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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Town Hall with Presidential Candidate and Frm. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired March 20, 2019 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BASH: Good evening from the CNN Center in Atlanta, and welcome to a CNN Democratic presidential town hall with former Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado. I'm Dana Bash.
He's a former geologist who lost his job and turned his severance check into a multi-million-dollar beer business, and he is the second governor to enter this crowded field of Democratic candidates. Tonight, Governor Hickenlooper will take questions from Democrats and independents who say they plan to participate in the Democratic primaries and caucuses.
Please welcome Governor John Hickenlooper.
Thanks for doing this. Have a seat.
So, Governor, I'm sure you're aware that this is a field of a lot of people with really unique names. You might not be aware that yours is the longest.
HICKENLOOPER: So I've been told.
BASH: So you have been told, OK. What does Hickenlooper mean?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, we were always told as kids that Hickenlooper was Dutch for "hedge hopper" and that -- you know, people would jump over the hedge to deliver the mail. But we as children would ask, why isn't it more common? And so as it turned out, later in life, my uncle told me that the truth was that "hedge hoppers" really were game poachers, and they would jump over the king's hedge and kill the king's deer. That's why I guess it's a common name in some of the prison colonies like Australia.
BASH: I just want to make sure, you're saying "hedge hopper," not "head chopper"?
HICKENLOOPER: No, that's a political interpretation.
Just wanted to make sure that we were hearing it right. Well, let's get straight to the audience. Our first question comes from Lauren Patrick. She works in marketing with technology startups right here in Atlanta.
QUESTION: Hey, y'all. All right. As a geologist for the oil industry who was laid off, then started a brewery, and eventually became mayor of Denver, governor of Colorado, and now seeking the highest office in the land, you've shown how an American worker can pivot and continue evolving to build a successful career. There are so many Americans who feel hopeless, like they can't ever get their dream job. What would you tell your fellow Americans?
HICKENLOOPER: Wow, that's a great question. Thank you so much for that, because it takes me back to what was one of my hardest, hardest periods of my life, but also one of the most exciting.
And I was blessed beyond -- I can say a couple things. My mother was 5 foot. Everyone called her Shrimpy. And she grew up in the Depression. And she -- you know, she sewed all her own clothes. She never bought anything. She would wash tinfoil and tape it to the refrigerator door to reuse it. I'm not making that up.
And she taught us that you can't control what life throws at you. She was widowed twice before she was 40. So my dad died when I was 8. And, you know, when I got laid off -- and I was lucky. Unlike a lot of Americans, I didn't have children. I didn't have all those responsibilities. But I did have a network of friends who helped me -- this idea to create a restaurant that would brew its own beer.
And for the record, my mother wouldn't invest. It's frame of reference.
But the bottom line, these friends helped me get started, and they really allowed me to put a business plan together. We got a book out from the library. But we had to get a loan from the city of Denver to promote economic development. There was a partnership between the city government and the downtown business community to provide incentives for people to try to start businesses in that -- what was then an abandoned warehouse district, a dollar a square foot -- a dollar per square foot per year as rent.
So it was really a team effort. It was a lot of hard work, but also a huge community effort on -- that was kind of helping us from behind.
BASH: And, Governor, you, when you were in Colorado, governor there, you became, that state, one of the first to legalize recreational marijuana. I want to go to a question about that. It's Courtney Spencer, an online talk show host who is active in Democratic politics here in Georgia. Courtney?
QUESTION: Thank you so much for the opportunity to ask you a question this evening. As governor of the state of Colorado, though you were opposed to it, you shepherded the enactment of Colorado Amendment 64, amending the statewide drug policy on marijuana. Have your thoughts toward this initiative changed? And if so, would you champion this for the rest of the country?
HICKENLOOPER: Thank you, Courtney. I'm not surprised that that's one of the first questions I get asked.
As my mother would say, you couldn't control what things would come in your path, what bad things life might throw at you. And in the end, we were very concerned about this. And I was opposed to it originally. A, no other government had ever legalized marijuana. Even Amsterdam just decriminalized it.
We were worried about teenage consumption going up, when kids' brains are rapidly growing, what it could do. We were worried about the risks of, you know, more people driving while high. And partly, it's no fun to be in conflict with the federal government.
But I believe that states are the laboratories of democracy, as Justice Brandeis said so famously, and that we would give it our best shot. And I have to say, at this point, most of our fears haven't come true. We haven't seen a spike in consumption. A significant increase among senior citizens, but I leave that to your own imagination.
