After less than three months in office, Gov. Jared Polis promotes a doctrine that raises concern.
Above all else Friday, the Democratic governor emphasized his support for “local control.” He did so during his State of the State address at The Antlers hotel and in a meeting with The Gazette’s editorial board a half-hour later.
“I’m very supportive of local control in all things, as you know, education, oil and gas, so many different areas where when we empower our problem solvers on the ground,” Polis said at The Antlers.
The governor promotes “local control” to justify support for Senate Bill 181, which would authorize local governments to impose arbitrary setbacks and other regulations that would shut down oil and gas production. It is the ultimate “not-in-my-backyard” legislation. It empowers communities such as Boulder, which typically force their landfills, polluting businesses and even affordable housing on less affluent communities that are out of sight and mind.
Although upscale communities can export garbage and undesirable industries, they cannot move immovable oil and gas reserves. Shut down production and they eliminate the public’s use of those resources and the jobs created by harvesting them.
“Local control is a concept I strongly support in everything, in marijuana, in oil and gas,” the governor told the editorial board.
A board member interjected to question the governor on supporting “local control” in everything. It’s a wobbly foundation for public policy.
The Gazette’s board fully expected the U.S. Supreme Court to quash local control that forbade same-sex marriage. The Gazette has long celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which stopped local control from segregating schools on a basis of race. We applaud the rulings in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago, which reduced local control that obstructed Second Amendment rights.
Jim Crow laws were “local control.”
Since 1868, when we added “equal protection” to the U.S. Constitution as part of post-Civil War reconstruction, the Supreme Court has assailed “local control” offenses of civil rights that keep this country prosperous and free for everyone.
“You can’t support local control in everything?” a board member asked Polis. “Brown v. Board of Ed took local control away. Obergefell v. Hodges … ”
“No, no. Civil rights, you’re an American no matter where you live,” the governor replied. “You absolutely have civil rights no matter where you live.”
“Property rights are civil rights,” the board member responded.
“Property rights are locally administered,” the governor replied. “I mean, who tells you what you can build here? It’s Colorado Springs, not the state.”
Indeed, courts allow local governments to establish a common set of planning and zoning rules so buyers can plan accordingly when purchasing property. Setbacks, height limits, maximum square footage and more are common rules everyone can play by.
Conversely, the courts balk if a community tells someone who bought a parcel, zoned residential, she cannot build a residence. That is the type of civil rights abuse proposed by SB 181. Local politicians, appeasing the “not-in-my-backyard” political desires of constituents, would tell owners of surface and mineral rights they cannot gain access to their resources — no matter what. In doing so, they would boldly violate property rights — the most basic among the civil rights Polis mentioned — protected by the state and federal constitutions.
Another problem confronting the governor’s “local control in all things” mantra involves his support for House Bill 1032. The proposal imposes a one-size-fits-all statewide sex education standard for schools. Students in rural villages would have the same curriculum as children in Colorado Springs and Denver. So much for local control by school boards elected to represent local interests.
We have given whole-hearted support to the governor’s biggest goal: “free” all-day kindergarten. Today, local school districts determine whether to cover the cost of kindergarten or pass it on to parents. If Polis gets his way, and we hope he does, the state would usurp that “local control” and create a veritable tax break for parents paying $500 and more for kindergarten tuition.
If Denver passes Issue 300 in May, the “right to survive” ballot measure, “local control” will allow homeless people to live permanently on sidewalks, in parks and on rights of way between residential sidewalks and streets. Denver, like San Francisco, would need armies of new employees to remove human feces and drug needles from public property.
We are pleased with a few of the governor’s moves during his short time in office. We applaud him for creating the Office of Saving People Money on Health Care and his efforts to lower health care prices. Although he ran against President Donald Trump, Polis works with the president’s staff to lower health care costs.
“The Trump administration has been very open about giving state-level waivers on health care,” Polis told the editorial board. “I think there’s a huge opportunity there. They’re really working closely with us … on really constructing how state-level flexibility will work. They’ve even shown openness on drug importation.”
Gov. Polis can lead our state to greatness, but not with a confusing and contradictory emphasis on local control in “everything” and “all things.” He wasn’t elected to pass important public policy decisions to local politicians with provincial concerns. He was elected to govern our state.
Like his predecessor, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, Polis should govern to defend jobs, broad-based prosperity and economic growth in “everything” and “all things.” We need better roads. We need to protect energy production, which creates or directly supports nearly 10 percent of Colorado’s jobs.
It is the economy, Gov. Polis, that helps us all. Focus on that, and keep Colorado the most successful state in the country.