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Hickenlooper In Rural Colorado As 2014 Race Begins

John Hickenlooper, Spike Ausmus
Gov. John Hickenlooper tweeted this photo on Aug. 13 taken at Longhorn Steakhouse in Springfield. Hickenlooper, right, is speaking to Baca County Commissioner Spike Ausmus (credit: Twitter)

TRINIDAD, Colo. (AP) - Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is defending controversial decisions from the last year during visits to rural Colorado Wednesday as his re-election bid begins.

In a sharp contrast to when he breezed into office in 2010 as a popular Denver mayor, Hickenlooper's opponents have a broad range of issues to pounce on. Hickenlooper spent most of his prepared remarks in Trinidad Wednesday morning explaining his thinking on some of those issues, including his support of new gun restrictions and the indefinite stay of execution of a convicted killer.

Justifying his decision not to execute convicted killer Nathan Dunlap, Hickenlooper said the evidence showed Dunlap was "severely bipolar."

"We rarely execute somebody who has a severe disability like that," he said. Dunlap killed four people at a Chuck E. Cheese in 1993 and was due to be executed in August.

His visit to Trinidad is part of a tour of the Eastern Plains and southern Colorado Tuesday and Wednesday. His office maintains the visits are not related to his re-election campaign, which launched officially this week. But the stops offer the governor valuable face time with voters in rural communities where people have voiced some of the strongest opposition to his policies.

One of those is a set of new gun laws that have triggered a lawsuit from county sheriffs and recall efforts against two Democratic state senators.

"I do have some concerns about some his policies and some of the bills that he is supporting are causing so much division and causing so much uproar in the state," said 49-year-old Shelly King, who owns a gun store in Trinidad.

Lawmakers this year passed bills that limited the sized of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and expanded background checks to online and private gun sales. They also required firearm purchases to pay for their own background checks, tightened restrictions on gun ownership by domestic abusers and mandated that people getting concealed-carry permits get some of the needed training in person.

Most of the new laws were a response to mass shootings last year at a suburban Denver movie theater and an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Hickenlooper mentioned only the background checks in his remarks, saying that state data showed before the new law that criminals do try to purchase firearms but have been prevented by background checks in place before the expansion.

On Tuesday in Pueblo, former Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, who is running against Hickenlooper, told voters at a forum that he would reverse the new gun laws and pledged to set an execution date for Dunlap.

"I'm all for it, I can do it," Tancredo said.

Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who was also at the forum, joined Tancredo in slamming a proposal to increase income taxes to add funding to schools. Hickenlooper supports the tax, which voters will decide on in November.

The additional $1 billion would go to full-day kindergarten, expanded access to free preschool and other upgrades. The funds would also pay for what supporters call the nation's first tracker software allowing voters to see how their local district spends every dollar on teacher salaries, pensions, classroom instruction, tutoring and other expenses.

"You guys have to decide about the tax, but this is something that no one's ever done before to change the way we educate our kids," he said.

By IVAN MORENO, Associated Press

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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