John Wright Hickenlooper Jr. (; born February 7, 1952) is an American politician, businessman, and geologist serving as the junior United States Senator
since 2021. A member of the Democratic Party
, Hickenlooper was mayor of Denver
from 2003 to 2011 and governor of Colorado
from 2011 to 2019.
Born in Narberth, Pennsylvania
, Hickenlooper is a graduate of Wesleyan University
. After a career as a petroleum geologist
, he co-founded the Wynkoop Brewing Company
in Denver in 1988. Hickenlooper was elected the 43rd mayor of Denver
, serving two terms. After incumbent governor Bill Ritter
said 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 Constitution Party
nominee Tom Tancredo
and Republican Party
nominee Dan Maes in the general election
. Hickenlooper won with 51% of the vote and was reelected in 2014
, defeating Republican Bob Beauprez
As governor, he introduced universal background checks
and banned high-capacity magazines
in the wake of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting
. He expanded Medicaid
under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act
, halving the rate of uninsured
people in the state. Having initially opposed marijuana legalization
, he has gradually come to support it.
He sought the Democratic nomination
for president of the United States
in 2019 but dropped out before primaries were held. He subsequently ran for the U.S. Senate, winning the Democratic nomination and the general election
, defeating incumbent Republican Cory Gardner
. At 68, Hickenlooper became the oldest first-term senator to represent Colorado.
Early life, education, and career
Hickenlooper was born in Narberth, Pennsylvania
, a middle-class area of the suburban Main Line
He is the son of Anne Doughten (née Morris) Kennedy and John Wright Hickenlooper.
His great-grandfather Andrew Hickenlooper
was a Union general, and his grandfather Smith Hickenlooper
was a United States federal judge
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
He recounted first smoking pot when he was 16 and using lithium carbonate
capsules to go through with his final exam.
Hickenlooper worked as a geologist in Colorado for Buckhorn Petroleum in the early 1980s. When Buckhorn was sold, Hickenlooper was laid off in 1986. 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. He alleges his restaurant was the first to offer a designated driver
program in Colorado.
In 1989, Hickenlooper was arrested in Denver for "driving while impaired
" and did community service
Mayor of Denver
In 2003, Hickenlooper ran for mayor of Denver.
Campaigning on his business experience, he developed a series of creative television ads that separated him from the rest of the crowded field, including one in which he addressed unhappiness over a recent increase in parking rates by walking the streets to "feed" meters
He won the election and in July 2003 he took office as the 43rd mayor of Denver. ''TIME Magazine
'' named him one of America's five best big-city mayors in 2005.
On taking office, Hickenlooper inherited a "$70 million budget deficit, the worst in city history", which he was able to eliminate in his first term "without major service cuts or layoffs", according to ''Time''.
He won bipartisan support for a mulitbillion dollar mass public transit project, intended in part to attract investment and funded by a voter-approved sales tax increase.
In 2003, Hickenlooper announced a ten-year plan to end homelessness in Denver, citing it as one of the issues that prompted him to run for mayor. 280 U.S. cities announced similar plans. The effort did not end homelessness in Denver, and in 2015 Denver's city auditor "released a scathing audit faulting the plan's implementation." The head of the agency responsible defended the program, saying it was "still housing 300-400 people a month in varying ways", while Hickenlooper argued that the point of such an ambitious target was to focus attention and resources on the problem. [ In his governor's budget request for 2017–18, he asked lawmakers to allocate $12.3 million from taxes on marijuana to building homes for chronically homeless people.] [
Hickenlooper established the Denver Scholarship Foundation, providing needs-based college scholarships to high school graduates.
In May 2007, Hickenlooper was reelected with 88% of the vote. He resigned as mayor just before his inauguration as governor.
2008 Democratic National Convention
Hickenlooper was an executive member of the Denver 2008 Convention Host Committee and helped lead the successful campaign for Denver to host the 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 . Once the arrangement came to light, the host committee agreed to pay taxes on the fuel already consumed and on all future fuel purchases. 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.
Governor of Colorado
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 announced on February 6, 2006, that he would not run for governor. Later, he supported Democratic candidate Bill Ritter, Denver's former district attorney, who was subsequently elected.
