Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper kicked off his presidential campaign on Thursday evening in Denver’s Civic Center park.
Here’s what he said in his first major address as a candidate:
Tonight, we meet against this backdrop of the great Rocky Mountains in this place we love, in the heart of the American West – a place that Wallace Stegner, one of the great writers of the West, described as the “home of hope.”
Now as Americans, we all deserve to feel that hope. We’re a young country in a wondrous, bountiful land, teeming with possibility.
We’re innovative, filled with the strength that dwells in the toughest alloys – the magic you get from combining all the origins and outlooks into something resilient and wonderful. It’s a little bit like what happens when you put music into politics
We have every right to live in a land that’s the home of hope.
But these days, that’s not how it feels in America. It feels like we’re living in a heaving crisis — years in the making — spawned by dysfunctional politics — defined above all by this president.
Donald Trump is alienating our allies, ripping away our healthcare, endangering our planet and destroying our democracy.
The daily insults that he hurls out range from shocking to unconscionable.
But it’s more than his tweet storms. Real people are being hurt: he closed down the government. Hate crimes are up. He’s forcibly taking kids from their parents. Out here in Colorado we call that kidnapping.
He measures progress by the number of enemies he creates.
He believes that by tearing others down somehow he raises himself up.
These are not the metrics of America’s greatness.
We are a nation that tracks our progress by the number of working families who end the day feeling more secure about their future.
We tally our wins by the number of children who have enough to eat, who feel safe in their homes and feel safe their schools, who have access to the skills for a changing economy.
We broadcast America’s values by celebrating those who may not have been born in America — but America was born in them.
We define our gains by the number of us who look at a fellow American, of a different race or sexual orientation and feel in our heart, “neighbor, you belong here.”
We gauge our standing in the world by the number of allies who trust us and stand with us through the worst of times.
We record America’s greatness by our ability to come together and despite differences achieve bold things for our children and for our country.
Now, this isn’t about unity for unity’s sake. America stops working when we work against each other. Our country stops making progress when we hunker down on opposite sides of the continental divides — red versus blue; rich and poor; urban and rural.
It’s time to end this American crisis of division. It’s time to bring all Americans together. And that is why I’m running for president of the United States!
Now, I understand — I understand clearly — I’m not the first person in this race or the most well known person in this race. But let me tell you: at 4 syllables and 12 letters, “Hickenlooper” is now the biggest name in the race!
Let me tell you something else: growing up as a skinny kid with Coke-bottle glasses and a funny last name, I’ve dealt with my fair share of bullies.
I’m running for president because the only way to end the Trump crisis of division is with a leader who knows how to bring people together and get stuff done.
It is a strength unique to America, required to resolve and solve America’s unique challenges to build a future that every American feels part of. This isn’t just my vision; it’s my record.
As mayor, as governor, I got people to put down their weapons, sit down together, and listen to each other. Really listen — to establish trust, which is always the starting point for building collaboration.
For those who don’t know Colorado’s recent history, it may seem like our current prosperity was inevitable.
Well, let me tell you, when I took over as governor, things were upside down. We had just ended the worst year for job seekers in a generation.
We were bitterly divided. We weren’t solving any of our biggest challenges. But things got worse: the most destructive fires in Colorado history — a mass shooting in Aurora.
And then: biblical floods. So many lives lost.
I went to 32 funerals those first four years.
But, you know, in the aftermath of that devastation, the roads and bridges broken, we saw that the good was not broken. Instead of resignation, we saw community. Instead of anger, we saw kindness.
Instead of despair, we saw neighbors finding ways to reach one another. Lending a hand. Lending a truck. Listening. Helping.
That’s how we rebuilt, better than we were before. And that’s how we charted an entirely new course for our state.
And that’s how we overcame the recession.
We expanded Medicaid with bipartisan support … we built one of the most innovative healthcare exchanges in the country. And as a result … nearly ninety-five percent of our people now have healthcare coverage.
After Aurora, we stood up to the NRA … and we passed universal background checks and limits on high capacity magazines … in a western state.
We brought environmentalists and industry into the same room to sit down and craft the toughest methane regulations in America … the equivalent of taking 320,000 cars per year off the road every year.
More than a year of negotiation … but in the end oil and gas agreed to pay for it.
We brought cities and suburbs and rural counties together and created a progressive water plan that made sense for everyone.
We invested in high-quality pre-K … scholarships for young adults who couldn’t afford college … apprenticeships … light rail … so much more.
And in just eight years we moved from 40th in job growth to becoming the number one economy in America.
Now, that’s what you can do when you bring people together. And there was another secret ingredient: sheer persistence.
Now, I learned persistence the hard way. I lost my dad when I just turned eight.
My mom used to say to us, “you can’t control the bad things that life throws at you, but you can control whether they make you stronger or weaker.”
Shortly after moving to Colorado in the 1980s, I lost my job and my career as a geologist during that recession. A whole profession disappeared for almost a generation.
I was unemployed for pretty much two years. And when you’re unemployed that long, you begin to see a different person in the mirror.
