DENVER – It was Jan. 12, 2010, when John Hickenlooper walked from Denver’s City Hall, across a park and up the steps of the state Capitol to announce his campaign for governor.
He returned Tuesday, one day shy of a year later – this time with a military band playing “Hail to the Chief” – swore an oath on the Bible and became Colorado’s 42nd governor.
Hickenlooper counted the 663 steps between his old mayor’s office and the steps of the Capitol.
“We will measure everything in this administration,” Hickenlooper said, drawing chuckles from the crowd of more than 1,000.
The remark was pure Hickenlooper, in style and substance. The new governor is promising a leaner, more effective government, yet one that delivers service with a smile.
Hickenlooper takes office in the wake of a recession that he called not just historic but personal. Every Coloradan knows someone who has lost a job, he said.
“As Franklin Roosevelt reminded my mother’s generation, fear is both contagious and debilitating,” he said.
He pledged to live by the lessons his mother taught him.
“As kids, we all learned that you don’t spend what you don’t have; you don’t use up your savings on things you may want but don’t need,” Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper’s remarks got a thumbs-up from Sen. Mike Kopp, the Senate’s top Republican.
“We are thrilled by Governor Hickenlooper’s commitment to reduce the size of government, reform burdensome regulatory policies and create jobs. It sounds a lot like our agenda. What’s not to like?” Kopp asked.
Hickenlooper spoke for 16 minutes, one minute for each degree of air temperature.
It was the coldest morning of the winter in Denver – so cold that the Colorado Air National Guard had to cancel a flyover of the Capitol because its jets could not take off on the icy runway. But the National Guard’s artillery came through with a 19-gun salute that echoed off the Denver skyscrapers.
Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Matthew Box and his father, Eddie Box, sang a traditional Ute blessing for Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.
Three Republican statewide officials also took their oaths of office. Secretary of State Scott Gessler and Treasurer Walker Stapleton are new to the government, while Attorney General John Suthers was re-elected.
Later in the day, Hickenlooper and Garcia stopped by a lunch for students and winners of Hickenlooper’s “My Colorado” contest, which asked students to submit creative works about their state.
The day concluded with a dinner of Colorado food and drink and a concert by OneRepublic.
Ceremonies at the Capitol will continue this week, with the opening day of the Legislature today and Hickenlooper’s first State of the State address Thursday.
The typical inaugural promises of bipartisanship took on added meaning Tuesday, with the flag over the Capitol still flying at half-staff in memory of the victims of the mass killing at an Arizona congresswoman’s event.
Outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter ordered the flags lowered, and he called for a friendlier political atmosphere in his departing remarks.
“When we fight, we should fight for a civil debate. We should fight as friends, not as enemies. We should fight as Coloradans,” Ritter said.
Hickenlooper thanked Ritter for his four years as head of the state.
“Thank you for defining Colorado as the epicenter for renewable energy and for keeping the education and health of our kids at the very top of your agenda,” Hickenlooper said.
Children and schools will remain a top priority of the new administration, especially with Garcia. In addition to being lieutenant governor, the former president of Colorado State University-Pueblo will serve as head of the Department of Higher Education.
Garcia said Colorado must invest in its public schools.
“We must reach into every community, every neighborhood, every school and every household, to make sure that all of our children are prepared and motivated to learn, and that they have access to high-quality and affordable schools and colleges,” Garcia said.
School funding is likely to be the toughest challenge for Hickenlooper and Garcia. They face a budget hole of more than $1 billion, with cuts likely for K-12 schools and college tuition rising across the state.
Hickenlooper did not say Tuesday how he would deal with the budget crisis.
Instead, it was a rallying cry to Coloradans to come together and reinvent their state, just as Hickenlooper reinvented himself from laid-off geologist to brewpub owner.
Despite the tough times, Colorado has a lot going for it, he said.
“Plus, we have the best beer. Rest assured, we will be obsessive in spreading the word about the Colorado advantage,” Hickenlooper said.