A handful of legislative Democrats are out of sorts with Gov. Jared Polis, just a month into his inaugural honeymoon. Their complaint: The governor wants to lead.
Worst of all, he might lead in a way that returns part of a government surplus, which they control, to Colorado families who could really use the money.
An online article by reporter John Frank explains how Polis has caused at least low-level anxiety among Democratic legislators in his party by showing up at committee hearings, shaking hands, having conversations, and building a coalition to support his agenda. They are used to the more passive approach of former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who took a hands-off approach to the Legislature.
This minor fracas provides a promising sign in the early stages of the Democratic governor’s term. Polis ran on a handful of promises he believes will make life better, including a hard-to-grasp goal of a 100-percent renewable power grid by 2040.
It seems almost Grinch-like to oppose his highest goal, which would help people too young to vote and families making some of the biggest sacrifices life has to offer. Polis wants “free” full-day kindergarten for every child in every community and universal access to high-quality preschool for interested families.
The proposal effectively returns state money to households making the sacrifice to bring up children, who are the only hope for sustaining our future economy and way of life. The Polis plan would be like a tax cut of $400-$500 a month or more for about 30,000 families that pay tuition for their kindergartners. Polis proposes funding it with $227 million from the state’s billion-dollar annual surplus.
That would be $227 million our Colorado families can use to pay bills, fix cars, pay college tuition, or otherwise circulate in manners that boost the economy.
“It’s not working toward a (shared) vision — it’s trying to sell us a vision,” complained Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada.
Apparently, trying to sell a vision is somehow bad. We’re not sure how that adds up. Polis, a successful entrepreneur, built his business empire selling visions that have improved the lives of buyers and sellers.
To help sell the vision, Polis asked superintendents to attend a recent public hearing of the budget committee and show their support for his kindergarten plan. As explained by Frank, that move angered Zenzinger.
“I felt like (the hearing) was co-opted by the person with the biggest platform in the state,” she said.
Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat who leads the Joint Budget Committee, reminds us “the Legislature has power over appropriations and the governor gets to make recommendations… We are absolutely willing and happy to hear about those recommendations. But at the end of the day, there has to be room for the Legislature’s priorities, too.”
It seems clear a few Democratic budget writers have issues with letting go of money they control, turning it over to families with young children.
Republicans, meanwhile, applaud the governor’s businesslike style.
“I think he’s got a businessman background, and he likes to have a hands-on style,” said Sen. Bob Rankin, a Republican budget writer from Carbondale. “Because I come from a business background and problem-solving, I’m enjoying the difference.”
Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, told Frank he appreciated Polis attending a recent education committee hearing. In Wilson’s seven years in office, he had never seen a governor attend a committee hearing.
We hope the governor soon turns his attention to Colorado’s critical transportation infrastructure needs, but that is not what he campaigned on. He campaigned on kindergarten, voters elected him on that promise, and he is not going to let it go until children and their families get financial relief.
As governor, Polis serves as state government’s CEO. He must pursue and execute visions, such as those that would make life better for 5-year-olds and their families. To do this, he must lead by shaking hands, building coalitions, attending meetings and selling his agenda. He deserves accolades, not derision, for going the extra mile.