DENVER—From the outside, they seemed to be a case of opposites attracting: John Hickenlooper, the gregarious brewmeister-turned-governor with a flair for self-promotion, and Helen Thorpe, the serious writer who guarded her privacy and never seemed comfortable with the role of political spouse.
That’s why the announcement Tuesday that they had decided to separate came as a surprise, but not exactly a shock.
In a joint statement, the governor and his wife said the decision was “mutual and amicable,” and came despite extensive counseling. They also emphasized that neither of them had been involved in an affair.
Married in 2002, they have a 10-year-old son, whose well-being is their “chief concern,” they said.
“We continue to have the utmost respect for each other, and we remain close friends,” said the statement. “We intend to continue functioning as a family that spends a great deal of time together. In fact, we will embark on our annual family vacation together this week, share meals often, and plan to spend holidays together.”
Leaving a marriage contains a fair amount of political risk, especially for an up-and-coming contender like Hickenlooper, who’s been mentioned as a possible candidate for higher office.
Despite that, analysts said they doubted the separation would slow his rapid rise in politics.
“I don’t think this would impede anything he would want to do in the political arena,” said Republican political analyst Dick Wadhams, the former chair of the Colorado Republican Party. “I personally think he’ll take a hard look at the presidential nomination in 2016. It will be an open seat [for Democrats], and when you look at it, there’s no heavyweight right now who could clear the field.”
Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said the couple’s apparently still-amicable relationship should help Hickenlooper avoid significant political fallout.
“It really depends to a large extent on the circumstances,” said Ciruli. “As long as there was no scandal, I think this amiable separation is going to pass quickly.”
It helps that Thorpe kept a low public profile and was relatively unknown to most Coloradans, he said.
“She was not really politically active–she was a private person and preferred to concentrate on her writing career–so I think the public knew her less,” said Ciruli.
The summer of 2012 has been a rough one in Colorado, what with the disastrous wildfires in June and the Aurora theater shooting in July, but the couple said that recent events had nothing to do with their decision.
The First Couple had been residing in east Denver, but Hickenlooper will now move into the governor’s mansion, making frequent trips home to spend time with his son, according to the statement.
“You can continue to expect to see both of us out in the community — sometimes together, sometimes solo,” said the statement. “Please feel free to include both of us in social gatherings as we will not find it awkward.”
Recent Colorado governors have struggled with their share of marital woes. Republican Gov. Bill Owens and his wife Frances separated in 2003, then reconciled in 2005 before ultimately divorcing after he left office.
His predecessor, Democratic Gov. Roy Romer, confessed in 1998 that he had been involved in a longstanding relationship with a former staffer, Betty Jane Thornberry. His wife Bea acknowledged that she knew about the relationship, and the couple remained married.