Hell Hath No Fury Like A Hickenlooper Scorned

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

Gov. John Hickenlooper is usually a fairly subtle politician. He does not usually lose his temper publicly, nor is he known for his bluster. Frankly, if he can get the job done through compromise, it seems to be his usual preference.

But what the five now-former members of the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission learned this week was that Hickenlooper’s patience has its limits. They also learned that while he may not throw a tantrum to get his way, he still expects some compromise be made toward his way.

A few weeks ago, the Commission passed a 5 percent tax break for casinos, based on the industry’s complaints that they are being taxed unfairly while they have suffered revenue losses for the last three years.

When the tax break became an official decision a couple weeks ago, Hickenlooper announced that he didn’t like the idea. Last week, the governor’s office said that they were looking into options into overturning or changing the decision.

After hearing both announcements from the governor’s office, the commission decided to meet and hold a vote to potentially reconsider their tax break.

They voted unanimously to not reconsider.

After not getting the subtle hints, Hickenlooper decided to provide a far less subtle hint by replacing the entire commission.

Here’s a lesson for all future state of Colorado commissioners: take the hints Hickenlooper gives you seriously.

In the words of one of my wife’s favorite movies, Lean on Me, “Mr. Clark don’t play.”

While Hickenlooper’s final move was aggressive, he gave hints that he was open to talking about this issue. The commission never responded with the willingness to compromise by potentially cutting the proposed tax break, or delaying it, or even finding another way of helping the gaming industry without undercutting community colleges.

But because they refused to even consider options, or really, even come to the table of discussion, Hickenlooper really was presented with no choice.

In gaming terms, the commission forced his hand, and when you play heads up poker with the boss, he usually wins.

It’s unknown if the commissioners knew in advance that their unanimous vote to not reconsider the tax break would cost them their appointments. But I have to imagine that anyone politically savvy enough to be appointed to a state commission would have to understand that they were playing with fire by essentially telling the governor to go pound sand.

What is known is that while Hickenlooper is a subtle politician who usually prefers compromise, he’s not above doing whatever it takes to get his own way. Frankly, this should serve as an important lesson to not only other state commissioners, but other politicians alike.

If you’re willing to talk about it, Hickenlooper will likely work with you. If you unanimously vote to not bend, you better hope he doesn’t have the power to fire you.

About The Blogger

– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.


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