Shortly after he was elected governor of Colorado, Jared Polis sat down with 9News anchor Kyle Clark to discuss his historic victory and his plans.
During a 10-minute conversation, which aired Nov. 7 on 9News’ “Next with Kyle Clark,” the Democrat weighed in on oil and gas regulation, the death penalty, TABOR and taxes, and on being America’s first openly gay candidate to be elected governor.
Here’s a transcript of Clark’s interview with Polis. And watch the full interview below.
Kyle Clark: Governor Elect Jared Polis, congratulations. Welcome back to “Next.”
Jared Polis: Thank you, Kyle. Pleasure to be here.
Clark: Colorado voters gave Democrats sweeping control of state government last night, yet they also rejected two statewide tax increases and rejected increased restrictions on oil and gas drilling. What’s your takeaway from all that together?
Polis: Well, look, it’s an opportunity for Democrats to show that Democrats can govern. I think what’s important for me as the governor elect will be to work to be a governor for the whole state. It doesn’t matter whether you voted for me or not, and I’m going to do my best every day to represent not just the different people of different parties and persuasions, but also we have a very diverse state geographically, and I plan to be a governor for Grand Junction and Pueblo and Sterling just as I am for Boulder and in Colorado Springs. So, it’s a great state.
Clark: Do you see a disconnect, though, between the ideas of let’s hand the keys over to Democrats but no to tax increases and no to restrictions on oil and gas?
Polis: Well, again, those are not things I was running on or supported either. I think there’s Democrats and Republicans that fall on both sides of those. In fact, I think one of those tax increases was mostly being pushed by kind of the Denver and chamber of commerce business community types who, if anything, tend to lean Republican.
Clark: Fair enough. Coloradans rejected a 2,500-foot setback on oil and gas. This is going to come up in the Democratic-lead legislature. They may bring something to your desk. Are you going to advocate for the 2,000-foot setback you’ve liked in the past? Because oil and gas says that would be just as damaging as 2,500.
Polis: Look, these issues haven’t gone away, and when I hear from people in the oil and gas industry, they don’t like this enormous uncertainty in our state where literally every two years they could either be put out of business or almost wiped out. So what we need to address is what we call the surface conflict. I mean, the real conflicts, you can’t just ignore them. They don’t go away between neighborhoods and communities, and where and how oil and gas industrial activities are put near them. So yes, we want to find a way where we empower local communities to have a seat at that table, that we have larger setbacks, unless, you know, everybody agrees, meaning the landowner wants them closer, and I think that we can do that. And that will be really the challenge, to show that we can solve that, and it’s not just the environmental community and neighborhoods that are affected. I think the oil and gas industry will be at the table to help solve this too.
Clark: Do you think their position, the oil and gas industry, got stronger or weaker last night? They spent 40 million. They won, but 42 percent of Coloradans voted against them.
Polis: Well, I mean, look. They can do this every two years if they want. I mean, they can spend $40 million and risk losing, or they can work with Republicans and Democrats to actually solve the underlying issues that are giving rise to these conflicts. I think there are many responsible voices in the industry. It won’t be everybody; there will be some that bitterly oppose any effort. But I think that at least many of the companies that are most at stake want to see more stability in Colorado, and I do too. And I think homeowners, communities and the environmental community do also.
Clark: This week the family of a murdered mother and her two kids up in Weld County made the decision to accept a plea deal for her killer rather than risk a death penalty trial. And the family agreed to this, in part, because of the uncertainty around the death penalty in Colorado, whether we’re ever going to use it again. You said you would sign a repeal. My question for you is, for the uncertainty alone, will you lead an effort to repeal the death penalty?
Polis: Well, it’s on the books now, so if we want a legal change, it would take the legislature to do that. I think there’s — again, this is not even a partisan issue in our state, Kyle. There are Republicans and Democrats on both sides of this issue.
Clark: But do you intend to lead on it? That’s the question.
Polis: We will be, as we have been during the campaign, very open with the state legislature that, if they do send a bill to abolish it, I will; because I feel it’s not cost effective, I will sign it. It’s not cost effective. It’s not an effective deterrent. And, you know, I do have a problem with some of the ways it’s been implemented from a racial-bias perspective as well. I mean, the fact that all three people on death row happen to be African American and yet the theater killer who killed 14 people didn’t get it, but somebody who killed two people got it, I mean, it makes you just sort of ask that question about why somebody who killed two people got it and why somebody who killed 14 people didn’t.
Clark: Last night, in your victory speech, you acknowledged the history you are making with your election as America’s first openly gay governor. This is not something you talked about a lot during your campaign. What do you think it says that this milestone in American history has been reached in such a nonchalant way?
