John Hickenlooper
Credit: Photograph by Edward Keating
The Colorado legislative session came to an end on May 7. The fracking issue wasn't resolved and a referendum loomed, something Hick had dreaded from the start. His failure to broker a deal exposed the limitation of his compromise ideology. Still, on most issues, Hick had got his way, including the establishment of a credit union to handle the state's weed profits, a necessity since banks won't handle drug money even if it's legal.

The governor can't believe he spends so much of his time talking about the weed issue. Hick thinks it sucks for the Colorado brand image to be the butt of late-night jokes about getting the munchies. His detractors found it hilarious that a man who made millions on beer would be against legalizing pot, but Hickenlooper isn't so much opposed to marijuana as he's convinced all the jokes about the state "going to pot" hurt his cherished "Colorado brand." And though he's cracked wise about the benefits of a tightly rolled joint, he thinks the way pot edibles – a giant portion of the legal market – are labeled is truly dangerous.

I made a joke about a local television station running a scare segment on kids' getting into their parents' pot gummies, and Hick rebuked me.

"No, that's a real problem," said Hick, his ever-present smile disappearing. "Not everyone is responsible. We're working on making the labeling more clear." Still, the weed wedge broke toward Hick's best-of-all-possible-worlds persona: He was able to stand against it­ – pleasing conservatives­ – but now that it has passed, Hick can say he has no choice but to enforce the laws, which offends no one.

After the session closes, Hick and his staff follow a long-standing Colorado tradition of bipartisan drinking, and adjourn to Stoney's, a local bar, with legislators of both parties. Two young staffers buy Hick a shot, but a thirsty speechwriter intercepts it. Hick still imparts some wisdom.

"If you drink the shot without the cup ever touching your lips, then you won't ever get sick or get germs from the shot glass," he tells the junior staffers. He laughs loud. "This is the advice that I have to share with young people."

Through the fights and fires, Hick's staff tried to take care of him, especially after he split with Helen. The staff is made in his image, tireless and semi-dangerously irreverent. A staffer had an argument with an anti-evolution zealot who said he believed Jesus lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. The staffer now has a giant tat on his back of Jesus riding a dinosaur. At a staff meeting, chief of staff Roxane White passed out copies of the management book The 4 Disciplines of Execution, and the head of corrections had Hick spitting out his coffee when he quipped, "Thank God. I thought we were talking about a different kind of execution."

In Hick's office are pictures of Helen and Teddy and knickknacks like a license plate given to him by Vonnegut from the Mercedes he finally felt comfortable buying after Slaughterhouse-Five had been number one for months. But there's also a posting of The Optimist's Creed, which ends with the line, "To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble." Hick actually believes it, but his staff was still worried as the statewide tragedies piled up.

"I've said to him, 'You're going home to an empty house – and you can't do that tonight,' " says White. " 'So which one of your friends do you want to go to see tonight?' Nobody as extroverted as John should go home to an empty house after those kinds of things."