At no other time in his political career has the credibility of Gov. Jared Polis been more important.
At a rally at the Capitol on Sunday, people openly questioned his honesty and integrity in restraining the economy to save lives during the ongoing health crisis.
They were fueled by the Friday announcement that the state health department is changing how it classifies coronavirus cases. That lowered the number of COVID-19 deaths from 1,150 deaths to 878, at a time when Polis is being accused of inflating the risk to justify his orders.
Keeping records isn't the governor's job, but he must be mindful it takes only a grain of doubt to spoil a silo of truth.
The grains are collecting.
That Monday, May 11, Polis upbraided a Castle Rock diner for opening on Mother’s Day by opening its door to diners. He announced the state health department would suspend C&C Coffee & Kitchen’s license indefinitely.
The next day, Polis tweeted an invitation to Tesla co-founder Elon Musk to bring his high-priced electric cars to Colorado. Never you mind that Musk’s tiff with California Gov. Gavin Newsom was much the same as the problem Polis had with the diner: defiance of a public health order in the name of profit.
“I mean, come on, Governor," Don Lemon said on “CNN Tonight” when Polis was a guest the next day.
Polis said it was different because Colorado considered "transportation" — including Musk’s car plant — an essential operation.
"At the end of the day, Don, we want good jobs in Colorado," the governor said. Fair enough.
On Friday my sidekick Marianne Goodland got hold of the list of donors to Help Colorado Now, the relief fund the governor touts reflexively in briefings and bears the governor's name on its website homepage. Hundreds of bold-faced names were on the list, but not Jared Polis, a millionaire hundreds of times over.
Marianne asked him why during the briefing Friday.
"I've spent a lot of time with donors,” Polis explained. “I serve in a public capacity, and it's important that I do everything I can to get the resources where they’re needed most."
Answering an unrelated question later, Polis circled back and said he would kick in his pay as governor since the emergency began.
Last week, Ernest Luning and I fielded unrelated tips that Polis was preparing an executive order to allow online petition gathering for the November ballot.
I asked his press secretary Thursday, “Is the governor planning on issuing an executive order on the petition process tomorrow?” I followed up Friday morning to note it was a yes or no question.
Around lunchtime the press office sent a two-paragraph statement that concluded, “The Governor is actively exploring options that we believe are allowable under the Constitution and is not pursuing an all-electronic form of signature gathering. Our office will have more to share soon."
Real soon. Sometime Friday the governor signed three executive orders, which were announced in a press release Saturday morning, to allow signature gathering via email, as well as in person.
I spoke with Maria De Cambra, head of the governor's communications operation, about the contradiction on Tuesday. She said the press secretary on duty didn't know the answer when I asked him. I asked if he checked with anyone before he gave me that written statement, but she didn't have an answer.
"It was an honest mistake," De Cambra stressed.
Monday, Polis was named as a defendant in a suit by Colorado Concern and University of Denver chancellor emeritus Dan Ritchie, alleging that elections are dictated by laws, not the fiat of a governor. Other lawsuits arguing executive overreach are in the works, I'm assured by sources.
The hits kept coming. Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican from Cortez, led a chorus of Republicans who said the governor's new stimulus spending plan "directly contradicts what he previously told me." In April, Polis told Tipton the legislature, not he, would determine how federal money is spent.
House Republican leader Patrick Neville said, "Polis either lied or intentionally misled the public."
The press has been put out with the Polis administration almost since the start over transparency.
My colleague Chris Osher of the Colorado Springs Gazette recently asked for public records related to the governor's emergency operations center. Sure, the administration responded, the price would be just $1,290, plus another $480 for records detailing Polis’ plan on ventilators for hospitals and mass testing. He was eventually allowed to look at the documents but did not receive copies.
Charging high prices for public records is a well-worn tactic in government PR to discourage the press (and especially the average citizen) from asking questions or checking answers.
Moreover, the administration keeps official emails as little as a month before lighting that reliable paper trail ablaze.
Given this rocky working relationship, it didn’t go over well when Polis tried to commend the press corps in a video, as noted by my friend Corey Hutchins in the Colorado Independent.
COC (Colorado’s Other Corey) flagged snipes from journalists, including Denver Post senior politics editor Cindi Andrews, who tweeted, “I mean, if @GovofCO wants to show his appreciation for the role of journalists, he can always support stronger state document retention policies and charge less for public information.”
Added reporter Chris Vanderveen of 9News, “Thanking the press is great. Thinking of how your administration will handle records retention policies moving forward is even better. Committing to full transparency without asking the press to pay thousands of dollars for public records? Priceless."
We say in the news business that credibility is a match you only strike once. Polis needs to wake up and smell the smoke. He has a reelection to think about.