Political leaders with different styles — U.S. Rep. Cantor, Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper

By Maria Saporta

What a study in contrasts.

The Atlanta Press Club hosted U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at an early afternoon session on Friday at the Commerce Club. Cantor, a super serious legislator, talked about the multiple challenges facing the nation.

Over and over again, Cantor made the point that the House Republicans have been proposing solutions, but that neither the Democratic legislators or President Barack Obama’s administration had presented any detailed plans — be it on Medicare, Medicaid or other major policy issues.

Asked whether a spirit of bipartisanship could emerge to solve the nation’s debt crisis, Cantor spoke about the latest “Biden Commission” that includes Democrats and Republicans as well as senators and representatives. Cantor is serving on that commission, and he said: “everything is on the table.”

But then Cantor went on to say that House Republicans would stand fast on certain issues — such as raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

“You can’t raise the debt ceiling until you prove you change the trajectory,” Cantor said. “We will not come to an agreement unless everything is on the table and agree to entitlement reforms.”

Cantor displayed no sense of humor or even a aura of relaxed comfort during the meeting with local journalists and political leaders. Instead he was all business — portraying a hardnosed political leader who did little to connect with the audience on a human level.

Moments later, just up the street, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was the guest speaker at a reception hosted by McKenna Long Aldridge. Previously, Hickenlooper was mayor of Denver — elected in 2003 and 2007; a position he held until just a few hours before he was inaugurated governor.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said that when he first ran for mayor, he was determined to run a non-partisan campaign with no attack ads or negative campaigns. As mayor, he built relationships with Democrats and Republicans and built a bridge between Denver and the surrounding counties.

He’s taking the same attitude to state capitol. Colorado has a Republican House and Democratic Senate, so working across party lines is essential. Despite having severe budget issues, Hickenlooper said that 75 percent of the legislators passed a budget — making no news like the meltdown that occurred in Wisconsin and in other states.

Hickenlooper could not have been more relaxed or at ease. He was able to laugh at himself, make a few jokes and connect with local leaders at the reception. The governor was in town to help metro Atlantans better understand how to pass a regional transportation sales tax next year.

“You’ve got to find a way to have common ground solutions,” Hickenlooper said. “The biggest trick is convincing the suburbs that a healthy downtown boosts them.”

The opposite is also true —convincing downtown leaders that they prosper when the suburbs are healthy.

Hickenlooper said he had to learn to connect with people when he was a skinny kid who wore glasses and had a problem with acne.

His father gave him some solid advice: “If you can’t talk your way out of a fight, you deserve to get whipped.”

As the McKenna Long reception was coming to a close, partner Keith Mason said that the governor’s flight had been delayed. Gov. Hickenlooper, who had been in the micro-brewery business in Denver, was willing to go across the street to the Max Lager’s Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery on Peachtree Street. Any one who wanted to join the governor and his team was welcome.

So there we went — drinking “pale ale” with Colorado’s governor. The manager of Max Lager’s welcomed Hickenlooper, who obviously is well-known in brewery circles.

Before meeting Gov. Hickenlooper, I visited with his chief of staff, Roxane White, telling her how Cantor never cracked a smile during his Atlanta Press Club talk.

She promised me that Hickenlooper would be a welcome change.

In the end, a secret in politics is understanding a simple idea. With whom would you rather go out and have a beer, White said.

In this case, the choice was simple.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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