DENVER — In his fourth annual State of the State address Thursday morning, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper hewed close to his favorite themes of cooperation and recovery, noting that national politicians in Washington could learn a lot from the state’s legislature.
Hickenlooper, a Democrat whose poll numbers dipped after a contentious legislative session last year, looked to rehabilitate his own political brand ahead of November's election by highlighting how the state has recovered -- from fires, floods and a prolonged economic downturn.
“Every season of 2013 presented a new, unthinkable test,” Hickenlooper said, pointing to the fires, floods and violence that struck the state last year. “Colorado has always been a good place to find out what you’re made of.
"Colorado does not shutdown. Colorado does not quit. Colorado does not break," the governor said, prompting the first of maybe a half dozen standing ovations.
The governor noted gains the state has made in its employment numbers, mental health services and governmental efficiency as he called for lawmakers to come together.
"Vigorous debate is our ally. Partisanship is not," he said as the 40-minute speech came to a close. "Skepticism is productive. Corrosive cynicism is not. So, as we begin this session, my Ask is we ignore the divisive politics."
Some Republicans found it curious that the governor chose not to specifically reference the state's new gun laws or any other of the controversial legislation passed in 2013.
Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, one of four Republicans vying to challenge Hickenlooper in November, told FOX31 Denver that the governor's call for bipartisanship rings hollow in his ears.
"It seems like he's in his own world," Brophy said. "If he had been a leader last year and reined in this extreme legislature, he'd be giving a good speech. But he participated in the division. He mislead the state of Colorado."
FULL TEXT: State of the state speech
Hickenlooper drew applause when mentioning that, since he took office in 2010, Colorado has climbed from 40th place in the nation in job growth to 4th.
The former brewpub founder, who ran in 2010 as a business-friendly moderate, reminded the state of his successes, including the successful recruitment of several large companies that have relocated in Colorado.
"The economic infusion and energy of Colorado’s new companies, along with the hard work of Colorado’s entire business community, has gone a long way to take Colorado past pre-recession job numbers," Hickenlooper said.
"But let’s be clear, the unemployment rate is not low enough, and all of us share a commitment to keep a statewide focus on this issue. More jobs all over Colorado is our highest priority."
The improving economy has also meant an increase in state revenues that will enable lawmakers to allocate another $100 million for higher education in 2014 and to increase per pupil K-12 funding by $223 next year.
The governor is also supporting legislation that will cap tuition rate hikes at six percent in the coming year, improve technology at state DMV offices in an effort to cut wait times in half and to establish a website showing the public how the state's 178 school districts spend local and state resources.
"Let's make the web a window," Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper's proposed budget also will shore up the state's rainy day fund, so depleted during the recession, by increasing it back up to 6 percent of the state's operating budget, something Republicans wholeheartedly endorse.
"We're glad to hear him talking about taking a conservative approach to the budget," said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. "I think we'll find some common ground there."
Hickenlooper closed the speech by remembering former Department of Corrections head Tom Clements.
Clements was murdered last year by a paroled felon. Hickenlooper painted him as a model of pragmatism and collaboration. Ironically, the governor said, Clements had also been pushing for better conditions for prison inmates.
Tom Clements was a public servant,” Hickenlooper said. “He walked the walk of public service every day.”
Following the speech, the Colorado Republican Party issued a statement offering comments on what they termed "Gov. Hickenlooper's last State of the State speech."
Like Brophy, the state party isn't about to let Hickenlooper -- or the public -- forget about what happened last year.
“Gov. Hickenlooper certainly gave a good speech, but actions speak louder than words," said the GOP's Shanna Kohn. "In 2013, he also called for bipartisanship, and then oversaw the most divisive and partisan legislative session in memory. He waged war on rural Colorado, he criminalized law abiding gun owners, he pushed a massive $1 billion tax hike on working Coloradans and he refused to work across the aisle."
In an interview following the speech, FOX31 Denver asked Hickenlooper why he didn't mention or defend the more controversial 2013 agenda items in his 2014 address.
"There's a group of people that really want to bring back the old, divisive issues and see if we can really get people divided again," Hickenlooper said. "And I don't see any point in going back there.
"If we can improve the universal background checks bill, I'm all for it. If there's a way we can come together by working on that, I'm all for it. But trying to rip the band-aid off and re-open old wounds and get people divided -- I think we are much better off if we bring people together.
"In the next five years, there's going to be a lot of economic opportunity happening in this country and we've got to get focused."