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Political attack ads are damaging American democracy, Hickenlooper tells business leaders

Greg Avery | October 4, 2017

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper blames political attack ads for much of the divisiveness and apathy in American politics today.

The Democrat and former businessman spoke this week at Converge17, a conference for corporate ethics and compliance executives at the Westin Denver Downtown.

Hickenlooper described negative campaign ads as a back-and-forth that wins elections but leaves candidates’ supporters angry, the rest of the public turned off and the country’s political process damaged.

“Attack ads, they work but are a cancer,” he said.

Rival brands such as Coke and Pepsi generally don’t resort to attack ads against each other because the companies know that, whatever short-term sales bump the ads would generate, volleys of negative commercials would discourage soda consumption and reduce sales overall, Hickenlooper said.

“What we’re going in this country is depressing the entire product category of democracy,” he said.

Hickenlooper pledged when he ran to become Denver’s mayor in 2003 to avoid negative attack ads. He has held that promise in subsequent campaigns to win re-election as Denver mayor and then twice win the state’s governorship.

He has been known to seek bipartisan collaboration on topics such as transportation funding and the impact of oil and gas drilling. He was among the governors Hillary Clinton considered for her vice presidential running mate in 2016 and has been mentioned as a possible centrist candidate for president.

In August, he teamed with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran to be the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential candidate, to propose a bipartisan healthcare package meant to break through the congressional gridlock on reforms.

Hickenlooper, who opened Denver’s first brew pub in 1983 after being laid off as an oil industry geologist, described growing up disliking people who ran for student council and avoiding politics until after he’d been an entrepreneur.

He attributed his ability to win elections to focusing on positive messages and described the thrust of his politics as bringing disparate sides together to solve problems.

He recounted how, after being elected mayor of Denver in 2003, he worked with 33 other metro-area mayors from across the political spectrum to unanimously back passage of a 0.04 percent sales tax increase to fund construction of the Regional Transportation District’s metro-area transit system. Voters approved the tax hike in 2003.

Later, as governor, he brought together oil and gas industry officials and environmentalists to craft state rules that limit leaks of methane and other pollution from wells in the state. Colorado’s rules became a model for limits later adopted by the Bureau of Land Management for federal lands.

Colorado’s rules wouldn’t have been possible without his office being completely transparent and involving opposing sides of the issue together from the start, which created trust, Hickenlooper said.

“Once you create trust between people, anything is possible,” he said.

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