CD2 candidate Polis: A politician with a plan for every occasion

Jared Polis is a man with a plan – lots of them, actually.

Any conversation on the issues with the 2nd Congressional District Democratic candidate almost inevitably begins with Iraq and how the United States can extricate itself from “the wrong war” and its $150 billion price tag.

He has a plan for that, one he helped write and is now endorsed by more than 50 other candidates for Congress, just as a he has a plan for universal health care and reforming public education.

The openly gay Boulder businessman’s penchant for planning and detailed written strategies on a variety of public policy issues are clearly a source of pride, something the 33-year-old former chairman of the Colorado State Board of Education said differentiates him from the other two Democrats running in the Aug. 12 primary — Joan Fitz-Gerald and Will Shafroth — particularly when it comes to the Iraq War.

“First of all, I’m the only candidate who does have a plan, and it does take a plan and not just rhetoric to end this war,” Polis said last weekend in Vail, where he was on his way to attend graduation ceremonies for the New America School for new immigrants that he funded and opened in Gypsum last year.

An Internet entrepreneur reportedly worth hundreds of millions, Polis points to the deficit spending on a war that is making America less safe by the day as one of the greatest hurdles to funding everything from highway improvements to better schools to mass transit to better forest management in the sprawling district from Boulder in the east to Gypsum in the west.

“It won’t begin to get better until we move past the military phase of our involvement and focus on diplomacy and the political healing process that needs to occur [in Iraq], but our ongoing occupation is counterproductive to that end,” Polis said, adding the war has emboldened America’s enemies such as al Qaeda, which now has a nearby focal point for its rage.

Beyond withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq as soon as possible, Polis said the United States needs to implement far more aggressively plans for energy conservation and the production of alternative fuels such as wind and solar energy.

“The costs of our reliance on fossil fuels are far more than just the costs of our entanglements in the Middle East,” he said. “It’s also the cost of losing our mountains right here in Colorado with the devastating impacts of pine beetles. Our mountains are dying.”

Polis draws a direct link between carbon emissions over the past decade and warmer winters that have allowed pine bark beetle larvae to flourish and therefore exacerbated an epidemic that has laid waste to more than 1.5 million acres of lodgepole pine trees in Colorado’s high country.

“This really hits at the core of all of our identity as Coloradans,” said Polis, who was raised in Boulder but spent a few weeks a year at his family’s home in Vail. “Our mountains are dying. They’re bleeding blood red, and we have great pride in our mountains. To see this is very painful and very difficult. It’s a very vivid example of climate change and global warming.”

He said federal funding for forestry projects to reduce the threat of wildfire in the district must be increased, and federal agencies such as the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which oversee public lands, must also do a better job of reaching out to local communities and private companies such as ski resorts to maximize mitigation efforts.

Along the Interstate 70 corridor connecting the Front Range to the mountain resorts, Polis favors a mass transit solution over widening, which he said would be obsolete by the time it’s completed. A special taxing district that includes the Denver metro area and the counties along the corridor should be asked to vote on a comprehensive mass transit package using existing European train technology, he said, adding that an I-70 mass transit tax will pass if there are matching federal funds.

“The high-speed rail solution is the best way that I’ve seen to ensure the continued economic development of the [mountain region] while doing it in a way that allows people to have a good quality of life with less traffic,” Polis said.

Polis launched an online division of his family’s Boulder greeting card and publishing business,, which he later sold for millions, then in 1998 launched online flower retailer, which again sold for a handsome profit. Despite his business success, he still wants to slash Bush’s tax cuts.

“In addition to ending the Iraq War, we also need to roll back some of the Bush administration tax cuts on some of the wealthiest Americans to help shore up our fiscal situation,” he said. “Complete lack of fiscal responsibility at the federal level is one of the things that’s led to the debasement of the dollar.”

And Bush’s No Child Left Behind education policy is another Polis target.

“It’s a very negative framework for education nationally,” he said. “It penalizes the schools that serve the kids and families that need help the most. It has a very superficial form of accountability in only three areas, and that’s all it look at is kids’ test scores in three areas, so you get a narrowing of the curriculum and a focus on the test taking rather than critical thinking and broad-based knowledge.”

Polis wants to reform No Child Left Behind, increase transparency in public education curriculum and results, thereby reducing reliance on standardized testing, and use federal funds to encourage innovation in school districts and charter schools. He’s added he’s a huge fan of dual-language immersion programs.

On the immigration front, he said it’s time for meaningful reform at the federal level, including a path to citizenship and increased guest-worker visas to satisfy the nation’s demand for labor, including the resort, construction and agricultural sectors in Colorado.

“There’s a disconnect between reality and our current immigration laws, so let’s find a way to eliminate that gorge and just have a practical, common-sense solution to meeting the needs of our country and our economy in a compassionate and humane way.”

This is the second of a four-part series profiling the candidates for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District.

Part 1: Will Shafroth’s profile

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail and Real Aspen.


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