How Jared Polis Gets What He Wants: A Portrait in Four Parts

There was a time when former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar (left, in the hat) was favored to win Colorado's governorship in 2018. When he decided not to run, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (right, smiling) announced his own bid, and immediately became the favorite. That is, until Jared Polis (middle), a five-term congressman from Boulder, jumped like a cannonball into the candidate pool. Perlmutter promptly dropped out, and Polis rolled to victory in the Democratic primary. Pollsters now agree he's the favorite to seize the governor's mansion in November. He's coveted the job since he was young. (Photo by Phil Cherner)

This is The Colorado Independent‘s complete four-part series on Jared Polis, Colorado’s Democratic nominee for governor. You can click directly to Part 1 (Polis’s early years and business career), Part 2 (Polis’s entry into Colorado politics and his role in the Democratic takeover of the state), Part 3 (Polis’s decade in Congress) or Part 4 (Polis’s run for governor).

You can listen to reporter Alex Burness discuss his series on Jared Polis on our Indycator podcast.

We’ve also written a four-part series on Polis’s Republican opponent, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

 

Part 1: Boy in a hurry

Thirty-two years ago, before Jared Polis was admitted to Princeton at 16, before he hit it big as a 20-something entrepreneur, before he ran for Congress and governor, and before he changed his last name, there was little Jared Schutz, an 11-year-old with a high-pitched voice, skipping school to address the city council.

At that time of his life, Jared played almost daily in an urban canyon near his family’s home in the uppercrust San Diego community of La Jolla, and one day some neighbors came by to inform his parents that developers sought to build condominiums in the canyon. The neighbors wanted to know if the Schutzes would lend their voices to a neighborhood campaign opposing the project.

Jared’s parents, Steve and Susan, are private people, and they told the neighbors they’d sit out the fight. But once the neighbors left, Jared, who’d overheard the conversation, asked his mom if it’d be alright for him to get involved.

So with his parents’ blessing, the fifth-grader went to the council chambers and listened to the condo pitch.

“It was a bunch of high-powered lawyers and developers, and they argued there were snakes and skunks and garbage (in the canyon) and that it wasn’t a safe place,” Susan recalls.

“Jared stood up and said, ‘Have you ever been in the canyon? There’s no snakes, there’s no garbage.’ He said, ‘I walk in it and play in it every day after school. It’s a beautiful place to be.’”

He spoke for about 10 minutes, and the council later surprised everyone by siding with Jared. The local newspaper quoted the mayor saying it was “that young man’s” speech that made the difference.”

Young millionaire

In a purple state that has elected just one Republican governor since 1975, and amid an anticipated national blue wave, Jared Polis, the five-term Democratic congressman from Boulder, is widely expected to beat state Treasurer Walker Stapleton and take the governor’s mansion in November. He’s up seven points, according to a poll released Oct. 2, jointly conducted by Democratic firm Keating Research and Republican firm Magellan Strategies.

It’s a seat the 43 year old has coveted since he was in college, and this campaign is in many ways a natural culmination of his political career. He’s a preternaturally ambitious person who’s always had an eye on his next move, and who’s always had the money to help himself get there.

In other ways, it’s a bit of a surprise that Polis is even a contender. He’s a Boulderite, and that’s not necessarily a plus in a statewide race. He’s got a proven record of thinking and acting independently, and has on more than a couple occasions rankled fellow Democrats by going rogue. He’s a nerd who doesn’t dress well, isn’t a gripping public speaker and is rarely described as charismatic. He’s also gay and Jewish — two identities never before seen in a governor of Colorado.

Friends and family say that in the three decades since he took on the developers in southern California, Polis has barely changed — save for his last-name switch, which he made at 25, he says, to honor his grandmother.

Those closest to him say that Polis knows what he wants and then out-thinks and out-works everyone else to get it. Now that he’s made his millions, he also outspends the competition. The combination of smarts, strategy and sharp elbows has won him admirers and detractors, but most have learned not to underestimate him.

A few years after Polis spoke before the San Diego City Council, the teenager told his parents he wasn’t interested in college and instead wanted to go straight into politics. His parents — self-described ex-hippies who founded a greeting card company that Polis would later convert to a hugely valuable website — told him that wasn’t an option.

He compromised with them: He wouldn’t forgo college, but he would get it out of the way as soon as possible. At 16, he applied to Princeton because he’d heard the school had a great politics department, and he was accepted. He left La Jolla Country Day, the private school he’d attended since kindergarten, after his junior year.

Princeton, Polis says, “admitted me despite my age and despite not having a high school diploma at the time, because they felt I was ready, and they were right — I was ready, and I really thrived there.” He adds, of high school, “It would have felt like a waste to me if I had to spend another year there.”

By the time Polis got to Princeton, he’d already spent a lot of time inside college classrooms, his mom says. He’d taken graduate courses in history and politics at the University of California, San Diego, as a high school freshman and sophomore, on top of AP courses at La Jolla Country Day.

Jerry Flieschhacker, who taught Polis in AP history, told the La Jolla Light newspaper that the staff at Country Day used to joke that Polis was so driven that he’d probably end up in Congress by 30. They were off by two years; he was elected to represent Colorado’s 2nd House District at 32.

Polis entered Princeton in 1992 after his junior year of high school, and his pace didn’t slow in college, where, as a politics major, he stood out even among a class of high achievers who were all a year older.

“Like a lot of people, I was just trying to keep my head above water in college. Most people were trying to,” said Derek Kilmer, who was one of Polis’s classmates at Princeton and who’s now a congressman from Washington state. “The average class load was four classes, and Jared was the guy who was taking seven or eight classes in a semester. He was just super smart and really hard working.”

He didn’t skimp on the extra-curriculars, either. He was active in Jewish life on campus, in a fraternity, in the Princeton Juggling Club and in the model congress. He was also the communications director for the student government, though he only took that position after running unsuccessfully, at age 19, for student body president. A December 1994 article in the Daily Princetonian detailed his campaign platform, which included disrupting the “exclusive clique” he’d observed among student leaders and increasing student government transparency by opening closed-door sessions to the public and the press.

He lost in a landslide to David Calone, who later became a federal prosecutor and New York congressional candidate.

During the student election in the fall of Polis’s senior year, in his capacity as communications director, he helped facilitate what he claimed at the time was the world’s first online election. Polis declared in the Daily Princetonian that he wanted the student government “on the forefront of the information revolution.” It was 1995, three years before Google would launch.

