Polis Press Conference

Gov. Jared Polis answers questions at an informal press conference held hours after being sworn in as Colorado's 43rd governor on Jan. 8.

Gov. Jared Polis, whose first 100 days in office has included scant time on the Eastern Plains, ran into a crowd that turned hostile at times at his first event in Fort Morgan in northeast Colorado since taking office in January.

The event, which included new Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg, was held Friday morning at the Country Steak Out restaurant.

The governor got an earful from Eastern Plains residents opposed to several pieces of legislation passed this year, including the "red flag" bill allowing seizure of guns from owners deemed to post a danger and a measure revamping oil and gas regulation.

Some held up Polis recall signs during the event.

A local group advocating Polis' recall showed video of the event on Facebook Live. (Colorado Politics was not at the event; this account is drawn from watching the video and an interview afterward with participants.

Polis tried to burnish his agriculture credentials by pointing out that he owns a farm in Weld County where he has grown alfalfa. It didn't win any applause from the audience, which was mainly reserved for those who asked tough questions, not for the governor's answers.

Polis took some of his toughest questions from those opposed to Senate Bill 181, the oil and gas bill, which Polis signed April 16. The measure makes public health and safety the top priorities of state regulation.

One unidentified man told the governor that his son works in the oil and gas industry in order to make enough money to come back to the farm. "The majority of people here are ag or oil and gas...we're not supporting oil and gas and ag enough," the man said.

Polis told the audience that under SB 181, county commissioners -- of which there were several in the audience -- now have more control over oil and gas operations. 

The law "will reduce political risk to oil and gas," such as whether the state would ban oil and gas activity, he said, adding: "Your [county] commissioners should be the ones making those decisions."

That statement was immediately challenged by former Rep. Jon Becker, now a Morgan County commissioner, who attended the event and twice told Polis to "stop saying that!" 

One unidentified woman spoke out during Polis' explanation of the bill, saying, "Do you even know what you signed?'

Polis also brought up free full-day kindergarten, one of his top priorities but which some in the audience took issue with. It's won't be free, shouted several, because it'll be paid for with tax money.

Morgan County is home to the Brush school district, which already provides full-day kindergarten under a mill levy override approved by voters. "We've been financing our own full-day kindergarten," pointed out one woman in the audience.  

Jay Osler, who ran the Facebook Live event, said he was glad the governor came, but was disappointed in the governor's inability to recognize that he was in a room of people who didn't support him.

"He tried to treat them like children," Osler said. "He skirted the questions asked." 

Osler said Polis "doesn't realize the impact the things he's doing in Denver [have on] the rest of the state, or he chooses to ignore it. I don't think he came to show us he cares about us; more to find out if we cared about him."

One positive Osler took from the event was Greenberg's appearance. "I'm disappointed that he appointed someone with so little agriculture background, but she seems to realize it and that she has a lot to learn. I think she's going to do a good job."

After the meeting, Becker told Colorado Politics that he appreciated Polis coming to the Eastern Plains. "The hardest part is going out to an area you know doesn't agree with you," Becker said. "I thank him for that. That's tough."

But Becker added that he believed the governor "did an excellent job of dodging all of the questions" that came his way, such as on National Popular Vote and initially, on the red flag bill.

"He misrepresented Senate Bill 181" in terms of what it does and how it gives locals more of a voice -- "It doesn't," Becker said.

Becker noted that Polis, and Ag Commissioner Greenberg, too, repeatedly mentioned working with Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, on legislation.

"That couldn't be further from the truth," Becker said. "They sway it to make themselves look good."

He added: "I appreciate him coming up and standing up, but he needed to answer questions directly."

Sonnenberg, who was at the Capitol Friday and was not present at the Fort Morgan event, told Colorado Politics that he's had two bill signings with the governor, but pointed out that the governor had asked him to be a sponsor on the full day kindergarten bill. When Senate Democrats said no to Republican Sonnenberg being a sponsor, Polis stayed out of it.

At Friday's event, Polis also mentioned at least twice a bill to reduce the state's income tax that Sonnenberg carried early in the session but which died in its first committee hearing. Polis told the audience he supports reducing the income tax through cutting out tax subsidies.

Sonnenberg said Polis called him Friday morning before heading to Fort Morgan, and Sonnenberg thanked him for going to rural Colorado.

"It's not a strained relationship. There just isn't much of one," Sonnenberg said.

The lawmaker said he's gotten two texts from the governor, both prior to Inauguration Day in January. Up until Friday, he's spoken to the governor twice, once when Polis asked him to sponsor the full-day kindergarten bill. 

That said, Sonnenberg indicated he is hopeful for a relationship with the governor in the future.

Prior to Friday's town hall, Polis had visited Eastern Plains communities three times in his first 100 days in office, out of about a total of 40 cities and 19 counties he has visited statewide, his office said this week.

The governor visited Hugo and Limon, both in Lincoln County, and Keenesburg, in Weld County. His travel schedule showed he has yet to visit any Eastern Plains town south of Hugo, which is just south of I-70, since being inaugurated.

(1) comment

Barnes-Gelt Susan

Very proud of Gov Jared Polis. He is authentic, inclusive and smart - the trifecta of a good leader.

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