Colorado never looked or sounded more like Colorado than it did Thursday in the House chamber of the state Capitol.
Newly minted Gov. Jared Polis gave his first state-of-the-state address to the Legislature, setting out an agenda that rises above the partisan rancor and nonsense of the past few years.
His very election speaks to the traditional code of the West and this state. As the nation’s first governor elected as an openly gay candidate, Polis represents Colorado residents’ maturity and inclusive nature.
“Here in Colorado, we celebrate our differences, we embrace our uniqueness, and believe that what you look like, where you’re from and who you love are less important than what you are like and what you do for your community, and your values,” Polis said during his address. “Be proud of who we are, because all of our futures should be full of opportunity.”
His remarkable achievement sets the tone for what’s possible in the state during the next two years. Polis was true to his word, Thursday, in turning campaign promises into his administration’s agenda.
Immediately, Polis is asking state lawmakers to increase public schools funding to make free, full-day kindergarten available to everyone across the state. Polis is right in seeing this as a critical need and relatively low-hanging fruit with the state’s blooming economic picture. As part of school funding debate, lawmakers should flesh out details to the goal, and school districts should began preparing to implement it.
Equally as critical, however, is a need to address funding equity, ensuring that schools filled with struggling students — often poor and minority — are given an equal chance to succeed after kindergarten. Only funding equity can close the state’s notorious minority gap in test scores.
Polis also made it clear that the non-answer from the Hickenlooper Administration to oil-and-gas development dilemmas will be corrected. Some measure of local control over oil drilling and fracking near homes, water sources and public buildings is simply common sense. Polis is well-suited to lead the way to a desperately needed compromise that will serve both industry and state residents. In Aurora and across the state, this issue is in the forefront, and residents struggle now with the very real worry of the health and environmental effects of this industry.
Polis also made good on his signature campaign issue of striving to make health care truly affordable. He has dedicated the efforts of Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, herself an expert on the issue, to lead the new Office of Saving People Money on Health Care. Beyond glib, Polis has done two important things already toward achieving his goal: He made it clear the state won’t foolishly rush into total universal healthcare by May, and he underscored that as the nation has failed to solve the problem, Colorado can find answers.
Colorado has long been a leader in innovation, and so has Polis. We have confidence that if lawmakers withstand the corrupt influence of campaign money from health care principles, solutions that serve patients, and not the industry can be found here, just like they have across the globe. Polis wisely has made it clear that universal health care is the target, and what lawmakers do must align with that critical goal.
Polis’ speech was nearly as overachieving as its author, who has a record of making lots of things happen, and successfully. Despite that, we advise two additional goals be given equal weight in the governor’s first-year agenda, and that of the 2019 legislature: gun safety and TABOR reform.
Colorado has the opportunity to enact meaningful gun-safety reform now. The state started the job in 2013, one year after the Aurora theater shooting massacre. Democratic lawmakers wisely enacted universal background checks and limits on firearm magazines. Political backlash from a minority of far-right lawmakers and their empowerment on key legislature committees squelched further progress. Many Democrats became fearful of bullying gun-rights lobbies seeking them out during campaigns.
During a post-speech interview with the Sentinel Colorado editorial board, Polis, said Democrats, now in control of both houses, must be wise and prudent moving forward to enact change. He said they must be reassured by public opinion that overwhelmingly wants lawmakers to pass common-sense gun bills.
We heartily agree. Voters know that NRA nonsense is just that. Well-crafted laws that keep guns from mentally ill people, guns out of public areas and out of public schools are needed to make everyone in Colorado safer. Like other free nations, we can have both gun-rights and gun safety.
Perhaps most strategically, Colorado is uniquely poised right now to address the endless problems created by conflicting and unworkable state tax and spending constitutional amendments. Notorious problems created by the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, Gallagher Amendment and school funding Amendment 23 should be addressed and delivered to voters this fall to finally end Colorado’s untenable funding and budget problems. Polis’ business, public service and legislative career has long been guided by his deeply libertarian spirit, and that makes him the right person to lead this critical charge.
This is a promising time for Colorado. Voters have clearly made sound and timely decisions across the state to move beyond the partisan gridlock that has stymied Colorado for several years. Now it’s time for details and action.