It was certainly true that Polis himself was on that forefront. He’s either founded or co-founded about 20 companies, and his first was American Information Systems, an early internet service provider operating mostly in the Chicago area. Polis and a couple friends started with a few servers in their dorms.

Princeton classmate Sue Suh, who’s now a talent recruiter in New York, says Polis demonstrated a deep understanding of the internet at a time when such expertise was almost unheard of.

“Our freshman year, we walked in and our residential advisors took us down to the computer cluster and said, ‘Hey, there’s this thing called email that we’re setting up for everybody, so you’ll learn more about that,’” Suh says. “With Jared, not only did he get email and the whole dot-com thing, but he was always looking at how to scale up a really big idea to impact as many people as possible in a positive way.”

A California company bought AIS for $23 million in 1998, two years after Polis graduated. At a time when most of his classmates were trying to make good impressions at their first jobs, Polis was, at 23 years old, a self-made millionaire. He’d gotten into Harvard Law School, but he deferred enrollment to stick with business, and never ended up attending.

Jonathan King, who also worked at AIS, said the money didn’t seem to change Polis.

“He’s not walking around with flashy things. He’s not someone who’s focused on money. He’s much more interested in building,” says King, who’s now a tech executive in St. Louis. “He was operating at an early age at a senior executive level, and he really carried himself that way. And he literally is the same guy today as he was then.”

Jared Polis applied to Princeton University when he was 16 years old. He graduated in 1996. (Photo courtesy of Susan Polis Schutz)

Polis doesn’t, in many respects, carry himself like one of the richest Congress members in history, with a net worth that’s estimated to be over $300 million. But it can’t be said that he isn’t focused on money; he’s long been interested in and unusually skilled at enriching himself, and others, in unexpected ways. In high school, Polis says, he bought scrap metal and other used government goods — including, once, an order of 1,000 rubber galoshes — and flipped them for profit. He also spent a summer in Moscow trading commodities at age 17.

During college, in between the heavy coursework and the clubs and the internet business, Polis found small opportunities to make big money. In 1994, for example, he bought a rare collection of postage stamps, then sold them for more than $1,000. He called it “blind luck” — he bought the stamps for mailing purposes, then discovered the collection had just been recalled due to an error — but also told the Daily Princetonian, “I sort of keep track of the stamp world.”

Polis, King says, is driven.

“He uses up every piece of his day, and he has for a long time,” King said. “He’s always been busy and going and productive.”

He even found a way to monetize his own last name.

He was born Jared Polis Schutz and, ahead of his 25th birthday, announced to his friends that he was going to change his name. He kept everyone in suspense about what the new name would be, and organized a fundraiser around the announcement, bringing in $40,000 for leukemia research before revealing the anti-climax that his new name would be Jared Schutz Polis.

“It was kind of a letdown to people,” he laughs today.

“You’re crazy”

Polis was born in Boulder in 1975, the eldest of three. His younger siblings, Jordanna and Jorian, were also high achievers who graduated from Harvard and MIT, respectively. Jorian lives on a farm in Virginia and Jordanna works with early-stage companies and splits time between Boston and Boulder.

His parents moved to San Diego when he was 5, but the family returned to Colorado regularly, spending time both in Boulder and at the family cabin, which they still own, in Vail. (Polis also has a home in Weld County and says he’s selling his D.C. home, but declined to answer whether he owns homes elsewhere.) Every summer, his family would ride in an RV between southern California and Colorado, stopping along the way at Hopi and Navajo reservations.

Unlike their eldest, Steve and Susan Schutz aren’t naturally comfortable with either entrepreneurship or being the centers of attention. But they stumbled into both when Jared was young, as their greeting card company, Blue Mountain Arts, gained some prominence and sued Hallmark Cards for $50 million in the mid-’80s for allegedly copying its designs. They won an undisclosed amount of money in a settlement with Hallmark. “We bought the place in California mainly because Stephen and I were getting pretty well known, and we don’t like to be known,” Susan said.

Steve holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and, like Polis, is an expert with computers. When Jared was a senior in college, Steve wanted to say hello to his son with an electronic greeting card — a simple project that flashed digitally with a happy birthday message.

There was money to be made there, Polis recognized. In 1999, just one year after selling American Information Systems, amid excitement over the enormous potential of e-cards, Polis led the sale of his family’s business to Excite@Home for $780 million. It was one of the most extraordinary cash-outs of the dot-com era, and the acquisition turned out to be a flop for Excite@Home, which flipped Blue Mountain two years later for just $35 million. That deal made Polis even richer, and he didn’t stop there. Best known among his dozen-plus other successful businesses is ProFlowers.

In 2000, when ProFlowers was a seed of an idea, Polis phoned Bernd Lutz, a German man 20 years his senior who’d made his name as an early pioneer in online payment processing. Polis flew Lutz out to San Diego, and the two of them, plus Steve, went for a meal at a country club. Seated at a poolside restaurant, they mapped out Polis’s vision on paper napkins.

The idea was to make it easier for people to buy floral arrangements by connecting them directly to growers. But this would require a lot of tricky logistics — tying in with FedEx’s systems and being able to track pick-up and delivery in real-time. It’s the sort of technology that, today, anyone can use to order lunch or buy a book on Amazon. But 18 years ago, it was only early in establishment.

“I said, ‘Jared, you’re crazy,’” Lutz recalls. “We’re nobody, and this technology isn’t even out yet. Nobody’s done this before.”

Polis was vindicated in the years to come. ProFlowers sold for $477 million in 2006. Lutz now reflects on how the “crazy” idea turned into nearly half a billion dollars.

“Jared is the person that has a big vision for something that challenges the status quo. It’s never too far-fetched. It can be done with the right people, with the right resources,” Lutz says. “He’s very deliberate. He never throws too much money or people at it.”

The same year Polis, Steve and Lutz scribbled their business plan on napkins, Polis was plotting an entirely different sort of venture — one in which he would prove willing to throw down unprecedented amounts of money.

Fourteen years had passed since he’d told his parents he wanted to go into politics, and, having made more money at 25 than he could possibly spend, he decided it was time.

 

Part 2: No one in Colorado politics saw Jared Polis coming

Ben Alexander made his living renting out apartments and mobile homes around the Western Slope town of Montrose.

Alexander, a Republican, was also a state senator, during which time he chaired the education committee and developed a keen interest in the subject. Those chops earned him an appointment to the Colorado State Board of Education in 1999 to fill a vacancy. In early 2000, at the age of 52, he decided he’d seek proper election to an at-large seat when his abbreviated term expired.

