John Hickenlooper

John Hickenlooper answers questions in a meeting with Sentinel editors and reporters Tuesday.

In an effort to frame his campaign as distinct from the rest of the crowded field, Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper detailed his accomplishments as governor of Colorado and described how he would take what worked at the state level to the White House in an interview with The Sentinel’s editorial board Tuesday.

In addition to his tenures as governor and mayor of Denver, Hickenlooper tied his prior experience as a brewpub owner and geologist into his understanding of issues like climate change and bridging the rural-urban divide.

The top three issues Hickenlooper said his administration would address are climate change, health care and the elimination of professions by artificial intelligence.

He also spoke of a “persistent level of despair” throughout the country, particularly in rural areas, that is fueling the opioid crisis.

While Hickenlooper proposes greater transparency for pharmaceutical companies, through means such as a prescription database to help prevent people from filling duplicates, the former governor said policy measures and increased funding alone won’t solve the problem. A more philosophical look at the epidemic, he said, would help bolster preventative measures to keep people from getting addicted in the first place.

More broadly on health care, Hickenlooper recalled his college years in Middletown, Conn., where he helped establish a free community health center with his roommate Mark Masselli during the early 1970s. The clinic is still running today under Masselli, after expanding to multiple locations with more than 1,000 employees in total and more than 145,000 patients.

Back then, Hickenlooper noted, it was radical to call health care a right and not a privilege, which he remembered doing in a letter to the Middletown Press.

“I tease — this is just a joke — but I tease when Elizabeth Warren was still a Republican I was saying health care was a right and not a privilege,” he said.

Hickenlooper said he supports a public option competing with private insurance in pursuit of universal health care, rather than joining his competitors in calling for the elimination of private insurance under Medicare-for-all.

“But I don’t believe, in this country, that we’re going to succeed by going to the American people and telling them that they have to give up their private insurance,” he said.

On a litany of other issues, from education to marijuana legalization, Hickenlooper cited programs he undertook in Colorado as examples for the nation.

The Centennial Stater said that beyond putting a price on carbon and giving the American people a dividend from the tax revenue, reducing “fugitive emissions” — which include methane and other greenhouse gases released as byproducts of industrial production — would be something he could repeat from his time as mayor and governor.

Galvanizing support around curbing emissions, Hickenlooper argued, involves not only keeping the public satisfied with the dividend amid increased costs, but also giving some credit to fossil fuel companies for their part.

He also cited a pilot program in education and job training that he launched as governor, where high school sophomores can take paid apprenticeships each year approaching graduation. The students earn around $30,000 over the three years, Hickenlooper said, and graduate high school with the requisite experience for jobs that don’t require a college degree — or can transfer their time in the program to college credits.

He said too much emphasis is put on American kids going to college when plenty of other opportunities are available.

“Sixty-five to 70 percent of our kids don’t get a four-year [college] degree, and we basically told them they’re second-class citizens,” Hickenlooper said.

Another Colorado initiative Hickenlooper said could translate at the federal level — while states could decide how to implement it — is the legalization of cannabis. Initially, Hickenlooper noted, he opposed full recreational legalization, citing concerns about a potential uptick in teen use if the state went beyond his preference for medicinal marijuana and decriminalization.

But he said he eventually changed his position after studies showed no such rise, and that he considers the program an overall success since 2014.

His only regrets, he noted, were in the initial rollout, particularly in not limiting the amount of THC in edibles and marketing candies that children could unwrap and eat. And for states to see the best results in establishing their own markets, Hickenlooper said the federal government would need to allow vendors to use banks instead of relying solely on cash.

Much of the candidate’s messaging Tuesday centered around pragmatism and moderation, such as the need to reform health care by “evolution, not revolution.” In the long run, he said he hopes to emerge from the crowded field as an underdog who can compete for the nomination based on his executive experience.

“I think I’m the only professional geologist in American history [to run for president],” he said. “I know I’m the only brewer since 1791 — since Sam Adams — to become a governor.”

Jake Lahut can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or Follow him on Twitter @JakeLahut.