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Governor candidate talks renewable energy, preschool in Valley visit

By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO Dist. 2) came to the Roaring Fork Valley last week to drum up support for his bid to become the next governor of Colorado, after incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper steps down in 2018 due to term limits.

Polis, who has represented the Boulder region since 2009, is hoping that a majority of Coloradans agree with him that the state needs to move decisively to achieve a portfolio of 100 percent renewable energy statewide within the next few decades, put together a statewide program of free preschool and kindergarten classes, and find a way to ensure that the state’s economy “works for everybody, not just a few CEOs,” he told an audience of local voters at a series of recent campaign stops in the Roaring Fork Valley.

An entrepreneur and philanthropist as well as a politician, Polis, 42, founded several businesses in his early working life, and regularly ranks as one of the wealthiest members of Congress, with a net worth of nearly $400 million, according to Wikipedia, the online reference site.

He is the only gay Congressman with two children, and is the current chair of the Red-To-Blue program of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works with Democrats running for election in competitive districts around the country, again according to Wikipedia.

In an interview at the El Korita restaurant in Willits on Aug. 3, Polis said of his two-day campaign swing here, that the events had been well-attended and productive: “It’s great to hear people’s perspectives about what they want their next governor to do.”

With that in mind, he said, “An important part of being an effective governor is to make sure you have a plan for the whole state, not just the Front Range, and that we all succeed or fail together.”

He noted that he is “no stranger to the valley,” having represented mid-valley residents when that part of Eagle County (El Jebel and Basalt) was in the 2nd District, prior to redistricting following the 2010 U.S. Census.

First among his top issues of the day was his plan “to transform our state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040,” which he said would be good for the environment and air quality, combat climate change and create jobs “that can never be outsourced” and moved overseas.

Asked if that level of renewable energy production is available today, he conceded, “Well, not yet, that’s why it’s for 2040.”

He said the state currently gets about 25-30 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and that “already, adding new wind energy costs less than adding new coal capacity, which is why Xcel hasn’t built any new coal-fired power plants.”

Solar energy technology is cheaper than coal, as well, he said, adding to the potential to reach the 100 percent goal sooner rather than later.

Another of his key goals, he said, is to set up a “coalition” of private and public partners to bring free, full-time preschool and kindergarten classes “to every community across our state,” an idea that has been slowly gaining traction around Colorado.

“Right now, it’s very hit-or-miss,” he said, maintaining that while some areas have full-day kindergarten or preschool programs, it is not always free and it is not available enough, “particularly in rural communities.”

“The early childhood years are the most important educationally,” Polis explained, and can have a profound effect on everything from later performance in schools to improving family dynamics in households where the parent or parents work full-time jobs.

And, he said, “It is not a red or blue issue,” stating that such Republican-majority states as Oklahoma have universal, full-day free kindergarten.

His other prime message, Polis said, was that “I’ll build an inclusive economy, where workers make more money, not just CEOs.”

In his own companies, he said, he offered stock options and other benefits that meant all his workers, not just the bosses, get the benefits when a company does well.

He said these initiatives will not be costly for taxpayers, as they will involve public-private partnerships and other non-traditional funding sources, as well as cooperation from the Colorado PUC to expand the state’s renewable-energy portfolio.

Noting that agriculture historically has been a crucial sector in the state’s economy, he said he favors the idea of legalizing hemp (the non-intoxicating form of the marijuana plant species), and has introduced federal legislation to remove prohibitions against the production and use of hemp for industrial applications.

He once flew a flag made of Colorado hemp over the U.S. Capitol dome for a day, he said, to make the point that hemp would be good for American farmers and industry.

He also called Colorado’s legalization of marijuana “a reasonable decision” and one he will continue to support regardless of the possibility of federal interference under the administration of President Donald Trump.

“I’ve been very concerned about the rhetoric from Attorney General Sessions, with his hostility to both medicinal as well as recreational marijuana,” Polis remarked. “I think that states ought to have the prerogative to decide how best to regulate marijuana.”

Over a wide range of topics, Polis offered ideas that he said seemed to jell with the thinking of much of the voting population of the Roaring Fork Valley.

He said he believes that commuter rail traffic, which ended several decades ago and which some have hoped to revive in the valley, seemed to be a sensible pursuit if it is financially feasible.

“I’m generally speaking, at the 20,000-foot level, a big supporter of passenger rail,” he said, particularly on the Front Range but also in other parts of the state.

“If there’s any way to make it work, I would support specific projects,” he said of the interest in bringing commuter trains back to the valley.

He also said he has been critical of the differential pricing for health insurance that has been in place under the federal Affordable Care Act, pointing to what he agreed is an unfair tilt toward higher insurance prices in the mountain resort areas.

“It makes no intuitive sense that somebody in Frisco should be paying 50 percent more (in premiums and other costs) than if you drive 20 miles down the road to Georgetown or Idaho Springs,” he said, naming two towns along I-70 that are marginally closer to the Denver metro area and have lower insurance costs.

But, he said, he remains a supporter of the ACA and will work to fix the controversial health-care program if it can be done.

In general, he said, he believes Colorado can continue to take a leading role in finding ways for Republicans and Democrats to work together, because it already has done so.

“Democrats and Republicans work together better (in Colorado) than they do in Washington,” he maintained. “It's a great state — when we solve problems, we do it together.