20ish Questions with Jared Polis: Colorado Congressman and Gubernatorial Candidate
by Matthew Van Deventer
Outspokenly cannabis-friendly U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder County has officially thrown his hat into the crowded race to replace Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who is facing his term limit. Because of the state’s strict limits on fundraising, Polis, the internet-entrepreneur turned politician with an estimated worth of $140 million to $468 million, may already have a top spot.
Polis’ top campaign promises include powering Colorado with 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, providing parents with access to free preschool and kindergarten, and pushing companies to provide employees with stock options.
As for cannabis, Polis says he doesn’t want to move cautiously, but instead make sure regulations work for businesses and consumers, and he wants to keep Colorado competitive as other states look to legalize it.
He took time out of his busy congressional voting schedule and running for governor to speak with THC.
THC: Last we spoke you had recently formed the Cannabis Caucus to educate your colleagues and introduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. How have those been received?
Jared Polis: I think we are gaining support every day for marijuana reform in Congress. I think we have support today if we could get an amendment to the floor that would prevent the Department of Justice from [prosecuting] marijuana related offenses where it’s legal under state law. But the challenge is getting it to the floor. . . I think we need to get to a federal framework that’s consistent with how we look at alcohol and tobacco and address legitimate concerns around safety and smuggling, but create a framework that allows for states to fully implement legalized marijuana and their own regulatory systems.
THC: And what about the Cannabis Caucus?
JP: We had a great [Marijuana Thinkers Talk and Expo on the Hill] and we featured a number of folks who are [from] across the country. It’s great to have that bipartisan imprint of Democrats and Republicans as we seek to educate my colleagues about cannabis reform.
THC: How long have you been thinking about running for governor and what made you decide to go for it?
JP: I am honored to serve at any level just as I really enjoyed starting businesses and creating hundreds of jobs. I enjoyed starting a school for new immigrants and homeless youth. I’m really excited to give back, and I think [there are] a lot of opportunities to give back, whether it’s moving towards a renewable energy economy, establishing universal preschool and kindergarten or just making sure our economic success works for everybody, not just a few—the action will be at the state level.
THC: What’s that transition from representative to gubernatorial candidate going to look like for you?
JP: I have executive experience in the business sector. I also have executive experience at the state level having chaired the State Board of Education. And frankly, I welcome the opportunity and the responsibility of that kind of position. I think that for us to move forward as a state we’re going to need strong leadership and bold leadership at the state level and that’s one of the reasons I decided to run.
THC: How will your pro-cannabis stance translate to a governorship?
JP: I don’t think we need to be cautious about it. We need to make cannabis regulations work for our state, for businesses, for consumers and I’m excited to tackle that. I think Colorado’s leadership role in the cannabis industry will be challenged by states like California and Washington, and we need to make sure that we keep a lot of those good jobs right here in Colorado.
THC: Voters in Denver recently passed a social consumption pilot program. Many people in the industry think its limited scope will knock us down on the competitive totem pole. Do you have any plans for how you will help keep Colorado competitive in that way?
JP: A lot of those decisions should be made at the local level, and they are made at the local level. Different communities decide whether they want to have dispensaries, how many they have, how they want to regulate social consumption . . . these are all dealt with locally and they’re very important issues as people select their mayors and city council candidates.
THC: What’s your strategy look like headed into such a crowd governor’s race and how do you feel about your place in the arena?
JP: I’m working hard to earn every vote and taking no votes for granted. So I think it’s a wide open field to continue the legacy of Governor Hickenlooper of growing our economy and creating jobs. And I’m excited to offer a vision for an economy that works for everybody, and creating tens of thousands of green jobs that can’t be outsourced, and improving our schools to make sure we have a first-class education system in place for next generation Coloradans.
THC: How did energy, free access to preschool and kindergarten, and employee stock options become your focus?
JP: There’s a lot more, obviously, than that, but I think the fundamental question that we need to answer as Americans and Coloradans is how can economic growth work for everybody not just investors and executives. And I think a big part of the answer is encouraging employee ownership in all of its forms and that means stock options. It means formalized profit sharing. It means ESOPs (employee stock ownership plans). It means co-ops. All the different forms that it can take, we want to make sure that those who work hard every day to create the value have their incentives aligned with the investors and management and also to see their share of the profits from the sale or from profitabilities.
THC: What about renewable energy and free access to preschool and kindergarten?
JP: There’s so many reasons to move to 100 percent renewable energy. I have a plan at polisforcolorado.com to do it by 2040. It’s for clean air. It’s to do our part on climate. It creates green jobs that can’t be outsourced and it creates an economy that’s energy independent and gives us an advantage over other states and countries that will rely on the price variability of fossil fuels that are subject to global markets and global forces that they don’t control.
Education is where I’ve done much of my professional work. I served six years on the state board of education. I’ve started two schools; I’ve served as superintendent of one. And I’ve served on the Education and Workforce Committee in Washington. The most important and impactful thing we can do to improve opportunity for success is have universal preschool and kindergarten in our state. So we’re going to build a coalition with Republicans and Democrats and the business community to get it done.
THC: What else tops your list?
JP: I would say another challenge facing the state is transportation and infrastructure. We’ve had a lot of growth. We have a lot of traffic. We need smart planning, transit-oriented communities that are bus and rail systems in our metro area. We need to get ahead of the curve with regard to traffic and growth rather than always playing catch-up.
THC: How do you plan on bringing Colorado Democrats and Republicans together?
JP: I have a proven record of doing that work in my experience. I’m a member of the “no labels group” where we bring Democrats and Republicans together around solving problems. I think the challenges that Colorado faces are not partisan challenges. Republicans and Democrats want quality preschool and kindergarten for their kids. Republicans and Democrats want clean air. Republicans and Democrats want to make sure that the economy works for everybody. So we should focus on what brings us together rather than what separates us.
THC: What sort of relationship do you envision having with the Trump Administration?
JP: As a governor you have to work with whatever administration is in charge. But certainly we worry about their actions with regard to the legal cannabis industry. It’s too early to say, but we’re scared of some of the rhetoric from both the attorney general and others. As the governor, I would continue my efforts to push back against any and all federal efforts that interfere with our state laws.
THC: You’ve been back and forth with the oil and gas industry, what’s that relationship going to be like and how would you work with it?
JP: Well, look, with my plan for 100 percent renewable energy the goal is 2040, so that means that the grid will continue. That’s talking about the retirement of the last coal plant, the last natural gas burning facility and certainly I’ve been active in empowering communities to be able to successfully integrate — to have a planning process around integrating oil and gas extraction in their communities.
Among the other Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls are former State Sen. Mike Johnston, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, Intertech Plastics founder Noel Ginsburg, and businessman Erik Underwood.
On the Republican side, seven candidates have declared they’re running for governor including prosecuting attorney of the Aurora Theater shooting, George Brauchler; Mitt Romney’s nephew, Doug Robinson; the co-chair of President Donald Trump’s election campaign in Denver, Steve Barlock; and former State Rep. Victor Mitchell. ♦
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