The morning sun slanted through the windows of the Limelight Hotel, high in the mountains in Aspen, as Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper stood before the state's sheriffs at a conference in June. The Democrat was fielding questions about controversial gun-control legislation he'd signed the year before—legislation that this group had fiercely opposed.
"You made a comment about, sometimes to get somebody who disagrees with you to come over to your side, you just have to sit there and listen more, and you find that's a way to get them to turn to your side," said Sheriff John Cooke of conservative Weld County, referring to one of the governor's favorite talking points. "My question is, though, when these gun laws came up, why wouldn't you listen to the sheriffs? Why wouldn't, when a couple of sheriffs wanted to meet with you, you wouldn't listen to them and hear our side of the story?"
Your average politician would have had a well-rehearsed answer to that question; after all, signing the gun-control legislation 15 months earlier had been the most politically unpopular move of Hickenlooper's career. But Hickenlooper's stock-in-trade has always been that he's not your average politician—nothing of the kind—and so, characteristically, he winged it. "You know, I would say in, in the gun stuff that we, uh, certainly could've done a better job," he began, one hand jammed deep into his pocket as he gesticulated limply with the other. "And this is—I'm not defending this—there's no—I didn't find out that the sheriffs were trying to talk to me until a week afterwards—10 days afterwards. By that time, all the—whatever was gonna hit the fan had hit it." He scratched the back of his head. "I think we screwed that up completely, and I think we did a disservice to you and a disservice to ourselves."