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CROWLEY: Colorado banned same-sex marriage in 2006. Advocates of change in the law may have some momentum from the president's new position. Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper recalled legislatures to consider legislation in Colorado that would allow civil unions. The legislature meets tomorrow, and Governor Hickenlooper meets with us this morning. Thank you so much for being here.
Do you think that the president's public position saying he personally favors gay marriage will hurt or help him in Colorado this fall? It went for him pretty big, about nine points, four years ago.
HICKENLOOPER: I think what the president's personal opinion is and how he's wrestled with this is just another example of who he is and the strength of his character. Here is a guy who saved us from going into a depression, who is able to bring down our worst enemy with some difficult decisions, who really saved the Detroit auto industry. He takes -- he's done so much already, and yet he's still wrestling with personal decisions. But I don't think that's going to affect -- have much effect in Colorado. We're really focused on civil unions.
CROWLEY: And do you, does it help you, do you feel that you are evolving or struggling with the issue? How does the president's announcement change anything in your sort of personal outlook toward this issue?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, you know, in Colorado we've been working -- my focus is to -- I don't think we should ever tell any church who they should marry, who they shouldn't marry. That's their right. Our system succeeds because our faith community can be such a great partner with government, but we don't ever get into their territory.
But, you know, who gets the basic rights? Those have to be shared with everyone, and whether you get to visit someone in a hospital room as friends and family, that's the kind of stuff that we're addressing with civil unions.
And we had a majority -- our Senate is Democratic, our House is Republican -- and three different committees in the House brought the civil union bill out. One of them, the Republicans had voted for, one is the chair of the Joint Budget Committee. The other, one of the others is the majority whip in the House. I mean, polls show that 75 percent of the people of Colorado support civil unions, and that includes 56 percent of Republicans and 82 percent independents. I mean, we're talking about trying to make sure everyone gets the same rights.
CROWLEY: You called your state lawmakers back into session to deal with civil unions and a couple of other issues that they didn't get to in their regular session. And Colorado Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty, who is opposed to the civil union legislation, had this to say about the timing. "I suspect it's not coincidence the governor had President Obama's top Colorado political operatives shuttling in and out of his office. It could be more than coincidence that the president came out in favor of gay marriage, and then only hours later Hickenlooper announced a special session."
In what part does politics play in your decision to call this legislature back to deal with civil unions and to try to make them legal in Colorado?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, first, they never came into my office. I don't know where Frank got that, or what he's even talking about.
But, you know, on the next to the last day of our legislative session, the civil unions bill came out of committees, and they just filibustered. They wouldn't let it come to the floor. And when it died, 30 other bills died, and these are important to our businesses. There is over $60 million of water projects. We're reforming our unemployment insurance, which is very important to the business community. So I really had to call a special session to bring the legislature back to discuss it. And once it's come out of all committees, why don't we -- our whole process allows us, almost demands for us, to be able to have an open debate, and then let our elected leaders vote.
CROWLEY: Do you think it will pass? Now that you have called them back in, do you think that civil unions will be passed and approved in the Colorado legislature? Is it going to happen?
HICKENLOOPER: I don't know. It depends on Frank, Speaker McNulty. Frank and I agree on tremendous -- 90 percent of the stuff, but on this issue, he has the power to choose, and he said he's going to start with a blank slate and pick new committees. That doesn't bode well. But I hope as he wrestles with this issue himself and recognizes that we're not talking about marriage. We're talking about civil unions and just making sure that people have the same rights. Everyone has the same rights. We're not talking about marriage.
CROWLEY: Some of the critics say that civil unions is the step right before gay marriage. Do you agree with that?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, in Colorado we have, as you pointed out at the top of the show, we have an amendment on our constitution that said -- that bans same-sex marriage. So we're clearly, we're very focused on civil unions. And again, we don't want to tell any church who they should or should not marry, but we want to make sure that every citizen -- I spent almost 20 years in the restaurant business, and you work side by side with all different kinds of people, right? And you learn that they are -- they work just as hard, they make the same sacrifices. They deserve the same rights. CROWLEY: And finally just a question on a different subject. Your unemployment rate at 7.8 percent has been sort of on a downward trajectory, and because of that, your rate is low enough that Colorado is being taken off the list of those states that qualify for federal benefits for the long- term unemployed. Is that going to make a big difference in your state?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, obviously we still have a large number, over 20,000 people, that have been out of work for over 18 months. So it is still challenging, but we're blessed to have an economy that is coming back. Some businesses are moving in here. There's a lot of the -- our businesses are hiring people, so that helps. You know, our Nuggets lost in the seventh game last night to the Lakers, so that's going to set us back just a teeny bit for a day or two.
CROWLEY: I'm sorry about that.
HICKENLOOPER: But I think we're going to do fine. I think -- I know. We're all a little bit in mourning. But I think our economy is coming back, and I think that's, you know, even though we lose a little bit of that support for the unemployed, we'll make it up by being able to get them jobs more rapidly.
CROWLEY: Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper from Colorado, thank you so much for joining us this morning.
HICKENLOOPER: Thank you.
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