John Hickenlooper

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper greets people as he enters the Pierce Street Coffee Works Saturday morning. The possible 2020 Democratic contender pitched a moderate, pragmatic vision of governance, light on grand policy pronouncements. 

SIOUX CITY -- Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper paid a visit to the Pierce Street Coffee Works Saturday morning as he mulls a run for the Democratic nomination in 2020. 

Hickenlooper was governor of Colorado from 2011 until last month; before he was governor he spent nearly eight years as the mayor of Denver.

In his upbeat speech at the coffee shop, Hickenlooper touted his accomplishments in Colorado, often answering questions from the crowd by circling back to stories from his years as mayor and governor. Unlike many of the other Democratic contenders who've visited the region in past weeks, he made few grand policy promises, painting himself as a practical-solutions oriented, moderate Democrat. 

"I do think we'll eventually get to free college for everybody -- but it's going to take a while," he said of the higher-education policy popular among Democrats. "That's a large dollar number. We can get to free community colleges." 

He barely mentioned the Trump administration and said little about healthcare, a leading policy point among Democratic contenders. 

Decades ago, Hickenlooper said he lost his job as a geologist amid a downturn in that field and had to chart a new path for himself, becoming a restaurateur. He advocated training and assistance finding new jobs for those who find their employment imperiled. 

"Back in the '80s and '90s, we let professions disappear, and we did nothing, nothing, to help the people that lost not just their jobs, they lost their life," he said. 

When an audience member asked him about marijuana legalization in his state, which voters approved in 2012, Hickenlooper said he was initially worried about potential downsides. Though he still has some reservations about cannabis and the potential negative consequences of use, he maintains that legalization worked better in Colorado than prohibition had. 

"I opposed it, almost every elected official did -- I opposed it because I wasn't sure the young people wouldn't say, 'Hey, it's OK, the adults legalized it, let's go get high!'" he said. 

"There's still problems with it, but I look at the comparison of what the old system was, where we sent millions of kids to prison, most of them from low-income backgrounds, and made them felons, we made already-difficult lives incomparably more difficult. And I'm at the point now where I say, this system is certainly better than the old one and we shouldn't go back." 

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