He had a modest campaign plan: He’d raise a few thousand dollars where he could, and make one campaign stop in the San Luis Valley.

Members of the State Board of Education aren’t paid, and board races historically get almost zero media attention, so Alexander was justified in figuring he could win with a tiny budget and no real campaign schedule. Plenty of others had.

Then one day in mid-2000, the board met in Denver and, as Alexander recalls, Gully Stanford, at the time the only Democrat on the board, told him to watch out because another Democrat was coming for his seat and was prepared to spend 100 times more money than Alexander was.

“I laughed,” Alexander, now 70, says from the offices of the property management company he still runs. “I thought, who in the world is going to spend a million dollars for a State Board of Education seat?”

The answer was Polis, the 25-year old Princeton grad who’d spent the bulk of his life in San Diego, and who’d been plotting to enter politics since fifth grade. By the time he entered the state education board race he’d developed a reputation as man who let little stand in his path. When he announced his run, he had more than smarts and stamina; he was a dot-com multimillionaire who would later go on to drop buckets of his own cash running for Congress and, now, governor of Colorado.

But at the time, Alexander, like most in Colorado politics, was unfamiliar with the name.

“So we find out that here’s this guy, he’s young, nobody knows who he is, and he’s gonna use the money he has for unlimited funding to make sure he can win the race,” Alexander says. “We decided we’d do what we could do and just let him do what he’d do.”

Here’s what Polis did: He bought a yellow school bus and criss-crossed Colorado, making stops in all corners of the state in the weeks that led up to the November election. He campaigned on a platform of attracting and retaining better teachers, updating classroom materials and devoting more resources to struggling public schools.

In the process, he spent $1.2 million of his own money.

“We all thought it was stupid,” says Lakewood’s Norma Anderson, a state legislator from 1987 to 2006. Laughing incredulously, she adds, “Who spends a million dollars that way? It wasn’t normal.”

Alexander, meanwhile, responded by doing what he’d planned to do all along: He made that appearance in the San Luis Valley, and when the occasional checks for $250 or $500 rolled in, he’d call up his advisor and they’d debate how best to spend the money. His campaign spent $10,000 in total.

“What else could I do?” Alexander says. “He essentially was using his money to buy the seat. He had his bus and he drove it all over and he did all these mailings. There was no way in the world I could compete.”

The incumbent rural property manager was as surprised as anyone when, the night of the election, he and the mega-rich 20-something insurgent were neck-and-neck. The race was too close to call.

Alexander says that when Polis was slightly ahead, but with the final, official tally still pending, he called to say he’d be declaring victory.

“I said, OK, but you might want to be careful before there’s an official count,” Alexander says. “There was a bit of arrogance on that side, like, ‘I’m ahead and I’m just gonna say I won before it’s over.’ ”

Three weeks after the election, state officials announced after a recount that Polis won by 90 votes. He’d spent $1.56 for every vote he won. Alexander had spent one penny per vote.

In debriefs over the next few weeks, Alexander says, his allies were in general consensus about Polis: “He’d used his money to buy a spot on the State Board of Education and get his foot in the door of politics. He wasn’t there just to serve on the board. He was there to establish a base to run for something else.”

A ‘real liberal’?

It is true that all along Polis aspired to something higher than serving on the education board, which is arguably the lowest-profile statewide office one can hold in Colorado.

But he didn’t choose that first political step at random.

His mother tells a story about his 8th grade class at La Jolla Country Day School taking a field trip across the border to a orphanage in Mexico. The young Polis noticed the children there had no books or pencils or paper, which, Susan Polis Schutz says, made a strong impression.

“That changed him,” Susan says. “We were talking about the importance of education and he was saying these kids don’t have a chance if they don’t have an education.”

Polis took that early interest to scale in 2004 when, midway through his first term on the state board, he founded New America Schools for young immigrants and undocumented students. New America Schools now has three charter campuses in Colorado and two in New Mexico. One year later, he founded the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver. The charter high school serves homeless and unstably housed people between the ages of 14 and 21, and graduates about 20 a year.

Both Democrats and Republicans who worked with Polis on the state board said he demonstrated a genuine commitment to education, and did not carry himself like someone biding time before his next big move.

“I was surprised someone would spend that much money on a campaign for a job that doesn’t pay anything, but it didn’t bother me that he was young. I thought it was great that a young man with a lot of resources was that interested in education,” says Pat Chlouber, a Republican who served with Polis on the board and was later appointed by George W. Bush to be a regional director for the U.S. Department of Education.

Several former state officials used the word “thoughtful” when asked what Polis was like early in his political career. It’s a word people across the political spectrum use today, too, to describe him. In conversation, he comes across as curious and engaged, but can be brisk to the point of brusque.

During the single six-year term Polis served on the board, he made his mark as a strong supporter of  school reform and for improving educational opportunity for the underprivileged. He regularly advocated for the boosting and protection of school funding.

Chlouber recalls that Polis was “unpredictable,” and just as likely to make alliances with Republican colleagues as he was to side against them. Polis has supported school choice and charter schools, which are generally popular with Republicans and opposed by left-wing Democrats.

“I never thought of him as being a real liberal,” she says.

His hard-to-pin-down politics were complemented by behavior his colleagues — mostly Republican and all much older than he — say they had never seen from a board member.

In a protest of religiosity in state business, Polis followed the lead of fellow Democratic board member Evie Hudak by standing outside the boardroom while other members kicked meetings off in prayer. He’d display his now notoriously unsensible fashion sense, pairing Armani suits with sneakers. And he sometimes dressed up in judge’s robes when the board would hold quasi-judicial hearings on charter schools.

“I wanted to reflect that mindset, remove political considerations, and fulfill (the) role in an unbiased way — and dressed accordingly,” he says.

Chlouber recalls a day that her secretary phoned to say Polis wanted to wear a robe. “It wasn’t for me,” she says, “but I thought he should wear whatever he wanted to.”

“Money, money, money, money”

A few years after bursting onto the political scene with his bus and million-dollar campaign, Polis began to make a name for himself as a fundraiser for the Democratic Party.

It was a role that, like so many things in Polis’s life, he’d been preparing for since he was a kid.

Boulder’s Josie Heath, a former Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, remembers Polis, while in high school, volunteering to help her while he was in Colorado over the summer. He was assigned to package brochures and lick envelopes.