Polis: Well I was kind of surprised, Kyle, that it seemed that was all the national headlines were. I mean, as you know, when it comes to fixing our traffic and our roads, it has nothing to do with whether you’re gay or straight, it’s what governor will really roll up their sleeves and get to work. I mean, our plans for preschool and Kindergarten, to save people money on health care, I think it’s a point of pride for Colorado that we’re an inclusive and forward-looking state. And I think we always have been. We sent the very first Native American to the United States Senate, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and again, I think it’s a point of pride for many Coloradans that we view diversity as a strength and we judge somebody on what are your plans to move our state forward rather than who you love.
Clark: You say we always have been, meant to moniker the hate state, that kind of thing. Does that play in your mind at all? Do you feel like we have turned a page on that, or was that ancient history already, in your mind?
Polis: Look, I think it is important closure in some ways for our brand as Colorado. There are those, and you drummed it up just now, there are those who still remember that — ’92, was it, I believe? And I think that, again, if we want to compete in today’s business environment, if we want to attract good companies and jobs here, if we want to attract the best and brightest and also our homegrown talent here, having this kind of inclusive view is a great thing. I think both parties have come a long way. I mean, I’m sure there’s some on both sides that have to realize to sort of separate their own individual moral beliefs with what they believe in the public sphere. Because, of course, anybody in your own faith tradition, of course you can dictate what your own morality should be and judge it according to whatever principals you know you feel are divinely inspired. But in the public sphere, we all have to get along at the end of the day, whether you’re Muslim or Jewish or Christian, and whether you’re gay, straight or bisexual or whatever.
Clark: You’ve talked proudly … in the past about taking out the Taxpayer Bill of Rights at the ballot box. Are you committed to keeping the provision of TABOR that allows Coloradans to vote on tax increases?
Clark: One hundred percent?
Clark: Last time you were here last week, you said that you would refuse to allow President Trump to send the Colorado National Guard to the southern border because you think it’s a political stunt. And I asked you whether turning down a troop request based on politics was a dangerous idea. I asked you about an overseas deployment, and you seemed to make a distinction, but Republicans criticized you for suggesting that the National Guard was not deploying over there. I think we all know that the National Guard deploys overseas. I want to return to the question at hand: Would you seriously deny the military the ability to send Colorado National Guard troops overseas if you felt it was political?
Polis: First of all, I’m very glad that the ridiculousness of a campaign is over, because I think you saw, you know, maybe I said some things that were a little ambiguous, but then, all of the sudden, Lindsey Graham attacked me on Twitter. And of course, you know, we had Colorado National Guard and a few hundreds troops in 2006 that served with distinction in Iraq, and even as recently as a week or two ago, I think, there were several deployed overseas. But look, the governor, of course, can call up the National Guard, at the time of a state emergency, but in terms of responding to a call of order from the president, it would have to be reality-based for me to play my role as governor, and if what Trump is talking about is a fictitious threat to our southern border — there is not a reality-based threat —
Clark: I’m asking you about overseas. Would you attempt to stop the Colorado National Guard from deploying overseas if you felt it was political?
Polis: Well, now you’re asking about a hypothetical situation.
Polis: Well, again … I didn’t personally support the Iraq war, but I still would have responded to the commander in chief’s call for Colorado National Guard units to play their role that they did.
Clark: Two questions remaining. So we asked outgoing Gov. Hickenlooper what surprised him most, which challenge was he least prepared for, stepping into the office. And he said the cyber-security threats to Colorado. Where do you think you’re going to have to learn up on the job? … Where do you know that you need to learn up on something?
Polis: Probably less cyber security, because that’s actually the background I come from, Kyle. I’ve created systems and companies that have dealt with millions of secure credit card financial transactions. Yes, it was selling flowers, but still, the same kind of basic concept. … I founded a block-chain caucus and we had a block-chain whitepaper for distributed ledger technology here in the state. I think where we’ll have to work — and it doesn’t make the challenge any easier just because the Democrats have the majority — is making sure that the ideas we talked about on the campaign, and therefore the mandate we have, is actually translated into reality through being able to pass legislation that’s true to the vision that we lead. A lot of people refer to the lawmaking process as the sausage-making process. It’s not always pretty, and it’s not always easy. But we know that’s a challenge, and we’re going to have to learn a lot about working effectively with both sides to be able to make sure that we get stuff done.
Clark: Last question. I almost hesitate to ask this, but I know people are interested. Are you and your family going to move into the governor’s mansion?
Polis: Oh, you know, during the campaign, we always said, ‘I don’t want to think about what comes next.’ I guess, Kyle, now I have to start thinking about it. Um, and we really didn’t — I didn’t want to fall into the trap of measuring the curtains before I was elected. Um, I don’t know whether we will or won’t. Prior governors haven’t lived there, by and large. I think Bill Ritter did, but most haven’t. We don’t currently plan on moving there, but we’ll certainly take a look at that. I’m sure I’ll be spending some nights there during legislative session.
Clark: Alright, Governor-elect Jared Polis. Thank you for stopping by. You’re welcome back any time.
Polis: Thank you, Kyle.