Our governor is megawealthy in terms of personal cash, able to buy himself a term on the State Board of Education for a cool million when no previous candidate spent more than $10,000. Then he bought five terms as a U.S. congressman and two terms as Colorado’s top executive.
But Polis doesn’t just have monetary capital. He’s also swimming in political capital. I mean he is like Saudi prince-kinda-rich. But unlike financial capital, this wealth is very fleeting.
If Polis doesn’t use it, and fast, he will lose it.
Here’s a couple of examples of use and misuse of political capital.
After the first Gulf War, read-my-lips-no-new-taxes George H. Bush reached an approval rating of 93%. Like putting a man on the moon, running a 4-minute-mile or a gay Jewish man becoming governor of Colorado, this was considered a scientific impossibility.
Bush sat on that rating, that political capital, like it was a La-Z-Boy he could nap on through retirement.
Bush’s reelection was so certain no “A” level presidential candidates emerged early to challenge him. Some backwater southern yahoo ran just to boost his “Bill Clinton” name recognition.
Bush’s La-Z-Boy turned out to be a pool floaty chair with a huge hole in it. He didn’t use his political wealth before the air went out. Bush ended up caving to congress from the Americans with Disabilities Act to tax hikes (doesn’t matter what you think of these policies, Bush didn’t want them). History remembers him as a weak, caretaker one-term president.
When Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1979 her political capital was low. Inflation hit 18%, the Soviet Union rolled into Afghanistan, much of her country was on the welfare dole, with an escalating sense of entitlement and victimhood. Her approval rating skidded to 23%, a certain one-termer.
(Funny how those social ills sound familiar.)
Then Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a British territory. Her decisive leadership in the war gave her political capital that Bush would experience years later. But unlike Bush, Thatcher wouldn’t squander it.
She quickly used that connection with the people to direct their attention and pressure to the out-of-touch lawmakers to stop their madness and instead unleash pro-people reforms which saved the U.K.
Using that capital, she sold off government-owned industries and privatized railways and bus systems. In what progressives would cheer today, she closed unprofitable government-owned coal mines. She took on big labor and the welfare state. She passed the Environmental Protection Act and created the International Panel on Climate Change. She was key in ending the cold war and became the longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century.
Back to Mr. Polis, who was swept back into office with a massive 18-point victory. He has the luxury of being term-limited, or next stop White House if he likes. Point being: he doesn’t have to please the wingnuts in the Legislature. He can please middle-voters in Iowa or nobody if he chooses.
The polling I’ve seen has him off-the-charts with Colorado voters. He’s seen the same. It’s not 93%, but many different polls have him riding enormously, colossally high. And no Jared, it won’t last. Never does.
Yes, he’ll veto some easy stuff and the media will fall over itself to award him “profiles in courage.” It ain’t. When Gavin Newsom vetoes a “safe injection site” bill, it makes vetoes like that mandatory, not brave.
The polls also show Coloradans want their taxes cut, they don’t like the Legislature — and they care for Biden even less.
So he has all the political capital he needs to publicly and loudly call out the Legislature on why he’ll veto any of their plans to raise fees and taxes, why he’ll not open Pandora’s box of rent control, why he won’t de facto unionize private-sector workers, why he won’t raise energy costs, etc.
He longer needs to “work behind the scenes” to make monstrously awful bills just slightly less monstrously awful. He can publicly take on such bad ideas, kill the bills and gather MORE political capital.
In fact, now is the time for him to, Thatcher-style, seize his moment and drag his Legislature to pass HIS agenda, not their anti-people one. Polis wants to bring the income tax closer to zero. He has the capital to make that happen, now.
Is he a wimp like Bush, or a man like Thatcher?
We’ll find out by the end of the session.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Denver and hosts “The Devil’s Advocate with Jon Caldara” on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. His column appears Sundays in Colorado Politics.