John Hickenlooper, a self-described “recovering geologist now on loan to public service,” was elected Governor in 2010. His unconventional road to the Capitol began when he left the oilfields of western Colorado in the late 1980s and opened the state’s first brewpub. As he says, “I went from exploring oil to selling beer.” His business grew, helping to revitalize a now popular neighborhood in downtown Denver, and he became active in Denver’s civic life. One thing led to another, until, goaded by friends and other business leaders, he successfully ran for Mayor of Denver in 2003.
He had served nearly eight years as mayor when then-Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s decided not to seek re-election. John was encouraged to make a run and quickly garnered support to be the Democratic candidate for Governor. He won 51 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
John and his team are restoring faith in good government and leading Colorado out of the nationwide recession by:
John’s favorite quote is from Abraham Lincoln. He said, “With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed” That largely describes John’s governing approach as he tackles difficult problems in a bottom-up – and not a top-down – way. It also means gathering stakeholders with diverse opinions, listening and then collaborating to find common ground.
Examples of this approach can be found with the Colorado Blueprint, TBD Colorado and the Colorado Innovation Network. Each of these efforts reflect the Hickenlooper Administration’s commitment to engage Coloradans and find solutions.
John is one of only a few governors serving in leadership positions with the National Governors Association and theWestern Governors’ Association. He also serves as the Vice Chair of the Democratic Governors Association.
Born in Narberth, Pa., John saw his father die at a young age and was raised by his notoriously frugal mother. Having lived through the Great Depression, John’s mother never wore a dress she didn’t sew herself, and she washed plastic wrap and aluminum foil for reuse. John has carried these lessons of frugality throughout his life – lessons that have served him well as a budget-conscious chief executive.
John earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in geology, both from Wesleyan University, and moved to Colorado in 1981, finding work with Buckhorn Petroleum. With the collapse of the oil industry in the 1980s, John was laid-off and his career as a geologist came to an end. He struggled for a while until he came up with the crazy idea to open Colorado’s first brewpub. As John likes to say, “I didn’t know anything about starting a business. I didn’t even know what a pro forma was.”
But John went to the Denver Public Library, got books on how to write a business plan and started the long process of making his vision a reality. He eventually opened The Wynkoop Brewing Co. in a dilapidated warehouse district of downtown Denver. His vision proved successful, and the brewpub and restaurant are now mainstays of Denver’s community and the beating heart of Lower Downtown.
In 2003, John entered the race for Denver mayor. Despite opposition from seasoned political veterans, he captured the attention of voters with his outsiders’ perspective and business prowess, and he won by a landslide 2-to-1 margin.
As mayor, John consistently honed a creative, innovative and efficient edge to government. He overhauled the city’s financial system, created the city’s first chief financial officer and streamlined many city services. In 2005, after serving only two years as mayor, Time magazine placed him among the top five “big-city” mayors in the country.
John ran for Governor of Colorado in 2010 on a platform to make Colorado the best place for entrepreneurs to grow jobs. He promised a balanced budget plan without raising taxes and a regulatory philosophy that would support economic development while maintaining the highest environmental standards.
Perhaps most important of all, John brought to the state Capitol a track record of bringing people together to solve problems instead of stoking the same old partisan squabbles.
In his 2013 State of the State address, John said this about Colorado:
“While Washington struggles with fiscal cliffs and partisan fights, Colorado demonstrates there is still room for compromise and moderation.
“Some have suggested a divided government – that is, divided chambers – has been a blessing for our administration. They say I got lucky … but I don’t see it that way.
“Our blessing was not divided government in the last two years; our blessing was in the many relationships we formed with lawmakers from both parties … and that you have with each other.
“These relationships endure. They span the geography of our state and they transcend political affiliation. And they’ve been nourished by our working together … helped along every once in a while by a cold Colorado beer.”
John is separated from his wife, Helen Thorpe. They have one son. The family calls Denver their home.