DENVER–On the desk of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is a plate full of legislative hot potatoes that threatens to leave him with a serious case of political indigestion.
The governor is under growing pressure to defy his party and veto several Democratic bills, led by a measure that would hike the renewable-energy mandate.
Hickenlooper, who has 30 days to sign or veto the bills, hasn’t indicated which way he’ll swing, but there’s no win-win scenario. If he signs the bills, he risks doing further damage to his reputation as a moderate Democrat. If he doesn’t sign, he alienates the left wing of his party, already incensed over his involvement in killing bills on capital punishment and drilling.
“This has been a new experience for this governor, who’s generally been well-regarded by Republicans and unaffiliateds,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli.
The highly partisan legislative session, which ended May 8, has already taken a toll on Hickenlooper’s popularity. A Ciruli Associates analysis released May 6 showed the governor’s negative rating among Colorado voters up 18 percentage points from November to April.
“He’s no longer in the political stratosphere, and this has got to be weighing heavily on him because this guy wants to be loved by everyone and take a position on nothing,” said former Colorado Republican Party chair Dick Wadhams. “He’s not getting away with playing the quirky brew-pub owner anymore.”
Hickenlooper proved during the legislative session he could play hardball with his fellow Democrats by putting the kibosh on bills to ban capital punishment and tighten drilling regulations. Since then, however, he’s been a model of Democratic Party unity.
Last week, Hickenlooper defied the business community by signing the so-called “sue your boss” bill, which makes it easier to file discrimination lawsuits against employers. He also signed a sweeping elections overhaul over the heated objections of Republicans, who have dubbed it the “voter fraud act.”
“State Democratic officeholders are running away from him, making it relatively uncomfortable for him,” said Ciruli. “My sense is he’s saying ‘no’ to them so often that he’s got to agree with them on some stuff. He is a Democrat, after all.”
The measure now receiving the most pushback is Senate Bill 252, which would double the renewable energy standard for rural electricity cooperatives. A campaign run by a group called Keep Electricity Affordable has been airing television, radio and newspaper ads for weeks urging the governor to veto the bill.
In an editorial Tuesday in Complete Colorado, three Republican legislators described the bill as part of the Democratic Party’s “war on rural Colorado,” saying it will hobble rural economies by drastically increasing the cost of electricity.
The governor met Tuesday with Ken Anderson, CEO of Tri-States Generation and Transmission, which provides electricity to 18 state energy co-ops, who later issued a statement calling the mandate “unworkable.”
Even so, Wadhams predicted the governor would sign the bill, saying it would be politically untenable for him to run afoul of the environmental lobby.
“I think there’s no way he’s not going to sign the renewable-energy increase,” said Wadhams. “That’s such an article of faith within his party, and he can’t violate that. He’s already committed a sin by supporting fracking. He can’t compound that.”
Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, called on supporters Tuesday to urge Hickenlooper to sign the renewable-energy mandate.
“Colorado was one of the only states in the nation to increase clean wind and solar energy–expanding it to rural communities with the passage SB 252,” said Maysmith in an email. “Yet we are not across the finish line. Governor Hickenlooper has yet to sign SB 252, the clean-energy bill, and he is facing a veto campaign from multibillion dollar coal and dirty fossil-fuel industries.”
Also on the governor’s desk is Senate Bill 251, which would permit non-citizens to gain driver’s licenses. The licenses would be designed to distinguish them from regular driver’s licenses. Hickenlooper said last week he still hasn’t decided on whether to sign the bill, but he clearly understands the stakes.
“This is one of those bills that half the world is going to be just fervent against it and half the world’s going to be adamant that it’s got to get passed,” said Hickenlooper in the KOA-AM interview. “So we’ll try to figure out some way we can get everybody a little pissed off.”