Want a pragmatist for president in 2020? This might be your guy

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks to reporters about wildfires this month.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks to reporters about wildfires this month.

John Hickenlooper is a pragmatic guy. Is that what Americans will want in a president in 2020?

In the early 1970s, Hickenlooper left his ’49 Ford pick-up with his brother, a student at UC Berkeley, to sell. With $22 in his pocket, he set out to hitchhike home to Philadelphia.

Hitting the road, he found 50 other hikers trying to hitch East, none succeeding. He ran to his brother’s, reclaimed his truck, picked up the hitchers who had gas money and made it to Philly with five dollars to spare.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is now wrapping up his final term as Colorado governor, capped at two by the state’s constitution. We met at the Avett Brothers’ annual Denver concert two years ago and I found him a rather unpolitical politician. We met at this year’s concert a few weeks ago and spoke on the record. Hickenlooper is probably going run for president, and his views reflect his hitchhiking pragmatism.

On immigration, he says “You’re going to compromise no matter what, and you’re gonna piss some people off.” He says the border must be secured because far more people want to come here than the country can absorb. Yet, he also says people here illegally need a chance to become legal, and we need a better system to meet businesses’ need for workers.

“If we can’t find Americans willing to do (certain jobs like harvest crops) at a wage that’s competitive with what food can sell for on the market, then we have to have people with work visas.”

On guns, Hickenlooper gets an “F” from the NRA, but he says even most Republicans are impressed by results of the universal background checks he pushed. In one year, Colorado caught over 2,000 people trying to buy guns who had violent felony convictions, restraining orders or outstanding arrest warrants.

“People assume crooks are brilliant, (but) there are these giant monuments to criminal stupidity. They’re called prisons.”

On marijuana, Hickenlooper opposed Colorado’s legalization but says his thinking has evolved. “A lot of what we feared hasn’t happened. We’ve actually seen a large decline in teenage consumption.”

As for the current president, Hickenlooper says while it bewilders him personally, he gets Donald Trump’s popularity:

“There is clearly something about ‘The Strongman,’ the one who doesn’t care about what anyone says, who’s going to attack anyone who looks at him the wrong way. If he thinks someone’s going to attack him, he’ll punch first. That’s an attractive figure these days.”

A rose in a fisted glove. Even Hickenlooper’s jabs are pragmatic.

The last time I voted Republican for president was George Bush in 2000. I’ve voted Libertarian since. Last time I voted Democrat for president was, never.

I don’t know if Hickenlooper has enough “Small L” in him for me. But pragmatism in response to reality is fundamentally a free market approach. And while fireworks come from Far Left and Far Right, most Americans are more in the middle, wanting politicians to solve problems sensibly. Pragmatically.

It is possible Hickenlooper should play politics just a bit more. Backstage before the Avett Brothers concert, when I asked if he had any bands in mind for his inauguration, the first he mentioned was Old Crow Medicine Show.

Charlotte Observer contributor Keith Larson’s conversation with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper can be heard on TheLarsonPage.com