For the strategic voter, here’s what the Colorado race for governor comes down to. If Democrat Jared Polis wins, he stands a good chance to work with a Democrat-dominated legislature for at least part of his term to sign whatever bills the Progressive left can dream up to hike taxes and fees, expand economic regulations, and clamp down on gun owners.
If Republican Walker Stapleton wins, he almost certainly will face a legislature controlled at least in the House, and perhaps also in the Senate, by Democrats.
So, strategically speaking, the decision is easy. If you are a Progressive, vote for Polis for governor and hope he gets to work with a Democratic legislature to pass Progressive laws. Otherwise, vote for Stapleton.
In short, a vote for Stapleton is a vote for gridlock. The Democrats in the legislature would never let him near a bill to restrict abortion, for example. A vote for Polis is a vote to shift Colorado dramatically in a hard-left, Progressive direction.
There’s good reason to think that gridlock would be better for Colorado over the coming years than single-party dominance.
Polis is not running in the mold of the moderates who have held the governor’s office since before the turn of the century. Instead, Polis is running as a knock-off of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Polis’ signature issues are to convert Colorado to “renewable” energy by 2040, expand government control of health care, and have government provide universal “free” (meaning tax-funded) preschool and kindergarten. Each of those policies would dramatically expand the role of government in people’s lives.
Polis also wants to let cities raise the “minimum wage” above the state’s inflation-adjusted floor (I put the term in scare quotes because the actual minimum wage is zero), legislate “paid family medical leave” — on his web site he does not specify who will do the paying — and ensure “equal pay for equal work,” in practice meaning more lawsuits with judges micromanaging the labor market. And this is just a taste of Polis’ far-reaching policy goals.
Polis’ Colorado looks less like the liberty-minded, “leave-me-alone” Interior West state it has traditionally been and more like government-heavy California or Oregon.
Contrast Polis’ approach with that of previous governors:
- Democrat Roy Romer, who had to work with a Republican legislature, painted himself as an independent-minded leader who focused on meat-and-potatoes issues.
- Republican Bill Owens, about whom “Democrats issued warnings about the dangers of single-party government,” ended up angering many Republicans by endorsing various gun-control measures (after the horrific murders at Columbine) and the 2005 spending and debt Referendums C and D.
- Democrat Bill Ritter, who enjoyed a Democratic legislature, ran as a pragmatist and centrist and sparred with Democrats over union legislation.
- Democrat John Hickenlooper, who started his professional life as an oil-and-gas geologist, “ran as a pro-business, antiwaste populist and outsider,” The New York Times summarized.
Even with relative moderates at the helm, single-party dominance led to some controversial laws. Bill Owens signed concealed carry legislation in 2003.
Ritter, seen as a relatively weak governor, nevertheless expanded government-provided health insurance, promoted solar and wind, hiked registration fees to fund transportation, effectively increased sales taxes, and signed the hotly litigated “Amazon tax,” which for years prevented Coloradans (including me) from earning referrals as Amazon associates.
If centrist governors can create such political frenzies when a single party dominates, imagine the political chaos and upheaval that Polis and a Democratic legislature could unleash.
Unfortunately, many voters are not strategic, which is probably why Polis, far and away the more likeable and competent candidate, is ahead in the polls.
If by some miracle Republicans hang on to the state Senate, I think Polis will make an excellent governor — because the Senate will deprive him of countless opportunities to go Full Bernie. (Democrats seem to have a firm lock on the House.)
Even with single-party dominance, conservatives and free-market advocates can find silver linings to a Polis victory. Polis, a successful businessman and self-made multimillionaire, once advocated the privatization of the Post Office (which was and remains a good idea) — hardly a typical Progressive position. Polis, whom I first met at a Milton Friedman event, founded two charter schools.
And, as a member of Congress, Polis has pushed back against federal intrusions into state marijuana laws.
But which Jared Polis will show up at the governor’s mansion? I hope that, if Polis wins, he’ll remember that Colorado is bigger than the Progressive “People’s Republic of Boulder.”
Especially if he ends up working with a Democratic legislature, Polis will have to make a concerted effort if he is to govern for all the people of Colorado.
Ari Armstrong (@ariarmstrong) publishes the Colorado Freedom Report and is the author of Reclaiming Liberalism.