Colorado Thrives Coalition

Progressives protest outside U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper's Denver office on Aug. 19. The coalition includes 9to5 Colorado, 350 Colorado, Colorado Jobs with Justice, Colorado People’s Alliance/COPA, Colorado Fiscal Institute, SEIU Local 105, Sierra Club and Working Families Party.

It was never built to last, this courtship with the state's newest senator and the ever-liberal landscape across the Democratic Party.

The new car smell is off the former governor-turned-Washingtonian John Hickenlooper.

It was hardly surprising at all when some of Colorado’s smartest and most driven progressives showed up at his office in Denver on Aug. 19 to treat him like, well, Cory Gardner, the Republican he replaced last November.

A crowd of mostly young women assembled before lunchtime that day to tell Hickenlooper to step up on climate change with a little less talk and a lot more action. After all, the West is burning, Lake Powell is drying up, a mudslide took out an interstate. Gov. Jared Polis does the heavy lifting on the issues that were on Hick's plate for 16 years as governor and mayor of Denver before that.

The cooling period didn't just start, and insiders know his willingness to compromise is his Achilles heel with his party and his future. It doesn't help that Hickenlooper used to pull paychecks out of the oil and gas industry before he became the political darling of LoDo along the way to D.C.

Think of it this way. When Donald Trump was in Alabama two days later, he said he supported vaccines, because, of course, Trump wants credit for anything you think is good. Some in the crowd reportedly booed, and Trump changed course and said he's all about freedom, not masks.

Hick can't tap dance like Trump, but he better be picking up the tune.

“Hickenlooper, No Climate = No Deal,” stated a big sign by a protester from his partisan fold outside his office.

Coincidentally, the protest happened the day Hick's office announced he was the third member of the Senate to test positive for COVID-19. 

To some degree, it was a cut-and-paste event. The rally was one of 37 like it across the country to sustain fervor with pressure over climate change and green energy.

They delivered more than 650 postcards calling on Hickenlooper for a “bold” agenda. When you think Hick, you don’t think bold. You think moderate — a banana sundae instead of a hot chili pepper. 

He at least mostly shares their agenda: green jobs, renewable energy, efficiency and broadband as a basic service. Hick just has his limits, and moderation is not how electioneering works anymore.

He’s not an enemy of their cause. He's just not very good at it. They’ve asked for a sit down with the new senator.

They not only want green jobs, they want them to be union jobs that uplift people of color. The $3.5 trillion federal budget is on the table, but big-money interests want federal aid spent somewhere other than on the planet.

“Climate change is not a distant threat," said Ashley Panelli from 9to5 Colorado,  the association for working women. "The harsh reality is that climate change is deeply affecting our communities every single day.

“And the elected officials who are supposed to be representing our communities have given them the greenlight to do it.” 

Aracely Navarro rallied the crowd. She is the director of environmental justice and programs for Cultivando, the air quality citizen force working against industries in Commerce City, Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. 

“We are fighting for their health. We are fighting against the oil (industry). We’re fighting against the century of desecration of our land,” she explained. “... the desecration, the murder and the genocide of our people, not only through their land stealing but the land contamination we are currently facing.

"Colonization you thought had ended is happening today in your backyard, and while a lot of us don’t live in Commerce City, a lot of us do.”

The same day not that far away, another green-leaning public interest outfit was putting feet on its goals.

The Colorado Public Interest Research Group, CoPIRG, as they like to be known, launched its #CleanAirColorado campaign to take on the Front Range's dirty air days.

CoPIRG had singers, celebrities and church leaders, because folks are at a boiling point with this summer’s hot, dirty air.

“Another day, another ozone alert, and another set of warnings to find alternatives to driving a gas or diesel vehicle,” Danny Katz, executive director of CoPIRG. “But those warnings won’t be effective and we won’t be able to avoid another summer like this, if we don’t significantly expand the options people have to get around without a gas car. We need to make it easier to switch to a cleaner electric-powered car, truck or bike, or complete more trips by walking, biking, rolling, riding transit or via telework.”

The same day, regulators delivered grim news: Denver and the northern Front Range eclipsed a record for the most ozone action alerts in a season.

“As Coloradans, we cannot afford another summer like this,” Katz said. “We cannot continue to miss air quality standards. When the smoke alarm is going off, we have to act. We have to give people better travel options and we need to make big strides before next summer.”

Hickenlooper doesn't have to clear the air. He's five years from another election, and he’ll be an ambassador somewhere before then. 

If the party splits on climate change, that gash might not heal for some time.