It’s probably a good thing that former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper never made much of an impression during his cup of coffee in the Democratic presidential race.
It’s not just because the governor’s style — described by The New York Times, presumably with a bit of a sneer, as a “low-key brand of moderate politics” — probably isn’t what’s going to ensconce one in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this election cycle.
It’s because he’s now generating headlines like this one from The Washington Post: “How much trouble is John Hickenlooper in for an ethics violation and his ‘ancient slave ship’ comment?”
That’s never a good thing. Hickenlooper is currently trying to win the Democratic nomination for Senate in Colorado. This should normally be an easy task, given that he’s a popular former governor of the state.
However, as The Hill notes, Hickenlooper’s performances in back-to-back debates against Andrew Romanoff, a left-wing former state representative, didn’t go so well; the former governor found himself trying to explain why he’d twice violated state law on accepting gifts while in office.
At least those debates took place before Hickenlooper’s latest problem, which is doubtless a bigger one in the current political climate: On Monday, video resurfaced from 2014 in which Hickenlooper, who was governor at the time, compared the work of elected officials at the mercy of demanding schedules to — sigh — slavery.
“If I was to describe a scheduler, a political scheduler, imagine an ancient slave ship with the guy with the whip, and you’re rowing,” Hickenlooper told an audience, who laughed at the remarks. “We elected officials are the ones that are rowing, and they have nothing but hard, often thankless things to do.”
.@Hickenlooper you have some explaining to do. — referencing my ancestors pain of being brought over here in chains to a political scheduler is utterly disgusting. #copolitics #cosen pic.twitter.com/MKKT68LMeu
— Tay Anderson (@TayAndersonCO) June 15, 2020
In the wake of the protests and the political climate sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, this is arguably one of the most inopportune comments that could have resurfaced — and it quickly drew what’s likely the first of many apologies from the Hickenlooper campaign.
“Taking a look at this video from six years ago, I recognize that my comments were painful. I did not intend them to be. I offer my deepest apologies,” Hickenlooper said in a statement, according to The Hill.
The controversy isn’t likely to dent his chances at winning the nomination, given that Romanoff isn’t perceived as a completely serious challenger.
However, it complicates a race Democrats likely need to win in order to have any chance of flipping the Senate. Current Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner is seen as the most vulnerable of the incumbent GOP candidates this fall, particularly since the Centennial State is trending left.
Now, how much this complicates matters remains to be seen. In May, polling from Keating Research, OnSight Public Affairs and former Hickenlooper campaign manager Mike Melanson found Hickenlooper with a 54 percent to 36 percent lead over Gardner with 9 percent undecided, according to The Denver Post.
However, considering the usual media framing of the GOP as the party of racism — at least by Democrats and the mainstream media — it’s interesting to see yet another racial solecism by a Democrat who should have known better.
The worst instance in recent memory probably came from Ralph Northam, the Virginia governor who found himself embroiled in a blackface controversy last year.
Just in case you forgot the sequence of events — after Northam, a doctor, made some particularly disgusting comments regarding abortion, a picture from his medical school yearbook with an individual in blackface and an individual in a KKK get-up standing side-by-side at what one assumes was a costume party.
Northam initially apologized for the photo, but then insisted he wasn’t one of the people in it. Why did he remember, you might ask? Well, he had appeared in blackface on another occasion, where he was dressed as Michael Jackson at a dance contest. (This was made worse when, at a news conference, a reporter asked him to moonwalk; Northam seemed to consider it before his wife firmly told him no.)
In terms of more recent gaffes of a racial matter, there was former Vice President Joe Biden’s May appearance on “The Breakfast Club,” where he described what he thought about the African-American vote.
“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” Biden said.
Biden quickly backpedaled from the remarks, telling a black business group that he “shouldn’t have been so cavalier,” according to The New York Times.
So, yes, representatives of the party of virtue-signaling are perfectly capable of saying completely unacceptable things. There’s no job that compares to slavery and public officials ought to know this, particularly when they’re making public comments. Hickenlooper will no doubt spend the race making a flurry of apologies.
Whether apologies will be enough is another question entirely.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.