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. He said that if Salazar mounted a bid for governor, he would likely not challenge him in a Democratic primary. On January 7, 2010, Salazar confirmed that he would not run for governor in 2010 and endorsed Hickenlooper. On January 12, 2010, media outlets reported that Hickenlooper would begin a campaign for governor. On August 5, 2010, he selected CSU-Pueblo president Joseph A. Garcia as his running mate. 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.
Hickenlooper won a tightly contested gubernatorial election with a plurality of 49.0% of the vote against Republican businessman Bob Beauprez.
On January 11, 2011, Hickenlooper was sworn in as the 42nd governor of Colorado after winning by 15 points. He was the second Denver mayor ever elected governor. His victory was a landslide despite Democrats' poor results overall in the 2010 elections. Republicans flipped twelve governorships nationwide in 2010.
NPR described Hickenlooper as having a "pro-business centrist profile" and as "known to try to build consensus and compromise on tough issues", [ while ''5280'' called him as "one of those unicorn-rare, truly apolitical politicians", noting support from business leaders and some Republicans.]
On December 4, 2012, Hickenlooper was elected to serve as vice chair of the Democratic Governors Association.
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 Hickenlooper as vice president.
Constitutionally limited to two consecutive terms, Hickenlooper could not run for governor in 2018.
On June 5, 2020, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission fined Hickenlooper $2,750 for twice violating Colorado's gift ban as governor. Hickenlooper received a flight on a private jet owned by homebuilder and donor Larry Mizel, the founder of MDC Holdings. He also received private security and a ride to the airport in a Maserati limousine on a trip to the Bilderberg Meetings in Italy. The state spent an estimated $127,000 in attorney's fees investigating the violation.
Hickenlooper had previously been considered the front-runner 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. He confirmed his interest in the seat. But on January 3, 2009, Governor Bill Ritter appointed Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to the position. Bennet previously served as Hickenlooper's chief of staff.
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. Some preliminary polling data showed him with a substantial lead against incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner. Hickenlooper was also leading the Democratic primary field by a fairly wide margin before he announced. He was quickly endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a move protested by candidates already running before Hickenlooper's entry.
On June 30, Hickenlooper defeated former state house Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the Democratic primary, winning the nomination to challenge one-term incumbent Republican Cory Gardner. He defeated Gardner by 9 points and took office on January 3, 2021.
In the wake of the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, Hickenlooper said he would support efforts to remove Donald Trump from office, in line with most of his party.
* Senate committee on Energy and Natural Resources
* Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
* Senate committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
* Senate committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
2020 presidential campaign
On March 4, 2019, Hickenlooper announced his campaign to seek the Democratic nomination for president of the United States in 2020.
His candidacy had been a matter of media speculation for months before his announcement. Hickenlooper formally launched his campaign on March 7, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. A video titled "Stand Tall" was released to announce the campaign and outline his reasons for running. Hickenlooper formed Giddy Up PAC in 2018 in anticipation of a presidential campaign, raising more than $600,000 in the midterm cycle. 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.
In 2013, a campaign sought clemency for Nathan Dunlap, a black man facing execution for the 1993 murder of four people, with three former jurors saying they would not have voted for the death penalty had they known of his undiagnosed mental illness, while the mother of a victim, a former co-worker of Dunlap, and the Arapahoe County District Attorney urged Hickenlooper to let the execution take place.
[ Hickenlooper granted Dunlap a reprieve, reversible by a future governor, citing inequity in the legal system and the evidence against capital punishment's effectiveness as a deterrent, saying, "It is a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives".]
In Hickenlooper's 2016 memoir, he came out against the death penalty, saying his views had changed after he became more familiar with the research showing bias against minorities and people with mental illnesses.
In May 2014, Hickenlooper signed five bills related to disaster relief in the wake of flooding and wildfires. The bills funded grants to remove flood debris from watersheds and to repair flood-damaged schools and damaged wastewater and drinking water systems. They also exempted people who lost homes from having to pay property taxes and out-of-state disaster workers from having to pay Colorado state income tax.
In 2006, Denver voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis, becoming one of the first major U.S. cities to do so. Hickenlooper opposed the initiative, and said it would not override state law, which punished possession with a $100 fine. In 2012, he opposed Amendment 64, which made Colorado the first state along with Washington to allow the sale and recreational use of cannabis, but worked with the state legislature to enact the decision.
