, where the growing Latino population has made the state increasingly Democratic. (After decades as a Republican-leaning stronghold, Obama won the state twice, and the State House and Senate are now controlled by Dems.)
Hickenlooper surely did not expect to be the Colorado governor who oversaw the legalization of civil unions and marijuana. More startling still, following a deep dive into cause and effect in the wake of the Aurora movie theater massacre, he's also become the governor who managed to pass three new gun-control laws that are among the toughest in the nation. He is now one of the proud multitude the NRA labels a “fanatic.”
Of course, killer sound bites will pursue him into the toxic cauldron of a national race. Discussing marijuana legalization, Lizza asked Hickenlooper how he handled the drug, and he replied, "I've always felt that you have to get the joint rolled really tightly." Late-night comedy hosts will have a great time pronouncing, “Finally, a Clinton who inhales!”
But within a few years, snarly white old Republican males will have decisively lost the culture wars, and the resurgent edge of the right-wing heat seems to be inspired far more by the libertarian position of Rand Paul than old-school social conservatives.
Hickenlooper could thus become a hipper Joe Biden for Hillary, bringing western executive perspective and swing-state sensibilities to a candidate inevitably tarred as an Eastern liberal elite.
On the surface, liberals might pine for a Latino or African-American VP nominee to balance out an HRC-led ticket. But I could imagine that by 2016 having a Caucasian 64-year-old on the ticket might feel like an edgy move that boosts the increasingly beleaguered beached white male.