So, with two friends, we got a library book on how to write a business plan from the library.
And 34 investors and three loans later, we started this thing — it was called a brewpub — in an abandoned, forgotten part of Denver.
Our persistence paid off, and the brewery took off. And an entire neighborhood grew up around it.
Along the way, I learned something that Donald Trump never quite figured out: it isn’t how many times you yell “you’re fired,” but instead, how many times you say “you’re hired.”
And then, in our first ten years, opening breweries across the midwest, we said “you’re hired” 1,000 times.
You know, the best part of this story? It’s not unique. Our small businesses spawned others, and, in turn, helped create vibrant communities.
We succeeded because we worked hard and built alliances with each other, with other businesses. We played a part in revitalizing whole communities.
And now, it’s time to do that for all of America.
Let me tell ya: Defeating Donald Trump is absolutely essential. But it is not sufficient. We need to walk out of this canyon of division to a higher plane of progress. America is ready.
And I know I’m ready.
Now, let me tell you, when I’m president, we will declare that as a country that healthcare is a right.
This means universal, affordable coverage … where everyone has a doctor who knows them, knows their family. Where everyone can get a checkup. A real medical home.
We will declare that everyone deserves to share in the benefits of being an American.
And to get there, everyone is going to have to pay their fair share: we’re going to close the loopholes, no more tax cuts for the wealthy, l ensure every corporation is carrying their weight.
We’ll bring the same relentless innovation we used to land on the moon to save our planet.
And we will reclaim our global leadership. And the first thing we’re going to do is rejoin the Paris climate accord and exceed its goals.
And together we will build a green economy that creates jobs that can’t be shipped overseas, while combating generations of climate change.
We’ll create a whole new understanding about the future of work. The majority of today’s young adults who want tomorrow’s skills will be able to shape a 21st-century economy with better jobs for everyone.
By bringing unions and good corporate citizens and schools we’ll invest in the largest expansion of skills training and community colleges in this country’s history.
Now, in the next two years, by the end of 2020, Colorado will have broadband connecting every single school, hospital and town across the state. Universal broadband will instantaneously become national policy the day I’m elected.
We’ll renew our commitment to the fundamental strength behind American success. It’s right there in the Great Seal of our country: Out of many one. But this promise is predicated on the fact that we are all created equal in the eyes of God.
And that equality demands social justice for every single one of us.
We will renew our commitment to a reformed justice system that addresses our long history of slavery, segregation and racial bias.
We will undo years of efforts to disenfranchise African American voters and Latino voters and even young voters. And we will end this assault on the foundations of our democracy.
We will make it easier for every qualified voter to register and to vote because the ultimate power in America should reside in the hands of the people – all of the people.
At the end of my presidency, I want Americans to say: it feels, it feels like the cloud has lifted, and we feel closer to our neighbors and we’ve gotten big things done. And we feel hope.
You know, another Westerner, John Muir, said, “the power of imagination makes us infinite.”
Now, just imagine how different our country will feel when we start moving toward each other again.
Imagine, imagine a country where families go to bed knowing a serious illness won’t be hurtling them into bankruptcy.
Imagine, a world where our young people are part of a new “greatest generation” – the one that helps us save our planet.
Imagine, a new American economy where anyone can be whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want.
Now, are these big dreams? Sure. But my story is proof that big dreams can be made real.
It’s one of America’s great talents building dreams tomorrow we didn’t know were possible today.
I’m proud to be part of a political party that over decades has rallied to the call of so many dreams and dreamers — like King’s vision of a country where children are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
I’m also proud to be in the party that not only dared to dream big dreams, but had the persistence to get them done — from creating Social Security and Medicare, to enacting civil rights, to putting a man on the moon.
That’s the other half of my DNA: I am a dreamer and a do-er. And we need both to make real progress. Not just big ideas but making them happen — finding common ground when it seems like there’s nothing out there but mountains between us. Imagining — yes, imagining — but then building.
Being a pragmatist doesn’t mean saying “no” to bold ideas; it means knowing how to make them happen.
That is my record. And that will be my promise as president.
Now, no one person can heal the fractures in America today. But if enough of us accept the challenge, if we work hard enough, we can make the impossible, possible.
Together — let me emphasize — together we can turn this winter of division into a season of hope.
Thank you all for coming out here tonight. Thank you, Colorado. Thank you, America. Let’s get to work! Thank you.
Several musical acts performed at the campaign kick off and there were a host of politicians and figures from throughout Hickenlooper’s time as Colorado’s governor who delivered remarks.
Three musical acts performed at the campaign kickoff:
- Denver Mayor Michael Hancock
- Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb
- Former Jamestown Mayor Tara Schoedinger, with whom Hickenlooper worked after the 2013 Colorado floods
- Former state Sen. Lucia Guzman
- State Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat who shepherded the state’s controversial 2013 gun-control laws
- State Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat whose son was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting
- Luis Benitez, who started Colorado’s outdoor recreation office under Hickenlooper
- Keith Bath, a Colorado farmer and rancher who served under Hickenlooper on the state board of land commissioners
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