Gov. John Hickenlooper had the right idea when he set about to gather input from Coloradans about what policy priorities he should adopt – to a point – and Coloradans have responded to the invitation with a series of recommendations. But the longer the governor demurs and ducks the leadership required to turn that input into meaningful action, the less it seems he is interested in taking action at all. That is an unfortunate waste of everyone’s time.
Known as TBD Colorado, Hickenlooper’s input-gathering initiative included 64 meetings involving more than 1,200 people. The resulting recommendations were that the state provide improved access to preschools, offer in-home care for its elderly and disabled residents, and maintain and improve state roads. Support for these efforts was overwhelming – from 85 to 98 percent of respondents endorsing them. A strong majority – approximately two-thirds – called for increasing income taxes slightly to support the programs. Those findings are relatively determinative, particularly given the divisive political climate that seems to be pervasive at the national, state and local levels. They are also reflective of real needs – and the recognition that raising revenue is necessary to address those needs.
It should follow, then, that Hickenlooper would take these recommendations and run with them, using his bully pulpit to push for relevant policies that address the findings. For now, though, he is shirking that opportunity. Instead, he seems to be looking for unanimity among all Coloradans before he pursues or even sets a meaningful agenda. “There is a level of division still on some things that is going to take some more work,” Hickenlooper said after reviewing the findings.
He is right, of course, that division exists. It always will in the political context – or almost any other, for that matter. That is where courageous leadership becomes essential. As the governor, Hickenlooper has a responsibility to respond to his constituents, but also to set and strive to enact an agenda that reflects the input of state residents and his own vision for and promise to the state. Thus far, he seems more concerned with not making any one Coloradan angry than in doing something meaningful and important for the vast majority of state residents.
Such an approach might ensure that Hickenlooper has plenty of friends, but it will not be enough to give him much of a legacy. With so many issues that need addressing in the state, taking the path of least resistance will ultimately cost the state far more than it will gain Hickenlooper in the milquetoast good will earned by not entirely alienating any one segment of his constituency.
Unfortunately, leadership requires making difficult decisions that some might not like. The art is in making them with carefully gathered input, data and consideration that provides the basis for sound priority-setting. That part Hickenlooper has done well.
He must now take the next step and use the information he has to inform a policy agenda that only he can push. It is time to get determined.