Democrat Jared Polis’ inauguration Tuesday as the first openly gay U.S. governor firmly moved Colorado to a darker shade of blue — and other celebratory colors of the LGBTQ community — as he vowed to expand health care, pursue publicly funded preschool and protect the environment.
Polis, 43, emphasized his inaugural theme, “Colorado for All,” to mark the historic occasion. He took the oath of office accompanied by his longtime partner and “first gentleman,” Marlon Reis. Their children, Caspian and Cora, also attended.
“I must begin by saying I am very conscious of the fact that there were many brave people over the years who made it possible for someone like me to be standing here giving a speech like this,” Polis said.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the state Capitol on a crisp morning to watch the ceremony under sunny skies. Current lawmakers and former governors attended under tight security that included closed streets.
Leaning over a white metal barricade, Todd Grove, 55, of Denver was amazed that a gay man was being sworn in as governor 25 years after Colorado was dubbed the “hate state” when voters passed a measure to ban anti-discrimination laws that protect gay people. The amendment was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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Grove said he was counting on Polis and a Legislature dominated by other Democrats to push for access to health care and defend the Affordable Care Act, which President Donald Trump has tried to dismantle.
“It’s two steps forward and one step back all the time,” Grove said.
“We have to have those moments where hate doesn’t win,” said Stuart Lord, a former president of Naropa University, a liberal arts school, who spent months canvassing for Polis last year.
Polis is a wealthy tech and education entrepreneur and former five-term congressman from Boulder. He succeeded Gov. John Hickenlooper, a centrist Democrat, former Denver mayor, petroleum geologist and beer pub entrepreneur who served the maximum two terms. Hickenlooper is considering a 2020 presidential run.
Polis trounced then-state treasurer Walker Stapleton in November after a campaign in which health care and Trump’s presidency were the top issues.
Polis’ inauguration marked a special day for LGBTQ advocates nationwide. The planned festivities included an evening “Blue Sneaker Ball,” named after the footwear Polis sported during his campaign. Pop singer and LGBTQ activist Cyndi Lauper and the R&B combo Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats were set to perform.
The new governor has vowed to pursue a public health insurance option and to reduce insurance and prescription costs. He’s called for universal health care, suggesting Colorado could partner with neighboring states to create a regional market.
Polis also promised to pursue publicly funded pre-school and kindergarten. And he made it clear that protecting public lands, confronting climate change and promoting renewable energy are priorities.
Polis once supported fracking limits but has abandoned that stand, saying there’s a place for exports of Colorado oil and gas, a $32 billion industry.
Former state Rep. Dianne Primavera, a health care advocate, was sworn in as lieutenant governor. Primavera is a cancer survivor and most recently led Colorado’s Susan G. Komen Foundation chapter in its battle against breast cancer.
Polis earned his wealth by starting an internet company in college and revolutionizing online greeting cards and floral retail. He served on the state board of education before going to Congress.
Polis insisted Tuesday he will fight what he called the nation’s “growing divisiveness and rising tribalism.”
“We will never, ever, be outworked,” he said. “We will never be stunted by a lack of imagination.”