Where the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate stand on key Colorado issues ahead of primary

Rivals John Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff are offering distinct choices for voters ahead of the June 30 election


John Hickenlooper


John Hickenlooper

Former Colorado governor and Denver mayor



Background: The Trump administration has aggressively promoted energy production on public lands, including in Colorado. The state is among the leaders in drilling on public lands, and the effort is expanding. In 2017, the federal Bureau of Land Management wanted to limit oil and gas production on 190,000 acres in eastern Colorado, but in 2019, the BLM suggested granting protections to fewer than 2,000 acres. This has riled wildlife conservationists who want to protect habitats, including those for the sage grouse, and also those who want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Proponents counter that the lease proceeds can help fund national parks.


Backed the agency’s move to Colorado

A: He said it made sense to move the agency that manages public lands closer to them and supported the move. But he expressed concern that it delivered fewer jobs than first promised and the agency doesn’t have a director who supports public lands.




Do you support the SAFE Banking Act (H.R. 1595) to make it easier for marijuana businesses to bank and obtain loans in states where it is legal?

Background: One major consequence of the federal-state split on marijuana legalization is the difficulty of banking. The U.S. House passed the SAFE Banking Act in 2019 to allow marijuana businesses access to financial services like loans, lines of credit and even bank accounts. These financial services are currently difficult to obtain because the drug is illegal at the federal level. The measure won bipartisan support, but has stalled in the U.S. Senate.


Yes, he supports the bill

A: Hickenlooper said he supports the measure -- and wants to go even further. He wants to amend the tax code, which he says now penalizes marijuana businesses by preventing them from accessing the same benefits as other companies. One way to level the playing field, he said, is to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and let the states decide whether to legalize it.


Background: Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, the first of 11 states. Medical marijuana legalization has spread to 33 states. But the drug is illegal under federal law, creating barriers for the industry.


Opposes national legalization of marijuana

A: Hickenlooper opposed Colorado’s move to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults in 2012, but now takes credit for its mostly smooth implementation. He opposes federal action to legalize marijuana for the nation, saying states should make their own choices. But he does support the removal of cannabis from classification as a Schedule I drug. Doing so would allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health to research marijuana’s potential medical uses. He also favors eliminating past convictions for marijuana-related crimes and allowing states to decriminalize other drugs.


Background: The political conversation in the Democratic Party is focused on renewable energy, but reaching 100% would require major changes at the regulatory and consumer level. In Colorado, just 23% of the state’s power is generated from wind, solar and hydroelectric power, with the rest coming from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. The national picture looks similar. Achieving the goal will mean financial pain for a fossil fuel industry that employs more than 30,000 workers in the state, among oil, gas and coal. Colorado’s Democratic governor set a goal to reach 100% renewable energy by 2040.


Wants a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050

A: Hickenlooper says federal lawmakers should set a goal to achieve a 100% renewable energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050. In the interim, he wants to see a 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. He would fight to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, enforcing stricter standards on methane pollution and other harmful emissions and increase the development of wind and solar energy.
To achieve the transition, Hickenlooper wants a large-scale government-funded climate technology research, development and demonstration. He supports reinventing America’s transportation system by adding more electric-vehicle charging stations, increasing America’s electric grid efficiency and intelligence, raising fuel economy standards and improving the energy efficiency of buildings. He says the implementation of a carbon dividend plan will allow revenue generated from the price of carbon to be returned directly to American taxpayers as a dividend.


Background: Student debt is emerging as a bigger problem in Colorado than other states. About 734,000 Colorado borrowers are paying off student loans, totaling $26 billion, a 2019 study found. The amount of student loan debt increased 176% in a 10-year span that ended in 2017.


Supports cutting the federal interest rate on student loans

A: In order to relieve student loan debt, Hickenlooper supports cutting the federal interest rate on student loans to 2.5% or lower, and making community college free for those who can’t afford it. He also suggested allowing millennials to work off their debt through jobs in public service.


Background: Colorado is home to many beautiful places, and each person seems to have a favorite go-to spot.


Depends on the time of the year

A: Hickenlooper often cites Telluride as his favorite place in Colorado with Aspen a close second. But asked this question more recently, he said the Eastern Plains and Morgan County are the best in the spring because of all the recently planted crops.


Background: The fierce debate over who can use Colorado’s federally owned public lands -- and for what purpose -- is a constant fault line in Colorado politics. The U.S. House last year passed the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act -- a massive public lands measure that would designate roughly 100,000 acres for new wilderness and recreation in the state, and remove more than 200,000 acres from oil and gas development. The measure has stalled in the GOP-led Senate and faces a veto threat from the White House. Meanwhile, some Colorado Republicans are pushing for changes, like protections for water rights and grazing for local farmers and ranchers, before they’re willing to support it.


