Polis on This Week

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis spoke about the state's efforts to stem the coronavirus resurgence on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on ABC on Sunday, July 19, 2020.

Jared Polis gets it. He has all along, it seems, on climate change: a hard charge must be tempered with reason.

The governor is usually two steps ahead of the game on these thing. His agenda has moved the climate debate in Colorado to the left, yet Polis manages to steer from the middle, which is an unusual position on the usual road for a Democrat. 

Some of his reliable friends in the legislature are behind Senate Bill 200 to step up the pace on the climate action action they passed in service to the green giant governor two years ago. The plan was laden with incentives and collaboration, but some of his more aggressive and progressive cohorts would prefer hard caps and repercussions.

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Put another way: Polis favors a carrot-or-stick approach, but some of his fellow Democrats prefer stick-and-more-stick, because it gets them where they want to go much faster. They're pressing ahead, despite warnings of a potential veto. Get your popcorn before you take a seat. This could get interesting.

Polis told The Gazette’s editorial board hard caps were “a top-down requirement” that he thought was unwise in the bigger picture, dictated by the unelected state Air Quality Control Commission. Polis characterized it as “near-dictatorial control of our entire economy with a legal mandate” that might not even be necessary, since the industry is moving toward the same goals without the heavy hand of government.

“But the thing is many of them also rely on future technology, require a flexible approach, require expertise that doesn't just reside in a back-door committee, and should be debated by future legislatures,” said Polis, a man who got rich in his private life reading the tea leaves on technology and human behavior.

This is what Polis does. Those who react on either side are always behind, by definition.

As assuredly as you can count on Colorado Democrats to overreach when they get the chance, however, you can count on Colorado Republicans to misjudge the moment. The people who lose to intransigence are the rest of us stuck in the middle.

Nobody I know of has accused the bill signer from Boulder of trying to burn down one of the state’s most important industries, though many on the left would gladly give him the matches. Regulate it? Sure. Frustrate its profiteers? You bet. Tell it that renewable energy is way, way better? That's one of the governor's favorite things. 

I don't think he's locked his door to anybody, and so far, industry and environmentalists have been willing to work with him, maybe because they have to. Polis is the father of the lingering truce between industry and environmentalists over ballot issues. They agreed to give legislation he and former House Speaker KC Becker passed in 2019 time to work.

I asked the Colorado Petroleum Council to grade Polis. They couldn't put him in a box right now, so they're reserving official judgment. Neutrality from his adversaries is a win for Polis, if he can manage to get his allies to do the same.

Some, especially acolytes of the former governor-turned-senator John Hickenlooper, might say the conciliation movement predates Polis. I could be talked into that, but not without context. Set the WABAC Machine to 2014.

Obama was in the White House, Ebola was a world health crisis Americans ignored and Hickenlooper was trying to hold off a conservation-minded Republican, Bob Beauprez, for a second term.

In stepped Polis, the congressman. He and a lot of other people were in an uproar about drilling sites spouting like dandelions near homes and businesses across Boulder and Weld counties. Polis was poised to invest his money and considerable political capital in ballot initiatives, one on where drillers could locate, the other an environmental bill of rights, for the same November ballot where the incumbent governor was in a tussle.

Energy has never been a bear to be poked by Hick, the laid-off energy industry geologist, who was facing a conservation-minded Republican in what turned out to be one of the Colorado's closest governor's races.

That August, Polis was part of a compromise to pull his money and support. Hickenlooper convened a task force — six environmentalists, six industry representatives and six civic leaders — to make recommendations on oil and gas issues for the 2015 legislature, which amounted to nothing.

Polis faced down his former allies outside the Boulder library to shouts of "You sold us out!" 

The pragmatist sought to assuage the mob of his own making: "When we fight this fight in this state, we need to make sure there's a battlefield we can win, OK?" 

That's just smart.

Polis asked his green team to give the state a chance to "enact sensible protections and safeguards.” He'd wind up enacting them himself after he succeeded Hickenlooper.

We've seen in three years is more progressive, well, progress than Colorado has seen in the 20 years before. I'd caution to the stampeders on this political fact: Overreach is always the beginning to the political end.

Polis has a talent for playing both sides into the middle, even when he ticks off a good number of foes and friends.

Love him or hate him, you must admit he’s good at it.

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