Gun control did not prove to be a winning issue for Democrat Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado. It’s already cost three Democrats their seats in the state legislature, thanks to recall elections, plus a resignation. The majority of Colorado sheriffs actually tried to sue their own state to block the gun-control measures, because they argued the Second Amendment had been violated. (The sheriffs were told by a judge that they had to hold off on the lawsuit until they were out of office.)
Governor Hickenlooper decided to meet with the sheriffs last Friday to make peace, and as Fox News reports, things got weird:
First, Hickenlooper blamed his staff for not anticipating the opposition on gun control. He then apologized for his staff’s inability to effectively communicate and promised to do better in the future.
When Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith pressed the issue, Hickenlooper snapped back, “What the f—? I apologized!”
He apparently was kidding around, as the sheriffs could be heard laughing. But on his Facebook page, Smith said he was surprised by the governor’s choice of words.
“I’m a big boy and I won’t pretend for a moment that it’s not language that’s foreign to me – but I found that type of attitude and response to be well below the dignity of the office of governor,” Smith wrote. “This was a sitting governor, in a public meeting, responding to another elected official.”
Hickenlooper also said he felt pressure to sign the bill into law because a member of his staff “made a commitment.”
“To be honest, no one in our office thought it would get through the legislature,” he said. “There were several Democrats who said without question they weren’t going to vote for it.”
The measure passed the Democrat-controlled legislature. No Republicans voted for it.
The Governor dropping F-bombs wasn’t the biggest WTF? moment in this encounter. (Opinions vary about the propriety of using salty language in such a setting, but it seems pretty clear from video of the event that was kidding when he said the F-word, not taking Smith’s head off. Obviously, the video must be presented with a content warning about the language.)
To take it from the top, failure to “anticipate the opposition to gun control” is exactly the sort of arrogance and ideological blindness a governor should not have, but it’s all too typical of the gun-control movement.
For Hickenlooper to blame his staff for this arrogance, plus an inability to communicate, is not exactly a dashing profile in leadership. I thought gun control was such a great idea that it practically sells itself. The specific complaint made during this exchange was that Hickenlooper didn’t talk to his sheriffs before signing the bills. Fifty-five of them ended up suing their own state over these gun laws. It strains the imagination that Hickenlooper had absolutely no idea such a level of opposition existed among the people who would be charged with enforcing the law, or that his staffs should be held entirely responsible for his insulation. If nothing else, it suggests he wasn’t taking either the constitutionality of the law, or the practical challenges of implementing it, seriously enough.
And then you’ve got this business of Hickenlooper claiming that his staff essentially tricked him into supporting the law, by making a “commitment” he decided he absolutely had to honor, without asking too many questions, because the same staffers told him the bill would die in the legislature. I don’t know about the good people of Colorado, but I’ve had more than my fill of cute little political games like that. Our representatives and executives should support or oppose legislation on its merits, with full understanding of what the bill actually does… not support flawed bills for theatrical purposes, to send “signals” and goose supporters, on the assumption that they probably won’t pass anyway.
The Denver Post has more evidence that Hickenlooper’s outreach to the sheriffs went over like a lead balloon:
Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell kicked off the brouhaha when he wrote about Hickenlooper’s apology on the department’s Facebook page as the governor was speaking. By noon Monday, almost 95,000 people had read the post.
“It just went viral,” Spruell said. “Holy moley.”
Also, on Sunday, Complete Colorado, a right-leaning outlet, posted a story and video saying phone records and interviews contradict Hickenlooper’s statement to the sheriffs that he never spoke with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg about the gun bills.
The governor’s spokesman, Eric Brown, said Monday that Spruell’s Facebook post contained some errors, but that Hickenlooper erred when he said he hadn’t spoken to Bloomberg.
“It is well established that Gov. Hickenlooper spoke with Mayor Bloomberg, as well as NRA president (David) Keene and many other stakeholders in the gun safety debate. … The governor was attempting to convey he never had a conversation with Bloomberg that influenced the decision he made,” Brown said.
“In no way did the governor intend to mislead the sheriffs or anyone else.”
Brown said the Montezuma County sheriff misquoted Hickenlooper when he wrote that “the governor admitted his office did not research the gun legislation until after it was passed.” Brown also said the governor, while admitting he was surprised by the controversy, did not say as the sheriff maintains that “had he known, he would not have endorsed the new gun laws without more research.”
Spruell said he stands by what he wrote.
Here’s the video of Hickenlooper denying he spoke with Bloomberg:
Hickenlooper “erred” when he flatly denied speaking with the most notorious gun-control extremist in the country, but not his own sheriffs? That’s a pretty big “error.”
Leaving aside personalities, partisan considerations, and spin malfunctions, this is ultimately about a politician taking a major issue far less seriously than police officers, ideology trumping experience, and one side of a debate feeling absolutely no need to understand either the arguments or sincerity of the other side. That’s happening in a lot of places beyond Colorado.