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Hickenlooper: ‘Being The Alpha Dog … Just Doesn’t Fit Me’

Greg Campbell
Contributor

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper admitted what many people suspected when he told a Denver Fox 31 reporter that he no longer supports the death penalty, a reversal of his position during the 2010 campaign.

The change in position may come as little surprise to those who were shocked and disappointed by Hickenlooper’s refusal to make a clear choice about the fate of accused mass murderer Nathan Dunlap last summer.

Dunlap, who gunned down four employees of a Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in Aurora in 1993, was scheduled for execution in August 2013. Hickenlooper, however, granted him an indefinite stay of execution that can be revoked by a future governor, fueling criticism that he can’t make tough decisions and strives too hard to find a middle ground that will appease everyone.

During an interview with Denver’s Fox 31 that aired Sunday, Hickenlooper pushed back against that conception.

“It was a very firm decision,” he said. “We knew that when we made that decision … of any decision we could make, it would be the least popular.”

When asked directly by reporter Eli Stokels about his current position on the death penalty, Hickenlooper admitted that it has changed since he ran for governor in 2010 — he’s now against it.

“[T]his is one of those weird things,” he said. “My whole life I was in favor of the death penalty. … But then you get all this information, that it costs, you know, 10 times, maybe 15 times more money to execute someone than it does just to put them in life in prison without parole.”

“There’s no deterrence to having capital punishment,” he continued. “You know, I don’t know about you [but] when I get new facts, I change my opinion. I didn’t know all this stuff and I think there might be legitimate reasons why … not a single country in Europe or South America or Mexico or Israel or Australia — none of these countries support the death penalty anymore and there are good reasons for it.”

Hickenlooper — who’s in a tough race for re-election against Republican Bob Beauprez — said he didn’t grant Dunlap full clemency because “I didn’t want to cut our justice system off at the knees” after years of appeals upheld the sentence of death.

But Hickenlooper’s critics were vocal about how the decision did just that. District Attorney George Brauchler, whose office prosecuted Dunlap, blasted Hickenlooper’s decision on several occasions in 2013.

“To suggest somehow that this governor’s queasiness over [allowing] this process to continue is a basis for him suspending application of the law is offensive to our way of government,” he said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation a year ago. “It’s offensive to the Constitution. It’s offensive to the voters of Colorado.”

Hickenlooper also talked about his reluctance to endorse the Keystone XL pipeline, which he seems to support, out of fear of alienating people in Washington D.C. He said he didn’t want to jeopardize the “remarkable partnership” Colorado has with the federal government.

“Why go out and try to pick a fight over it?” he asked.

Early in the discussion, he defined his leadership style as one in which he prefers to build relationships rather than “be at loggerheads” with those he disagrees with.

“Being the alpha dog, the one that’s got to be bigger and stronger than the other guy, it just doesn’t fit me,” he said.

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