“After a little while, he said, ‘I’d like to do more. I’d like to help with fundraising,’” Heath says, laughing at the memory. “He was 15. I was like, ‘Really?’ Well, he was just remarkable. Absolutely remarkable. He would call people and talk with them. He didn’t say he was 15. He was just very professional. I was overwhelmed to think that this kid really knew how to do it.”

“He was well beyond his years in experience and savvy and having the sense of what needed to be done.”

In 2003, Polis teamed with other wealthy Democratic donors who together became known as the Gang of Four. It included Pat Stryker, a billionaire whose family owned the Fortune-500 medical supply company Stryker Corporation; Tim Gill, who made half a billion dollars selling his stake in the software company he founded, and who has donated more money to LGBTQ causes than any other individual in U.S. history; and Rutt Bridges, a software developer and venture capitalist with centrist politics and — at the time, anyway — his eyes on the governorship. (Foundations founded by Stryker and Gill are both longtime funders of The Colorado Independent.)

Polis, at 29, was the baby of the group. The Gang of Four is credited with flipping Colorado’s state legislature from red to blue in 2004 by pouring more than $3 million — a huge sum at the time — into its effort to oust Republicans, and specifically those who opposed gay marriage. They bankrolled ads, targeted vulnerable opponents and recruited promising young Democrats to run for office.

As has been widely reported, that election was seen as a turning point for Democrats in Colorado – the year the state party, long known for internal conflicts and lack of organization, became coordinated, strategic and virtually unbeatable.

Several Democrats interviewed for this story said that 2004 was the first time they felt supported by real financial muscle in state races, and most agreed that the Gang of Four is the biggest reason the Democratic Party started winning in Colorado. In 2004, Republicans controlled both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats, a 5-2 majority of its congressional seats, the governor’s mansion, both chambers of the state legislature, and the offices of the secretary of state and treasurer. By 2008, the exact opposite was true.

In an interview about the Gang of Four and the 2004 election, Polis told author Robert Frank, “It was more about what the Republicans didn’t do. They weren’t dealing with any of the problems the state faced, like the huge budget deficit.”

Democrat and Republican party leaders who recall the Gang’s spending know better than to understate what all that money meant to the election.

“Money, money, money, money,” Anderson, who was the Senate majority leader at the time, says when asked what she remembers about the Gang of Four’s impact. “They buried the Republicans in money.”

Says Heath: “Even though I’m really a populist about politics and would like to think that anyone can get in the race, there’s a reality in American politics and all the dark money out there.”

The Gang bought the legislature, alleges former Republican state Sen. Bruce Cairns, of Aurora, in a call. Cairns was among the GOP incumbents ousted in 2004, and he remembers walking into the state Capitol building after the election, and feeling like “a tornado had hit.”

“Colorado politics has never been the same since,” he says, adding that the Gang kicked off “a lurch to the left, a lurch to something much more socialistic, a lurch to groupthink, a lurch to the Democratic Party being in control.”

The success of the Gang of Four raised Polis’s profile, upping his stock, and it became a springboard into his next move: the jump from the back rows of statewide office to Washington, D.C. and a seat in Congress.

 

Part 3: In Congress, the so-called “Boulder liberal” hasn’t always acted like one

In 2008, Mark Udall was giving up his seat in Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District to run for U.S. Senate. The since-redrawn district then covered Boulder County, Thornton, Northglenn, Westminster and mountain towns along I-70. It now includes Fort Collins and Loveland as well.

Though Polis spent most of his childhood in southern California, his family would frequently return to Boulder and to their cabin in Vail. Polis moved back to Boulder after college and met his partner, Marlon Reis, there. The two are raising their children in a luxury condo off of Pearl Street.

When his second hometown’s congressional seat came open, he pounced.

Before he entered the race, many had seen Joan Fitz-Gerald, Colorado’s first woman state Senate president and later that chamber’s minority leader, as Udall’s heir apparent. All three of Polis’s past Gang of Four allies — Gill, Bridges and Stryker — endorsed her.

At that time, Polis had also rankled Democrats, Republicans and lobbyists alike by bankrolling Amendment 41, a 2006 ballot measure that created the Colorado Ethics Commission and put rigid limits on gifts legislators and public employees can receive from lobbyists. It was partially inspired by a report from Colorado Common Cause that found lobbyists paying for access to lawmakers with expensive meals and sports tickets.

The measure banning lawmakers from taking any gifts at all from lobbyists and prohibiting public employees and their families from receiving gifts valued above $50 was lauded as a step — albeit an imperfect one — toward loosening the grip big business has on the state. Voters approved it by a nearly two-to-one margin on Election Day in 2006.

Still, the amendment deteriorated some relationships at the Capitol, and had the effect of regulating gift-giving so strictly it created a slew of unintended consequences.

Lobbyists couldn’t so much as buy lawmakers cups of coffee with clear consciences under Amendment 41, which some around the Capitol started calling Jared’s Law. Then-state Sen. Norma Anderson, a Lakewood Republican, said she couldn’t spend more than $50 on her grandchildren because her daughter was the clerk and recorder in Jefferson County at the time. The Denver Post reported a planning commissioner in northern Colorado resigned because two of her children were receiving scholarships at the Colorado School of Mines, and she said Amendment 41 put her in conflict. And a campus cop in Denver said Amendment 41 chilled his free speech rights because he couldn’t collect more than $50 from co-workers for a fundraiser to help someone whose son had died.

Polis acknowledged that the measure could have been better worded, but defended its creation of a formal process for ethics complaints to be evaluated, which did not exist previously.

Looking back now, says Boulder Democrat Alice Madden, the former House majority leader, “there were certainly a few hiccups along the way … but I think it has been a good thing for the state.”

When Fitz-Gerald and Polis squared off in the primary in 2008, Fitz-Gerald raised almost $2 million, but Polis flexed his financial might just as he had in his run for the education board, pouring $7.3 million, mostly from his own bank account, into what that year would end up among the most expensive primary contests in the country. Polis’s self-funding in that campaign smashed previous state records since and has been eclipsed only by his gubernatorial bid this year.

Polis won the seat by defeating Fitz-Gerald by 4 points in the Democratic primary before beating Republican Scott Starin, a veteran of the aerospace industry, by 23 points in the general election.

During the campaign, Polis came out publicly as gay. His friends and family had known since he was in college, but, he says, he felt an uncomfortable pressure to tell the world before the election. The Boulder Daily Camera broke the news.

“What was a little weird was it had to be sort of official and in print, because otherwise it looked like I might be hiding something, even though I wasn’t. There had to be something on record,” he says today.

