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Zornio: Jared Polis was right on truck driver, wrong on Walker Stapleton and definitely wrong on COVID

Polis’ decisions on the criminal justice front were bold and he deserves credit. But he governor’s appalling economic appointment and handling of the pandemic continue to be a grave disappointment.

As the Marshall fire raged in my backyard, Gov. Jared Polis was also releasing a series of decisions that should not go overlooked. His actions included a sentence reduction for Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, the I-70 truck driver, and 1,315 pardons for marijuana possession — both matters I’ve been vocal on. 

Polis also appointed his former gubernatorial challenger Walker Stapleton to the Economic Development Commission, and has doubled down on ignoring responsibility for managing the pandemic — even as omicron triggers crisis standards for emergency medical services.

Trish Zornio (Photo by Holly Hursley Photography)

Polis’ decisions on the criminal justice front were bold, and he deserves credit. At the same time, the governor’s appalling economic appointment and handling of the pandemic continue to be a grave disappointment.

I-70 truck driver sentence

Although much hurt has come from the devastating 2019 crash when a semi-truck driven by Aguilera-Mederos experienced brake failure on I-70, sentencing Aguilera-Mederos to 110 years in prison was very clearly another layer of injustice. This was openly acknowledged by the judge, who stated his hands were legally tied in handing down the sentence, making swift action by Polis to reduce his sentence fair. 

Victims of the crash, the judge and the District Attorney Alexis King have openly criticized the governor for acting too quickly, pointing to an upcoming hearing that was intended to revisit the matter. However, I will argue — as will millions of others who petitioned him — that Polis was right to use his authority to quickly manage this tragic situation. 

Forcing a clearly remorseful young man who was wrongfully sentenced due to legal strangleholds to face additional uncertainty and time in court will not undo the harm caused, no matter how much we want it to.

Given the district attorney had already demonstrated that her office was not willing to act more fairly in the case, Polis was effectively forced to act in order to undo the additional harm caused by unreasonable prosecution in the first place.

This was a no-win situation for all, and Polis deserves credit for making the tough call.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Marjiuana possession pardons

Here again, Polis is taking much-needed action. In a state that has legalized the possession of two ounces of marijuana, it makes no sense to continue to punish those who were previously convicted for a now-legal activity. This pardon came on the heels of the state legislature approving a 2020 law for marijauna pardons, a move long overdue.

Stapleton appointment

Two of Polis’ remaining actions last week are of the less reasonable variety. In an attempt to prove his openness for bipartisanship, the governor first appointed his former 2018, Trump-endorsed gubernatorial rival Walker Stapleton to a key economic board position. In doing so, Polis instead proved his willingness to ignore the voters of Colorado. 

On the whole, Coloradans have soundly rejected former President Donald Trump and what he stands for. While the goal of bipartisanship is noble, the governor’s decision to appoint Stapleton is wrong. Stapleton openly supported Trump’s cruel policies and refused to decry his criminal conduct. That makes him ethically and morally unfit for office of any kind.

The appointment by Polis also overlooked the keen expertise of others in the field, not the least of which was another former rival, Cary Kennedy. Not only would Kennedy be more in line with overall voter preferences and experience, but she would have also rounded out a group of predominantly male appointees.

Regardless of who should have been chosen, the appointment of Stapleton is a huge miss by Polis on multiple fronts.

COVID

Despite Polis repeatedly declaring that the medical emergency is over, omicron is serving up a dish of humble pie to an overly confident governor. 

After months of ignoring his own public health advisers and scientists by refusing to enact more robust statewide precautions, cases and hospitalizations are reaching new highs.

This has forced the crisis standards of care for emergency medical services to be reenacted, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is missing case data during a peak — an inexplicable mistake nearly two years into COVID.

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The crisis standards were last applied during the initial wave of the pandemic when hospitals and morgues were so full that many bodies were being stored in make-shift refrigerated semi-trucks.

It’s an unnecessary return to Coloradans not receiving the emergency medical care they need, and the failure to manage the pandemic preemptively will cost more lives.

The lack of peak data and chronic abysmal testing rates in the state are reflective of poor management within CDPHE, and ultimately signals the governor’s poor leadership.

On COVID, Polis has frequently been wrong, openly disregarding science on multiple occasions. His latest actions — or often inactions — are no different, earning him a continued share of the blame in pandemic mishandling.


Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.


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