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Democrat Jared Polis kicks off gubernatorial campaign at employee-owned Colorado Springs grocery store

Author: Ernest Luning - June 12, 2017 - Updated: June 13, 2017

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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, center, discusses his plan to encourage employee ownership of businesses at a stop on a tour of the Front Range on the first day of his gubernatorial campaign Monday, June 12, 2017, at a Save-a-Lot grocery store in Colorado Springs as store manager Jesus Villa, right, looks on. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, center, discusses his plan to encourage employee ownership of businesses at a stop on a tour of the Front Range on the first day of his gubernatorial campaign Monday, June 12, 2017, at a Save-a-Lot grocery store in Colorado Springs as store manager Jesus Villa, right, looks on. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Freshly minted gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis, a Democratic congressman from Boulder, visited an employee-owned grocery store in Colorado Springs on Monday for one of several Front Range stops meant to highlight key campaign themes.

Standing in the produce section of a recently opened Save-A-Lot grocery store on North Academy Boulevard, Polis said he wants to position Colorado as a leader in encouraging employee-owned businesses “as a way to make sure the economy works for everybody, not just the few.”

The Internet millionaire — one of the wealthiest members of Congress, Polis has founded several tech startups — pointed to the grocery store chain as an example of companies that address growing income inequality while at the same time creating more productive work environments.

“Our challenge as a state is we need an economy that works for everybody, and I think making sure that workers and employees can share in the success of their companies — not just the CEOs and investors — is an important part of making Colorado work for everyone,” Polis said.

Polis started the day in Pueblo at Solar Roast Coffee, a company powered by solar panels, to highlight his proposal to run the state entirely on renewable energy sources by 2040. After spending about an hour in Colorado Springs, Polis and campaign aides headed to the Academy of Urban Learning Denver, a school he founded for at-risk youth, to talk about his pledge to establish free, full-day preschool and kindergarten across the state within two years of taking office.

Polis finished his first full day of campaigning at a celebration with supporters Monday evening at Bohemian Biergarten in Boulder.

Talking with the grocery store’s employee-owners at around noon, Polis said he’s been working on congressional legislation to promote the employee-owned business structure but believes it’s time for states to seize the initiative.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, right discusses his plan to encourage employee ownership of businesses with supporters at a stop on a tour of the Front Range on the first day of his gubernatorial campaign Monday, June 12, 2017, at a Save-a-Lot grocery store in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, right discusses his plan to encourage employee ownership of businesses with supporters at a stop on a tour of the Front Range on the first day of his gubernatorial campaign Monday, June 12, 2017, at a Save-a-Lot grocery store in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

“We’re going to remove some of the hurdles and bureaucratic red tape that make it costly for companies to go this model,” he said. “We’re going to do a state branding campaign as governor around buying in locally owned stores, and we’re also going to encourage, through different mechanisms we have, though state contracting preferences and others, to really make sure employee-owned companies will be able to participate.”

Halisi Vinson, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center, an advocacy group, was on hand to tout the benefits of encouraging the business model, although she stressed that her role heading the nonprofit means she can’t endorse a candidate.

“Colorado is leading the way in creating a more profitable, productive and equitable environment for our workforce,” Vinson said. “Jared Polis’s plan to further lift the barriers to setting up employee-owned businesses is not only good for our state’s employees, it’s also great for our economy.”

Speaking with reporters about other issues, Polis said he’s working on a transportation plan for the state and intends to unveil it in coming months. In the meantime, he said, “We need to have a future-oriented transit system in this state. We need to build not just lane-expansion, where we’re always behind on; we need to look at mass transit, we need to look at rail, we need to look at the impact electric vehicles and self-driving vehicles are going to be having, whether it’s in five years or 15, and we need to plan for that future here in Colorado.”

Polis jumbled the Democratic primary field for governor on Sunday when he threw his hat in a ring filled with heavyweights but without a clear front-runner: U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, former state Sen. Mike Johnston and entrepreneur Noel Ginsburg.

The Republican primary field so far includes District Attorney George Brauchler, entrepreneur and former state Rep. Victor Mitchell, investment banker and Mitt Romney nephew Doug Robinson and Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III. Several Republicans have said they’re considering getting in the race, including State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, former CSU Athletic Director Jack Graham and DaVita HealthCare Partners CEO Kent Thiry.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is term-limited after next year’s election.

Asked what the primary field lacked when it already included a congressional colleague and former statewide elected official, Polis didn’t take even a moment to consider his response.

“It needs a bold agenda for our state, and I’ve always, wherever I’ve gone, I’ve always put my bold foot forward — whether it’s starting several businesses, starting schools, showing in Congress that I know how to get the political system to get things done,” he said.

— Ernest.Luning@coloradopolitics.com

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.