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We’re all reeling from the joys of having a gay governor about to take office. But let’s not forget the man who was an ally to the community, a groundbreaking governor, and someone who paved the way for Polis to take office now.

Here’s our exclusive exit interview with John Hickenlooper, the man who led Colorado through cannabis and same-gender marriage legalization, the beginning of the Trump presidency, and one of the most turbulent times in the country’s history. 

Obviously you are happy about the Polis victory, but what do you feel that he will offer overall? Why was he a good choice besides being LGBTQ, and how will having an LGBTQ governor impact Colorado?
I think he’s a different type of politician. He has certain key qualities; he’s super smart; he works really hard; he’s curious, and he has a kind of selfless desire to make the world a better place. As an entrepreneur, I appreciate that he also is one. When I first met with him, he said, ‘What is your legacy; what are your key issues,’ and most governor elects never think that way. I think Jared is less concerned with himself and more concerned with Colorado. 

I don’t think the fact that he is the first openly gay governor really came up in the campaign; it just doesn’t make that big of a difference in Colorado. I think its a very good thing that the first openly gay governor is going to be very successful. It’s a good thing to have someone who has those skills and qualities that will make him a success. Its so much better to say, ‘look at that, he’s a rock star.’ But in the end, I don’t think people focus on that aspect much. 

Looking back, what do you feel your biggest challenge was in office?
The first four years, we had the worst droughts, wildfires, the shooting, floods, it seemed like I was going to a funeral every week. I went to 50 funerals in the first four years. But it’s just like life; you can’t control what comes at you. You can control if it makes you stronger or weaker, better or worse. We decided we were gonna work harder.

What do you feel your greatest victory was?
It was a very proud moment when we got civil unions passed. I owned a restaurant back before my political career, and a guy who worked for me was openly gay. There was a little turbulence about his working there, but he was a great manager, eventually opened his own restaurant, and in a funny way I think owning the restaurant and being governor had the same proud moments. The civil rights commission fought hard to make sure they could do what needed to be done, not allow people to be denied the right to marry. 

With the current administration possibly at odds with Polis, what do you think our biggest challenges will be for the next four to eight years?
I was at odds with the White House; any sane person would be at odds with the White House as it stands today. I think Jared is gonna push back on climate change and be more aggressive than Trump would want; I know we were. And as governor, Polis isn’t going to walk away. I think also he’s going to be more of an activist for early childhood education, making sure we take the resources and make sure that every kid in the state gets to go to all-day kindergarten.

What is the one thing you want to tell the LGBTQ community before you leave office?
There is certainly a message of gratitude. When I first ran for mayor, the LGBTQ community really rose up and from the beginning strongly supported me, and I think I may have missed one, maybe two, Pride parades when I was sick or out of town, but that’s it. It’s been a great partnership. Colorado, if you look at it, we have as strong and vocal a gay community as any state in america. Everyone talks about California or Massachusetts, but I think we stand right up there with them.

What are you looking forward to most about stepping down, and how will you be spending your time?
Well, let me tell you, Jared gets inaugurated on the eighth; it’s gonna be a really fun, kickass inaugural ball. On the ninth, the next morning, I think I’m going to sleep in. Being able to sleep in, I’m definitely looking forward to. There is that sense of loss; it’s a little bittersweet. All change involves loss, and in this case the greatest people I’ve ever worked with I wont get to keep working with, but the future is bright. I have to make sure that we are doing everything we can to ensure that as governor, Polis will be more successful.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m still trying to figure out 2020 and whether the lessons I learned here in Colorado have application on a national scale for the presidential race.