But I think -- I think the solution -- I've come more and more to believe now that the worst didn't happen, and even though our system is not perfect yet -- we still have a black market -- I think it's so much better than the old system when we sent millions of kids to prison, most of them kids of color, and not only imprisoned them, but made them felons, made difficult live -- already difficult lives much, much harder.
I would not ask the federal government to legalize it for everyone. But I think where states do legalize marijuana, with the voters or through their General Assembly, the federal government should get out of the way and allow them to be able to get banking, which we can't legally get in Colorado, so everything is supposed to go by cash, allow them to look at systems by which you can have this experiment go on successfully.
And ultimately, my dream would be the federal government to make sure that the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration regulate whether pesticides are used when this is being created, that we get all the legal barriers to doing medical research around marijuana so that we can get one system nationwide for what is medical marijuana, what does it really -- where does it work? Where does it not work?
Let's make this a real experiment through collaboration between the federal government and the states. Thank you.
BASH: Governor, I want to ask you a somewhat related question.
Thirty years ago, while you were coming back from an employee's birthday party, you were arrested for drinking and driving. What did you learn from that experience?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, certainly, I -- it's funny. This was about six months after we'd opened our restaurant, and it was a farewell party for a manager, and I had, you know, one last drink. Wasn't even thinking about it. I wasn't driving fast, but I got pulled over by an officer, and clearly I was well -- I was, I think, 0.92, driving while ability impaired.
And I've never been more ashamed, I think, in my life. And I admit -- I had been the guy in our whole restaurant community that made sure that nobody drank and drive -- would drive while drinking or after drinking.
And so we became the first restaurant where we -- back then, this was just when designated drivers became something people talked about. And so we became the first restaurant in Colorado where if you were a designated driver and you were going to drive a group of people home, your soft drinks, your fruit juices, whatever you drank that was non- alcoholic was on the house.
BASH: That's interesting. Let's get back to the audience. Omega Finney is here. She's a nurse from McDonough, Georgia. Omega?
QUESTION: Hi. What are your plans as president to reform criminal justice? What are your plans as a follow-up to the First Step bill that was passed by Congress? And how do you plan to address black men being shot and killed by police officers and the fact that the federal government is not monitoring the reform of those police departments under the Trump administration?
HICKENLOOPER: Omega, thank you. That's obviously a tough question, and you don't have to go very far into American history to see that our system of incarceration is a dramatic failure. We have more people imprisoned in this country than the next two largest companies combined, over 2 million people now in prison.
I think there's got to be a systemic approach, and I'll hold up as an example, when I first got elected mayor, I was 50 years old. I'd never been in government before. And two weeks before I was being inaugurated, a young 15-year-old African-American boy named Paul Childs -- and he was, you know, in a different head. And he was carrying a knife around his house. And his mother told his sister, call the police. We want to take away Paul's -- take that knife away.
The police came. They cleared the house. Paul was still there, told him to drop the knife three times, and then they shot him and killed him in his own front hall.
My predecessor was Mayor Wellington Webb, I think one of the great mayors of the second half of the 21st century, one of the great African-American leaders. And he took me to the funeral. We sat with the family afterwards. He introduced me to -- in Colorado, we had -- or Denver, we have an organization of black pastors and ministers, reverends. And we began a partnership where we were one of the first -- the first cities -- and this is 10 years before Ferguson, where we created an office of the independent monitor to make sure that any allegation of police misconduct got a thorough -- outside the mayor's control -- got an independent assessment.
We created the -- a total comprehensive program to re-evaluate how police operated. We created the civilian oversight commission to monitor this. And then we also made sure that every police officer -- at that time, I think there were 1,300 -- that they got crisis intervention training so that they could understand when someone was in a different head, in a mental health issue or mental health crisis even, and -- or from a foreign culture, and really began looking at, did they have non-lethal forms, tasers and beanbag shotguns?
And ultimately, we went after the discipline matrix. And at one point, I had 700 Denver police officers on the steps of City Hall calling me "Chickenlooper" and putting out -- because what -- in the old days, our discipline matrix said that any infraction, any misconduct by a police officer could receive no harsher punishment than the most lenient for the same misconduct at any time previously, which meant that, again and again, police officers would get a slap on the wrist.
And, you know, I think many -- almost all police officers are trying to do their best in a difficult job. But there are bad police officers who probably shouldn't be on the streets. And we've created a structure in Denver where we did, I think, a pretty good job. And they're still working on it now, my successor, Mayor Michael Hancock, another -- Mayor Hancock is just a great mayor.
And we're still improving this system. But in a federal role, I would try to make sure that the federal government was an active partner...
