Colorado Gov. Polis Hopes 2020 Iowa Caucuses ‘Will Be The Last’

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis indicated he’d veto anti-trans legislation that reaches his desk. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

(WB) Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, in a wide ranging interview with the Blade, said he hopes we’ve seen the last of the Iowa caucuses.

In the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses debacle in which both Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders claimed victory and uncertainty lingers, Polis said he’s hoping a different system will come in 2024.

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“I’m hopeful that this will be the last Iowa caucus,” Polis said, “and that states will move toward primaries that are much more fair and encouraging participation for people who work in the unions, who have disabilities, who can’t get out or don’t have transportation. So it’s a much more fair way of making sure that everybody’s voice is counted.”

Polis pointed to his own state of Colorado, which is set to hold a presidential primary on Super Tuesday for the first time after moving away from the caucus system. Colorado’s decision to move away from a caucus system, Polis predicted, will “accelerate that trend.”

On Sunday, the Iowa Democratic Party reported Buttigieg had marginally edged out Sanders in winning a plurality of delegates in the quadrennial caucus, although Sanders secured about 6,000 more votes. Irregularities in the caucus system, as reported by the New York Times, included misreported results and a phone app that failed to record votes for absentee caucus-goers, contributed to the uncertainty.

Asked if Iowa needs to face any sort of consequences, Polis replied, “I just hope they move to a primary like Colorado has, like many other states have — Kansas, a number of others.”

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said in a news conference over the weekend “by most accounts” state organizers ran successful caucuses, but the Democratic Party Operations Committee is conducting an independent review on the caucus system going forward.

“This review will take however long is needed, and its report will be delivered directly to the state central committee,” Price said.

Polis, speaking to the Washington Blade at the annual meeting of the National Governors Association in D.C., said he wasn’t ready to announce support yet for a presidential candidate, but hinted that candidates who have sought to woo Colorado voters will likely be at the top of the list.

“Like a lot of Democrats I’m concerned with who will defeat President Trump,” Polis said. “I’m also excited by the different visions the candidates have offered, and particularly thrilled with the candidates who have spent time in Colorado in the last few weeks. Pete Buttigieg and Mike Bloomberg have spent time in Colorado, listening to Coloradans and campaigning.”

Although Super Tuesday is set for Mar. 5, Polis said he doesn’t have any plans “one way or the other” to endorse a candidate before the day of the contests.

Polis spoke to the Blade more than a full year after he had become the first openly gay person elected as governor in the United States, then the first openly gay person inaugurated as governor.

Asked if he had any advice as an openly gay candidate who has won at the state and district level for Buttigieg as he pursues wins in presidential primary contests, Polis said staying on message is key.

“His historic victory in Iowa — very exciting that he was able to to win the Iowa caucus,” Polis said. “I think he’s now being challenged in New Hampshire and coming up in the Super Tuesday states. You just stay on message and stay positive, and I think people want that compelling vision of what it looks like for us to be united rather than to engage in divisive and hateful rhetoric like the current occupant of the White House.”

Expanded kindergarten, health insurance among wins for Colo. guv 

Reflecting on his first year in office, Polis ticked off several of his accomplishments since becoming governor, including the expansion of kindergarten and access to health insurance.

“You can make such a great positive impact at the state level,” Polis said. “We were able to get full day kindergarten done and available for every kid in our state … We were able to pass landmark new legislation to save people money on health care, including a reinsurance program that reduces rates in the individual market by 20 percent on average across our state. So just the impact of the speed of that impact is much greater than it is in Washington.”

Among those accomplishments was signing into law a measure prohibiting widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy for youth. Asked if that was personally significant for him as a gay man, Polis said it was “even more significant for some of the survivors of conversion therapy that joined us at the signing ceremony.”

“For them, this was a really important personal vindication, really knowing that they could pay it forward and prevent others from having to go through the kind of torture that they had to [go through],” Polis said. “Fortunately, I had a supportive environment, as had many of my friends, but we know that there are too many gay and lesbian Americans across the country that still have parents who don’t accept them for who they are.”

Asked if anything had come up in the past year as the first governor with a same-sex spouse, Marlon Reis, that would have been different if he had a spouse of a different gender, Polis denied that was the case.

