Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs made his mark on Mount Vernon. Many in town made their mark on him, too. Wirfs and his mother, Sarah, took The Gazette on a tour of his hometown, revisiting scenes around what essentially is the one square mile where he grew up. This story is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

Staff Columnist

Democratic candidate denounces socialism, but he's short on specifics

Hickenlooper draws nasty reaction from California Democrats

Former Colorado governor and 2020 presidential candidate John Hickenlooper speaks with the microphone close to his face at Backpocket Brewing in Coralville on Friday, April 12, 2019.

KC McGinnis for The Gazette
Former Colorado governor and 2020 presidential candidate John Hickenlooper speaks with the microphone close to his face at Backpocket Brewing in Coralville on Friday, April 12, 2019. KC McGinnis for The Gazette

One 2020 presidential candidate found a surefire way to upset a room full of California Democrats last weekend.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was relentlessly booed by delegates at the California Democratic convention for daring to say “socialism is not the answer” for defeating President Donald Trump.

“If we’re not careful, we’re going to end up helping to re-elect the worst president in American history,” Hickenlooper said, drawing an audibly angry reaction.

Hickenlooper, one of only three current or former governors in the crowded field of Democrats, said he is the type of candidate who can win in a general election, noting he was re-elected in a swing state in 2014, not a good year for Democrats.

If that hostile reception is any indication, Hickenlooper’s outlook in the Golden State is bleak, but Hickenlooper’s target audience actually was not California Democrats. His so-so fundraising so far likely wouldn’t equip him to compete there anyway.

Instead, Hickenlooper leveraged the horde of political journalists at the week’s biggest political event to earn some national exposure. I suspect he even hoped for a palpable negative response in order to maximize news value.

Perhaps moderate Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire reading dispatches from California are more impressed with the message than the convention attendees.

Whether or not Hickenlooper’s political calculation is correct, his tenacity is admirable. What would be even more exciting, though, is a Democratic presidential candidate who articulates the ways socialism threatens Americans’ livelihoods, not just politicians’ prospects.

Maybe Hickenlooper will become that type of candidate, but so far, he has not posted any policy proposals on his presidential campaign website.

Hickenlooper did single out a couple of specific proposals at the California convention, arguing that eliminating private insurance will not address health care costs, and a federal jobs guarantee as called for in the Green New Deal will not mitigate climate change. I think he’s absolutely correct, but voters will expect him to provide detailed alternatives to those plans.

Hickenlooper is no laissez faire purist, to be sure. As an entrepreneur and politician, he seems to prefer public-private partnerships over state action alone.

As mayor of Denver, he expanded charter schools and helped create the Denver Scholarship Foundation, which is funded in part by private donations. As governor, Hickenlooper notes on his website, he “brought industry and environmentalists together” to reduce methane emissions.

So Hickenlooper doesn’t necessarily give radical capitalists a lot to get excited about. Then again, a large share of voters don’t consider themselves squarely capitalists or socialists.

Is there demand among Democrats for such a candidacy? Hickenlooper thinks so.

“I think that’s the part Iowans will respond to, because Iowans are pragmatic,” he said during a campaign tour in Iowa last month, according to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. “They understand you may disagree about something, but you’ve got to get a compromise and move things forward.”

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.