Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper warned his party of straying too far to the left as it selects a nominee to face President Trump in next year's election.
Hickenlooper, one of the 23 candidates running for the Democratic Party's nomination, told NPR why he doesn't believe in some of the party's major policy proposals, such as the Green New Deal and "Medicare for All."
"If we don't stand up and say that we Democrats don't stand for socialism, we're going to end up reelecting the worst president this country's ever had," Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper spoke with Morning Edition as part of the show's Opening Arguments conversations, exploring the presidential candidates' core messages.
On the leftward shift in the Democratic Party
I don't think we're going to address climate change by guaranteeing every American a federal job, which is what part of the Green New Deal was. I don't think we're going to address the spiraling inflation in health care by forcibly telling 150 million people that we're going to take away their private insurance. These are what a lot of Americans look at as facets or aspects of socialism.
On focusing on economic issues instead of social policies
Certainly we want to address income inequality. Right. Absolutely we want to make sure that women have a right to choose, that civil rights and social justice are addressed aggressively.
But we've also got to recognize to win in Ohio and Michigan and North Carolina and Wisconsin, we're going to have to get more to those kitchen table issues that have to do with somebody's job, or how many jobs they're having to work just to balance a household budget.
On the identity fight within the Democratic Party
One of the things I've always loved about the Democratic Party is that it is a big-tent party, and it embraces opportunity for all people. I'm running for president because I think my life experience can address this. This Trump-fueled national crisis of division has been moving us backward.
I look at my experience of bringing people together — businesses and nonprofits, and Republicans and Democrats — and to really get things done; to get to near-universal health care, to have the No. 1 economy in the country for three consecutive years, I think that record stands for itself. ... I think in some [ways] I'm the only person running who has actually accomplished what everyone else is talking about.
NOEL KING, HOST:
Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper sees a somewhat lonely path to the Democratic nomination for president. Hickenlooper is running as a pro-business moderate. He co-founded a brewery and eventually turned his business success into political success. He won the election to be mayor of Denver and then became a two-term governor of a purple state.
Hickenlooper's belief in market-based solutions to problems puts him at odds with some other candidates in the primary. In an interview not long after he declared his candidacy, he seemed uncertain whether to call himself a capitalist. So we started there in our conversation as part of our Opening Arguments series.
JOHN HICKENLOOPER: I am a capitalist, without question. I started 20 businesses. I created a couple thousand jobs. But I was trying to say that capitalism today isn't working for a large number of Americans. Seventy-five to 80% of American families have a hard time balancing their household budgets every month. And we used to have a system when I was a kid that people would be able to get security and opportunity. Now I think people feel nothing but anxiety.
KING: All right. Let's talk about some specifics there. Would you support a federal minimum wage?
HICKENLOOPER: Yeah, I think we have to increase the minimum wage. I'd expand the earned income tax credit. But I think one of the things we have to really look at is, why were - there are each year fewer businesses being created? And that's where job creation really comes and where quality job creation comes from.
KING: Governor, let me have you answer your own question. Why are fewer businesses being created?
HICKENLOOPER: There are a combination of reasons behind the reduction in business creation. One is that we - like any enterprise - and government is an enterprise - we've had more and more kind of red tape. And sometimes that bureaucracy is excessive and makes it harder for people - the successful employees in somebody else's company - makes it harder for them to take a leap and start their own business.
But I also think a big part of it is we have a consolidation of just two or three companies dominate that industry, right? There - 84% of all the hardware sales are from two companies. So starting a neighborhood hardware company is almost out of the question. People don't think they have a chance.
KING: The question of whether or not certain companies are monopolies has come up again and again throughout the course of this campaign. Would you break up the big tech giants - Facebook and Amazon - as Elizabeth Warren has said she would do?
HICKENLOOPER: The tech companies cover a whole spectrum of businesses. And I think you'd have to go through the processes and procedures we have in place to look at, are they hurting competition, and are they negatively affecting the prices that consumers pay for their services and their goods.
KING: Well, a lot of research has been done into it. What do you think? Do you think they are?
