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The Tolls of the Governor’s Office

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Gov. John Hickenlooper with his wife, Helen Thorpe, on the day of Hickenlooper's inauguration in 2011. (credit: CBS)

Gov. John Hickenlooper with his wife, Helen Thorpe, on the day of Hickenlooper’s inauguration in 2011. (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

John Hickenlooper became the latest Colorado Governor to experience marital problems as he and his wife Helen Thorpe announced Tuesday that they are separating.

Before Hickenlooper, former Governor Bill Owens and his former wife went through their own issues that ended up in a divorce after he left office. And before him, Governor Roy Romer admitted to having an “affectionate relationship”, but denied having an affair.

And while his marriage was left intact, our previous Governor, Bill Ritter, decided to forego a second term to spend more time with his family.

While all of these situations and relationships are certainly unique on their own, it is clear that being Colorado’s Governor is a job that is hard on relationships and families.

During a summer like we have been experiencing, that would certainly make sense. Few Governors have ever had to appear on national television twice in six weeks addressing disasters and tragedies making national headlines. But the pressure of this summer is rare in Colorado.

Nonetheless, with the fourth Governor in a row to address family issues in office, one must wonder what happens to families when they become the “first family” in Colorado. Without major media attention like New York, or old school politics like Boston, Denver seems like a town that would let a Governor and his family go about their business.

However, this may not be a case of complicated political science, but a more common reflection of society. Let’s face it, with 50% of all marriages likely to end in divorce, any Governor faces the same odds. Just because they are the most powerful person in the state doesn’t make them impervious to the issues that face every marriage.

I think it is that new normal that will also diminish any effect this will have on Hickenlooper’s political future. Twenty years ago, a politician separating in the middle of a term may have been a detriment to his or her future. Now, sadly, it makes a politician more normal.

The one political ramification that this announcement might make won’t be for Hickenlooper, but likely for his successor, whenever he or she comes along. I have to imagine that the spouse of the next candidates for Governor will be asked if they feel their marriage can withstand the pressure of an office that has directly affected four marriages and families.

While the pressures of any job can help to destroy a marriage, it would only be natural for any potential “First Spouse” to think very hard about if they want to take on the extra risk to their marriage.

I can see the questions asked of future candidates like “Why are you running?” and “What are your qualifications?” now including “Is your spouse worried about your marriage if you win?”.

It might sound silly right now, but don’t be shocked if that becomes a question that is asked early and often during the 2014 campaign.

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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