Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, Nation's 1st Openly Gay Elected Governor, Lays Out His Agenda

Download Audio
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis enters the House of Representatives chamber to make his first State of the State address to a joint session of the Colorado Legislature Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis enters the House of Representatives chamber to make his first State of the State address to a joint session of the Colorado Legislature Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

Just as Los Angeles teachers reached an agreement to end a strike, teachers in Denver voted to authorize a strike of their own, which could start as early as Monday.

That's just one of many issues Jared Polis, a 43-year-old Democrat, now faces after he took over as governor of Colorado from Democrat John Hickenlooper earlier this month. Polis previously represented the state's 2nd Congressional District since 2009.

When he was elected, Polis became the first openly gay elected governor in America. But he tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson he's less focused on that personal first as he begins to shape his agenda.

"It's never about that. It's really about, how can I be an effective governor that improves the quality of life for Coloradans?" Polis (@jaredpolis) says. "Whatever aspect of diversity you bring to the job is not the yardstick that the voters, straight or gay, will measure your performance by."

Polis says lowering health care costs, implementing free, full-day kindergarten, lowering the tax rate for individuals and small businesses and reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 are among his administration's key goals.

"Those really big four things underscore what our agenda is, and we'll look forward to working on everything else big and small to improve the quality of life for Coloradans," he says.

Described by some as a conservative Democrat, Polis says he doesn't see himself that way.

"I never really saw politics as about left versus right," he says. "I see it [as] about forward versus backward, and I'm certainly a future-facing, forward-looking governor, and I think the fundamental challenge of my governorship will be, how do we make the future work for Colorado and for Coloradans, with all the great technological and social changes that our state and our country and the world are undergoing?"

Interview Highlights

On his concerns amid the ongoing government shutdown

"It takes two sides to make this ongoing shutdown continue to occur. I just wish that they would reopen government. The effects are already being felt. We are terribly concerned by a number of things — we already implemented an emergency rule to allow our federal employees in our state to access unemployment insurance, because a lot of people haven't been paid in a month, and most people have rents and mortgages. We've already had over 2,500 Coloradans who are federal employees who haven't been getting paid apply for unemployment. We're terribly concerned about SNAP and other transfer payments that will hit our most vulnerable populations starting March 1st.

"There's a lot of concerns, and I hope Republicans and Democrats in Washington reopen government while they debate whatever other disagreements they have. I mean, they might disagree about border security. But they should debate that with the government open, not with the government closed."

On the core components of his agenda

"We're really very focused on consistent support for our big goals, and those include saving people money on health care. We want to implement free, full-day kindergarten in Colorado, which will save families money. We want to reduce the tax rate for individuals and small businesses by going after corporate loopholes and tax expenditures on a revenue-neutral basis, and we want to make sure the state is positioned to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2040."

On activists calling on him to halt all new drilling in Colorado

"Well I'm sure there's lots of people calling on us for lots of things. We are focused on the clean energy transition, as I indicated. We all know that we're not there today, our goal is to get there as soon as we can, and that is not only because we care about climate, it's also because of air quality and the fact that the pollution increases our asthma rate, our cancer rate and health care costs. And it's also about making sure that Colorado can benefit from the green energy economy, and that we have good green jobs that can never be outsourced right here in Colorado.

"There's a lot of people I'm sure that would like us ... to have less drilling, more drilling. I mean there's many people with many different demands in that area. Our goal is [to] transition to 100 percent renewable energy as soon as we can. We all know we're not there today, but we want to accelerate the retirement of coal and natural gas power so we can benefit from cheaper, more reliable, cleaner wind and solar energy."

On the the Supreme Court reviving, for now, President Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military

"It's unfortunate that President Trump, against the recommendations of our senior military leaders, is excluding perfectly capable soldiers with strong performance ratings simply because of their gender identity. It makes us weaker as a country and prevents the very cohesion of our military units that lead to a strong defense. So that's unfortunate."

On advice for other states on legal recreational marijuana, which Colorado has years of experience with

"As one of the first states to implement it, we get a lot of extra business from people coming into our state. I was down in Trinidad, Colorado, recently, we have a lot of New Mexico tourists coming about. It's really helped revitalize the downtown area, arts and cannabis. So from the economic perspective in Colorado, I'd love other states to go slowly so that we can continue to see all these benefits for Colorado.

"For years, I'd been sort of countering this sort of dire picture of Colorado. But again, if they think that it's bad, it's better for us to have less competition at this point. So I mean, if I'm looking at it as governor, I would hope they halt their efforts and send all their business here."

On what he thinks ought to happen in Washington to change gun laws in an effort to prevent mass shootings

"If you're directing it towards Washington, we need to be willing to have the discussion. I think it's been in many ways a sort of third-rail issue that just hasn't been debated. They should be willing to talk about things that Colorado has in place, like universal background checks, we should have that nationally no matter where you are to prevent criminals from illegally purchasing weapons. In Colorado, there's a lot of discussion around — we already have universal background checks — but around creating a way that there can be a temporary court order for somebody who's a danger to themself or others, having a mental health crisis, to temporarily lose access to their weapons until they can recover and once again administer those safely.

"We're certainly a state of gun owners, a state of sportsmen and hunters, of people who own guns for home defense. There's nothing at all inconsistent with our Second Amendment rights and sensible, reasonable gun safety laws like universal background checks, and like a way to prevent people that are having a mental health crisis from purchasing an arsenal of weapons."

Lynn Menegon produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on January 23, 2019.


Headshot of Jeremy Hobson

Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



More from Here & Now

Listen Live