By Megan Schrader
Colorado's lovably eccentric governor had fun with his sixth State of the State address Thursday, interrupting his policy plans and economic development announcements with one-liners about cat videos, Taylor Swift lyrics and a groan-worthy foot-in-mouth moment that brought down the (state) House.
He called the Colorado Supreme Court Justices in the audience "The Supremes."
Pot-laced gummy bears made the official record, too, as Gov. John Hickenlooper called on lawmakers to address the issue of edibles that look too much like children's candy.
And he kicked the whole thing off saying his "rosy glow" and spring in his step wasn't just due to his recent engagement to Robin Pringle, the 37-year-old sitting in the front-row with lawmakers.
Hickenlooper also broke good news for Colorado Springs, announcing a cybersecurity project that will be an economic driver for the Pikes Peak Region.
Republicans lauded the agreeable tone Hickenlooper took, and at times the caucus even applauded the Democrat's proposals.
"Let's strive, I mean really try, to be more bipartisan this session," Hickenlooper said. "Let's forgo cheap shots in favor of civility and productive dialogue."
He admitted that Democracy can be messy. And in the eternal words of Swift, he said, "haters gonna hate."
And the 63-year-old said times are changing rapidly.
"We didn't know we would one day be texting more than talking, or that dating would be all about swiping left or right," he said, referencing the cellphone dating app Tinder. "And cat videos -- so many cat videos."
He got behind some of the biggest goals for Republicans this year, asking for a solution to the problem of over-litigation for defects in home construction and calling out the state's infrastructure needs.
"The governor was very positive," said Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. "He always puts a very positive face on what it's like to live here and what it's like to work here. ... It's true Colorado is thriving. We are rebounding better economically than a lot of states and a lot of people want to live and work in this environment."
But Cadman disputed a key point in Hickenlooper's 40-minute address to the 100 members of the Colorado House and Senate.
"The budget crisis is really just a term that's being used to fulfill a political desire on a political issue," Cadman said after the speech. "The fact is we are about to spend more money than we have ever spent. We are growing at a minimum of around 3 percent, and that is not a crisis."
As expected, Hickenlooper used a portion of his speech to call for support of a change to the state budget that will forestall millions in taxpayer refunds next year that are required under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.
"If we can't make this very reasonable change, like many already allowed under TABOR, then what choice do we have but to re-examine TABOR?" Hickenlooper said. "Right now, no one can say with a straight face that our budget rules are working for us."
The governor's budget calls for cuts to higher education funding and would allow the state to fall further behind what is constitutionally required to be spent on k-12 education. Hickenlooper has said those cuts can be avoided and greater investments on infrastructure can be made if the Hospital Provider Fee was removed from TABOR limits.
"Coloradans know we're not fully funding education," Hickenlooper said. "They're fed up with traffic congestion, they're fed up with potholes and they're fed up with our inability to expand our highway system."
Hickenlooper spent much of his time at the podium in the chamber of the Colorado House of Representatives talking about economic development wins for the state.
The National Cyber Intelligence Center coming to Colorado Springs is one of those.
"As we see it, this center can be the country's foremost authority on cybersecurity research and development, training and education," he said.
Hickenlooper said Colorado Springs is a natural fit for the project because of the city's military assets, private sector interests and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs cybersecurity program.
The center would help businesses, nonprofits and government agencies combat and recover from cyberattacks, teach public officials about cybersecurity and threats to their computer networks and conduct research into cybersecurity threats.
"I am very excited about this. We need to move as quickly as we can because we are not likely the only ones with this idea," Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said. "This has all kinds of potential to attract other things" to Colorado Springs.
Suthers was in the audience Thursday and Hickenlooper thanked him and UCCS Chancellor Pamela Shockley-Zalabak for their leadership on the initiative.
Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, said he liked the governor's call for compromise.
But both Lundeen and Colorado Springs Democratic Sen. Michael Merrifield were dismayed by the only hard-line stance the governor took in his speech.
"There are pivotal moments in our kids' academic careers when we need to know exactly where they stand on the learning curve," Hickenlooper said. "That's why we're standing firm on ninth-grade assessments."
Lundeen and Merrifield have both called for the elimination of exams in ninth grade.
"The general public disagrees with the governor about the amount of testing that we are overwhelming students with," Merrifield said after the speech.
Hickenlooper only reveled in two moments that brought both Republicans and Democrats to their feet.
The first was when he recounted the story of a first-generation college graduate who used the state's concurrent enrollment system to obtain an associate's degree before he had graduated from high school.
The other was when he called Pringle "the most beautiful woman in Colorado."
But the applause turned to groans when Hickenlooper used the poorly chosen transition of "but all joking aside." He tried to recover, but it was too late.
Rival jokester under the Gold Dome, Cadman, had the final word Thursday.
He said that since he is waiting for the invitation to Hickenlooper's wedding this Saturday, he organized a proper send-off for the couple.
"Colleagues, present rice," Cadman said, and lawmakers showered the couple with rice as they headed up the center aisle in the House.
Gazette Reporter Wayne Heilman contributed to this story.
(c)2016 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)