U.S. Rep. Jared Polis to join crowded Democratic field for Colorado governor

Author: Peter Marcus - June 11, 2017 - Updated: June 12, 2017

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis addresses Colorado Democrats at the state party's biennial reorganization meeting on Saturday, March 11, 2017, at the Marriott City Center in Denver. Polis plans to announce he's running for governor on Monday, June 12, 2017. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis addresses Colorado Democrats at the state party’s biennial reorganization meeting on Saturday, March 11, 2017, at the Marriott City Center in Denver. Polis plans to announce he’s running for governor on Monday, June 12, 2017. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis announced Sunday that he’s running for governor of Colorado in next year’s election, shaking up an already crowded Democratic primary field.

Colorado Politics has learned that Polis plans to launch his campaign Monday with stops up and down the Front Range, including Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver and Boulder.

Polis told Colorado Politics in an exclusive interview in April that he was considering a run for governor. He said President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord sealed the deal. The move by Trump weakens efforts to combat climate change.

“All the progress on climate and air quality issues is going to be made at the state level,” Polis said.

The five-term congressman for the 2nd Congressional District pointed to policy proposals, including achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 and providing full-day kindergarten and preschool across the state.

“For years politicians have talked about preschool and kindergarten in Colorado, but I’m committing to bring the stakeholders together in my first two years around a ballot initiative to provide preschool and kindergarten to every family across our state,” Polis said.

In terms of the economy, Polis said he wants to examine the success of employee-owned companies, highlighting Save-A-Lot, an employee-owned grocery store in Colorado Springs. For rural Colorado, Polis wants to explore cooperative arrangements between farmers to help them bring their products to market nationally and internationally and expand existing markets.

Polis plans on holding onto his seat in Congress while he is running for governor to “fight Trump’s radical agenda.”

In a campaign video, the congressman says, “My life has been about taking big ideas and turning them into results. I’m running for governor to preserve what makes Colorado special, while working to make sure our state works for everyone, not just the few.”

Polis, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, joins a 2018 primary race already packed with high-profile names, including U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, former state Sen. Mike Johnston, and Denver entrepreneur and civic leader Noel Ginsburg.

Polis will need to combat his image as a wealthy member of Congress with a public that is wary of both politicians and the rich. He said he plans on pumping his own resources behind the campaign, but that the campaign will not accept individual contributions of more than $100.

Johnston on Saturday sought to get ahead of Polis’ announcement, unveiling his own ambitious plan to “fuel the state’s growth” with 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. He called it a “100 by 40” plan.

Even though Johnston announced his plan first, Polis said, “I’m thrilled if all the candidates follow our lead … I would love nothing more than if we could get all the Democratic contenders to move in that direction.”

On the other side, the Republican field for governor has been slower to grow. District Attorney George Brauchler, entrepreneur and former state Rep. Victor Mitchell and investment banker Doug Robinson, who also happens to be Mitt Romney’s nephew, currently dominate the race. But more high-profile names are expected to enter the primary.

Polis plans to launch his run with a stop at 10 a.m. Monday at Solar Roast Coffee in Pueblo to talk about renewable energy. Then he’ll tour the employee-owned Save-A-Lot Grocery Store in Colorado Springs at 12:30 p.m. His next stop is in Denver at 2:30 p.m. at the Academy of Urban Learning — it’s a charter school Polis founded — for a roundtable discussion about education. The candidate wraps up his campaign kick-off at a celebration with supporters from 5-7 p.m. at Bohemian Biergarten in Boulder.

Polis is a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, the former chairman of the Colorado State Board of Education, and the founder of several charter schools. He will be competing against Johnston, a former school principal, who has made education reform a focal point of his career.

The gubernatorial seat will be open after next year’s election, when Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, faces term limits.

Polis, a 42-year-old gay millionaire, began considering a run for governor after former Interior Secretary and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar in March announced that he would not seek the seat. Salazar was believed to be the party’s standard-bearer in the race.

Polis has the advantage of having won a statewide race in 2000 when he ran for the at-large position on the state Board of Education. Kennedy also has the advantage of having won a statewide race, when she became treasurer in 2006, although she lost her bid for reelection in 2010.

Just as Perlmutter’s announcement set into motion a competitive Democratic primary in the 7th Congressional District, a gubernatorial run by Polis does the same in the 2nd Congressional District.

“The 2nd Congressional District of Colorado is a beautiful, wonderful congressional district, and I know there’s going to be terrific Democratic candidates coming forward,” Polis said.

In terms of environmental issues, Polis in 2014 pushed Hickenlooper to create an oil and gas task force to address local control after Polis threatened to bankroll anti-fracking ballot initiatives.

Polis is also a major backer of marijuana legalization, saying he would serve as “an ambassador for the cannabis success story of Colorado.”

He also was the main backer of Amendment 41, which established a set of strict ethical rules for public officials in Colorado. Voters passed the measure in 2006.

Polis hasn’t been shy about spending his fortune to win elective office. In 2000, he poured $1 million into a bid for a seat on the State Board of Education — fully 100 times what his Republican opponent spent — and won by just 90 votes out of nearly 1.6 million cast.

In 2008, after then-U.S. Rep. Mark Udall vacated his congressional seat to run for the U.S. Senate, Polis spent $5,992,550 — the most of any federal candidate in the country that year — to win a bitter primary against former Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald and environmentalist Will Shafroth.

Along with Tim Gill, Pat Stryker and Rutt Bridges, Polis was a member of the so-called Gang of Four, wealthy liberal donors who funded what became known as the Colorado Model, establishing political infrastructure that helped Democrats sweep to victory up and down the ticket starting in the 2004 election.

— with additional reporting by Ernest Luning

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus is senior statehouse reporter for Colorado Politics. He covers the legislature and previously covered politics, the governor’s office, the legislature and Congress for The Durango Herald. He joined The Herald in 2014 from The Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the nation’s top state-based political and legislative reporters.