Polis has never been one to emphasize his sexuality — or much of anything personal — during his campaigns.

If he wins the governorship in November, he’d become the first openly gay man ever elected governor in the United States. He’s also a practicing Jew who’s one of just two Jewish people elected to the House of Representatives from Colorado (Ken Kramer is the other), and he could become the first in the state to be elected governor. Rarely has he mentioned his faith or sexual identity in his campaign, though during the primary he did give a speech to Democrats saying he would be proud to be the first openly gay elected governor in the country — a sentiment he punctuated with the declaration, “Take that Mike Pence.”

“I don’t wear any of those things on my sleeve,” he says. “But I’m happy to talk about them whenever they come up.”

His family, notably, is also not much of a feature in his campaign. Reis, a writer who Polis says spends most of his time taking care of their kids, Caspian and Cora (ages 7 and 4), is not often seen on the trail, and is almost never heard from. He’s given only a handful of interviews since Polis entered politics, and a spokeswoman for Polis’s campaign declined a request to speak with Reis for this story. The campaign also declined to respond when asked what kind of writer Reis is, and whether he remains active in that role.

This June, on the night Polis secured the Democratic nomination for governor, The Independent approached a joyful Reis while he was celebrating the win with supporters, and asked for an interview. He agreed, but seconds later Polis swooped in and said, “He’s not doing any media. Sorry.” The interview never happened.

“We want to maintain the privacy of the family,” Polis later explained. “And so that’s why (Reis) and our kids are not out front in a public way.”

And yet, he ran an ad earlier this year featuring his son.

That he is gay and Jewish comes up much less frequently in public than the two words that have become more of an epithet in this campaign than a description: Boulder liberal. It’s generally invoked to mean pro-tax, socially liberal, self-righteous and snooty. Some believe that, when applied to Polis, it can also be a subtle reference to his sexuality.

“I do think that there has been a lot of coded language around Jared Polis being from Boulder and I do think there has been some homophobic undertones to a lot of statements,” Leslie Herod, the state representative from Denver, told The Independent this summer.

Polis has called some descriptions of himself “dog-whistle” attacks.

Still unpredictable

Since being elected in 2008, Polis has cruised to four re-elections without any serious challenge. As a congressman, he has shown himself to be a bit unpredictable, just as he did on the state education board.

He’s on the record calling Ayn Rand one of his favorite authors. He opposed a ban on assault weapons after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2013, saying that it would violate the Second Amendment, though he’s since reversed that position. He supports privatizing the U.S. Postal Service, stands with Libertarians in opposing government surveillance, and even sits as the lone Democrat among Republicans on the House Liberty Caucus.

He surprised and offended some in his deep-blue constituency when in 2016 he supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a (now defunct) trade pact unpopular among many left-wingers who believed it was friendly to corporations but not to workers or the environment.

A review of Polis’s voting record in Congress shows his is a reliably blue vote — he’s sided against Donald Trump 84 percent of the time — but also that he has an above-average appetite for bipartisan legislation, as evidenced most directly by his experience on the House Rules Committee.

The committee, on which Polis has served for all 10 of his years in D.C., is the bouncer of Congress. Nothing gets to the floor without passing through it, and Rules members are tasked with deciding how long a bill should be debated and which amendments might be needed. Rules meets more frequently  than any other committee, often gathering for many hours at a time, at all hours of the day.

The Democrats have been out of power for four of Polis’s five terms, which means that he and fellow Democrats on Rules can’t stop legislation from reaching the House floor. They’re outnumbered nine to four, and so their task is to try to mitigate harm they perceive in bills where and when they can while understanding that the best they can usually hope for is a measure they find imperfect, but on which they feel they’ve made some meaningful indentation.

According to congressional records, Polis has pushed more amendments to the floor than any other Democrat on the committee — an indication of relative adeptness at working with Republicans. He’s dogged and comes to committee meetings better prepared than most, says his Democratic colleague and fellow Rules member Jim McGovern of Massachusetts..

“It’s the place democracy goes to die,” McGovern says of the committee. “Republicans are afraid of a fair fight and I think what Jared tries to do is ensure there is a fair fight.”

McGovern and several others interviewed for this story say Polis isn’t exactly the type to cut backroom deals or twist arms, but rather that he’s opportunistic, and gets his way by forging unlikely partnerships.

“He’s someone who is good at convincing you that it’s in your interest to favor a particular issue,” McGovern said. “He has the skill to persuade people, to try to build relationships with people nobody thinks he would.”

Former staffer Danielle Oliveto recalls that during staff retreats, “Jared would always bring in people from the other side to talk to us. No matter how many of us would groan to have some guy come in from some libertarian organization, he wanted us to have that mentality.”

According to the nonpartisan watchdog GovTrack, Polis was 11th most effective last year among the House’s nearly 200 Democrats at securing bipartisan co-sponsorship of his bills and resolutions. Since 2008, he’s co-sponsored legislation with 72 different Republicans, including 10 bills with U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora.

Adds former Polis staffer Kristin Lynch, “Once he’s looked at a problem and made a decision, he’s relentless in getting things done, and that’s when you see, sometimes, some strange bedfellows.”

Little scrutiny

When it comes to liberal causes, the Rules Committee is often the only place any fight goes down, since Democratic legislation is unlikely to ever see daylight in the Republican controlled House. For all his relative success in working across the aisle, Polis, like other Democrats, doesn’t get his way very often. He has offered up the Dream Act as an amendment six times this Congress, for example, and has failed each time.

Polis has been a primary sponsor on only two bills that were enacted, and both concerned issues specific to his district. A representative’s total number of enacted bills is not necessarily an accurate measurement of effectiveness, particularly if he or she is a member of the minority. Polis has made his mark more by pitching in on causes related to two of his interests, education and technology. Congressional colleagues say he played a critical role in helping to thwart internet censorship laws, including two bills in 2012 that would have shut down giant swaths of online content with little accountability or process. They also laud his work in the rewriting of No Child Left Behind. Almost half of the 168 bills he has sponsored as a congressman have concerned education.

The Colorado Independent reached out to several House Republicans who’ve worked closely with Polis. Many of them count Polis as a friend, and some have said so publicly over the years. But with the election coming up, none was interested in discussing the Democrat’s bid for governor.

U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall of Georgia, who works on Rules with Polis, has a “packed schedule” and couldn’t talk, a spokesman said. Ditto for another Rules colleague, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. Ken Buck, who represents northeast Colorado and also sits on Rules, never returned a call. A spokesman for Colorado’s Mike Coffman, whom Polis said years ago he “really likes,” called Polis a “two-faced liar,” telling The Independent that Polis hasn’t been nice to Coffman of late, then failing to follow up on an interview request.

