Jared Polis on Iraq, Amendment 41, Gay Rights: Interview II

Jared Polis worked on his first political campaign when he was 13 years old, his maturing voice cracking over the phone as he attempted to convince voters to support Michael Dukakis for president. Now Polis speaks for his own campaign, to be the Democratic nominee for Congress from the 2nd Congressional District.

He’s interested in serving the public in Congress because “so many issues that we face here in Colorado and locally have a federal nexus. I think the best leverage point for me to devote myself is action at the federal level.”Those issues include health care, energy, environment and, of course, Iraq. Polis said he does not support the recent decision by congressional Democrats to back away from threat to cut of funding for the war unless firm deadlines for withdrawal as established.

“Funding is the main leverage that Congress has, and I strongly oppose backing off of using the threat of withdrawing funding to force President Bush to commit to a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq,” Polis says.

“I believe that war was a disaster. I was against it when President Bush started it, and I think that the sooner we can extricate ourselves, the better. I think at this point we need to define our success as withdrawal and minimizing American casualties, making sure there is an Iraqi government intact, facilitating international forces and assistance for the Iraqi government, and making sure that we have a long-term commitment in place to rebuild Iraq.

“Whether America stays in Iraq or leaves, I believe conditions will very likely deteriorate, but I don’t see any long-term strategic advantage to a surge in troops or a long-term presence.”

On health care, Polis says the nation is spending too much for too little return.

“We have a girl at New America school” — the charter school Polis sponsors for immigrant children  — “she’s uninsured, and she’s diabetic. Diabetes is an addressable condition, and relatively inexpensive to address and live a normal life, if you manage the disease correctly,” he says.

“But because she was uninsured, it actually came to the point of kidney failure where she needed emergency dialysis, and now needs very expensive dialysis procedures, which she gets on an emergency basis at a great cost to taxpayers, when we could have had for a much lower cost a vastly superior patient outcome … The emphasis on preventative care has got to be a critical component of any national health care reform plan, particularly with regard to uninsured and the underinsured.”

Polis does not see a “single-payer” plan as necessarily the solution to health care’s failures, however. Just changing to a single payer system, he says, does not address the underlying conditions that drive costs.

Polis also says that President Bush has not taken a leadership role on the development of alternate energy source to both wean the nation from dependence on foreign oil sources and move to cleaner energy to fight climate change and other environmental consequences of the carbon economy. “We need leadership at the presidential level and the congressional level to drive America through this incredibly important transition to cleaner, alternative energy.”

Polis was a major financial backer of last November’s Amendment 41 ethics-in-government amendment. The amendment has been criticized as poorly worded. Critics have charged that it could prevent University of Colorado professors from accepting Nobel Prizes, or children of state employees from accepting college scholarships. At one point, Polis took some heat for apparently agreeing with this assessment. ColoradoPols.com, for instance, says Polis “couldn’t have done a worse job handling Am. 41 debacle.”

But Polis may have taken the glove back off on this question. He said in our interview, “It’s a strong ethics-in-government issue here in the state. The only confusion was among the opponents of Amendment 41, who would like it to mean all sorts of horrible things. But it simply doesn’t. It’s a strong ethics code and one that Coloradans can be proud of. And I think we need the same kinds of ethics reforms and bans on lobbyists gifts in Washington, D.C.”

On issues important to the congressional district, Polis cited transportation as an important one. the federal government is important in the future of the I-70 corridor, he said, and whether the area would be served by high-speed rail. “We have to look at the needs of the communities along the corridor,” he said.

One nearly inescapable phrase about Polis’s candidacy is that, if elected, he would he the “first openly gay representative” from Colorado. Curiously — to me, at least — is that this question has largely been greeted with a shrug by both the voters and the pundits. An issue that would have meant a candidate’s immediate downfall only a few years ago is now scarcely a factor in the discussion. Conservative Rocky Mountain News editorial page editor Vincent Carroll wrote a long piece virtually endorsing Polis’s bid for the seat — but he never even mentioned that Polis is gay.

Polis says marriage is a right whether one is gay or straight, and calls the battle for gay rights the civil rights struggle of the era. But he is not so satisfied with the progress that’s been made so far.

“It’s really come a long way on human rights for all Americans, but we also have a long way to go,” he says. “There was a recent hate crime in Boulder against a young lesbian. That was literally right outside where I live, ten feet from my apartment building door.

“And of course it was only last year that Colorado voters rejected full domestic partnership rights for domestic partners. Now in this congressional district, that passed. But the nation certainly has a long way to go reach full equality for all citizens.

Polis’s announced opposition for the Democratic nomination are State Sen. President Joan Fitz-Gerald and Boulder environmental activist Will Shafroth. No Republicans have yet announced a bid to replace incumbent Mark Udall.

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Dan Whipple

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