John Hickenlooper: ‘We must be progressive, but also pragmatic’

Little Village is posting videos of all 19 speeches made by the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame celebration in Cedar Rapids, so readers can hear each candidate in his or her own words.

John Hickenlooper at the 2019 Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame celebration in Cedar Rapids, June 9, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

When John Hickenlooper took the stage at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame celebration in Cedar Rapids on June 9, it’s likely that members of the audience only knew a few things about him. All were aware he’d been governor of Colorado (2011-2019). Most also probably knew he’d been mayor of Denver (2003-2011). Many likely knew he was the co-founder of a Denver brewpub (he frequently mentions this). And because it was an audience of elected officials and party activists, most would have known Hickenlooper had been loudly booed a week earlier, when he spoke at the California Democratic Party Convention.

The booing started when Hickenlooper said, “If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer.” As the booing continued, he added, “You know, if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up helping to reelect the worst president in American history.”

Convention delegates told the Washington Post they felt Hickenlooper was engaged in “red-baiting” in an attempt to get headlines.

Hickenlooper delivered the same message in Cedar Rapids, but in a more circumspect manner.

“Donald Trump is the worst president in the history of America,” Hickenlooper said. The audience applauded. He then moved to his warning about socialism.

“But defeating him is far from guaranteed,” Hickenlooper said. “We have to take the right approach. We must be progressive, but also pragmatic. We need a dreamer, but also a doer. We must present a bold vision for the future, we must also acknowledge that the most effective attack that the Republicans can level against us is one of ‘socialism.’”

“Now that doesn’t mean that Democrats should shy away from big, progressive goals,” he continued. “Far from it. A pragmatist doesn’t say ‘no’ to big ideas, they figure out how to get them done. I know, because it’s what we did in Colorado.”

Hickenlooper pointed to the healthcare coverage as an example of what he has been able to accomplish with his approach.

In California, Hickenlooper had taken a stand against a single-payer system: “We shouldn’t try to achieve universal coverage by removing private insurance from over 150 million Americans.” By contrast, in Cedar Rapids, he simply said, “Today, Colorado has near universal health care coverage.”

“Near” is the key word in that sentence. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 92 percent of Coloradans had healthcare coverage of some sort in 2017 (the most recent year for which data is available). But 22 other states — including Iowa — as well as the District of Columbia, had a higher percentage of their populations covered.

While some of the candidates who spoke in Cedar Rapids played up their connections to Iowa, no matter how tenuous, Hickenlooper never mentioned that he is a cousin of Bourke B. Hickenlooper. This other Hickenlooper was governor of Iowa (1943-1945), and represented the state in the U.S. Senate (1945-1969).

Although the central message of Hickenlooper’s speech in Cedar Rapids was the same as it was in California, no one booed. But no one seemed particularly impressed or excited by his speech either. As Hickenlooper left the stage, he received a polite round of applause.