Governor John Hickenlooper and the Stetson hat as he wraps up the first rodeo of his first year as governor.
Governor Hickenlooper very much wanted to begin his 2012 State of the State speech with a story about entrepreneurship. He ended up telling the true tale of John Stetson, who inveted the Stetson hat in Colorado. Throughout the more than three days his team spent together in his office crafting the speech, this Stetson was always nearby.
During the days of speech writing, there were times of frustration when the staff and governor would stress over word choice. "There's a sentence that we're missing," Hickenlooper said as he leaned back and groaned. "One sentence is going to make this really good." Saracastically, communications director Eric Brown suggested: "How about good government is critical."
The most frequently asked question at the table during the writing of the State of the State was: "Rox, What do you think?" It was chief of staff Roxane White, who ultimately found the phrasing to advocate legalizing civil unions, which would put the administration into a special session standoff with the Republican leader of the State House, Frank McNulty.
The middle of a long day of speechwriting: (left to right) budget director Henry Sobanet; director of legislative affairs and strategic initiatives Christine Scanlan; First Lady Helen Thorpe receiving a note from her aide; and director of government and community affairs RD Sewald.
Chief of staff, Roxane White, wanted to make sure adequate time was left before the speech for the governor to rehearse. Budget director Henry Sobanet, a Republican, who, it seemed, could recall every nickel of the nearly $20 billion state budget, was especially helpful when it came to questions of phrasing such as, "Can we say every state agency or almost every state agency?" Both White and Sobanet ensured the governor stayed away from jokes that might offend Republicans.
Alan Salazar, the governor's chief strategy officer and director of the office of policy and research, was the one who first put civil unions on the agenda to be included in the State of the State. While the governor was out of the room, Salazar said to Chief of Staff Roxane White: "I think it's one of those very bold things, and we're accused of not being bold. Just a thought. The press cynicism is he's too cautious, he's not going to take a firm stand." White agreed: "We have at least one place where we don't protect the last and the least.... And we should fix it, damn it!
Alan Salazar, the governor's chief adviser on policy and communicatons, and his chief speech writer, waits anxiously as the governor checks his Blackberry before heading out to deliver the State of the State.
"Hi Helen," the Governor said when his wife entered the room. "Hi, Babe," she said, took her seat, and, shortly thereafter, killed a bug. "Least I'm good for something," she joked. In truth, the First Lady spoke infrequently, but when she did, Thorpe—an author and journalist—successfully and quietly advocated for cutting words (and then cutting some more) and focused on word choice. "I'm just wondering about the word, anxious," she said. "How about eager?"
The governor began rehearsing near the middle of three days of speechwriting. He audibly changed words and tweaked phrasing as he went along, with staff taking notes on his improptu edits. The pitcher and glasses frosted with the logo of his old bar and restaurant, Wynkoop Brewing Company, held water and memories of Hickenlooper's former life.