Greeted by a cool and sunny January morning, Gov. Jared Polis started his second term by pledging to "lead the Colorado way" amid growing concerns around affordable housing, public safety, rising cost of living and a state budget with little room for additional spending in the upcoming fiscal year.
Polis, Colorado's 43rd governor, opened his second inaugural address with a nod to bipartisanship, calling on the state to "continue to celebrate red and blue, each and every one of us."
Polis won his second term in November, besting Republican opponent Heidi Ganahl by more than 19 percentage points. Just like last time, Polis' campaign was largely self-funded. He spent $11.4 million of his own funds on the 2022 campaign, less than half of what he incurred — almost $24 million — to win the 2018 contest against Republican Walker Stapleton.
In his prepared remarks, the governor noted the tough challenges ahead and acknowledged the difficulties his constituents grapple with every day.
"Listen to enough folks and you realize a lot of people are asking for the same things," he said.
They include, he said, "practical, commonsense solutions to the rising cost of living" and "safe communities with good schools and affordable access to health care."
Ultimately, he added, Coloradans want the opportunity to build a great life and the "freedom to forge your own path, without the government telling you how to live your life."
Following the sweeping wins for Democrats across Colorado's November ballot, Polis called for unity in his inaugural address.
"To realize the full potential of our great state, we must continue to take the best ideas wherever they come from — the left, the right the center — and put them into action to move our state forward," Polis said ahead of a session where he will contend with a more progressive legislature. "And we must move forward together. No one gets left behind.
Democrats had flipped seven seats from red to blue in November, leading to a 69-31 Democrat-Republican split at the Capitol. In the House, the 46-19 split is likely the largest Democratic advantage in history. And in the Senate, after months of predictions that a “red wave” would result in Republicans seizing control of the state Senate, Democrats ended up gaining two seats, only one short of a two-thirds majority.
Polis — and other statewide officials: Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera, Attorney General Phil Weiser, Secretary of State Jena Griswold and State Treasurer Dave Young — also took their oath office on Tuesday.
In his first term, Polis had focused on taxpayer-funded, full-day kindergarten and reducing health insurance premiums, accomplishments that he touted on Tuesday, along with lowering taxes and protecting public lands.
Notably absent from the victory lap the governor took to celebrate his first-term accomplishments was any mention of COVID-19. Polis' first term was just as much defined by the coronavirus and how state government managed the pandemic as any of his legislative accomplishments. While he shut down the state early in the pandemic, Polis gave local governments freer hand in dealing with the virus in the latter stages of the crisis.
This time around, Polis' agenda centers on affordable housing, where the challenges have been magnified in the last years.
The state had received billions of dollars from the federal government for pandemic relief, with about a half billion directed by the General Assembly to addressing affordable housing and homelessness. That feral funding, however, will run dry, even as the housing challenge persists.
The governor pledged to "reduce housing costs across the state." For Polis, that means boosting the supply of housing available in the state.
The state and local governments have, for example, poured significant resources into homelessness. One study puts the figure at nearly $2 billion over a three-year period in some counties in the Denver metro area alone — explosive spending that reflects the gravity of the challenge that the public and private sectors face as they struggle to contain homelessness in Colorado's biggest cities.
And in a nod to another looming crisis facing the state, Polis' pledge to increase housing is contingent upon "managing for an increasingly scare water supply," as well as the state's goal to quickly transition away from fossil-fired energy.
Hitting on those goals, the governor highlighted the state's plan to reach 100% renewable energy by 2040.
After pledging to clean up Colorado's air, the governor turned his address toward cleaning up Colorado's streets.
"We're going to tackle crime head-on," Polis promised. "Not only by holding criminals accountable, but by preventing crime before it happens because no Coloradan should have to fear for their safety."
As the governor as he enters his second term, Polis will also face rising property taxes. New property assessments, which are conducted by counties, will hit in 2023.
Lawmakers already pledged $700 million for property tax relief for 2023 and 2024, and Polis wants to add another $200 million. But the money is likely little more than a Band-Aid as, without a more aggressive intervention, property owners will get hammered with billions in higher tax bills. Polis has pledged to work with lawmakers on long-term property tax relief legislation.
While not touching on the issue directly, Polis in his address said the state would "keep using every tool we've got to save Coloradans money."
"Anything we can do, we must when it comes to helping you hold on to more of your hard-earned money," he said.
Polis, a Boulder native, got his start as an entrepreneur, founding several Internet-based companies while in college. He earned his fortune from the sale of BlueMountain.com, an online greeting card company, which was bought by Excite in 1999 for $430 million in stock and $350 million in cash. A second Polis company, ProFlowers, was sold in 2005 for $477 million.
In 2004, Polis was part of the "Gang of Four," wealthy Colorado Democrats who launched the fundraising effort to take control of the Colorado House, which had not been in Democratic hands in nearly 30 years. He also was the driving force behind Amendment 41, the state ethics in government law.
Polis began his political career in 2000, winning election to the Colorado State Board of Education, representing Congressional District 2.
In 2008, Polis won his first term to the U.S. House, representing Congressional District 2. He served five terms in the House before running for governor in 2018.
Polis, who is America's first openly gay governor, is married to Marlon Reis. They have two children.
Editor's note: This is a breaking news story and will be updated.