The bulk of Polis’s day-to-day work in Washington has gone unnoticed in Colorado. That’s in part because there have been almost no local eyes on Polis’s work in Congress, save for a one-person Denver Post news bureau that no longer exists. Polis acknowledged in a recent interview that his congressional record has not been subject to much scrutiny from the Colorado press.

That’s been true in good times and bad. His effectiveness on matters including internet freedom, marijuana laws (he’s been a consistent and outspoken supporter of legalization) and education have gone mostly unreported in Colorado, as has the fact that he has a poor attendance record for House votes. Polis has missed 5.4 percent of votes since he entered Congress, which is more than twice as many as the average member. He says his attendance numbers dropped because of the votes he missed during the 2013 flood in his district and during the births of his kids.

In fact, the biggest story of Polis’s career as a congressman didn’t even take place in D.C. It was a fight he waged in Colorado four years ago over fracking — an episode that may have been a turning point for Polis in his recent transformation from firebrand to team player.

 

Part 4: Polis cut in line to run for governor. Now he’s playing it safe.

Sue Suh, Polis’s former Princeton classmate, recalls a meal she shared with her senior seminar shortly before graduating in 1996. Her professor took the class out for lunch, then asked what each student had planned for his or her future.

Her memory of that lunch stuck with her so vividly, she says, because of the way one classmate, a politics major from San Diego named Jared Schutz, answered the professor.

“Jared said, ‘I would love to be governor of Colorado,’” Suh remembers. “We were all, what, 21, 22 years old, and I definitely teased him for that. But really I was impressed that he had that vision for himself.”

Now 43 years old and 18 years removed from swapping Schutz for Polis, he may realize his vision in November, when Coloradans will vote to put him or  Stapleton in the governor’s mansion. But as recently as early last year, few – maybe not even Polis himself – had any sense that he would take his chance this election cycle.

As big a political surprise as Polis’s decision was get into the race, anyone who has paid close attention to his political career could well have seen it coming. He’s never been one to wait his turn. He came from nowhere to run for the State Board of Education at 25. He jumped the line in challenging and beating an establishment favorite in his run for Congress 10 years ago. His entire life, dating back to his early teens, has been propelled by a certain level of comfort developing and then following through on ambitious plans, often ahead of his time.

This was supposed to be Ed Perlmutter’s year — at least, that was the case once former U.S. Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced in March 2017 he wasn’t running. Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat who’s represented the north and west suburbs of Denver in Congress since 2007, launched his bid for governor in April. He’s well-liked in his district, experienced in Colorado politics, and was immediately viewed as a front-runner because of his longstanding connections with nearly every segment of the Democratic base, from environmentalists to labor to Hispanics to moderate suburbanites.

Before announcing his candidacy, Perlmutter had a conversation with Polis, his colleague in Colorado’s congressional delegation for a decade. Three sources with knowledge of that exchange say Perlmutter told Polis of his intentions, and Polis said he’d stay out of the way.

So, Perlmutter entered the race believing Polis would not enter the primary. It was an important thing to be sure of: Polis is smart, he’s similarly experienced in Congress, and he hasn’t lost an election since college. Perhaps most significant to Perlmutter’s calculus was Polis’s proven record of funnelling so much personal cash into his own campaigns that no opponent can hope to keep pace on the finance front.

In the weeks that followed Perlmutter’s announcement in the spring of 2017, however, Polis got to thinking that maybe he should enter the race, says a source close to both men who did not want to be seen as bad-mouthing Polis.

“It seemed like this spur-of-the-moment thing, where you could see the wheels turning in Jared’s mind, thinking, ‘Why should I leave this chance just to Ed?’” says the longtime Colorado political insider. “That makes it sound very ego-driven, but I think it was in large part.”

Two former staffers in Polis’s congressional office told The Independent they’d never seriously discussed a 2018 gubernatorial bid with the congressman. “Nobody expected it. His staff wasn’t prepared for this, and was surprised,” says the source close to Polis and Perlmutter. “I think Jared’s very smart and very sure of himself, and he acts on instinct oftentimes.”

Polis jumped like a cannonball into the pool of governor hopefuls on a Sunday in June of 2017, tweeting, “I’m running for Governor to protect what keeps CO special, 100% renewable energy, economy that works 4 all!” The candidate whose political climb was powered largely by his dot-com business success held an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit that same day.

Polis’s entry immediately changed the race: If nothing else, it put serious financial pressure on Perlmutter and the rest of the Democratic field, which at that time included Mike Johnston, Cary Kennedy and Noel Ginsburg.

Not one month after Polis announced his run, Perlmutter withdrew.

“It takes time and it takes money and it takes energy,” Perlmutter told a melancholy crew of supporters in Golden when he formally announced he was dropping out, “Putting all those together, I found looking down deep it was going to be a tough road to hoe.”

He said nice, if circumspect, things about Polis, and explained he didn’t feel the “fire in the belly” to stay in the race. He declined to be interviewed for this story, instead issuing a written statement in which he said his decision to withdraw was based on “a lot of factors.”

But Perlmutter almost certainly would not have quit had Polis stayed out of the race. It was widely understood that Polis was as much a factor in extinguishing Perlmutter’s belly-fire as anyone or anything else.

Polis denies having betrayed his longtime congressional colleague, who apparently recaptured his fire when he announced four months later that he’d seek re-election in the 7th District.

“He knew that there was a chance I was going to run. I think part of him hoped that I wouldn’t,” Polis said in a June interview. “We retained our friendship.”

“People always underestimate Jared”

The prospect of Polis winning the governorship — the most recent poll shows him seven points up on Stapleton — wasn’t a sure thing when he entered the race. He’d have to contend with a big and formidable field of Democratic primary opponents. Former state Treasurer Kennedy had strong backing from teachers’ unions and, in the first election since Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, seemed to harness the enthusiasm of voters eager to see Colorado elect its first female governor. Former state Sen. Johnston had the support of Michael Bloomberg and other deep-pocketed education reformers, and seemed to be energizing young voters. And Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne seemed early on to have the nod from the business community and her boss, Gov. John Hickenlooper.

In such a crowded field, many political observers wondered if Polis, who’d been labeled a “Boulder liberal,” could win statewide.

Polis had a slow start in the primary race, eclipsed by Kennedy, who dominated both the March caucuses and the April party assembly.

