Keep an eye on the stick, not the carrot.
Governor John Hickenlooper has ascended the political ladder in Colorado with several parts of savvy politician mixed in with a folksy-schtickiness that, for the most part, has served him well. But as we pointed out last year, the "Hick Schtick" has been losing some of its power as Hickenlooper's political opponents learn how to use it against him.
This problem for Hickenlooper emerged again last week, when the Governor walked right into a political trap when speaking in Aspen to the County Sheriffs of Colorado. Hickenlooper made some silly mistakes in speaking to the Sheriffs group when he inexplicably apologized to them for not communicating better over gun safety legislation passed in 2013. That story has continued well into this week, thanks to a well-placed camera and microphone. As Kurtis Lee of the Denver Post reports:
Gov. John Hickenlooper told county sheriffs at a recent gathering he felt conflicted about supporting a bill that limited ammunition magazines, but because one of his "staff made a commitment," he felt compelled to sign it into law.
"To be honest, no one in our office thought it would get through the legislature," Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said in an unedited video recorded by the conservative group Revealing Politics. "There were several Democrats who said without question they weren't going to vote for it."
The measure — by far the most controversial in a package of gun-control bills signed into law in 2013 — bars the sale of ammunition magazines of more than 15 rounds. The measure passed the Democratic-controlled legislature with no Republican support.
Eric Brown, Hickenlooper's spokesman, said Wednesday that he has not had a chance to speak with the governor about which staffer committed the governor's support and signature for the legislation. Hickenlooper is in Mexico this week to promote economic development.
As we wrote on Monday, Hickenlooper should have known better. His folksy attempts to make friends with a group of Republican sheriffs who were always going to be opposed to his policies ended up doing nothing but harm to his own image. Republican operatives have done a good job of expanding this story into more than it really is, something that became easy to do when the Governor walked right into their clutches. What did Hick think would happen here? What possible upside did he see in going back to the contentious 2013 legislative debate over gun safety? Did he just want Republican sheriffs to like him better? Did the Shirtless Sheriff just freak him out too much?
Hickenlooper fell into a stupid trap here, and it's his own fault for doing it. But as Aurora Sentinel editor Dave Perry opined this week, there are plenty of important details to remember – including the fact that the Colorado Chiefs of Police supported a ban on high-capacity magazines:
Hickenlooper’s gaffe here happened when agreed to talk to this group of self-aggrandizing gunslingers to begin with. Not that Hickenlooper didn’t make missteps here and elsewhere along his political path, but this was a phony gunfight from the get go…
…What too many people forget here is that these sheriffs helping to perpetuate this hysteria are politicians. Most — if not all — share a common trait: Republicans with a magazine to grind against the Democratic governor. These sheriffs are trying to tell the public that nobody asked them nothing about any of this as the law was being created. That’s a load of crap…[Pols emphasis]
…Did Hickenlooper mishandle pushing back against the sheriffs? Probably. Who cares? Does it mean these two laws are any less valuable? Hell no. We’re they written so that they’re difficult to enforce? That’s for state lawyers and others to decide. If they are, modify them to ensure their intent and end this fake fury for good. And as for these sure-shooting sheriffs-turned-constitutional-lawyers: Spend your time protecting the public instead of preaching politics.
There's no sugar-coating that Hickenlooper fell into an obvious trap with the Sheriffs' group here, but even so, the political ramifications aren't particularly dire. For one thing, the gun legislation debate is already more than a year old; voters are already tired of hearing about it, and it's only June. And, of course, there's the not-so-little problem Republicans face with their own Gubernatorial field. Even if this were an election-defining moment (and even the most enthusiastic Republican would have to admit that it most certainly does not rise to that level), the GOP is going to have a hell of a time convincing voters that their nominee for Governor is worth selecting…period.
Yes, this is a bad story for Hickenlooper that reflects poorly on the Governor, but there's not more to it than that. Maybe this experience will finally convince Hick to put his "Schtick" in his back pocket for awhile and pay more attention to what's really happening in front of him. Maybe this will finally convince him to deal more closely with his obvious allies rather than spend so much time trying to court enemies. Or, maybe Hick will just keep on keeping on, and fall right into the next hole covered by Republicans with sticks and leaves. If nothing else, we'd guess Hickenlooper has made his last official visit to a meeting of the County Sheriffs group.