“Colorado has always been a barrier-breaking, forward-looking state.” – Jared Polis
Breaking barriers is what Jared Polis does. He is the first openly gay parent in Congress. Now he’s running for an office that could make him the country’s first openly gay elected governor.
Early polling shows Polis leading his conservative, republican opponent, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton. The two couldn’t be more different. Stapleton is a Trump supporter who leans right, while Polis is a liberal calling for healthcare for everyone, free preschool, full-day kindergarten, and protections for LGBTQ and abortion rights in Colorado.
Walking into one of his 11 campaign offices, it’s easy to see his commitment to these rights. A rainbow flag welcomes visitors who write why they’re supporting the candidate.
“Because people deserve to see themselves in politics,” one wrote.
“Because love is love is love,” another explained.
It’s not just the decor. Scattered around the room are nearly a dozen volunteers bonded by their differences. Different ages, different genders, different religions—all working together for the same issues.
“Fracking is a big [issue], or health care, education, all big things that Jared Polis is pushing for,” said Joshua Cunningham, a 22-year-old intern and Colorado native who grew up in a conservative home in Greeley. Sitting next to him was a woman who was old enough to retire when Cunningham was born.
“I agree with him on almost everything, not everything, but most everything, yes. Particularly his stance on education,” 83-year-old volunteer Jane Daniels said. Daniels is a former teacher who was once a principal at Boulder’s Whittier Elementary School.
“I believe in early childhood education, so I’m excited about free public schools for preschool and kindergarten. It’s too bad we don’t have full-day kindergarten for all our children. It makes a difference,” she said.
There’s a reason education is a big issue for Polis. His mother, Colorado poet Susan Polis Schutz, used to be a teacher. He began his political career when he won a seat on Colorado’s Board of Education. Since his election to Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District in 2008, he’s sponsored 55 bills pertaining to education; that’s a full 40 percent of the bills he’s sponsored, according to GovTrack.
But education reform is just one of his proposals. Eliminating the cost of early education ties into what he considers Colorado’s number-one issue—the economy.
“The problem I hear about most often all across Colorado is that paychecks aren’t keeping up with the cost of living,” Polis said. “As governor, I’ll take immediate action to lower the cost of healthcare. I’ll fight to fund our schools… and I’ll work to create good jobs across our state with good wages that actually keep pace with rising costs.”
Polis is no stranger to business. As an entrepreneur, he began his first company out of his college dorm room. It provided dial-up internet service. He founded ProFlowers, which he later sold for $477 million. Then Polis co-founded Techstars and Patriot Boot Camp, companies that mentor entrepreneurs and help veterans start their own small businesses.
Polis’ opponents are hitting him hard with attack ads that claim the businessman didn’t pay his “fair share of taxes.” The thing is, Polis cleared this up in 2008, when he released tax returns showing he didn’t pay taxes because he didn’t owe any. During the five-year period before he ran for Congress, his start-up companies reported losses. The returns also showed he paid more than $18 million in taxes after receiving $120 million from the sale of ProFlowers.
At the time, Polis told the Daily Camera it’s not unusual for young businesses to lose money. So, entrepreneurs may not pay taxes while companies lose money but will pay large chunks if the companies become successful and are sold.
Polis told OUT FRONT the ads are “false and incredibly desperate.” He believes the other side is trying to deflect from actual issues like the environment and healthcare.
His stance on healthcare is what brought retired Rabbi Deborah Bronstein in to volunteer.
“He’s really been a strong force on Medicare for all, for universal healthcare, and his focus on children’s education is really important to me. His focus on immigration is important to me,” Bronstein said. “These things matter a lot to me. Matters of justice.”
Matters of justice also include issues the current, and more conservative, U.S. Supreme Court may go after, including abortion and LGBTQ rights. Some fear the court will dismantle federal protections, and it will then be up to individual states. If that happens, the position of governor becomes more important than ever.
“I will lead legislation to preserve reproductive choice in Colorado Statute—so that Coloradans’ basic rights don’t come and go based on the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court,” said Polis. “Every, single Coloradan, no matter who they are or who they love, should be able to attend school, get a good-paying job, and live affordably in the community they call home without being subjected to discrimination or harassment.”
As a gay man, Polis is no stranger to discrimination. He said when he first ran for Congress 10 years ago, an entire office wall was filled with hate mail. Now, he just gets the occasional hate message on Facebook. It’s a shift that means people are concentrating on other issues.
“For the most part, Coloradans want to hear about how the policies I’m putting forward will improve their lives,” he said.
But that requires Coloradans to get out and vote. Voter turnout is already low, and it’s even lower during elections when there isn’t a presidential race. That’s why volunteers like Daniels, Bronstein, and Cunningham are working so hard.
“Most people aren’t voting and telling their opinions, and I think everyone needs to vote,” said Cunningham, who, at 12 years old, was so moved by the presidential election of Barack Obama, he decided to go into politics.
Fifty-two years earlier, Daniels cast her very first vote for Adlai Stevenson. He didn’t win. Neither did the Senate candidate, a 15-year-old Polis first volunteered for. Volunteers for the Polis campaign are working hard to make sure Polis does not meet that same fate in this election and keeps the state moving in the right direction.
“These issues aren’t about liberal versus conservative,” Polis said. “They’re about forward versus backward.”