Dem govs share lessons learned from shootings in Ferguson, Aurora |

Dem govs share lessons learned from shootings in Ferguson, Aurora

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Montana Governor Steve Bullock speaks Saturday during 'A Conversation with Democratic Governors' at the Aspen Institute. Other governors on the panel were Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, middle, Jay Nixon of Missouri, second from right, and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, right. Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson, left, moderated.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |


Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper acknowledged Saturday in Aspen that he would consider a presidential bid in 2016 under the right circumstances, though he deemed it unlikely.

Hickenlooper was one of four governors speaking at the Aspen Institute’s annual presentation, “A Conversation with Democratic Governors.” Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson moderated the conversation and asked Hickenlooper if he would throw his hat in the ring for president if somehow Hillary Clinton “became less viable as a candidate.”

Hickenlooper stressed his support of Clinton and said he believes she will weather the storm of $1 billion in attack advertisements likely to be fired at her over the next 15 months. Nevertheless, he said he wouldn’t duck the question.

“I love governor,” Hickenlooper said. “I’m not looking for any other jobs. If she decided to pull herself out, something happened, we have no shortage of Democrats that would be excellent presidential candidates and I think we’d probably all look at it.”

The other governors on the stage — Steve Bullock of Montana, Dannel Malloy of Connecticut and Jay Nixon of Missouri — remained silent.

Isaacson noted that Hickenlooper’s name has consistently been raised as a possible running mate for Clinton. Part of his attraction would be swinging Colorado into her column in the presidential election. Isaacson asked if Hickenlooper would be interested in serving as vice president.

“Again, I think any one of us, if offered a chance to have a significant role in trying to direct the domestic policy or international policy of this country, it would be something you have to take very seriously,” Hickenlooper said.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon shared their thoughts in Aspen on Saturday on shooting tragedies that have dominated their time in office.

Nixon said that in wake of the fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, nearly a year ago, he would support legislation making it mandatory for a police officer to carry a body camera, but he doesn’t think that gets at underlying problems.

Hickenlooper said he would like to see universal background checks for people purchasing guns because he is convinced tougher laws have kept some weapons out of the wrong hands in recent years. Colorado legislators battled over tougher gun laws after the James Holmes’ theater shootings in Aurora in 2012.

The men shared their thoughts during a presentation called “A Conversation With Democratic Governors.” Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson moderated it before a near-capacity crowd at the Greenwald Pavilion. Isaacson interviewed a panel of Republican governors last week.

Nixon said his state will announce plans next week for new police training standards. The update will include training on use-of-force issues. Isaacson asked if the new standards will require body cameras for police officers.

“If we can afford it and CNN wants to use the tape, I guess,” Nixon initially said. He quickly added that if the Legislature passes a bill requiring the cameras, he would sign it into law.

“But taking a picture of something bad happening, it’s not a discussion about how to not have that happen,” Nixon said.

Isaacson pressed Nixon by asking if he felt videos released of police interactions with citizens around the nation in the past few years haven’t spurred changes in police behavior.

“Where jurisdictions have had body cameras, the prosecution rates and the convictions rates have shot up dramatically,” Nixon said.

“It’s good to have an oversight on it. But these days, everybody’s got a camera. All this stuff’s on TV whether you have a body camera on or not,” Nixon later added. “The biggest change we’ve seen over the last few years is everyone is a public figure and everyone is a reporter. And believe me, if we didn’t learn anything in Ferguson, we certainly learned that. Anything said by anyone anywhere, and sometimes that diminishes the ability to talk.

“So I’m not against the use of body cameras, but I don’t see that solving the problem,” Nixon said. He predicted it won’t free as many people as it will “lock up.”

Nixon said he is looking at longer-term solutions to race, education and other issues in the St. Louis area. The protests and dialogue after the Ferguson shooting has improved communication and boosted chances for people working together on solutions.

“People that wouldn’t speak up before are speaking up at a basic level,” Nixon said.

He said he hopes the legacy of Ferguson will be that it resulted in some positive changes even though it was challenging and painful to get there. A special Ferguson Commission is working on 100 Points of Action designed to improve conditions that led to tensions in Ferguson and surrounding areas in St. Louis. Missouri residents continued to work to make relations better even though the television cameras and newspaper reporters departed, Nixon said.

“I’m very proud of my state for not being scared on the most difficult issues we have in this country — cops, police, kids, race, education, poverty, health care,” he said. “As someone that’s been part of this process, this has been one of the most heartening years of my life, though very difficult.”

When Isaacson moved on to quiz Hickenlooper, he noted that Colorado passed tougher gun laws after Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 70 in a movie theater in 2012. He asked if the nation should have better “common-sense gun laws” and how it could get there.

Hickenlooper said he is a proponent of universal background checks for gun buyers, but conservative critics in elected office contend that “crooks aren’t stupid — they’re not going to get a background check.”

During the heat of the debate in Colorado in 2013, his team went back and checked statistics from states that had background checks in place in 2012. They found that background checks prevented gun purchases by 38 people who had homicide convictions, 1,400 people who were convicted of robbery, 620 who had outstanding restraining orders and, “just in case you don’t think that crooks are that stupid, 420 people when they came to pick up their gun, we arrested them for an outstanding warrant for a violent crime.”

Nixon said that after the rash of mass-murder shootings in the U.S. in recent years, Missouri took a different approach to the problem. It appointed 31 people to be liaisons between law enforcement agencies and mental-health agencies.

“In the first year that there was somebody for a cop to call and a way for somebody to get service, those 31 people had 12,000 calls from police and we made 7,500 referrals for mental-health services,” he said.

Nixon drew applause when he said, “We should not let the disengagement and the inability to agree on gun laws be an excuse not to move forward on significant mental issues that exist in this country.”