Littwin: It wasn’t just Polis who made history — it was also Colorado’s voters

Jared Polis is sworn in as Colorado's 43rd governor on Jan. 8, 2019. (Photo by Evan Semón Photography for The Colorado Independent)

It wasn’t just Jared Polis who made history as the first openly gay man to be sworn in as governor of any state. 

Most of that history was made by Colorado voters. And by Colorado politicians, for whom I’ll take a moment to actually say something nice. It’s almost as if democracy can still work in America.

During the long campaign, the fact of Polis’s sexual orientation was rarely mentioned. There were no ugly anonymous attack ads or mailers. There were no snarky digs that I heard. The fact that Polis is gay was basically a non-factor in the race, which Polis won handily over Walker Stapleton.

I don’t mean that anti-LGBTQ bigotry is a thing of the past — any more than racism or anti-Semitism or ethnic hatred or xenophobia belong to the past. And, in case you missed it, the Masterpiece Cakeshop baker/artist is back in the courts and back in the news, this time for refusing to bake a cake for a transgender woman celebrating the anniversary of her transition.

But if some people didn’t vote for Polis because he’s gay, it couldn’t have been many. And if anyone is still talking about “special rights” for gays in Colorado, it’s clear you can’t say that today without it sounding like a slur.

The truth of the moment is as clear as Polis taking the inaugural stage alongside his partner, Marlon Reis, who is now Colorado’s first first gentleman, and their two kids. I don’t know which is more significant — that a gay man was elected governor or that it wasn’t an issue that the man (always a man, by the way, in Colorado) elected governor happened to be gay.

We know the history. We know the anti-gay, hate-state Amendment 2 from 1992. We know the anti-gay-marriage amendment that restricted marriage to one man and one woman in 2006. We know the lengths that then-Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, spurred by the religious right, went in order to block legislation that would have legalized civil unions. Not gay marriage, remember, which then seemed like a distant dream, but civil unions. That was in 2012, a blink in time.

Think of all that has happened during that blink.

In his brief address, Polis acknowledged how far we have come by making the point without making it too directly. Because, at this point, acknowledgement is enough to say that Colorado did more than talk the talk, it voted the vote. The only shocking part is how unshocking it all is.

“I must begin by saying I’m very conscious of the fact that there were many brave people over the years who made it possible for someone like me to be standing here giving a speech like this,” Polis said as he began speaking., just after taking a selfie of himself with the crowd in the background — another Colorado inauguration first, I’d guess.

“I am grateful and forever indebted to those who came before me – who struggled for equal rights, who stepped up for public service in all forms, who made difficult sacrifices and worked faithfully toward a brighter future for our state, our nation and our world,” Polis said.

It was a day of firsts, of course. Polis is now also the first Jewish governor of Colorado. Not so many years ago, Polis’s religion would have been an issue as well.

Instead, it was the diversity inaugural. There’s nothing unusual about that, of course. It’s entirely unremarkable that the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus was part of the entertainment. Nor was it remarkable that poets on stage would speak of overcoming injustice. Or to see four former governors striking a non-partisan pose with Polis for the cameras. Or, for that matter, to hear likely-presidential-candidate John Hickenlooper, in his farewell speech, joking that he was going back to being a “private citizen of Colorado.”

I have no idea what kind of governor Polis will be, other than the first to wear blue sneakers to work. Polis didn’t talk much about policy Tuesday, just a few basics. He didn’t offer any grand designs or even not-so-grand ones. Presumably, he saved that for the state of the state address before the legislature on Thursday. What he talked about mostly was how great Colorado is, which is what Colorado governors generally do.

It was all perfectly normal. Which is exactly what everyone could have expected.


  1. Mr. Littwin has elevated burying the lede to an art form.

    Hiding in the column’s last paragraph is this disclaimer: “I have no idea what kind of governor Polis will be”

    Damned by faint praise

    Mr. Littwin prefers to gloss over “disagreements” with Democrats but some disagreements are difficult to ignore regardless of how hard you try. Ten years ago Polis claimed partial responsibility for putting the Rocky Mountain News out of business. As a former employee of the Rocky Mountain News Mr. Littwin was not amused.

    “Then I picked up the paper to see that Rep. Jared Polis (D-Anti-Newspaper) claimed (confessed?) that he and the “new media” had together killed off the Rocky Mountain News — and I can only wonder, as one of the survivors, if I’m next.”

    But Mr. Littwin didn’t stop there. He called Polis “the worst person in the world. I usually reserve that spot exclusively for Tom Tancredo, but, hey, we all move on.”

    You can understand why Mr. Littwin is more than a little reluctant to admit to readers he considers Governor Polis, a Democrat, not only “the worst person in the world” but lower than Tom Tancredo. You can’t make that stuff up!

    His disagreements with Polis didn’t stop there.

    In 2015 he accused Polis of helping the anti-Islam right by voting “for a bill that nearly everyone believes is a not-so-subtle message that Americans think it is dangerous to allow more Syrian refugees (read: mostly Muslims) into the country as a way to convince Americans that we should allow more Syrian refugees into the country.”.

    And Mr. Littwin was also critical of Polis’ approach on fracking:

    “Polis is an ambitious guy who hit upon an interesting idea — he would use his money (he always uses his money) to force all the parties in the fracking debate to the table, whereupon they’d work out a compromise (or else), and he’d be the hero or maybe the anti-hero, which, to Polis, is much the same thing.”

    That quote points to an even bigger bone of contention: Jared Polis’ money. As Mr. Littwin has frequently mentioned he doesn’t “like the fact of a rich guy putting so much of his own money into his races and see(s) little difference from taking large amounts of money from someone else.”.

    And Mr. Littwin also pointed out to readers:

    “Jared Polis ……has a wobbly past on assault weapon bans”

    That Mr. Littwin will have future disagreements with Polis is a given, but what isn’t as obvious is whether he will admit them.

  2. All that republicans have left nowadays is to try and put words in the mouths of others in order to try and create division.

    Don Lopez is exhibit A. Nothing nice to say, just hoping that he can stir up stuff and make trouble.

    repubs are horrible for democracy – from the current occupant all the way down to pot-stirrers like exhibit A. SAD!

  3. Byron,

    “Nothing nice to say”

    Are you serious? Here’s a link to a column I commented on that Mr. Littwin wrote last October. Read my comments and while you’re at it read the comments Mr. Littwin added.

    Nothing nice to say. Really????

    And the only way I can “stir up stuff” is with your cooperation. Are you suggesting that only “positive” comments be allowed?

    Do you have a problem with Mr. Littwin’s promise to be ‘Fair and Unbalanced”? Why can’t a comment reflect that same promise?

    Your friend,

  4. Comrade Don, it sure seems as if you find it important to belong to a party in which blind allegiance is encouraged, if not required, regardless of facts and/or behavior.

    The demand for such loyal homogeneity from journalists, again without respect for ethical reporting, seems as well to be high on your list of priorities.

    Are you quite sure you wouldn’t feel not comfortable blogging from Moscow?

  5. Is there a big difference in priorities between Moscow, Russia and Moscow, Idaho? Considering Idaho’s fondness for Czar Trump, we kind of have to ask these days….as this is the rise of the New Red Scare.

    The difference, of course, is that this time it’s Liberals hunting down Conservative Russian Sympathizers…instead of Conservatives hunting down Liberal Russian Sympathizers.


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