State of the State

Governor’s third such address spoke to a number of good points, but little new

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s State of the State address, delivered Thursday, was a call for action on a broad series of issues facing Colorado. Guns and his welcome commitment to civil unions got the biggest headlines, but other areas may hold more promise both in possibility and effect.

Hardly a complete road map, the State of the State speech nonetheless gives guidance to the General Assembly. This one set a healthy tone for the state’s future.

The State of the State speech is not an opportunity for great oratory or speech writing. It is at heart, and of necessity, a laundry list of accomplishments and challenges, a mix of boastfulness, apology, thankfulness, pleading and prayer.

Beyond the required boilerplate, the governor stressed a number of meaningful objectives. Not high on his list, but one of the most important, was Hickenlooper’s endorsement of a Colorado version of the federal DREAM Act to grant a modified version of in-state tuition at Colorado colleges and universities to illegal immigrant children who have grown up in Colorado.

Doing so represents common courtesy – the children have themselves broken no law – as well as a recognition of the value of both education and our neighbors. Helping those children get a good education is no more and no less – than bolstering the future of our state.

In other areas, Hickenlooper acknowledged some hard realities. At the top of that list was wildfire. With 388,000 acres burned last year, 648 homes destroyed and six people killed, it is something for which Colorado must be prepared.

The governor said he will seek funding to assist in removing trees and create healthier forests in areas at high risk of wildfire. As he put it, “We need to re-examine the way homeowners are insured in the wildlands-urban interface, and do a better job of encouraging and supporting fire-mitigation practices.”

Hickenlooper also spoke to the need for the state Legislature to come up with rules to implement the voter-approved Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana. He rightly stressed that one key element is to develop some standard by which to tell when someone is too high to drive.

At one point, the governor drew applause from Republicans for praising natural-gas development and decrying patchwork regulation by cities and counties. The governor’s enthusiasm for regulatory centralization could prove a bone of contention with some environmentalists, but there is no denying the resource’s importance.

The need to reform the state’s system of enterprise zones got a mention, as did the importance of job creation. Hickenlooper touted a Forbes magazine report that showed Colorado in the top five states for business.

He is also big on education, citing the continuing importance of ongoing educational reform, early childhood education and the ability to measure teacher effectiveness.

Some of Hickenlooper’s highest praise was for the voter-approved Amendment S, which, the governor said, will bring the state’s personnel system from the 19th century to the 21st. That, however, only serves to highlight the need to unravel the state’s messy constitutional amendments.

As the governor said, “TABOR, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23 shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. They create a fiscal know that can’t be untied one strand at a time.”

On guns, the governor backed the enactment of universal background checks for gun purchasers. That should be a fight, but one worth having. In that, however, he will be far from alone.

Where the governor may best use his unique pulpit would be to push for modified in-state tuition for immigrant children and untangling he mess we have made of our state’s Constitution.

Even moderate success on those thorny issues could be Hickenlooper’s best shot at a lasting and positive legacy.