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Will Hickenlooper Really Be Pro-Business, or Ritter Redux?

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Governor-elect John Hickenlooper said all the right things during a Colorado Springs appearance Thursday morning, and he was rewarded accordingly, with three -- count 'em, three -- standing ovations from a crowd that seemed to be going out of its way to dispel nasty rumors that this is some sort of right wing fever swamp. Even hard-bitten local journalists were in a swoon.

And why not? The campaign is over, for goodness sake. He coasted to victory without resorting to a single negative ad. Why let a few ideological differences get things off on the wrong foot? The guy isn't some hair-on-fire Boulder liberal, after all, but a businessman-turned-politician who is promising to do for the state what he did for microbrew. Shouldn't we, even if we're dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, give him a chance to deliver on these pro-business promises?

Of course we should.

And what choice do we have, really?

But reading these reports gave me a bit of deja vu, as if history were repeating itself. And sure enough, a look back through the Gazette archives produced this eerily similar report from January 27, 2007, which had a newly-elected governor, also a Democrat, holding a Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce audience in thrall by making very similar promises. His name was Bill Ritter.

Only weeks later, however, the supposedly pro-business Ritter was caught climbing in bed with labor unions and Statehouse Democrats to pass a bill making it easier to unionize the workplace in Colorado (or am I just imagining all this?). Facing a business sector backlash, Ritter eventually killed the bill, prompting labor unions to toss a fit, claiming he'd broken a promise. That ended the love affair between Bill Ritter and the business community. It was never the same again.

Ritter's business strategy, such as it was, was Obamanomics Lite -- meaning, it largely depended on government action (government spending, government mandates, government "incentives") to stimulate the economy, while neglecting the regulatory and tax reforms that have a much greater impact on job creation and the business climate. Yes, Ritter conjured-up this grand delusion called the "new energy economy," which can't exist without a government crutch, even while he waged regulatory war on the old energy economy (which more correctly should be called the "real energy economy"). That, too, is straight out of the Obama playbook. For most Democrats, and for Republican practitioners of Obamanomics (and we even have some here in conservative Colorado Springs) economic development is a government-centered activity, which ignores the fact that government is much better at killing jobs than "creating" them.

Not saying that will happen with Hickenlooper. Maybe he's the real deal. And I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But like Ritter, he is also a Democrat, meaning he serves a political constituency -- labor unions, greens, growth controllers, capitalism-bashers, Boulder liberals, etc. -- which isn't exactly friendly to business and industry, and at times becomes overtly hostile to both. How Hickenlooper will manage to be "pro-business," while also serving a core party constituency that is hostile to free markets and free enterprise, is a contradiction he'll have to work through.

Hopefully he'll be better at threading the needle than Ritter was.