Supports passing the CORE Act

A: Hickenlooper made public lands a focus in his terms as governor. He supports dedicating 3% of the Land and Water Conservation Fund to be used to expand public access to federal lands and make exploring them more accessible. He supports federal agencies working with local agencies and the outdoor sports and recreation industry to invest in projects that will increase access to the outdoors. Hickenlooper supports breaking down barriers for low-income communities and communities of color so everyone can share the benefits of the outdoors.



Support workers and small businesses

A: Hickenlooper is focused supporting the workers and small businesses that are the backbone of the economy. He said he will focus on creating supply chains to get supplies to people who need it, including businesses. He believes the government should pay for coronavirus tests.




Do you support Colorado's ability to import prescription drugs from other countries, and how will you lower prices for consumers?

Background: The Democratic-led General Assembly in Colorado approved legislation in 2019 that would make the state one of the nation’s first to import prescription drugs from other countries. The Polis administration is delaying implementation amid the budget crunch, but the measure requires federal approval. President Donald Trump supports drug importation, but even if the state received the go-ahead by the end of 2020, the next presidential administration could play a role.


Supports Colorado’s drug importation program

A: Hickenlooper supports Colorado’s ability to import safe prescription drugs from other countries, including Canada and Mexico, and wants to end the prohibition on these imports. He would lower prices for consumers by expanding and rebuilding the Affordable Care Act. By allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prices of prescription drugs, drug companies will be more transparent about their pricing.


Background: The Electoral College picks U.S. presidents by awarding electors to the candidate who wins each state, rather than the one who wins the most votes nationwide. It’s become a target of the left in recent years as critics argue the system gives disproportionate political power to rural states and allows just a handful of swing states to decide national elections. Still, supporters say it ensures small-states’ rights are not overshadowed entirely by a few massive population centers in states such as California and New York. Colorado has been at the forefront of the debate in recent years, and home to the “faithless elector” movement in 2016, a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, and a controversial 2019 bill to join a national popular-vote movement that faces a repeal vote in November.


Keep the Electoral College

A: Hickenlooper has expressed reservations about dropping the Electoral College. He told The Sun in 2019: “In the end, our Founding Fathers got things pretty right. It might be best to just stay right where we are.”


Background: Colorado likes to think of itself as the “state of craft beer.” It’s also home to two large brewers, MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, and about 400 small independent breweries. The Beer Institute, a trade association for the global beer companies, forecasts the direct economic impact at $5.3 billion and suggests the industry contributes to a broader $13.6 billion in commerce. The Boulder-based Brewers Association estimates craft brewers alone contribute $3.3 billion to the state’s economy.


Amber ales and seasonals

A: Hickenlooper, who helped launch the Wynkoop brewpub, the first in Colorado, once joked his favorite beer was the one named after him, “Hickenlooper lager.” But he says his tastes change by season with amber ales among his favorites in the spring. More specifically, he said he also likes Post Brewing Company’s Howdy, a pilsner, and Finkel and Garf’s Dry-Hopped Amber.


Background: The U.S. House in May approved a $3 billion package designed to stimulate the economy amid the coronavirus and help people make ends meet. Republicans opposed the legislation, dubbed the HEROES Act, and the Senate has not acted on it.


Families should get up to $2,000 a month

A: He supports a plan put forward by Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and others to give most people an additional $2,000 check with future payments on a sliding scale. He said Congress also needs to expand the small business loan program and use existing technology to get relief to people more quickly.


Background: The rules in the U.S. Senate necessitate 60 votes to pass legislation, rather than a majority vote of the 100-person chamber. If Democrats retake the chamber, some in the party want to abolish the rules to require a supermajority vote. The current Republican majority now uses a simple majority to approve Supreme Court nominations.


Open to limited repeal

A: Hickenlooper’s campaign said he supports “amending the Senate rules on a case-by-case basis.”


Background: The use of hydraulic fracturing technology allows energy companies to drill miles-long horizontal wells and extract oil and gas deposits by fracturing shale rock. In Colorado, fracking has led to a boom in the energy industry in Colorado, which counts $30 billion in economic impact and thousands of jobs. However, the proliferation of wells and their location near Front Range communities is generating conflict. A shift in political power in 2019 led to a host of new regulations through Senate Bill 181, and some environmental activists want to go further with a ballot initiative to increase the buffer between communities and drilling operations.