HICKENLOOPER: ... with communities all across the country to make sure that we stamp this out.
BASH: You'd mentioned the federal government. I want to ask you about the death penalty, as it relates to what you would do as president. In Colorado, you halted Colorado's death penalty after a man was shot and killed -- shot and killed four employees at a Chuck E. Cheese. Currently there are 62 inmates on federal death row, including the Boston Marathon bomber. So would you halt all of those executions, if you were president?
HICKENLOOPER: I think the key is that -- and what we've done in Colorado is a statewide conversation on the death penalty. And I mean, it doesn't deter. I mean, if the states had gotten rid of the death penalty 40 years ago have no -- no more homicides or mass killings than states that execute people multiple times a year.
It costs -- you know, in Colorado, it costs north of $15 million for all the appeals. If you go down every sentence, all those appeals drag families of the victims through the most horrible experience of their lives.
BASH: What's your position on the death penalty?
HICKENLOOPER: So, I'm against it. You know, I started out an eye for an eye...
I started out an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But when I sat down -- and actually, I'm not Catholic, but the Catholic archbishop, Charles Chaput, the day he was leaving, had breakfast with me. And he laid out a whole different way to think about it. And I spent 14 months getting the national experts on the death penalty and really digging in deep.
And it makes no sense. It's not a deterrent. It's expensive. It prolongs misery. And the worst thing is it is random, depending on where that crime occurs, and in many cases, whether the killer is African-American or Latino, that has a lot to do with who gets tried on a death penalty charge.
And the random injustice of that is something this country should never stand for. And as I have not looked at all the cases, but the vast majority of cases in the federal death penalty system, I'd have to be suspicious just to start. So I certainly would suspend the death penalty.
BASH: OK. We have a question now from Tauheed Islam, a student from Atlanta who's studying at Harvard University.
QUESTION: Hello, Governor. Thank you so much for doing this. As a Muslim American, I was very devastated by the recent attack in New Zealand. President Trump, after the attack, said he does not see any rise in white nationalism. Do you agree? Or do you think right-wing extremism is a problem that needs to be addressed?
HICKENLOOPER: Thank you for the question. And it's one of those things that does make you take a second breath. The rise of Islamophobia or white nationalism are different sides of the same coin. And in a free and democratic culture, there's no place for that kind of hatred.
And anytime you are making comments and creating -- you know, fanning the flames of hatred, then you're doing a genuine harm to your community. And...
I don't know what to say. I think President Trump should be ashamed of himself.
BASH: Let's get back to the audience. Next question comes from Ramin Zareian, who is a student at the University of Georgia, who currently supports Bernie Sanders. Here's your chance.
QUESTION: All right. So in 2016, when Colorado was considering a ballot measure to make the state the first in the country to have universal government-run health care, you came out against single- payer health care, saying that, quote, "It would be premature to dramatically remake our health care system at this time." How do you expect voters to choose you over some of your contenders, like Bernie Sanders, who have had a consistent record of support for single-payer health care over their careers?
HICKENLOOPER: Thank you, and I appreciate that. In Colorado -- and one of the things that we've done, I think, as well as any state, I've been able to bring people together who were on different sides of the fence -- in many cases, feuding -- and find collaborative solutions.
And I think, you know, we're at almost universal coverage in Colorado. We're about 95 percent coverage. And we did that by expanding Medicaid, by creating one of the most innovate and successful health care exchanges in the country.
I don't agree with Senator Sanders, the single-payer approach, that you're going to have Medicare for all. I understand that we need a public option. I understand to get to that 100 percent coverage -- I mean, let's get -- let's be honest. Health care should be a right, not a privilege, right?
And I will do everything I can to make sure -- I believe that. I've worked for that. I helped start a community health center in 1973. And we said back then, health care needs to be a right, not a privilege.
I want to support any way we can get to universal coverage. That should be our first and primary goal. It should be our North Star. But I also recognize that there are north of 150 million people that have private -- I mean, how many of you now have insurance through your -- you or a family member have insurance through your place of business, right?
I mean, there are over 150 million people that -- I can't imagine how we would pull them off of health care coverage that in most cases they like.
I am more focused on how do we, A, make sure we get to universal coverage and then make sure that we use -- if it's Medicare, which I think is a good choice, or even Medicare Advantage, where you have different solutions and opportunities available, maybe more cost effective even than Medicare, how do we make sure that we get to that universal coverage, but at the same time, maintain and improve quality and ultimately look at controlling costs?
I mean, in the end, the last 30 years has been a spiral of medical inflation. And whether we look at transparency, if we look at preventative medicine and health care, we've got to be addressing this as a whole country.