“The job of a first woman or first man is a difficult one for anybody. And Marlon is doing a great job and really has very little to do with the fact that he’s the same gender as me,” Polis said. “It’s the same job as if he was a different gender.”

Last week, Polis proposed in his annual State of the State address before the state legislature setting up a public option in the health insurance exchanges. Asked if that means he’d prefer a candidate that proposes greater options in health care, such as Buttigieg, as opposed to candidates who want an entirely government-run system, like Sanders, Polis denied that was the case.

“I have a high degree of confidence that any democratic president of anybody who’s running would grant a waiver for a state-based public option,” Polis said. “Whatever else you might be pursuing through Congress, I think they would support that level of innovation for the state.”

Some of the presidential candidates are also running on the concept of a Green New Deal, which as introduced in Congress calls for 100 percent zero-emission energy sources in the United States within 10 years. Polis ran and was elected on a plan to make his state carbon-emission free by the more modest goal of 2040. 

Asked whether running on the Green New Deal was a good idea, Polis focused on his goal for Colorado and achievements that have already been made along the way.

“From the Colorado perspective, we’re focused on achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 or sooner and working with our utilities including Xcel and Tri-State to get there,” Polis said. “We would welcome federal assistance in achieving that goal. We also want to empower our local communities to achieve that goal ahead of the state. We have two communities in Colorado — Glenwood Springs and Aspen — that already have 100 percent renewable energy today.”

Polis says gay panic ‘not an often used concept’ in court

Colorado is one of many states where legislation is pending in the legislature that would criminalize providing transition-related care, including puberty blockers, surgeries and hormones, to transgender youth. A version of that legislation was killed this week in South Dakota.

It’s extremely unlikely the measure would reach Polis given Colorado’s legislature is controlled by Democrats, but Polis made a general comment about rejecting anti-LGBTQ legislation when asked about the bill.

“If any anti-LGBT legislation reaches my desk, I’d veto it,” Polis said.

Asked specifically about legislation that would restrict access to transition-related care for transgender kids, Polis emphasized the need for pro-LGBTQ governors.

“It’s one of the reasons that it’s important to have governors who look out for all residents of their state regardless of who they are or who they love,” Polis added. “Because if those kinds of bills do pass legislatures, you need to count on somebody to be able to veto it.”

On the pro-LGBTQ side, One Colorado has made a series of priorities for the legislative session, including increasing access to PrEP, expanding transgender protections in the state non-discrimination law, and prohibiting the use of gay or trans panic defense in court.

Asked whether he shares those legislative priorities, Polis demurred, but said he generally wants to expand LGBTQ rights in Colorado.

“I don’t know if we’ve seen all those bills yet, Polis said. “I think you know, Colorado has really gone from a laggard to a leader in protecting and celebrating our LGBTQ population, and it’s becoming increasingly a state that is really a center of LGBTQ culture. And we’re excited to continue that trend toward making sure that we celebrate everybody in Colorado.”

Asked specifically about the gay and trans panic ban — which nine other states have now enacted, including most recently New Jersey — Polis downplayed the need for legislation.

“It’s not an often used concept in our legal system,” Polis said. “But again, we’re open to all these ideas to protect our LGBTQ populations so that they can get ahead and succeed.”

Mikayla Rogers, a spokesperson for One Colorado, responded to Polis’s comments on the gay panic ban by saying State Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver), chair of the Black Caucus and member of the LGBTQ Caucus, plans to introduce the legislation before the end of the month.

Polis came into his job as governor after serving five terms as the representative of Colorado’s 2nd congressional district. Asked whether there’s anything left at the federal level in terms of LGBTQ issues on which he still keeps tabs, Polis name-checked the Equality Act.

“Someday we hope the Equality Act can be signed into law,” Polis said. “I hope to join President Buttigieg, or Warren or Sanders or Bloomberg or Klobuchar, and I’ll join them at that signing ceremony when we can achieve that.”

Polis demurred when asked about his predictions for cases before the Supreme Court that will determine whether anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, therefore illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but said they demonstrate the importance of the presidential election.

“I can’t guess what they’re gonna do,” Polis said. “I would just say it highlights the importance of having a Democratic president to appoint a pro-equality Supreme Court.”


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