HICKENLOOPER: I think that Amazon, in certain ways, clearly is restraining the creation of businesses. And I think that's an important filter. That's my entrepreneurial filter. I mean, Amazon is able to see which of their vendors are most successful in selling their products. And then if Amazon decides to, they can go and acquire that specific company. That seems like an unfair competitive advantage to many people.
KING: You said that red tape is preventing the creation of businesses. President Trump has famously made deregulation a big part of his pitch to the American people. Does President Trump have a point? Are we an overly regulated society?
HICKENLOOPER: When you get rid of all the regulations, as Donald Trump is suggesting, really, we become incredibly vulnerable to what appear to be small decisions, but they become bigger decisions. We need regulation. What I was saying is we don't need red tape, right? While I was governor, we went through 24,500 rules and regulations. And we looked for the red tape that really is not adding regulatory value.
But at the same time we were doing that, we sat down with the oil and gas industry and the environmental community, and we created a complete, integrated system of regulations around what they call fugitive emissions, but escaping methane. We addressed that. We're the first state in the country. And they're now rolling that out as national policy in Canada. That kind of regulation, which actually protects the environment and is done efficiently, we desperately need. And Donald Trump is just getting rid of all regulation willy-nilly.
KING: Democrats want to win back the Senate. And it's been said that if you chose to run against Republican Cory Gardner, that you would have a real shot in that race. Why go after the presidency instead of helping the Democratic Party win back the Senate?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, I've spent my whole life - as a entrepreneur, as a mayor, as a governor - building teams, assembling talent. We've been able to accomplish things again and again that people didn't think we could do. We got to almost universal health care in Colorado. We did the methane regulations I described. We beat the NRA with tough new gun laws. This is all through that collaborative effort of building a team and getting things done. That's very different than the legislative process.
KING: Has Chuck Schumer called you and urged you to run for Senate?
HICKENLOOPER: (Laughter) I've talked to Chuck Schumer, who is one of the most persuasive people, and I have more admiration for how he does his job than words can express.
KING: You're running as a centrist, even as much of the Democratic Party is moving to the left. How do you plan to sell your ideas to an increasingly progressive party?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, I talked to - obviously, I've been all over Iowa and New Hampshire. And most people really want to beat Trump. And I think if we don't stand up and say that we don't - you know, that Democrats don't stand for socialism, we're going to end up reelecting the worst president this country's ever had. And I feel sometimes a lonely voice.
But I think we've got to speak loud and clear that jobs matter. Our economy has to grow. And certainly we want to address income inequality. Absolutely we want to make sure that women have a right to choose, that civil rights and social justice are addressed aggressively. But we've also got to recognize to win in Ohio and Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, we're going to have to, you know, get more to those kitchen table issues that have to do with, you know, somebody's job and - or how many jobs they're having to work just to balance their household budget.
KING: And do you think your fellow candidates are not doing that?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, they're certainly doing it to a certain extent. I'm not diminishing climate change or - as an important issue or health care. But I don't think we're going to address climate change by guaranteeing every American a federal job, which is what part of the Green New Deal was. I don't think we're going to address the spiraling inflation in health care by forcibly telling 150 million people that we're going to take away their private insurance.
You know, these are what a lot of Americans look at as facets or aspects of socialism. And I think we've got to be more focused and deliberate of saying repeatedly, again and again, that we want to get to address climate change, but we want to do it in a way that works.
KING: Governor, you are a 67-year-old white man at a time when the Democratic Party says it prizes diversity. You're running against 22 other candidates. Many of them are women, people of color. Is now the time for you?
HICKENLOOPER: One of the things I've always loved about the Democratic Party is that it is a big-tent party, and it embraces opportunity for all people. And I'm running for president because I think my life experience can address this Trump-fueled national crisis of division that has been moving us backward. And I look at my experience of bringing people together - businesses and nonprofits and Republicans and Democrats - and to really get things done, to get to near-universal health care, create the No. 1 economy in the country for three consecutive years - I think that record stands for itself.
KING: Governor John Hickenlooper, thank you so much for joining us.
HICKENLOOPER: You bet, Noel. Thank you so much.
KING: That's former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, talking to us for our Opening Arguments series. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.