As Colorado's new lawmakers showed off their desks to their kids on Wednesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper was busy cleaning out his own. He was down to his final days as the head of state government.
Signed baseball bats and other memorabilia were scattered on the floor of his office. His desk was littered with piles of old papers.
Sitting under a giant photo of a grand Colorado landscape, the governor smiled often as he reflected on his eight years in office. At times, he sounded like a politician preparing for a run for president. Here are the highlights from our exit interview with the outgoing governor.
Describe your most rewarding moments in office:
Gov. John Hickenlooper: There are so many rewarding moments, it's hard to pick one. Certainly when we passed civil unions and recognized that love is love and that people should be free to love whoever they want, that was a momentous step forward, but when I was governor I got to play a song at the stage at Red Rocks to a sold out show with Old Crow Medicine Show, and I love music enough that when I sang my verse and the crowd roared in my face, that was about as good as it gets.
What were your most challenging moments in office?
Hickenlooper: That first four years when I was governor from 2011 to 2015, we had the worst droughts since the depression, the worst wildfires in the history of the state. We had the worst flood in the history of the state. I mean, we went to 50 funerals in my first four years. It seemed like it was one every few weeks.
But I guess the hardest one was going out to the movie theatre, the Cinemark in Aurora, after that shooting and seeing the video tape of what that crime scene looked like. I mean, there was popcorn everywhere, plastic cups of Coke and water and blood everywhere. It was just a very, very, very difficult period. And you know, we spent the next couple of days just going to visit the surviving victims in hospitals there in five or six hospitals by that point. That's something you never forget.
What legacy do you hope to leave as governor?
Hickenlooper: For the last two years, according to US News and World Report, according to USA Today, we're the number one economy in America. And I think when the results come in this year, we'll be the number one rural economy in America as well. … There's a confidence now in Colorado, swagger. People are kind of proud to be from Colorado. Young people around the country want to move here because it's a place where we do work together, and we solve problems. Just look at the nightly news and you'll see where that's not happening in Washington. And I feel immensely proud of that.
What advice do you have for Gov.-elect Jared Polis?
Hickenlooper: Jared Polis really doesn't need any advice from me. He's got, I think, the key ingredients that will allow him to be a great governor … he's selfless … I mean he's got an ego, he wants to be great. He wants to be the best governor ever. That's a good thing.
Have you given any more thought to your presidential ambitions?
Hickenlooper: People say, 'Well, you're from Colorado. It's a flyover state and Colorado is too small. You've got to raise a ton of money to be able to run for president. You won't be able to do it in Colorado.'
Well, that's what we're trying to figure out. … We've made mistakes here, not everything's been perfect. But we're more transparent now. … We'll see. We're going to try and make up our minds sometime in March.
Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Eleven public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.