A long-time defender of fracking

A: Hickenlooper has long supported fracking and he has sidestepped questions about his defense of the industry in the past. He argues that prohibiting drilling in Colorado would shift more drilling out of state and will not help drive down global greenhouse gas emissions. But he does support 100% renewable energy by 2050, which would essentially shut down the oil and gas industry.


Background: The Green New Deal is a resolution authored by progressive members of Congress to tackle climate change and further economic equity. Unveiled in 2019, the resolution is short on details and not actual legislation, but it lays out broad goals.


Opposes the Green New Deal

A: In his failed 2020 presidential campaign, Hickenlooper initially suggested he would embrace 99% of the Green New Deal. But then he changed direction, saying he supports the concept but not the proposal, writing an opinion piece titled “the Green New Deal sets us up for failure.”
He says whatever policies come forward on climate change must be easy to put in place so they can make an impact sooner. With the complexity of the Green New Deal, such as providing a federal job guarantee for every American, he says it would be difficult to get the legislation through Congress and even harder to implement.


Background: The topic of gun regulations is prominent in Colorado, dating back to the Columbine High School shooting and more recently the attack on the Aurora theater. The state instituted universal background checks and lawmakers recently approved “red flag” legislation to try to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental health issues.


Supports stricter firearms control

A: At the federal level, Hickenlooper backs some of the reforms he signed into law in Colorado, including background checks for all gun sales and ammunition magazine limits. He also would support efforts to close the “Charleston loophole” regarding firearm sales that take place after the timeline for a background check expires.
Hickenlooper also agrees with implementing extreme risk order protection laws to use court orders to take firearms from those deemed a threat and an assault weapon ban that builds off expired legislation from 2004.


Background: Both Democratic candidates favor universal health care coverage but differ on how to accomplish the goal. In Colorado, about 93.5% of people have health insurance coverage, a recent survey found, but the number of people who are uninsured is rising at the national level. The reason is mostly the cost of insurance. At the state level, a bill to create a public option died in the legislature in 2020 and a government single-payer failed at the ballot in 2016.


Favors public option

A: Hickenlooper is promoting “an evolution, not a revolution” when it comes to health care. He favors a public option that would compete against private plans on the insurance marketplace rather than a single-payer system such as “Medicare for All.” He has said such a plan needs to lower health care costs and work within the Affordable Care Act, but did not provide additional details on how it would work. As governor, he signed legislation to expand government-run Medicaid coverage to low-income residents.


Background: The aggressive efforts of the federal immigration agency known as ICE is prompting states like Colorado to explore limits on their authority. Federal authorities say such moves amount to sanctuary policies.


Wants to reform ICE

A: As governor, Hickenlooper signed legislation granting in-state tuition to people in the DACA program and grant driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally. He was vocal about opposing Trump’s decision to end DACA. Moving forward, he supports dramatic reforms to ICE and a delay in deportations and detainments amid the coronavirus.


Background: The nation’s immigration system is a major topic for the candidates amid the Trump administration’s efforts to close the border with Mexico and build a wall. The status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, for people brought to the U.S. unlawfully as children also remains in limbo.


Fund the current immigration system

A: Hickenlooper supports funding the current immigration system to address a backlog of cases. He says the funding would include processing centers at the southern border, refugee assistance and access to medical services for families. He is also proposing to restore humanitarian and security aid to countries including Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Hickenlooper said he believes in the creation of a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country unlawfully that also ensures the safety of American workers and border security.


Background: The U.S. Senate voted down two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump in January, a decision that split Colorado’s two senators along party lines.


Yes, but he hesitated

A: Hickenlooper now says he supported the article of impeachment against Trump. But back in October 2019, he hesitated when asked whether Trump committed impeachable offenses.


Background: The wealth gap in the U.S. continues to grow, recent studies show, and the same is true in Colorado. The state’s median income in 2018 was $68,811, according to Census figures. The recession is only expected to exacerbate the problem, experts say, and the economic divide between urban and rural Colorado remains an issue.


Level the playing field

A: Hickenlooper said he will fight for closing employment gaps in manufacturing, rural health care and technology with on-the-job training for students and investments in technology and internet access. His campaign says the goal is to level the playing field by raising minimum wage, closing the gender pay gap, offering tuition-free community college, growing minority-owned small businesses and strengthening unions.


Background: The Trump administration has aggressively promoted energy production on public lands, including in Colorado. The state is among the leaders in drilling on public lands, and the effort is expanding. In 2017, the federal Bureau of Land Management wanted to limit oil and gas production on 190,000 acres in eastern Colorado, but in 2019, the BLM suggested granting protections to fewer than 2,000 acres. This has riled wildlife conservationists who want to protect habitats, including those for the sage grouse, and also those who want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Proponents counter that the lease proceeds can help fund national parks.


