2020 candidate John Hickenlooper pitches ‘progressive alternatives’ to nationalizing health care, free college

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper stopped by Coralville on April 12, where he pitched himself as a “pragmatic” alternative in the 2020 presidential-nomination field.


Shivansh Ahuja

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at Backpocket Brewery in Coralville on Friday, April 12, 2019.

Sarah Watson, Politics Editor

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a brewery-pub owner turned politician, seemed at ease when behind the bar at Backpocket Brewery in Coralville and a 6th Anniversary Stout in his hand.

Speaking over the top of the noise of a bustling Coralville brewery, Hickenlooper built on his pitch as a unifier, leaning on his background as Denver mayor and Colorado governor to offer “pragmatic” options to processes to achieve the concept of plans such as Medicare-for-all, free college tuition, and the Green New Deal — the general goal of which he says he supports.

America should strive for an “evolution rather than a revolution,” he said. He didn’t believe there needed to be policies, such as the Green New Deal, that served as “litmus tests” of liberal purity, he said.

He said believes health care is a right not a privilege, and that student debt is becoming a “drag” on the economy.

And he believes that a national opt-in health-care program, universal background checks when purchasing firearms, and refinancing student loans can make progress on his goals.

“No one is going to get these things figured out by themselves — or one party,” he said, referring to health-care costs and job training. “It’s got to be somebody who brings people together. When I look at all the other candidates, I’m not sure if anyone else has the same consistent record of achieving progressive goals.”

Other candidates such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker have endorsed various degrees of nationalizing health care and the Green New Deal. Hickenlooper penned an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he outlined his concerns with how realistic or not the Green New Deal resolution sponsored by New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is.

“I’m impressed, he’s knowledgeable, he’s willing to engage in conversations to bring factions together,” Cedar Rapids resident Anne Johnson said. She’s seen nearly a dozen 2020 presidential candidates, along with her husband, but she said she hasn’t decided on who to caucus for yet. With a background in social justice, she said she liked Hickenlooper’s comments in support of a slavery-reparations bill.

University of Iowa student and member of UI Democrats Teagan Roeder said that while he liked Hickenlooper’s pragmatism, he wasn’t swayed by a response to a question about Hickenlooper’s plan to address rising student debt.

Hickenlooper called student debt a “huge drag on the economy,” and said he believed there were ways to reallocate and bring down loan interest rates, although it would be in the hands of the Federal Reserve.

Shivansh Ahuja
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at Backpocket Brewery in Coralville on April 12.

He also said students should weigh the return on their education investment when they are picking a postsecondary-education option.

“Not all things you study are going to have the same economic opportunity, and I know that seems unjust but that’s the way the world is,” Hickenlooper said. He believes job-training programs for skilled labor would need support to fill job openings, he said.

Roeder, who said he decided to caucus for Warren but still wanted to hear what other candidates had to offer, said he considered Hickenlooper’s response a “cop-out answer.”

“In terms of the debt that’s there, I’m not sure we can do anything immediately except make sure the interest rate is as low as it possibly can be and then try to find to help people get out of debt,” Hickenlooper said.

In answering questions from reporters about his response to the student-loan debt question after the event, Hickenlooper said he always encouraged people to be frugal.

Earlier in the day, Hickenlooper stopped by a panel titled “Progressive Alternatives to Nationalized Health Care” hosted by the Progressive Policy Institute and finished the day with a meet-and-greet in West Liberty. He planned several more Iowa stops Sunday.

According to a March Des Moines Register poll, Hickenlooper was one of seven Democratic presidential contenders who wasn’t a single respondent’s top choice.

In Coralville, Hickenlooper pushed back on being called part of the “moderate” category, saying, “I hate the labels, because labels usually end up marginalizing someone. I’m more about getting stuff done. I believe health care should be a right not a privilege — is that middle of the road or is that progressive?”