With the Colorado General Assembly's four-month session now over, Colorado Politics soon will pick winners and losers. One winner in a category all to himself is Gov. Jared Polis, who has made notable progress on his campaign promises.
Thanks to cooperative majorities in the House and Senate, the Democratic governor has plowed the field on free full-day kindergarten, cheaper health care, green energy and a diverse Cabinet.
For the first time, Colorado's chief executive has a team made up mostly of women, courtesy of the state’s first gay, Jewish governor, the first to wear blue sneakers with a suit.
The Polis brand is stamped on the major bills of the session — and the less-prominent ones, as well.
For instance, as the state Senate considered reauthorizing the state Public Utilities Commission, which approves rates, Democratic lawmaker built in two caveats: to force utilities to factor in the social cost of carbon, and to help transition the state's workforce to green energy.
Soon after Polis launched his campaign for governor in 2017, he and I met for breakfast at the Brown Palace in Denver. He said he wouldn’t force mandates to switch the state to renewable energy, but he believed he could meet his green energy goals partly via the PUC.
Lobbyists and legislators have chatted throughout the session about the new sheriff on the second floor of the Capitol, the one who writes bills and makes sure they get passed.
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper was the collaborator in chief who built coalitions and consensus. Folks — me, mostly — joked that Hick would let both sides fight it out, then side with the winner.
Polis picks the fights. Unlike with Hickenlooper, vetoes seem unlikely because any bill Polis didn’t like already died from his dismay or neglect along the way, even a few high on his party’s wish list.
Paid family leave went from an insurance program to a study committee during this session, partly because Polis didn’t think the money paid in would be enough to cover what would be paid out. He expressed that to the Democrats carrying the bill — Democrats who practically promised the bill to their base.
“What we heard from the governor was, ‘Let’s make sure this is a solvent program,’ and I think the steps we take [going] forward [with the task force and analysis] address the governor’s issues, and we look forward to working with the governor’s office,” said Sen. Angela Williams, Democrat of Denver, who sponsored Senate Bill 188.
Added co-sponsor Sen. Faith Winter, Democrat of Westminster, who wept over the bill on the Senate floor the night before: “The governor is committed to this program. Again, it was about solvency.”
(Disclosure: I guaranteed on “Colorado Inside Out” on Colorado Public Television that paid family leave would land on the governor’s desk, “or Democrats don’t wear cheap cologne.” Shows what I knew of Polis and cologne.)
“People don’t come to us per se, but they work on bills down there and come to us for our opinion, and we engage in the process,” Polis said in his office the week that bill was watered down. “We’re certainly not shy about articulating where we stand, and if it’s a bill we want to change.”
And it’s not just Democrats. “We’re in regular discussion with people on both sides of the aisle about what it would take to get our signature on particular bills,” Polis told reporters in his office.
In Senate President Leroy Garcia’s office the day before the chamber took up Polis’ free full-day kindergarten bill, its sponsor, Sen. Steve Fenberg, sounded a lot like his fellow Boulderite as he talked about “leveling the playing field” for Colorado preschoolers.
Asked whether all the state’s school districts would be able to get the program passed in May up and running before school starts in the fall, Fenberg suggested schools have taken the governor and the Democratic majority at their word.
“What we’ve said since the beginning of the year is, ‘Districts, be ready for this,’” Fenberg said. “And in all my [school] districts, I’ve talked to the superintendent and I’ve said, ‘This is coming, we’re going to pass this bill, be ready for it.’”
Full-day kindergarten was a Republican idea the last two sessions, but Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, a former principal and superintendent, couldn't get it passed out of the Democratic-led House. It was smooth sailing, however, once Polis became the captain of the ship.
Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, has matured into a mighty fine public servant and history-minded observer of the process.
On a Friday morning as the Democratic majority rammed through its agenda, Hill talked on the Senate floor about the pitfalls of government micromanagement from the nation's executive branches, including presidents from both parties — Donald Trump, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.
"We make fun of politicians today who put random tariffs on random products to fix one part of the economy," Hill said, apparently referring to the tariff-loving Trump.
"And we make fun of politicians who use wage and price controls, and we make fun of politicians who wear sweaters on national television trying to argue for micromanagement of how you use your heater."
Whether Polis is such a micro-manager or a hands-on leader, future generations will have to decide.