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Via Chalkbeat CO: Polis more worried about Congress than DeVos

Author: Dan Njegomir - March 7, 2017 - Updated: April 17, 2018

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In this Oct. 13, 2017, file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a dinner hosted by the Washington Policy Center in Bellevue, Wash. DeVos’ school choice agenda got a bit of a boost this week from the Republican tax bill, which would allow parents to use education savings accounts to pay tuition at private and religious elementary and secondary schools. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District U.S. Rep. Jared Polis — the millionaire, entrepreneur and idea generator whose profile seems to eclipse the elected office he happens to be holding — is not necessarily one to march in lockstep. He doesn’t disappoint in an extensive interview with Chalkbeat Colorado’s Nicholas Garcia today.

The Boulder County Democrat — an education-policy maven and longtime champion of school choice in a party in which that remains a point of contention — weighs in once again with support for charter schools. No surprise there; he has helped start charter schools himself. But what might raise eyebrows in his party’s ranks is Polis’s seeming willingness to move past the controversy that had swirled around the confirmation of Trump administration Education Secretary Betsy Devos only weeks ago. In fact, Polis sounded a lot like he is actually ready to work with her, telling Garcia.

I haven’t yet met Betsy DeVos. But I talked to her on the phone last week. I’m looking forward to getting together. I’ve invited her to Colorado. She reacted very positively to that. I expect to have her here in the near future. She was particularly interested in seeing some of our coding academies and the other nontraditional higher education options we have.

When Garcia’s asked, “What do you say to teachers and parents who are very upset by DeVos and the Trump administration?” Polis offered an assurance that “the vast powers of the secretary were curtailed” through landmark education legislation passed during the Obama administration. He then said:

I worry more about Congress passing bad laws than the secretary enacting them.

DeVos’s nomination had raised an outcry among congressional Democrats — only the Senate got to vote on it, of course — and even sent fellow Republicans scurrying for cover when she performed poorly during confirmation hearings. She was derided as a billionairess whose big money won her a juice appointment but couldn’t mask her poor grasp of basic education issues. The GOP-controlled Senate confirmed her on Feb. 7 by the slimmest possible margin — 51-50 after the defection of two Senate Republicans — and that was possible only after Vice President Mike Pence was called on to cast the tie-breaker.

To Polis, the whole ordeal seems oh-so-last-month.

That’s not to say he was a pushover for her nomination. But he sidestepped the usual political rhetoric to focus on where she actually might lead the education department on specific policy initiatives. In a January blog post, for example, Polis posed, “Five Questions for Betsy DeVos,” and not one of them was whether she had stopped beating her husband. It was all policy: how she would deal with undocumented immigrant students under the DREAM Act; how she would help ensure federally funded charter schools are high quality, weeding out poor performers, etc. It was miles apart from much of the caustic political back-and-forth at that time.

Polis sounds not so much like someone who pragmatically, if grudgingly accepts the reality of Betsy DeVos — as he does like someone who was never really all that vested in the outcry over her nomination in the first place.

Read Garcia’s full interview and see if you agree. Here’s the link again.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.