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In one fell swoop Tuesday, Colorado’s economy could go from best in the country to one that stepped off a cliff.

Oh, and it’s not just all those ill-conceived ballot measures. Imagine waking up Wednesday to a governor-elect who would imprison small-business owners for infractions of labor regulations.

That’s precisely what Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis plans to do. We know, it sounds so over the top it must be a stretch of information taken out of context.

That is exactly what we thought when Compass Colorado blasted this absurd-sounding concern in an email Friday under the headline “Jared Polis suggests the Jailing of Businesspeople — No, Really.”

Our best hope for Polis as potential governor rests in his stature as a wildly successful self-made businessman. If elected, we hope he works as a business-friendly governor in the tradition of Democratic governor and entrepreneur John Hickenlooper.

So surely, this thing about jailing businesspeople could not be true. Right?

Wrong. Compass found obscure footage of Polis at a church-based forum on June 2 with primary challengers Mike Johnston, Donna Lynne and Cary Kennedy. Asked what he would do to strengthen employment in Colorado, Polis said he would push to arrest and imprison employers for actions traditionally resolved with civil complaints settled out of court.

“We have good labor laws on the books, but they lack teeth and they lack enforcement,” Polis said, after explaining his position as top Democrat on the House Labor Subcommittee. “So we propose adding real criminal penalties to violations of our labor laws. That’s when executives and businesses will notice it. When they don’t see it as a cost of doing business, but they see it as ‘wait a minute, I could go to prison for doing wrong by the workers, and wage theft, or for firing somebody for retribution.’ So we can do that here in Colorado. We can really push the envelope in making sure we are serious.”

This is the same politician who rightly opposes imprisoning people for nonviolent crimes such as possession of drugs for personal use.

This is the same politician who understands the social costs of imprisoning people who pose no serious threat to public safety.

“We know that incarceration of family members can be emotionally and financially taxing on loved ones, and it’s important that we identify and end predatory practices in our prisons,” Polis explains on his campaign website.

Instead of keeping so many nonviolent people in cages, Polis favors “rehabilitation, diversion, alternative and restorative justice programs.”

Unless, that is, one runs a business and violates any of a tangle of labor laws that require CPAs and attorneys to fully understand. That person belongs behind bars for what have always been treated as nonviolent civil violations resolved with fines and financial reparations.

We will not attract entrepreneurs and business leaders to Colorado by threatening to cage them over infractions anyone can easily commit with no ill will.

Combine this revelation with a spate of anti-business ballot measures, and Tuesday could be the day we look to:

  • Imprison employers for employment regulation infractions
  • Kill tens of thousands of jobs in one year with 2,500-foot oil and gas setbacks proposed by Amendment 112
  • Raise taxes on middle-class and wealthy wage earners under Amendment 73, making them long for Texas, Wyoming, or other states with no income taxes or tax rates substantially lower than ours
  • Stifle development with Amendment 74, which favors trial lawyers suing any time a local government allows land use that potentially affects another property in some negative way

Times are good. Enjoy them for the next few days. Tuesday could be the election that strangles the golden goose – or locks it up in prison.

the gazette

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