Jared Schutz Polis is Colorado’s 43rd governor, elected in 2018. He’s the nation’s first openly gay governor and Colorado’s first Jewish governor.
Polis served five terms in the U.S. House, representing the 2nd Congressional District, from Jan. 2009 to Jan. 2019. During his time as a federal lawmaker, he was ranked as one of Congress’ wealthiest members, with an estimated net worth in 2015 at $300 million.
He also served on the state board of education from 2001 to 2007.
Best known as an entrepreneur, he founded or co-founded about 20 companies, including bluemountain.com, which was sold in 1999 for $430 million and $350 million in cash.
He started his first company, American Information Systems, when he was in college, and when it sold, it made him a millionaire at 23. Polis also founded ProFlowers, rebranded as Provide Commerce, which was acquired in 2005 for $477 million. He also founded the Jared Polis Foundation, as well as the New America School charter school and the Academy of Urban Learning, Denver, which is now known as AUL Denver.
Heading into his first bid at reelection as governor, Polis sat down with Colorado Politics to talk about his first term in office, COVID-19 and family. Here's what he told us:
Colorado Politics: You're up for reelection in November. What stands out to you in your first three years as governor, other than COVID and wildfires?
Polis: From the start, saving people money on healthcare has been a big priority because that's a big expense for people. Just as we want to save money on housing, on payroll taxes, on fees, we really leaned into saving people money on healthcare.
In our first year we passed a reinsurance program for people who don't get their insurance from their employer that saves people an average of 20% on their premiums, and even more in Western Colorado and rural Colorado.
The Colorado Option, obviously that is going be implemented over the next few years and we're very excited that that's another step to save people money, hopefully 15% or more on insurance premiums.
Universal free full-day kindergarten (which passed in 2019), that was a big reason I ran. Then there’s early childhood education and preschool, which also save families money and allows parents to reenter the workforce.Voters passed our universal free preschool initiative (Proposition DD in 2020) by more than two thirds of the vote.
That united red counties, blue counties, rural, suburban, and urban areas overwhelmingly because kids should be able to go to preschool. And of course, we're very excited to be rolling that out in the fall of 2023.
CP: Where do you see the biggest gaps? Where do you see the biggest needs right now?
Polis: The biggest need is to find ways where people's costs can go down and save people money. So reducing fees and taxes. The income tax has been cut twice since I’ve been governor from 4.6% to 4.5% (which was through ballot measures).
We'd love to see that go down even more. Cutting payroll taxes and waiving fees wherever we can.
People generally have jobs. Many of them have opportunities to switch and get improvements in their jobs because of the labor shortage, but their costs are going up faster than their income.
I mean, their Christmas ham costs 40% more, gas is $3.90 a gallon. If your income goes up 3% or 4% and your costs go up 8%, then you're not better off. And so we need to focus on the cost piece, to reduce costs where we can and help people hold onto their money.
CP: One of the things that came up when I was talking to Minority Leader Hugh McKean this morning was childcare, and how that’s kept people out of the workforce, primarily women who have had to stay at home or find other means of taking care of their children.
Polis: Absolutely. The availability of low cost childcare is a key way to save families money and help address some of our workforce shortage needs. And so universal preschool is certainly a lynchpin of that, but we're also investing significant funds in childcare.
You'll see some of them in our budget, additional childcare sites. Some of them are also (funded by) one time federal money. That's being passed down to really expand low-cost childcare options that are high quality, and the parents can have confidence in, and that allow parents to return to the workforce sooner if they choose.
CP: COVID hit barely over a year into your first term, 15 months or so. Did you ever anticipate that things were gonna be like this? The last two years have tested everybody, but what have the last two years been like for you?
Polis: Like most Coloradans I experienced it on a personal level, as well. I had worked from home for a period of time. I got COVID and Marlon had to spend two days in the hospital.
I was very excited last December when I signed the FedEx slip to get the very first vaccines in the state. The vaccines have significantly reduced the death rate. It’s a much lower risk if you've been fully vaccinated with all three doses. And so we're in a very different situation now than we were before, but, when you become governor of a state it’s kind of like a marriage: it's for better or worse.
So if you happen to be governor during a global pandemic, you do your best to get your state through. And that's what we've done in Colorado. And I'm proud of the fact that we're one of the fastest economic recoveries with one of the shortest stay home periods. We've been more open than most of the states earlier. All these things took work and we've been very engaged to try to get Colorado through this period.
CP: When you look at the number of people who are still resistant to vaccines, and this is primarily in rural and and frankly, Republican counties, have you thought about how you get through to these people?
Polis: We have one of the higher vaccination rates, which is why we have one of the lower death rates, but it's also true that not everybody is vaccinated. I think we're at about 83% or 84% of adults with the first dose for 18 and up, a little lower if it's 12 and up.
We try to provide accurate, good information to people. I lead all of our COVID press conferences by talking about how many unvaccinated people are in the hospital. The truth is that if you're unvaccinated, this virus can take down healthy people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s and send 'em to the hospital and some won't make it.
If they’re fully vaccinated, the risk is very, very small for people in their 30s, 40s and 50s. There is still some risk, but it's mostly for people in their 70s and 80s who have other preexisting conditions, and even their risk is relatively low if they've been vaccinated with all three doses.
But people are smart. People need to be careful and people know what they to do to manage their lives in a way that has a level of risk, that they're comfortable living with the consequences.
CP: One of the things you're having to combat is a lot of misinformation about the vaccines, about the virus, all that kind of stuff. Where do you go from here when you have to deal with that kind of thing?
Polis: It’s sad because misinformation can be deadly. It’s one thing if people want to believe the the earth is flat, that's relatively harmless. They can believe that, that's their prerogative. But when they start believing things that put their family members at risk, it really is dangerous and that's the world we're in today. So, all that we can do is lead with facts, with information and hope that people reconsider. We’ve certainly encouraged loved ones to engage with their family members and help show them information that could keep them safe.
CP: You've got two kids. When you think about their futures, what do you hope for?
Polis: I hope for a safe world where people show love and respect for one another. We try to make sure that they have the values of respect and civility. And I think it’s important for adults, not just kids, to show civility in all of their interactions in the public sphere around politics and also in their everyday lives. The world could use more civility.
CP: How do they react to things like the Boulder fires and some of the things that you've had to deal with as governor, but also as a dad? How do you explain these things to them?
Polis: They have friends in the areas that were under evacuation. Any parent needs to talk to their kids about fire and you don't want them to be scared of fire, but you need to make sure that they just understand what this means and how evacuation works. It's a good time to go over how evacuating works where we live. If there is a fire, not to be alarmist or try to scare them. It's important that they have the facts they need to be safe.
Age? 46 years old, born May 12, 1975.
Family? Married to Marlon Reis. Two children: Caspian Julius Polis Reis and Cora Barucha Polis Reis.
New Year’s Resolutions? Do you make them and did you make one for 2022? I was in the middle of dealing with the fires, so I didn’t really have much of a New Year’s.
What's one thing about you that most people don't know? I'm the gamer in our house. I like to cook. (He didn’t tell Colorado Politics this, but he’s also a juggler and was a member of the Princeton Juggling Club in college.)
What do you like to cook? What’s your favorite cuisine? Spanakopita (a Greek spinach pie), brisket, omelets and pasta
Steak, sushi, seafood? Sushi, specifically hamachi
Favorite restaurants for sushi? Japango in Boulder and Uchi in Denver.