BASH: Thank you very much. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Governor John Hickenlooper. Stay with us.
BASH: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Governor John Hickenlooper. And I want to ask you about the fact that you are one of two governors in this race for the Democratic side, and you know how hard it is to run a state. But when you came home to vent one day to your then-11-year-old son, Teddy, he put you in your place, which is why you're laughing. He schooled you.
HICKENLOOPER: He did.
BASH: What did that teach you?
HICKENLOOPER: So we were in the middle of trying to pass universal background checks for firearms.
Which we did.
And I made the mistake of complaining to Teddy one night, which is a terrible mistake to do with an 11-year-old. He said, Dad, what do you do at work all day that's so hard? Make decisions?
I said, well, Teddy, it's not that easy. And he goes, Dad, come on, what do you do? I'll tell you what you do. You get the facts. You make a decision. Check, next. I said, well, Teddy, it's not that easy. He said, Daddy, get the facts, make a decision, check, next.
And then he goes, every day I go to school and I've got to learn something completely new that I didn't know existed the day before. If I don't get it perfect, the next day is misery because everything is based on the day before. I said, after five minutes, Teddy, you're right. You know, you're right. Fifth grade is harder than being governor.
But I went into work the next morning, and I realized in this battle over universal background checks, we'd gotten the national statistics, but we hadn't gotten the local statistics. We were getting to half the gun purchases. So I requested from the Department of Public Safety to get that information.
And it was so powerful, I've retained it all these years, just because I think every state should do what we did and get this data. Getting to half the background checks in a state of 5.5 million people, there were 38 people convicted of homicide who tried to buy a gun and we stopped them.
BASH: So, Governor, we actually have an audience question coming up on gun violence.
HICKENLOOPER: Oh, I'll shut up.
BASH: But, no, no, please don't.
HICKENLOOPER: Well, I'll shut up until later.
BASH: But I have -- I have another question I think the audience is going to be very interested in, which I find fascinating. You suffer from a medical condition that makes it difficult to recognize or remember people's faces. You are a politician.
HICKENLOOPER: And before that, a restaurateur.
BASH: And before, a restaurateur. And you were introduced to your now wife four times before you remembered who she is.
HICKENLOOPER: Shh. I'm out of here.
BASH: Hi, I'm Dana. No, I'm just kidding.
How do you deal with this?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, turns out there is a medical condition, and really a spectrum. And some people can look at 150 people in a video and remember every face and tell you if you show them, you know, five minutes later, a different picture of one person, they'll tell you exactly where they were. I'm the opposite.
And I think in a way it's been a blessing. You know, I'm also moderately dyslexic, so I was a slow reader, always behind in college. My older brother used to tease me that I didn't get that many gifts from God. I had really thick glasses. I had acne. I was skinny. I had the funny last name.
I think that, in a funny way, sometimes you learn to compensate for these things. Certainly, as -- face-blindness, I just learned that if someone came to me and it looked to me like they knew me and they smiled, I'd smile right back. And I'd, you know, sometimes get accused of being a little over friendly, right? But it's better to be over friendly in life, right, than to be someone who is maybe a little doubtful or looking a little doubtful when you meet someone new.
So the people that did know me -- and usually they give themselves away within a couple minutes. I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from your -- how you make friends with people or how you greet your old friends, but almost everyone would say, oh, it's so great to see you. You know, six months ago when we ran into you in, you know, in South Denver, that was so much fun. And you suddenly -- I can remember all what we talked about and everything and pick it right up. It's just the face I can't recognize.
BASH: I could talk about this with you for hours, because I think it's so interesting. But I do want to get to the audience who came to ask questions. Audrey Critz is a stay-at-home mom who lives right here in Atlanta.
QUESTION: Thank you, Governor. As a mother of a preschooler, I already have to think of gun violence and feel powerless to protect my children from it. Do you think it's possible for government to address mental health and take on the gun lobby to stem gun violence in a meaningful way?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, thank you. And I think every parent goes through this process. I know I have, and everyone I know, we've all talked about it.
You know, when we had the shooting in the Aurora movie theater in 2012, and I went to that command center post, there's a large van where they set up their command center right outside the movie theater that next morning on Saturday morning. And I walked in. I was -- there were four of us that were the first to look at the video that the police officers had taken of the crime scene. And you saw everything as it was.
I will never forget it. And, you know, I got a lot of grief because I said, we need to take time to mourn the 12 people that died in the -- I think there were 70 people in all that were shot.
