For Governor John Hickenlooper, it was a very hard week at the end of a hard year, filled with disasters both natural and man-made -- disasters Colorado is still struggling to understand. The frustrations that consumed Hickenlooper over the past twelve months came bubbling out during an interview about his friendship with a man whose son may have murdered Tom Clements, the slain prison boss being memorialized at 10 a.m. this morning in Colorado Springs; see the video below. But he's had plenty of practice dealing with frustrations.
It was on March 26, 2012 that Forest Service crew members noticed that embers from a prescribed burn conducted five days earlier in Jefferson County had crossed the containment line and called for backup.
Too late. The North Fork Fire ultimately consumed more than 4,000 acres, killing three and doing $11 million in damage. And that was just the start of the very bad year.
There were more fatal fires last summer -- at one point, there were ten blazes burning in Colorado, including the High Park Fire outside of Fort Collins and the Waldo Canyon Fire on the edge of Colorado Springs. And then came the gunfire.
On July 20, a gunman opened fire on a theater full of people watching a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. A dozen people died, and dozens were injured.
"2012 was a hard year," Hickenlooper said during his State of the State speech in January. And it wasn't over yet.
Last Wednesday, on the eight-month anniversary of the Aurora shootings, Hickenlooper signed three gun-control measures that had rolled through the Colorado Legislature. The night before, the governor had gotten word that Tom Clements, director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, had been murdered in his own home.
And the news got stranger: The now-deceased suspect in that slaying, Evan Ebel, is the son of a friend, a lawyer Hickenlooper met more than thirty years ago when the young geologist moved to Colorado and they worked at the same company. Clements was a friend, too.
Today, on the last day of a very hard year, Hickenlooper will speak at a memorial service for Clements at Colorado Springs' New Life Church.
Continue for more about John Hickenlooper's very hard year, including another photo and the aforementioned video. On Friday, Hickenlooper spoke to a 9News reporter about his friendship with Jack Ebel, stressing that he had never used his powers as governor to get Evan Ebel special privileges or early release. Shortly thereafter, the reporter asked him how he could reassure the citizens of Colorado this was the case.
"That's a stupid question," he snapped. "Why would you even ask that question?" He added that the reporter had every right to make the inquiry: "That's your choice, but you lose your ability to have access when you treat people like that."
Hickenlooper still seemed shaken when he appeared yesterday on CNN's State of the Union, talking about the gun bills and the slaying of Clements. "I mean, the whole week sort of felt like I was in -- I was caught in a nightmare that I couldn't wake up from, right?" he said. "That all these things kept happening to people I loved."
Just as things kept happening over the past year to people loved across Colorado.
And Hickenlooper talked about the Second Amendment supporters who'd protested his appearance in Grand Junction the day before. "Their integrity and honesty, their conviction, you know, you can't challenge that," Hickenlooper said. "We've just got to be sure we get to the same facts."
Hickenlooper has been talking a lot about facts during this very hard year, frequently telling a story about a conversation he had with his ten-year-old son when Teddy complained that school was hard.
"He said, 'Tell me what you do that's so hard every day -- you make decisions,' " Hickenlooper recounted during one telling of this story two weeks ago. "'What's so hard about making decisions? Get the facts. Decision. Check. Next.... Get the facts. Make a decision. Check. Next.'
"This is the issue of do we all have the same set of facts, right?"
But at the end of this very hard year, we're still looking for all the facts. The victims of the North Fork Fire have yet to be compensated. James Holmes is slated to go on trial for the Aurora shootings on August 5, but that is almost certain to be postponed. Had Colorado's new gun bills been in place a year ago, it's unlikely they would have prevented the Aurora shootings, the murder of Clements. Mental-health measures might have; those are still going through the legislature. And there are many more tough issues on the table: fracking, the death penalty, education funding.
The hard work is just beginning.
Look below to see the 9News report featuring the sharp exchange between Hickenlooper and the reporter, followed by his appearance on CNN.
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