Even after Kennedy’s springtime run of success, Polis maintained a narrow lead in the polls, thanks to mailers, TV ads and get-out-the-vote efforts with which he carpet-bombed the state with his own cash, close to $1 million combined from the Sierra Club and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, plus a fraction raised from individual donors, whose donations he capped at $100 apiece.

Kennedy lost momentum when the independent PAC Teachers for Kennedy went after Polis and Johnston in an ad that offered misleading characterizations of the pair’s positions on education. By national mudslinging standards, it was mild stuff, but it made headlines in Colorado because the Democratic primary rivals had agreed ahead of time to keep their campaigns clean.

Gov. Hickenlooper, who famously once filmed an ad in a shower to demonstrate his commitment to clean campaigning, said he was “really disappointed” in the ad, which Kennedy didn’t denounce, and he publicly wondered whether it would hurt her in the primary. Polis released an ad in response, in which a group of teachers condemned Kennedy for breaking the clean campaign promise, and questioned whether her other promises could be believed.

On June 26, voters made clear whom they preferred. Not a half an hour after polls closed, it was clear that Polis, with 43 percent of the vote, would trounce Kennedy (26 percent), Johnston (24 percent) and Lynne (8 percent), to snag the Democratic nomination.

Polis spent $10 million of his own money on the primary alone, smashing a self-funding record he set 10 years prior. The money he poured into the race was so unprecedented that during one Democratic debate, Lynne lamented that the governor’s mansion appeared to be “for sale.”

Over the state’s previous eight general election cycles, only four other candidates – Republicans Joe Coors, Jack Graham, Pete Coors and Bob Beauprez – had put more than $1 million of personal cash into their races. Victor Mitchell, a candidate in this year’s Republican primary race for governor, joined that list when he spent about $4 million. But both Joe and Pete Coors plus Graham, Beauprez and Mitchell all lost.

Polis’s campaign bristles at any suggestion he’s tried to buy this race, and Polis himself said during one primary debate that he was only spending big in order to keep pace with Johnston. (He wound up outspending Johnston and his PACs by $3.5 million — almost as much as Kennedy’s camp spent in total.)

Polis is reluctant to discuss his wealth. This was apparent in recent investigations by The Aurora Sentinel and CBS4 into his finances. Polis, like Stapleton, has declined to release recent tax filings, which would give the public a better sense of his assets and net worth. Also like Stapleton, Polis says he has a blind trust, meaning he’s transferred control of nearly all of his assets — save for those related to private property and “legacy investments,” a spokeswoman told The Sentinel — to a trustee and no longer know what assets they’re holding. Polis says he does this to avoid any possible conflicts of interest, but his campaign would not comment when asked by CBS4 last month how much of his wealth is tied up in the trust.

Andy Schultheiss, a former staffer who ran Polis’s philanthropies a decade ago and later managed his congressional campaign, said money is only part of the story. Polis wins, Schultheiss says, because he has a loyal army of supporters. He’s especially popular in Boulder, in the cannabis industry, the tech world, among LGBTQ groups and young voters. He leads Stapleton by 54 points among 18-34-year-olds, according to an Oct. 2 poll.

“People always underestimate Jared politically. Every time,” Schultheiss says. “A lot of people assume that the only thing he has going for him is his pocketbook. It’s not true. If you actually go to events with Jared, yeah, he’s goofy and he kind of dresses funny, but people really like him. He has this base that I don’t think a lot of people realize he has.”

Rosemary Rodriguez, a former Denver councilwoman, shares one example: Polis opened a chain of first-run Spanish-language movie theaters, opened schools for immigrant and undocumented kids and has advocated for fairer treatment of Latinos by police. People remember those gestures when elections roll around, she says.

“Jared has really put his neck out for a lot of individuals,” Rodriguez adds. “People in the community know who’s in their corner.”

Fracking flip

Well before the primaries were decided, Stapleton was talking about the urgency of defeating Polis. The state “can’t afford” Polis, Stapleton said over and over during the spring, and has said over and over in the months since.

Stapleton points to Polis’s campaign promises to provide free universal pre-K and kindergarten statewide. Polis says he’d pay for the program by building a “winning coalition” behind a ballot measure asking voters to increase taxes.

Stapleton also warns that Polis’s stances on oil and gas development would cost the state dearly. On almost every campaign stop, he mentions Polis’s record of anti-fracking involvement and says a vote for Polis could kill thousands of jobs in Colorado.

Republicans snipe at Polis’s support for single-payer health care and a statewide transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. They often portray the congressman as a radical progressive who, if elected, would usher in a much deeper blue era of politics than Colorado has ever seen.

Polis’s congressional record shows he has been a solid, if at times unpredictable, Democrat. But, not surprisingly, he has done what general election candidates for governor do: tack to the center.

The longtime ally to immigrant communities who founded charter schools that serve undocumented kids has, for example, downplayed the hot-button issue of sanctuary cities — that is, jurisdictions such as Denver and Boulder that limit public employee cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. His campaign website has a dropdown menu with a list of 13 different issues, including “CO workers,”  “blockchain,” and even “animal welfare.” Immigration is not among the 13, though he briefly addresses the issue under “agriculture.”

Polis’s lean toward the center can be seen in his opposition to a ballot measure that would increase the sales tax to pay for long-overdue transportation and transit needs in Colorado, and in his neutral position on Amendment 73, which would raises taxes on the wealthy to fund schools. But it perhaps most glaring on oil and gas drilling – the issue on which he made the most headlines and spent the most political capital before his bid for governor.

In 2013, Polis learned that an oil and gas company was fracking next to his second home in Weld County. He posted a short video in which he said he’d become a “face” of the anti-fracking movement. He spoke of the death of the “Colorado dream” that he and his partner, Marlon Reis, had carved out on their 50 acres near Berthoud — acreage that, to Polis’s chagrin, wound up abutting a drilling site.

Polis followed through on his video’s promise and put his weight — and money — behind stricter rules on fracking in Colorado. In 2014, he helped lead an effort to collect nearly 300,000 petition signatures for two proposed statewide ballot measures that terrified the state’s $30-billion oil and gas industry and its supporters. One would have required drilling rigs to be set back at least 2,000 feet from homes. The second aimed to add to the state Constitution a new “bill of rights” so local governments could have greater ability to set environmental protection laws.

Activists and homeowners who had been challenging the oil and gas industry’s increasing presence in residential areas lauded him at the time as the rare Colorado politician who was willing and could afford to stick his neck out on behalf of his constituents and his beliefs.