But then we made two decisions. One was we were going to begin to address mental health. In that next legislative session, we made the largest increase in mental health spending ever, $30 million a year. But we also decided we'd take on universal background checks and the issues around large-capacity magazines.
And it was a tough battle, because the -- and I'm a great believer that you can -- you know, you should be able to sit and talk with anyone. And if you work hard enough and listen hard enough and repeat back people's words and really try to make sure they know that you're listening, you should be able to find compromise on almost everything.
But the NRA would not listen to reason. And in the end, when we had to -- and we had control of the Senate and the House in 2012 -- we not only passed universal background checks, but we also passed high- capacity magazine limits for the first time in a Western purple state.
BASH: Governor, you in response to the president's national emergency on the border wall tweeted the U.S. needs to focus on real emergencies, like our epidemic levels of gun violence. Would you declare a national emergency on gun violence if you were president?
HICKENLOOPER: You know, I was pointing out that the level of gun violence is -- again, continuing to increase, by the way. I don't think that that is the purpose of declaring national emergencies. I think what the president has done on the border diminishes our
military efforts at creating processes by which you establish what is a national emergency. I think it also, you know, just deflects his desire for, you know, building a wall, his political vanity, and deflects the public attention from just how bad that is.
I do think it's fair to say that gun violence goes hand in hand, as Audrey was saying, hand in hand with mental health. And so many of these mass shootings are clearly some form of suicide and that we need to begin looking at a holistic level how we address, you know, mental health in all the places.
And we've been working in Colorado, we set up a whole program to work with the shooting ranges, the people that sell hunting rifles, to make sure that everyone is educated to look for mental health conditions in their children, in their neighbors, their friends, and to try and make sure we're all working together to keep guns out of the hands of teenagers who are so clearly at risk when they have mental health episodes.
BASH: Let's get back to the audience now and bring in John McCandlish, a health care IT consultant, who says he was an independent before 2016 and then became a Democrat.
QUESTION: Good evening, Governor. You seem like a very reasonable, pragmatic person who can work across the aisle with Republicans, which I really like. However, at the federal level, unlike the state level, Republicans don't seem to want to give an inch, whether it's gun legislation, climate change, voter registration, health care. So how tough are you prepared to be if they don't cooperate?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, again, I mean, I'll tell you, the reason I'm running for president is because I think this country is in a national crisis of division, right? I think that we are -- it's as bad as when I was a kid during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. It's probably -- you have to go back to the Civil War to find when we're more divided.
And I feel -- I feel like what we've done in Colorado, we were bipartisan to get universal -- or almost universal health care. We were able to convince the environmental community and the oil and gas industry to spend the time to create methane regulations for the first time in this country, methane, one of the worst climate change pollutants.
We were able to bring together the whole state and take us from 40th in job creation to the number-one economy -- state economy in the country. And we did that collaboratively. I mean, I believe that, in this moment, my experience in government and in business allows me to look at bringing people together successfully, and in many cases where they wouldn't talk to each other.
That being said, when you have someone like Mitch McConnell, who with a brand-new president named Barack Obama said that he would do everything he could to make sure that he wasn't successful, therefore, I mean, openly saying he was going to sacrifice the best interests of this country for his political agenda, at a certain point, you have to stand up.
But I truly believe that this is a crisis of division. And we need to make, you know -- we need to transform that into a -- we have to be a country of multiplication.
BASH: And on the issue of toughness, you were asked how tough you would be if you debated Donald Trump, and you said you don't believe it is smart to confront bullies head-on. Why not?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, I mean, you grow up as a skinny kid with thick coke-bottle glasses and the funny last name -- now, don't tell President Obama I was saying that I was the only skinny person with a funny last name.
But the bottom line is...
BASH: I don't think he had the coke-bottle glasses, but maybe I'm wrong.
HICKENLOOPER: No, he didn't. No, he didn't. You know, my device -- and everybody does this differently. I mean, I love -- I can't wait for Donald Trump to make up nicknames for me. I'm going to say -- whatever he comes up with, I'm going to say, what, you couldn't think of "Chickencooper"? You couldn't come up with "Poopinscooper"?
I mean, come on. You've got to do better than that.
But I think what bullies really hate, more than anything, most bullies are insecure and narcissistic. And what they hate more than anything else is being laughed at. And what I've found worked again and again is just to take back what they said, twist it a little bit, so that the people they're trying to impress start to laugh at them. And it drives them nuts.
If you look at the video of when President Trump was talking to the U.N., he was, you know, bragging, and all of a sudden, there was random laughter in the audience, and he froze. He didn't know what to do. And I think that's the best -- rather than trying to punch back and, you know, fight tooth and nail, then you're just dividing all of us back into one camp or the other. And I think showing how ridiculous he is, you have at least some chance of winning over not everybody, but some of the people from the other side.
