Virus Outbreak Colorado

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis declares a state of emergency, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at the State Capitol building in Denver, as the state gears up to fight the coronavirus. 

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is measuring himself for presidential trousers, it seems to me, as he makes a case for leadership in a crisis.

As President Trump careens down a slalom course of credit and blame during the coronavirus outbreak, Democratic governors such as Polis and New York’s Andrew Cuomo are among a group of critical leaders who have emerged as alternatives in style and substance.

“There’s a far greater enforcement authority in these matters,” Polis warned in a Sunday afternoon coronavirus briefing. Greater than him. Greater than Trump.

“His name is the Grim Reaper.”

Later in the same update, Polis inspired with: “This is Colorado in its toughest days. This is also Colorado at its best.”

Trump to the criticism from Polis and other governors on Twitter, saying they "shouldn't be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings."

Tuesday, Trump said he hoped to see the country "open" and churches full on Easter, which is April 12.

"I just thought it was a beautiful, a beautiful timeline," he explained. "It's a great day."

His pandemic adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, was more circumspect. "You can look at a date, but you've got to be very flexible," he said.

Scientists said such talk, just a week into social distancing, undermined the sacrifices that already have been made. Trump, however, has an economy and an election to think about.

“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” Trump tweeted late Sunday night. “AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”

Democrats have pressed him to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to mobilize industry to manufacture medical supplies. That, however, would undercut Trump’s high ground to call Democrats socialists, if he commandeers private enterprise.

Trump argues his authority to do so is all the leverage the administration needs to spur production, without putting government at the levers of businesses.

Colorado House Republicans tacitly provided a glimpse of the backlash that kind of government intervention delivers from the base.

Monday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issued a stay-at-home order for all non-essential businesses, “thereby taking over all of private industry in the city,” as House Republicans characterized it in a press release.

“This is outrageous,” stated House Republican leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock. “In the event Governor Jared Polis makes a similar ‘shelter in place’ order I want to provide him a list of businesses that impact people in essential ways.”

Polis already had issued an executive order for non-essential businesses to reduce in-person workforce by 50%. 

States looked to the federal government for leadership and resources in a crisis. Polis said now states have to play “an unprecedented role” in fending for themselves, ensuring their own supply chains competing with other desperate states.

“We’re not dwelling on the failures of the past,” the governor said Sunday as he dwelled on what he saw as the federal government’s failures.

My colleague Marianne Goodland got into the governor’s head in a marvelous profile that Colorado Politics posted Monday.

"Not everyone will be happy with every decision," Polis told her, adding "We don't make any decision lightly."

Colorado is fighting an uphill battle because the Trump administration reacted slowly on travel restrictions, he said.

“Those early steps could have made a difference," Polis said. “There’s nothing I or any other governor could have done earlier.”

Polis said in his Sunday press conference that the Colorado response has been “robustly bipartisan.”

“Sen. Cory Gardner, who I talk to multiple times every day, has done everything that I’ve asked to help in our response,” he said about the Republican U.S. senator, who faces a tough reelection fight with Democrats this year.

The U.S. Senate, meanwhile, bogged down along partisan lines over a $1.8 trillion relief package. Democrats were hung up on whether the Trump administration is creating a $500 billion slush fund to reward corporations. Ultimately, taxpayers are on the hook for the money flung about like Mardi Gras candy.

Kyle Kohli, the Colorado spokesman for the Republican National Committee, sent reporters a message Tuesday afternoon, pushing back indirectly.

"While the Democrats are exploiting a pandemic to push their socialist agenda, President Trump continues to make the health and security of the American people his top priority," Kohli wrote.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling who’s destined for bigger things in his party, was having none of it, and made his dismay a matter of public consumption Monday afternoon.

“It is so unfortunate that @GovofCO @jaredpolis turns his COVID-19 briefing into a political speech blaming the feds because Colorado wasn’t any better prepared than any others,” Sonnenberg tweeted, with a Trumpian pivot. “So sad.”

Those britches I mentioned at the beginning are pretty big. Before this crisis wrecked the state's flourishing economy, Polis had a pedal-to-the-metal agenda that he seemed destined to finish in one term as governor.

I've entertained and fueled the conversation before: If Polis can make progressive politics work in Colorado, might he put it on a national stage in 2024, if Trump got a second term? And in 2028, Polis will still be a young man of 53.

People once scoffed at the idea that then-Gov. John Hickenlooper might run for U.S. Senate someday, including John Hickenlooper. 

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