This move to limit fracking was bolder and riskier than his push for Amendment 41, the lobbying transparency measure that won him plenty of critics seven years earlier. Again, Polis went rogue, crossing not only the deep-pocketed oil and gas industry, but also the Democratic power structure led by Hickenlooper, a former oil and gas geologist who once famously drank fracking fluid as a sign of his confidence that drilling is safe.

Hickenlooper opposed the Polis-backed regulations on fracking both on the merits of the measures and for political reasons: to avoid an expensive and explosive ballot fight that year, when he and former Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall were seeking re-election.

After weeks of tense negotiations during the summer of 2014, Polis and Hickenlooper agreed to a compromise. Polis, in a rare turn, had backed down. The ballot measures were pulled.

The deal didn’t soften hard feelings among Hickenlooper and other party leaders who felt Polis’s action had endangered Democratic prospects throughout the ballot at a particularly sensitive time. Udall’s defeat that election to Republican Cory Gardner was a big blow to the party in Colorado and nationally.

Fractivists also felt Polis had forsaken them.

He’d scheduled a town hall event at a Boulder library for the day after the compromise was announced. When he showed up, he was mobbed by an incensed group of anti-fracking constituents who shouted “Shame!” and “You sold us out!” At that event, the documentary director Josh Fox, a national spokesman against fracking, described Polis’s agreement with Hickenlooper as a “betrayal.”

Some still aren’t over it. Polis was heckled by anti-fracking activists during a recent appearance at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s Energy Summit.

Anti-fracking protesters shout at Jared Polis outside a town hall in Boulder that was held the day after Polis agreed to a fracking compromise with Gov. John Hickenlooper. (Photo by Paul Aiken/Daily Camera)

“The problem with Jared is I’m not sure which Jared will show up,” the environmental activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez wrote in Facebook post this year. “Is it the Jared who collected the signatures to get local control and setbacks on the ballot or the Jared who pulled those same initiatives before Coloradans could vote on them?

Polis was asked about that criticism during a recent candidate forum. “People who believe in you as an environmental champion still sometimes get confused on where you are on setbacks and oil and gas,” the event moderator told him. “Make it make sense for people who are like, ‘Well, what are you doing?’”

Polis responded, “Well, I think people kind of understand that I try to push where I can to protect our health and safety, for greater setbacks that allow property owners to have more rights, and people also realize I have to operate in the political arena to accomplish things that often involve compromise.”

This year, the expensive, explosive fracking fight many feared in 2014 has made the ballot, despite the fact that oil and gas interests helped pass a measure in 2016 making it more difficult for citizen-initiated measures to qualify. In November, Colorado voters will decide on a measure that, if passed, would require drilling rigs to be set back at least 2,500 feet from occupied structures and protected areas, such as water sources. The industry says it would be crippled by the measure if voters approve it, and that the economic ripple effects would be devastating.

Polis the congressman led the charge for 2,000-foot setbacks. Polis the candidate for governor opposes the 2,500-foot setbacks. When addressing industry representatives at the Energy Summit, he indicated that, should he be elected, oil and gas interests would find in him an open-minded collaborator.

Delicate balance

To seize the office he’s coveted since college, the boy in a hurry, who became the almost-overnight multi-millionaire, who became the out-of-nowhere state education board member, who became the jump-in-front-of-the-line candidate for Congress and the congressman unafraid of a fight, is doing something new: playing it safe.

The outlier who irked the party establishment in 2014 was named state Democrat of the Year in 2017. Throughout this year’s campaign, he has adopted a tone more like a seasoned statesman well-practiced in the delicate balance that winning a purple state requires.

He predictably has dumped a heap of additional cash into the race — more than $8 million of his own money since July — and blanketed the airwaves with ads. Those TV spots portray him as an advocate for all Coloradans, but don’t convey any especially progressive stance.

He has mostly refrained from sniping back at Stapleton, whose campaign’s first TV ad of the general election aired Oct. 3. Every sentence besides the first — “I’m Walker Stapleton.” — is a criticism of Polis.

The governor’s contest to date has been so lacking vibrancy that Steve Welchert, a longtime Democratic political consultant and the former campaign manager for Ed Perlmutter, was quoted by the Denver Post as saying this “is perhaps the most boring race in Colorado history.”

Polis is drowning the state in mailers and ads that no doubt up his profile, but, Welchert observed in June, they are not doing much to help people know him, and he struggles ”to create warmth, imbue trust, get people to come around to him.”

During interviews, Polis can be careful to the point of being cagey. When The Independent asked him recently by phone, for example, how many homes he owns, he deferred to his spokeswoman, who was also on the call. “Do you have any information on that?” he asked her, as if he didn’t know. It didn’t sound much like the Polis of just a few years ago, who would text with reporters and seemed always available for a call.

Once at odds with Hickenlooper, the work-with-all-sides centrist, Polis now appears to be drawing from the governor’s playbook.  At this stage of the campaign, with ballots dropping soon, with a lead in the polls, in a year that favors Democrats, there is no margin in ruffling feathers.

Rutt Bridges, who in 2005 briefly ran as a Democrat for governor, says he sees Polis as more of a pragmatist than his reputation suggests.

“I think in a lot of ways, he’s the same kind of Democrat that Hickenlooper is,” Bridges says. “He’s capable of bringing that business perspective that a lot of other Democrats aren’t able to see as clearly. They’re both entrepreneurs by nature and by spirit.”

Hickenlooper is weighing a presidential bid. That’s one thing Polis says they’ll never have in common. Though his career to date has been defined by seemingly limitless ambition, Polis insists he’ll have reached his ceiling with the governor’s office. Asked whether he’d ever run for president, he says, “Of course not. I’m focused on being the best leader for Colorado that I can.”

That, of course, is what you’d expect a politician to say, but in Polis’s case, it’s the right question. If there’s one thing most striking about his career, it is the pace at which he moves — taking one very large step at a time.

This is The Colorado Independent‘s complete four-part on Jared Polis, Colorado’s Democratic nominee for governor. You can click directly to Part 1 (Polis’s early years and business career), Part 2 (Polis’s entry into Colorado politics and his role in the Democratic takeover of the state), Part 3 (Polis’s decade in Congress) or Part 4 (Polis’s run for governor). 

You can also listen to reporter Alex Burness discuss his series on Jared Polis on our Indycator podcast.

Coming next week: a four-part series on Polis’s Republican opponent, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton

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