BASH: OK, Governor. Let's go again to the audience to Curistan Neal, who works in advertising for a nonprofit right here in Atlanta.
QUESTION: Hi, Governor. The heartbeat bill, as I'm sure you know, will outlaw women from getting abortions...
HICKENLOOPER: Can you start over? I didn't hear the beginning.
QUESTION: I'm so sorry, I'm just...
HICKENLOOPER: That's OK, no, it's not -- the mic wasn't on. The mic wasn't on.
QUESTION: The heartbeat bill, as I'm sure you know, will outlaw women from getting abortion at about six weeks, which is when most women know that they're pregnant. It's currently the most restrictive abortion bill. The heartbeat bill is gaining momentum in several states, including right here in Georgia. As president, how can you stop extreme bills like this on a national level and protect Roe v. Wade?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, the first thing I would do as president is make sure that we got the right people onto the Supreme Court so we didn't have worries.
And that we really do uphold the law. And I think that we understand in this country and the vast majority of Americans believe that a woman has the right to control her own health care and that that should be first and foremost sacred and inviolate. And I...
We have worked again and again in Colorado -- we got $5 million -- or $5.2 million per year for five years to provide long-acting reversible contraception, so things like Norplants and IUDs -- to allow 15- to 25-year-old young women to make sure that if they wanted to have that contraception, they could have it, right, and in the process, really prevent unintended pregnancies.
And we all know that when you have -- when you're a teenager and you have a child, it makes your life much more difficult, immeasurably more difficult, in many cases. We reduced teenage pregnancy by 60 percent over the last eight years in Colorado.
But I would make sure as president that every issue within any state that violated a woman's right to decide her own health care would be met with litigation immediately.
BASH: Let's go now to Kate Nahodyl. Hope I said that right. OK?
BASH: She's a fellow geologist.
HICKENLOOPER: Oh, my gosh.
BASH: Politically active here in Georgia.
QUESTION: I don't normally look like this. There's normally a lot more dirt.
HICKENLOOPER: You know, I should point out that I am -- to our knowledge, we had a young intern -- I think I'm the first professional geologist to become a governor in the history of America. I'm not sure what that means.
But I'm honored to be with another geologist.
QUESTION: Thank you. Me, too. So as a geologist, I understand the concern for our colleagues in the oil and gas industry when we hear talk of a Green New Deal. So based on all of the research that we have about climate change and the dangers of environmental contamination, do you now regret your fight to keep stricter drilling protocols, such as to keep drill rigs 2,000 feet from homes and schools, from being signed into law? Or would you continue to keep regulations lax on the oil and gas industry?
HICKENLOOPER: No, no, we -- thank you for the question. I really -- I do appreciate it. As one geologist to another, thank you for promoting science. And lord knows it would be nice to have somebody in the White House who actually understands science.
I believe in the urgency to address climate change as much as anything I know. And I would argue that it is an issue that's going to disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color. Reverend Gerald Durley is here, who has been one of the leaders in terms of making sure that people understand the connection between the environment and communities of color and low-income communities, and make sure that we understand that this is a global issue at that level.
I would hold Colorado's success in regulating the oil and gas industry and, really, all of our emissions up against anybody. We got the oil and gas industry to sit down with the environmental community. No other state's ever -- I mean, these people hate each other. It's worse than Coke hating Pepsi or the Hatfields and the McCoys.
But we got the environmental community to sit down in the same room for 14 months and we created the first methane regulations in the country that the oil and gas industry paid $60 million per year. It's the equivalent of taking 320,000 cars a year off the road.
We have also gone -- and we worked with 10 Western states and six Republican, four Democratic states to make sure that we have -- we took some of the Volkswagen diesel fraud settlement money and put it towards rapid recharging electric vehicle stations in a Western network, so that there wouldn't be gaps and we would really foster more people buying electric vehicles.
We also, a year ago, announced that we were going to have the first time in the country's history, we were going to close two coal plants and replace it with wind, solar, and batteries. And in so doing, so no natural gas for the times when the wind's not blowing, but with those batteries and the wind and the solar, for the first time, we'll close two coal plants, and the average electric bill for the consumers is going to go down. And I think that's...
BASH: Governor, we're going to sneak in another quick break. We will be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Governor John Hickenlooper, live from Atlanta. Stay with us.
