SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Touting his success working across the aisle as Colorado governor, Democratic presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper told a mostly white and upper-class crowd in San Francisco on Friday he will bridge the political divide wrought by the current administration if elected in 2020.
“I have this propensity for telling the truth,” Hickenlooper quipped during the afternoon discussion at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco’s Embarcadero neighborhood, an allusion to President Donald Trump.
Although Hickenlooper has been polling at about 1% since entering the race last month, the two-term governor hopes to appeal to voters by differentiating himself as a throwback moderate. Hickenlooper listed off his compromise-credentials Friday: persuading environmentalists and the oil and gas industry to jointly hash out state methane regulations, passing gun-safety measures and achieving near-universal health care.
“These were getting people who were at odds together to sit down and compromise and collaborate,” he told KQED’s senior politics and government editor Scott Shafer, who moderated the discussion.
An oil-industry geologist from Philadelphia, Hickenlooper opened a brewpub in Denver after he was laid off in the mid-1980s. He went on to open several microbreweries and restaurants before successfully running for mayor of Denver in 2003 and governor of Colorado in 2011.
Hickenlooper was circumspect when asked Friday if he supports a carbon tax – a controversial tax levied to discourage companies from burning fossil fuels supported by environmental activists like former Vice President Al Gore.
“By really hearing each other you begin to get to the point of trust, you get to collaboration,” Hickenlooper said. “Once we build trust and collaboration, then we can take on the issue of a carbon tax.”
Hickenlooper said he would support the Green New Deal proposed by progressives in Congress, but only if it were stripped of controversial provisions like the jobs guarantee that were unlikely to garner bipartisan support.
“We need to get something through Congress and working immediately,” he said.
Hickenlooper likewise delineated moderate stances on Social Security, Medicare for all and student loan-debt forgiveness. The latter infuriated some people who have paid off their loans when it was proposed by presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., this week.
“If you don’t think that’s a drag on our economy, you’re crazy,” Hickenlooper said of the $1.5 trillion collectively owed by student borrowers in the United States.
But he stopped short of endorsing debt forgiveness, instead proposing a refinance and having people “work it off.”
“There’s an issue of fairness,” he said, noting a woman who had paid off her student debt recently told him loan forgiveness is unfair.
Hickenlooper next discussed Medicare for all.
“I don’t see any way you can get to Medicare for all without a revolution,” he said, predicting that stripping people of their private insurance would generate backlash. Hickenlooper proposed a gradual move toward public health care by, for example, expanding Medicare or Medicaid and giving people the option to switch into the programs.
Doing it that way could make Medicare for all successful, Hickenlooper said, but it needs to happen through “evolution rather than revolution.”
A day earlier, on Thursday, Hickenlooper announced his plan to combat “the rise of competition-strangling mega-firms in many sectors” that has “partly contributed to a decline in startups.”
According to the plan, four companies control 98% of the cellphone service market, and Amazon and eBay control 56% of the e-commerce market.
“Even America’s beer industry is 75% controlled by just three companies,” the announcement read.
Hickenlooper’s plan calls for “level[ing] the playing field for entrepreneurs and small businesses” by, among other things, strengthening existing federal antitrust laws and requiring the Federal Trade Commission to monitor industry competition and investigate whether completed mergers should be canceled.
“We need to make sure there’s sufficient competition, allow free markets to operate successfully, break up large companies,” Hickenlooper told the audience at the Commonwealth Club Friday.
Asked whether that could include Amazon and Facebook, Hickenlooper was slightly more radical: “It could come to that,” he said.