DENVER (CN) – Two days after announcing his run for the presidency, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper returned to the place where he started his first business: Wynkoop Brewing Company in lower downtown Denver.
Before a bar framed by stained glass and a tap of “Mile High Pale Ale,” Democrat Hickenlooper described the country as more divided than it was during the Civil War. Wearing a blue tie over a red shirt, he recounted the opposition he faced throughout his decade in public office whenever he tried to work out a truce between warring factions.
Whether it was the oil industry against environmentalists, or pro-gun activists over the victims of gun violence, Hickenlooper said he scouted out middle ground and helped each party reach it.
“In every great change, we say we can’t do it, we can’t do it, until we reach a tipping point and it happens,” he said.
“Opening the Wynkoop was the first time I felt like a leader,” Hickenlooper added, reminiscing for a moment about how the demands of a restaurant rush brings everyone together, “tall and short, gay and straight, black, and white, we had to work together.”
Hickenlooper moved to Colorado in 1981 to take a job as a geologist, only to be laid off a few years later. After teaching himself business, he opened the brewery in a section of town with low rent and high potential. When the Wynkoop started making money, Hickenlooper opened a second pub and then a tenth. As a “pro-business, anti-waste outsider” he was elected mayor in 2003, and then served back-to-back terms as governor.
But as he launched into his familiar tale of rags to riches Wednesday night, local and national press pushed back, forcing him to take a step outside of his comfort zone. When asked about Donald Trump’s plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Hickenlooper paused a beat.
“I try to keep a positive frame on things,” he said. “I think the data is a condemnation of the strategies that don’t work. I think we need to review our entire relationship with this hemisphere and the globe. People crossing the border are coming from poor economies and rebuilding them should be a part of our plan rather than building a wall.”
Walls don’t work, Hickenlooper said, adding that Trump’s vision “is political vanity and part of a campaign promise that Trump made and wants to keep.”
Rather than talk about specific foreign policy, Hickenlooper said he was ready to talk about great global solutions. He seemed startled when asked about Israel, but was ready to outline climate change as a problem that requires participation from China and India to solve.
The question remains whether the nation will choose Hickenlooper to speak for it on the world stage.
Hickenlooper no longer owns the Wynkoop and didn’t make money off anyone’s tab, but in the first 48 hours of his campaign, he received more than $1 million in donations. The Hickenlooper 2020 campaign said in a statement that it “does not accept corporate PAC money.”
“Sure I’d vote for him,” grinned one server getting ready for his shift. “Why? Because I like the guy.”