BASH: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall. We are live in Atlanta with Governor John Hickenlooper, and we want to get straight to the audience. Tracy Sims, from right here in Atlanta, a mother of two boys.
QUESTION: Hello. My son is a great student and a young pilot. He has been accepted to college for a major in professional flight. Unlike the parents that pay for their kids to get into a great institution, my son worked hard and did his best and got accepted.
The government offered $11,095 in grants and loans under the FAFSA. Tuition is $45,000 a year. My question is, what is your plan to help families like mine meet the growing costs of college tuition?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, A, congratulations. I mean, what a great success for your son. I mean, really.
I am sure he's going to be a huge success. And I think we as a country have an obligation to make sure he doesn't come out of that incredible education that's going to allow him to do such great things with a debt that strangles him, right? I mean, that's the bottom line.
And I think, you know, it's one thing to look at the existing debt that kids have now. It's $1.5 trillion, right -- all of our credit card debt is only $1 trillion -- $1.5 trillion for college debt.
And I mean, the first thing we have to do is look at, how do we structure those loans, right? Can we refinance them? Can we make sure there's no predatory lending? Can we really look at, how do you get past some of those loans?
But the other question is, why is it costing so much that these schools, every year, are raising their tuition by 8 percent, 10 percent, or 12 percent? And I think that is a national issue that we all have to address.
I will -- I mean, I guarantee you, we will marshal heaven and earth to make sure that we can get kids who really want to go to college and have, you know, the inclination and really the desire that will make them successful there, to make sure that they get the resources.
We have, in Colorado, the Denver Scholarship Foundation allows any kid who is -- I think it's under 200 percent of the poverty level, they will be able to get scholarships that make up a large part of that difference so that nobody goes through four years of college with more debt than $15,000, which, again, that's real debt. I understand that. But it's a step in the right direction.
BASH: Go ahead.
HICKENLOOPER: Let me just say one other thing. And we often forget about the 70 percent of kids in this country who are never going to get a four-year degree. And we have backed away...
We have backed away from all our vocational training at the very time when automation and artificial intelligence are going to turn our workplace upside-down. And I think we need to -- now is the time to look at how do we make sure those kids get a chance to have the skills, to acquire the skills so that they can be successful in this rapidly evolving economy.
And we've got to do it. In Colorado, we started with apprenticeship programs. We've looked at skills-based transfers. Here's my vision. I think we should have the largest expansion of free skills and free community colleges in the history of this country.
BASH: Next question from the audience is Elaine DeSimone, a freelance writer here in Atlanta.
QUESTION: Hi, Governor. Thanks for being here. We are at a critical time in history that asks those of us who are white or male to hold the door open for women, people of color, people in the LGBTQ community, and other minorities. We have good, qualified Democrats running who fit these descriptions. Why would someone vote for you over a woman or minority candidate?
HICKENLOOPER: Sure. Thank you for that question. And I hear that. And I have my whole life fought for civil rights and equality, equality in operation, in opportunity, equality in economic security. I also recognize that diversity is probably this country's greatest strength. It's certainly the greatest strength of the Democratic Party. And I celebrate that. But as I said, I'm running for president because I think I've got a
different set of experiences than many people. And I've -- you know, I've been able to bring people together again and again, both when I was in government and in small business, find compromises in places where we collaborate with people that really were feuding.
When I first became mayor, I reached out to all the suburban mayors who hated the mayor of Denver. They hated the city of Denver. And people said they'll never get -- you're wasting your time. But in the end, we got all 34 mayors, two-thirds of them Republicans and independents, to unanimously join together and support a tax increase to create the most ambitious transit initiative in the history of the country.
It's been a big part of Denver's success. I mean, it's 122 miles of new track. And that collaborative effort, I think this election people -- I think there's an appetite for people that have actually been in office, in executive office, and actually done stuff.
BASH: Governor, some of your male competitors have vowed to put a woman on the ticket. Yes or no, would you do the same?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, again, of course. But I think that we should be -- well, I'll ask you another question. How come...
BASH: But I'm asking the questions.
HICKENLOOPER: I know. I know.
But how come we're not asking -- not asking more often the women, would you be willing to put a man on the ticket?
BASH: When we get to that point, I'll ask you that question.
We'll be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Governor John Hickenlooper. Don't go away.
BASH: We're back with Governor John Hickenlooper for our CNN Democratic presidential town hall. We have one more audience question. But before we get to that, we've been looking at your memoir, and you have a lot of interesting stories in that book. One of them is about the time you went to see an X-rated movie with your mother.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Whoa!
BASH: You have the floor, sir.
HICKENLOOPER: Thank you so much for that question.
