'Bring light to darkness'

Hickenlooper gives 'State of the State' talk to legislators

DENVER - Calling on Coloradans to "punch holes in the darkness," Gov. John Hickenlooper laid out his response to massive wildfires and gun violence Thursday in his third State of the State address.

The speech contained Hickenlooper's most detailed vision yet of what he wants to accomplish as governor, from a statewide water plan to mental health improvements to reforming the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.

The twin menaces of drought and gun violence colored much of the speech.

Hickenlooper paid homage to Coloradans who suffered during a horrific summer that saw the state's most destructive wildfires and one of the worst mass shootings in American history.

"We have an obligation to prevent similar tragedies, to do good, to bring light to darkness. We have an obligation to represent the best that is Colorado," Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper originally responded to the Aurora movie theater shooting last July by saying it wasn't the right time to discuss the politics of guns while victims were still mourning.

Coincidentally, a day before the Connecticut elementary school shooting, he said Colorado should start the conversation about guns, and he emphasized his new position Thursday.

"We shouldn't be restrained from discussing any of these issues. Our democracy demands this type of debate," he said.

He called for universal background checks for all gun sales - a line that brought a standing ovation from Democrats and silence from Republicans.

"Surely, Second Amendment advocates and gun control supporters can find common ground in support of this proposition: Let's examine our laws and make the changes needed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people," Hickenlooper said.

He also called for the Legislature's support for a "comprehensive overhaul" of the mental health system. He outlined what he had in mind last month - legal changes that make it easier to find people with mental health troubles and get them treatment, either with or without their consent.

The governor called for a statewide water plan by 2015.

"While expanding reservoir capacity makes sense, and rotational fallowing of agricultural land shows great promise, every discussion about water should start with conservation," he said.

He touched only briefly on two of the hottest issues in the Legislature in 2012. He called on lawmakers to quickly pass bills to create civil unions for gay and lesbian couples and college tuition discounts for the children of illegal immigrants. With Democrats firmly in control of both the House and Senate, passage of both bills is a foregone conclusion.

The speech was "probably a little over 50 percent bipartisan, I'd say," said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs.

But Cadman worried about Hickenlooper's call to reform the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and other constitutional amendments that keep property taxes low and set a minimum amount of school funding.

"A lot of the proposals are a little bit pie in the sky in a speech like this. We need to get down to details," Cadman said.

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said he thought the speech was good overall, but the governor's positive words on the economy don't match what he sees in his own district.

"Basically every State of the State is somewhat rosier than reality," Coram said. "When I look around the Front Range, I see the economy recovering. The Western Slope, I don't see that yet."

Hickenlooper separated from his wife, Helen Thorpe, last year, but she attended Thursday's speech and sat in the front row.

"On a personal level, I appreciate Helen being here today. Even with the changes in our life, she remains a beacon of light to me and Teddy for all that is good and just," Hickenlooper said.

joeh@cortezjournal.com