A year after the measures came into effect, he said, "You don't want to be the first person to do something like this", telling other governors to "wait a couple of years" until a clear regulatory framework had been established.
As Colorado's new laws have been implemented and the results become more clear, Hickenlooper has indicated that his views have evolved, saying in May 2016 that Colorado's approach to cannabis legalization is "beginning to look like it might work". In 2019, he said he would be happy to decriminalize cannabis at a federal level if he became president. He also said that the federal government should not stop states from decriminalizing currently illicit drugs beyond marijuana, as well as allowing for safe, supervised injection sites.
In March 2014, Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1241, which funded the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI).
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. 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.
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."
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. The rules were later used as blueprints for California, Canada, and the federal government's own new rules.
After 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.
NPR has called Hickenlooper a "strong supporter of Colorado's oil and gas industry".
Unlike most Democrats, he supports hydraulic fracking, a controversial oil and natural gas extraction process. Before politics, Hickenlooper was a geologist. He believes fracking is a beneficial practice with minimal environmental harm, even testifying in a 2013 hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that he had drunk a glass of fracking fluid produced by Halliburton. [
In February 2021, Hickenlooper was one of seven Democratic U.S. Senators to join Republicans in blocking a ban of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking.
Exactly eight months after the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, Hickenlooper signed bills into law requiring universal background checks on all gun transfers in Colorado except gifts between immediate family members and banning magazines with more than 15 rounds.
Although most Coloradans supported the measures, according to polling by the ''Denver Post'', [ the bills' opponents gathered enough signatures to trigger special elections leading to the ousting of Democratic state senators John Morse and Angela Giron and the resignation of Evie Hudak.]
Hickenlooper was a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns until 2011. In 2018, he 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 deemed a significant risk to themselves or others. The GOP-controlled State Senate never let the bill out of committee that legislative session.
Hickenlooper expanded Medicaid and established Colorado's health insurance marketplace, Connect for Health Colorado, through the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The state's uninsured rate dropped from 14.3% in 2013 to 6.5% in 2017. Approximately 350,000 Coloradans, about a quarter of whom are undocumented immigrants and thus ineligible for public insurance, remained without insurance coverage. The price of health insurance coverage continued to rise in Colorado, which has some of the highest premiums in the nation.
As governor, Hickenlooper signed legislation granting in-state tuition to Dreamers (DACA) and joined a lawsuit to stop the Trump administration from ending DACA. During his 2019 campaign for President, Hickenlooper described the Trump administration family separation policy as ″kidnapping″ and said it would be ″crazy″ to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Hickenlooper voted against providing economic support to undocumented immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic on February 4, 2021.
In March 2019, Hickenlooper said he supported legalizing sex work and regulating "where there are norms and protections".
Hickenlooper married Robin Pringle on January 16, 2016. 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. Upon taking office as governor, Hickenlooper and his family decided to maintain their private residence instead of moving to the Colorado Governor's Mansion. On July 31, 2012, Hickenlooper announced that he and Thorpe were separating after 10 years of marriage. 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. In 2010, Hickenlooper told ''The Philadelphia Inquirer'' that he and Thorpe attended Quaker meetings and tried to live by Quaker values. 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.
A cousin, George Hickenlooper (1963–2010) was an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker. 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 great-uncle Bourke Hickenlooper, who served as governor of Iowa and a U.S. senator from Iowa.
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."
In his 2016 memoir, Hickenlooper mentioned that he watched the 1972 pornographic movie ''Deep Throat'' with his mother alongside one of his friends. He later recounted the event during his 2020 presidential campaign.
Hickenlooper is an avid squash player and continues to compete as a ranked player in national tournaments.
Hickenlooper lives with prosopagnosia, commonly known as "face blindness".
In popular culture
* Hickenlooper appears in Kurt Vonnegut's novel ''Timequake''. The author had been college friends with Hickenlooper's father.
* For a 2004 roast of the then-mayor of Denver, Vonnegut declared in a joke video that he was Hickenlooper's real father.
* In November 2012, Esquire interviewed Hickenlooper as one of the "Americans of the Year 2012".
* Hickenlooper made a cameo appearance in his cousin George Hickenlooper's 2010 film ''Casino Jack''.
Senator John Hickenlooper
official U.S. Senate website
John Hickenlooper for Colorado
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