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Politics and Government

Democrat Jared Polis calls his support for carbon tax “fake news.” But here’s what he said.

The candidate for governor's comment came as he faced calls to fire his spokeswoman for harassing a conservative activist at a rally with Bernie Sanders

Jared Polis speaks at a campaign event for Colorado Democrats in Denver's Washington Park on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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The Democratic candidate for governor in Colorado channeled President Donald Trump on Thursday by dismissing his own words and attacking the media as “fake news.”

Jared Polis’ remarks came the same day he faced calls from Republicans to fire his spokeswoman after she grabbed the cellphone of a conservative activist who recorded video at a campaign rally in Boulder with Bernie Sanders.

The candidate’s shot at the media — which the campaign later suggested was a joke — was an attempt to backtrack on his comments during a recent debate where he declared his support for a carbon tax in Colorado.

“It’s not on my agenda, we’ve never talked about it,” he replied in response to an audience question at a candidate forum in Denver. “It’s kind of fake news.”

In the 9News/Coloradoan debate earlier this month, Polis was asked whether he supports a carbon tax and he replied: “Yes, if you’re talking, ‘Would I rather tax polluters than individual, hard-working families?’ … Of course.” He added that he would support a tax on greenhouse gas pollution in order to lower business and individual income taxes.

MORE: Watch Jared Polis discuss his support for a carbon tax in the 9News/Coloradoan debate.

Asked for more detail Thursday on how he would implement his plan, Polis said his remarks at the debate were merely a “talk about intellectual possibilities.” But once again, he went further to explain why he favors the idea — even as he said it was not a priority.

“If we can reduce the tax on your business, reduce your tax as individuals, expand the (tax) base, of course we’re going to have that conversation, whether it’s carbon or services,” he said. “Economically speaking, the broader the base and the lower the rate, the more pro-growth the tax structure. So it should be about allowing companies to reinvest their profits in growth, and of course we are going to put all those things on the table.”

Polis said he would seek a “revenue neutral” plan to pair a carbon tax with lower income taxes, in part because the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires voter approval of tax hikes.

Republican candidate Walker Stapleton responded by pointing to the debate, telling the audience “all of you can go look it up.”

Polis campaign spokeswoman, Mara Sheldon, said the candidate “was trying to be funny” with the “fake news” comment. “He, of course, respects reporters and the free press,” she said.

Sheldon is facing questions of her own for a confrontation with Jovanni Valle, a conservative activist at the Sanders rally Wednesday, a moment caught on camera by a Denver Post photographer.

She used her cellphone to film the activist as he recorded images at the rally, telling him she was “running press for this event.” Moments later, as Valle talked to a woman at the rally and suggested Polis “assaulted a woman” — a dubious claim that is surfacing in attack mailers —  Sheldon interrupted.

She called the suggestion “bullshit” and told him “it never happened” before reaching for his cellphone as it recorded the interaction.

Sheldon told The Post that she put her hand up to stop him from filming her, but the video Valle posted shows she reached for it before asking him to quit, in a moment captured by Post photojournalist R.J. Sangosti.

Sheldon declined to comment to The Colorado Sun, but told The Post: “It’s unfortunate that those who instill fear and violence feel the need to spread that negativity at what was a positive and inspiring event.”

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Jeff Hays issued a statement Thursday saying Polis should fire Sheldon.

“Jared Polis’ communications director harassed a citizen exercising his rights in a public space,” Hays said in a statement. “When questioned about it, she lied. And other than lying about it to The Denver Post, the Polis campaign has pretended the incident never happened. That’s unconscionable and demonstrates Polis’ unfitness for office.”

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