DENVER — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who announced Tuesday that’s he was heading off on a week-long personal trip to Israel, is traveling there with Larry Mizel, a prominent Republican donor and close friend of the governor’s, multiple sources tell FOX31 Denver.
Mizel, a billionaire homebuilder and political benefactor, helped organize the trip for Hickenlooper and a handful of close friends.
Sources close to the administration tell FOX31 Denver that the trip is truly a personal vacation of sorts for Hickenlooper — and a much needed one after a difficult separation last summer and, in recent weeks, a bruising political debate over gun control measures and the murder of a cabinet member by a paroled felon who happened to be the son of a long-time friend.
In moving ahead with the trip this week, advisers decided they’d just endure any political backlash from people taking issue with the governor leaving the Capitol just as the legislature enters its final four-week stretch or others who interpret the trip as an indication of Hickenlooper’s national political ambition.
Some Democrats at the Capitol, already somewhat vexed by the governor’s abrupt departure in the final month of the legislative session, relayed to FOX31 Denver Wednesday that they were less than pleased to hear that Hickenlooper was overseas with Mizel.
Mizel, who lives in Denver, founded a company that later became Richmond American Homes and is also a founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and The Cell, a counter-terrorism learning laboratory in Denver.
Worth over $3 billion, Mizel has long been a political benefactor of Hickenlooper’s while also donating to a number of Republicans and to conservative political action committees.
In a press release Tuesday, Hickenlooper’s office announced the trip and made it clear that the governor is paying his own way and that the journey, which includes a meeting with Israel’s President Shimon Peres and visits to historical sites, is a personal one and not in any way connected to official state business.
To some political observers, the trip itself hinted at Hickenlooper’s aspirations of seeking higher office.
“A visit to Israel is a prerequisite for any American politician wishing to play on the national stage,” political analyst Eric Sondermann told FOX31 Denver Tuesday afternoon.
A spokeswoman for the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado said Wednesday the group did not organize the trip but is “delighted” the governor is in Israel.
A source close to Hickenlooper tells FOX31 Denver that Hickenlooper would have organized the trip through the Allied Jewish Federation or through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) if it was truly geared toward the governor’s long-term political ambitions.