Does not support oil and gas extraction on public lands

A: Hickenlooper supports curbing future oil and gas leasing on public lands. He opposes breaking pre-existing contracts, but is focused on the transition to clean energy.


Background: The topic of paid family leave became a dominant conversation at the state Capitol for the past two years, but Democratic leaders recently abandoned their attempt to create a program. Instead, the idea’s supporters are pursuing a ballot measure in November. In the meantime, state lawmakers developed legislation to provide paid sick time to workers.


In reversal, he now supports paid family leave

A: Hickenlooper supports at least 12 weeks of paid family leave to workers, including the birth or adoption of a child, to deal with serious health conditions or to care for a sick family member. But he opposed a Denver ballot measure in 2011 to require businesses to provide five to nine paid sick days a year, depending on the company’s size. He said it would cost jobs.


Background: The death of George Floyd ignited conversation about racism in America and in the campaign, forcing the candidates to draft plans for how to address inequities and structural barriers for people of color.


Equity for all

A: Hickenlooper released an “equity for all” plan that calls for improving access to health care for people of color, as well as investing in education; supporting entrepreneurs of color; addressing police brutality; and reforming Colorado’s criminal justice system. He said he would support the Health Equity and Accountability Act to address the health of minority populations. He also supports reparations for African-Americans.


Background: The economy went into a recession in February as the coronavirus began to spread and led to lockdowns across the country. In Colorado, more than 500,000 people have filed for unemployment and the state is facing billions in lost revenue.


Wants to protect small businesses

A: Hickenlooper supports four different actions to protect small businesses that are struggling right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He wants to boost the Small Business Administration’s capacity for loan forgiveness and tap the Community Reinvestment Fund to address small business liquidity. He also believes Congress should consider specific funding and benefits for small businesses including the use of technology, information and infrastructure. He also is pushing for the creation of capital pools and the development of financial products that will continue to benefit small businesses once the crisis has passed or if another may arise.


Background: Rural Colorado continues to face shortages of critical professions like doctors and teachers. A stunning 98% of new jobs in the past decade have been created along the urban Front Range, leaving wide swaths of the state behind. Recent federal assistance has come in the form of a farm bailout and tax incentives, but produced mixed results.


Tax credit for small businesses

A: Hickenlooper proposes a tax credit for small businesses. He wants an agenda that builds on assets of each rural community instead of a one-size-fits-all strategy.


Background: An issue that once didn’t receive much attention is getting new interest amid the 2020 election: increasing the number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. It comes as Republicans in the U.S. Senate have used their majority to appoint conservatives to the federal court system.


He stands opposed

A: He said it's a bad idea because of the precedent it sets. But he does support requiring a vote within a set period after a president appoints a Supreme Court justice to avoid what happened to Obama nominee Merrick Garland. He did not specify what timeline he would support.


Background: Colorado ranks near the bottom in terms of teacher pay and per-student funding and the current state budget crisis is only making the situation worse. Colorado lawmakers will underfund education by $1 billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, compared to the constitutional requirement for classroom spending.


Invest more money in teachers and schools

A: As governor during the Great Recession, Hickenlooper’s first budget proposal called for a $332 million cut, or $497 per student, to Colorado schools. At the time, he stated, “There’s nothing I’ve ever grappled with as long and hard as that.” Hickenlooper later vowed to help push for the state to pay back about $1 billion borrowed from education during the recession but never signed a budget to fully fund education.
Looking ahead, he said he supports putting more money into classrooms but did not provide specific policy proposals.


Background: President Donald Trump received bipartisan congressional approval for a rework of NAFTA -- now known as the USMCA, or United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The deal includes new protections for auto manufacturing and labor and the environment, and it relaxes market restrictions on dairy products to encourage trade. It came as a welcome relief to many Colorado farmers and manufacturers. But if elected, a new president also would inherit strained relations with China and other countries subjected to punitive Trump administration tariffs in recent years.


Supports the trade agreement

A: Hickenlooper supports the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. He hopes that the three countries can move ahead with protections for Colorado’s farmers, workers and businesses. Hickenlooper does not support trade tariffs and opposes President Trump’s tariffs on goods from China and the European Union. Instead, he said he supports free-trade agreements.


The Candidates

Click a candidate to see where they stand.


John Hickenlooper

John Hickenlooper

Former Colorado governor and Denver mayor   

Andrew Romanoff

Andrew Romanoff

Former state House speaker and director Mental Health Colorado