BASH: Any time.
HICKENLOOPER: I thought it was better to write a book to let people really see who you were and the dumb things you did, as well as the smart things.
BASH: And where is that on the spectrum?
HICKENLOOPER: On the dumb side.
HICKENLOOPER: I was the youngest of four. And as I said, my dad died right after I turned 8. And my mother and I had a pretty tempestuous relationship. She was just the most amazing person.
And I went off to college, and for the first time, she was alone in the house. And I didn't realize how powerful that was until I got home at Thanksgiving, and I promised -- I called a friend in Philadelphia -- and these were -- I didn't know what an X movie was. We thought it was a little naughty, but we didn't think it was that bad.
Again, you've got to understand, I was 18 years old. And so I came home. My mother hated to cook. I mean, she was just a strong, powerful woman who got stuff done in her own right. And I got home and she had this huge dinner laid out. And I said, I promised -- you know, I promised Jed that we would go to the movie theater and see this new movie. Do you want to come? And it's an X movie, I don't know -- you know, I just -- and she -- and I was sure that she would say no. I made a mistake. And she said, "I'd love to go," because she didn't want to be left alone in the house again.
BASH: It was a pretty famous movie, too.
HICKENLOOPER: So I took my mother to see "Deep Throat."
And to her credit, the first scene is -- I didn't ask the question.
But I will tell you that -- I will tell you that my mother -- my mother was -- I'm sure she was mortified. And I said repeatedly, I think we should leave, I think we should go. And my mother was the kind of person that rarely went to a movie. She thought almost every movie would get on TV. Obviously, not this one.
(LAUGHTER) But she was -- she really -- when she paid, she was going to stay.
And at the end, she knew that I was humiliated. And as we drove home -- and you know how the dashboard in the old cars had the kind of green light, and I -- you know, she -- I asked her, I said, well, that was some experience. And she goes, she says, "Well, I thought the lighting was very good in the movie."
I thought I saw a little grin in that green light.
BASH: Let's get back to the audience.
BASH: Mary Colbourne, a CPA from right here in Atlanta.
QUESTION: Thank you. As a pragmatic progressive, my vote will go to the candidate that is able to flip those middle-of-the-road Trump supporters and has a realistic plan to combat the country's largest issues. What is your plan to dispose of the socialist branding paraded by many conservatives? And how do you plan to appeal to Trump voters who have fundamental policy differences with Democrats, but don't feel like there's a place for them in Trump's Republican Party?
HICKENLOOPER: Wow, that's a great question. That is so on spot. Let me just say that I don't like labels. I understand they get used all the time, but they generally objectify people and they diminish them.
I was asked if I wanted to be a capitalist -- or if I was a capitalist, and, you know, my response -- one response was, in the end, it's as if you asked if I was a nerd in high school, in which case I would have said, well, it's not my first label I'd choose, but it'd be hard to argue with, right?
And, you know, I started -- I mean, if you're going to give me a label, I am a capitalist. I started 20 businesses. I created 1,000 jobs. I helped reinvent a large part of downtown. And I think what we're doing with workforce training and making sure all people, all -- kids of all ages have the skills to engage, you know, at a high level with these new jobs that are going to come out by the millions.
Right now, there are many millions of jobs that require higher levels of skills that businesses can't get filled. And I look at -- you know, I understand that the middle class is shrinking, right, and that just because corporations have record profits -- record profits -- it doesn't mean that the country is doing better.
I understand that millennials don't hate the idea of buying a house and starting a family. They're just buried in mountains of debt. I understand that Generation Xers, you know, that they have to -- they shouldn't have to choose between taking care of their parents and sending their kids to college, while at the same time not having anything for their own retirement. And I think those are going to be some of the questions that those
people that voted for Trump didn't feel they were getting an answer from in the Democratic Party. And I think I can -- I can do what we did in Colorado. When we started -- when I started, we were 40th in job creation. We became the -- for the last two years, according to US News and World Report, the number-one economy in the country, and we did it by embracing everybody. Everyone was part of designing that. Everyone was expanding access to capital, cutting red tape in bureaucracy, making it easier for entrepreneurs to start businesses. We can do this on a national level and really lift up the entire country.
BASH: Governor, thank you so much for joining me this evening.
HICKENLOOPER: Thank you so much.
BASH: We appreciate it. Thank you very much. And thank you, our audience here in Atlanta. Thank you for watching.
Be sure to tune in next Wednesday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Don Lemon will be here, he'll be in South Carolina, where he'll moderate the next CNN presidential Democratic town hall with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. And "CNN Tonight" starts right now.