Mountain States

Which Version of Hickenlooper Will Emerge In The General Election? Will Activists Support Him?

Last night, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper scored a big victory in the Democratic primary in his campaign for the U.S. Senate over former State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, a supporter of the Green New Deal.

The question now becomes which version of Hickenlooper will emerge in the general election as he faces incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner? As governor from 2011 to 2019, Hickenlooper was a strong supporter of the oil and natural gas industry. He oversaw historic production levels in the state, opposed activist-funded ballot measures that would have restricted development, and understood the importance of the industry to the state’s economy.

But during his presidential run in 2019 and subsequent Senate campaign, Hickenlooper moved away from his history of supporting oil and natural gas. He has spoken little of his record and has appeared to embrace elements of the Green New Deal.

“Keep It In The Ground” activists also face the big question of whether to support him in the general election. During the primary, many groups like and the Sunrise Movement went all in for Romanoff and consistently attacked Hickenlooper over his energy record.

Hickenlooper’s Past Support For Oil And Natural Gas

While serving as governor, Hickenlooper consistently supported the oil and natural gas industry and the results show. According to the Energy Information Administration, total crude oil production increased from 33 million barrels in 2010 to 177 million barrels in 2018 and total natural gas production increased 1,578,000 mcf to 1,831,000 mcf.

Hickenlooper has described the industry has an economic partner, and said that natural gas will lift millions of people out of poverty by keeping energy affordable. He even told a Congressional committee he drank fracking fluid to prove its safety and he opposed Prop 112, the ballot measure that would have essentially banned production in most of the state, saying, “That is how you spell recession.”

Hickenlooper also threatened to sue cities that banned fracking and defended the rights of mineral owners. “Someone paid money to buy mineral rights under that land. You can’t harvest the mineral rights without doing hydraulic fracturing, which I think we’ve demonstrated again and again can be done safely,” he said.

Hickenlooper even extolled the benefits of fracking in his memoirs. “Based on experience and science, I recognized that fracking was one of our very best and safest extraction techniques. Fracking is good for the country’s energy supply, our national security, our economy, and our environment,” he wrote.

Turn Away From The Industry

But after Hickenlooper left the governor’s mansion and kicked off his campaigns, he began to turn away from the oil and natural gas industry and embraced elements of the Green New Deal, expressing support for 100 percent renewable energy.

Although Hickenlooper said he didn’t support the Green New Deal during his presidential campaign and disagreed with the economic and political strategy of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and others, he did say the plan had “laudable aims.”

It was a common theme of Hickenlooper’s White House run, trying to find the middle ground on energy issues in a massive field of candidates that span the ideological spectrum. “The problem isn’t fracking, and I understand why people want to get out of hydrocarbons immediately, but most of those people are still driving automobiles. … I don’t see any way that that could possibly ever happen by 2030. But I do share the urgency that we’ve got to make that transition much more rapidly than what we’re seeing take place today,” he said in 2019.

But as his presidential campaign came to an end and his Senate run began, Hickenlooper took a hard stance against oil and natural gas development as he felt pressure from Romanoff from the left. In the debate against Romanoff last month, Hickenlooper said, “I want to make fracking obsolete.”

In another debate, Hickenlooper urged for a rapid transition away from oil and natural gas. “We gotta get to zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest, but I think we can get there by 2040, maybe 2045, but we’ve got to go as quickly as we can,” he said.

Another time, he said, “I’m not sure we’ve ever blocked an industry. You’re saying we have to cut off the supply. I’m saying we have to cut off the demand. Our goal has to be how rapidly can we move to an economy where people are not burning gasoline and not burning fuel oil — to a non-carbon economy.”

Hickenlooper’s campaign website even states that he will, “Develop our workforce with laser-like focus on training young people and people transitioning out of the fossil fuel industry into green jobs.”

So which version of Hickenlooper will Colorado voters see in the general election? The Hickenlooper who supports responsible oil and natural gas development? Or the Hickenlooper who wants a rapid transition away from the industry?

Will Activists Support Hickenlooper?

“Keep It In The Ground” activists went all in for Romanoff in the primary and strongly opposed Hickenlooper because of his past support for the oil and natural gas industry.

The Sunrise Movement, a national activist group, endorsed Romanoff and deployed paid staff to the state in an attempt to defeat Hickenlooper, who they called a “dangerous” candidate.

A Sunrise Movement activist at one point approached Hickenlooper, prompting a fiery exchange that almost turned physical after Hickenlooper put his hands on the activist’s shoulder. co-founder Bill McKibben also endorsed Romanoff and called Hickenlooper a “fossil fuel-funded candidate.”

State activist group Colorado Rising has built an impressive grassroots army that may not be motivated to turn out the vote for Hickenlooper after he opposed the failed Prop 112 ballot measure they sponsored in 2018.

Left-leaning media in the state have reported on Hickenlooper’s struggle to win over environmental activists and re-upped the “Frackenlooper” nickname. Other candidates in the primary criticized Hickenlooper for skipping climate-themed debates.

Yet,’s McKibben has said he’ll support Hickenlooper in the general election. His group, like the Sunrise Movement, is funded by the Rockefeller network that has waged a campaign to tear down the oil and gas industry.

It shows the difficult positions environmental activists are now in. Do they support the candidate with a record of supporting oil and natural gas development, or do they simply stay home in November?

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