Last year, in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut, the Obama administration and then-New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg worked to put together a “coalition of the willing” to join them in a war on the Second Amendment and hit upon Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper as a likely recruit.
Mr. Hickenlooper, a low-key liberal who went from successful saloon developer to the Denver mayor’s office, was elected governor as part of a concerted effort by liberal billionaires to take over a Western state. In 2010, they not only made Mr. Hickenlooper governor, but they elected “progressive” majorities to both houses of the state legislature. Democrats around the country celebrated the victories and vowed to use the same strategy to change the politics of neighboring states.
So when President Obama and his trusty sidekick, Joe Biden, began looking for allies in the mountains, it didn’t take long for them to target Colorado. Mr. Hickenlooper is known neither for his political perspicacity nor courage, so Mr. Biden got on the phone, twisted his arm, cajoled him and perhaps suggested that a grand future awaited if he would join the coalition. No one knows whether it was the cajoling or the arm-twisting, but the Colorado governor signed on and began taking calls from New York’s mayor and working with progressives in the legislature to craft legislation incorporating just the sort of “common-sense” firearms restrictions the president and mayor wanted.
As the Hickenlooper-Obama-Bloomberg “reforms” worked their way through the Colorado legislature, I headed for Denver to urge the governor to avoid political suicide by listening not just to folks from Washington and New York, but to the people of his own state. Mr. Hickenlooper, a nice enough fellow personally, was happy to get together, but the press knew I was there as the president of the National Rifle Association and bombarded me with questions as I approached his office.
I told the governor when we sat down that the reporters outside his office wanted to know just why I was meeting with him and what I was going to tell him. He asked what I had told them and I answered, “I said I was here because you are not Andrew Cuomo,” the New York governor who had just forced an incredibly draconian anti-gun bill through his legislature, “and that I intended to urge you not to become Andrew Cuomo.”
It was a pleasant enough meeting, but it was clear as I left his office that the governor had made up his mind. A few days later, the Colorado legislature passed and he signed a gun-control package that ignited a political wildfire in the state.
First, a majority of Colorado’s sheriffs announced they wouldn’t enforce the new law, and voters began circulating recall petitions aimed at removing the Democratic leader of the Colorado Senate and other lawmakers instrumental in passing the measure. They claimed that Mr. Hickenlooper was in contact with and coordinating his activities with Mr. Bloomberg, a charge he denied at the time. Later, he was forced to admit that he had, in fact, talked extensively with the mayor as the “reforms” were developed and shepherded through the Democratic state legislature.
I saw the governor again just before the recall elections that turned Colorado politics upside down. It was in Milwaukee at a national governors’ conference. I heard someone call my name, turned around and discovered it was Mr. Hickenlooper. I went over to say hello, and he suggested we have a beer. We were in Milwaukee, so the suggestion seemed reasonable. As we chatted, he raised his glass, smiled and said, “It was a rough spring, Dave, but it looks like we both survived.” I smiled in return, thinking of the wildfire still raging on the ground in Colorado, and replied, “So far, John, so far.”
He seemed oblivious to what was about to happen. The recall elections did indeed turn Colorado’s politics on its head. Republicans, Democrats and independents rose up as one in two districts and recalled legislators who had been key backers of the governor’s reform package. A major firearms industry manufacturer announced it was leaving the state, and politicians who had thought that both Mr. Hickenlooper and the state’s U.S. senator, Mark Udall, were shoo-ins for re-election this fall began to have their doubts.
Cory Gardner, a popular Republican congressman who had previously dismissed the idea of challenging Mr. Udall, changed his mind, and a former congressman was recruited to take on Mr. Hickenlooper himself. Democrats in Colorado and Washington at first thought, like Mr. Hickenlooper, that the wildfire had burned out and they were safe.
They were wrong. The wildfire the governor started with help from Mr. Obama and Mr. Bloomberg is still burning, hotter than ever. Recently, polling data began showing that the Republican candidates for both offices were beginning to pull ahead. A Quinnipiac Poll, in fact, showed the governor trailing his Republican challenger by as many as 10 points.
It hasn’t helped that Mr. Bloomberg, in dismissing the attitude of Colorado’s voters, said of the recall elections in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, “I don’t think there’s roads” in those places.
It’s perhaps too early to conclude that Mr. Hickenlooper and Mr. Udall will be turned out in November, but I’d be willing to bet they will be. If they are, the governor will have paid the price for emulating a New York governor in a state just about as far away from Manhattan as one can get.
David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times. He is a former president and current board member of the National Rifle Association.