Governor throws cold water on air corps

Cost is prohibitive,
Hickenlooper says

DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper isn’t convinced that Colorado should buy its own firefighting air fleet, but he says Western governors are interested in cooperating to pay for regional wildfire resources.

He’s also interested in training ranchers and farmers to be first responders in remote areas to fight fires on federal land before government forces can arrive.

“The longer I deal with this issue, the more I see that that first hour is where it matters,” Hickenlooper said.

But a state-owned air force might be too costly for what it would provide, he said. Republican lawmakers began pushing the air corps idea in early 2013.

Hickenlooper says training rural residents in firefighting is a smarter option.

“I think that’s a program that we should embrace. The more quickly you get to a wildfire, the better off we are,” Hickenlooper said.

He met with reporters Thursday to talk about the legislative session that begins Jan. 8. He didn’t endorse specific bills, but he said he wants to focus this year on improving the prospects for small businesses.

He also said that in the wake of wildfires, floods and the shooting at Arapahoe High School, he hopes for a more cooperative tone at the statehouse.

“I think there is a different sense of community right now, even among legislators. We’ll see how strong that is and whether it breaks down. It’s an election year. I’m not blind,” he said.

As part of his commitment to cooperation, he said he is willing to listen to people who want to change some of last year’s most controversial bills, including background checks and ammunition magazine limits for guns, a 20 percent renewable energy standard for rural utilities, and an overhaul of voting procedures. But he didn’t sound eager to make major changes to any law, especially ones on guns and voting.

“I don’t see us introducing new gun laws this session, but I certainly wouldn’t support repealing the laws we passed last year. That said, if there is a way to improve them some way ... then I think we should sit down and have that discussion,” he said.