In Colorado, First Openly Gay (And Jewish) Man on Track to Become a U.S. Governor

Jared Polis will square off against Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton for a seat that Republicans haven’t held in this purple state in more than a decade

U.S. Rep Jared Polis waves to the crowd while accepting the Democratic nomination for the Colorado Governor's race at an election night rally, Tuesday, June 26, 2018, in Broomfield, Colo.
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Colorado’s primary delivered a left-versus-Trump showdown for this year’s gubernatorial elections, with Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who is both openly gay and Jewish, squaring off against Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton for a seat that Republicans haven’t held in this purple state in more than a decade.

Colorado was derided in the 1990's for passing an amendment to its constitution making it illegal for the state to pass laws that would protect LGBT citizens from discrimination - boycotters at the time dubbed it the "hate state." 

The liberal Polis, a five-term congressman from Boulder, and Stapleton, who embraced President Donald Trump’s immigration and tax policies, wasted no time in trading barbs following their primary victories Tuesday.

“Make no mistake: As governor, Jared Polis will raise every tax and fee he can to take more money from hardworking Coloradans,” Stapleton said.

“People are tired of hearing that divisive political rhetoric,” Polis said. “They want a governor who can unite rather than divide them. I can work with Trump when we need to, but I am not beholden to him.”

As a Democrat, Polis is an early, though far from guaranteed, favorite to become Colorado’s next governor. Colorado’s last Republican governor was Bill Owens, who served from 1999 to 2007. Centrist Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is term-limited.

In other races, Democrat Jason Crow won the primary in suburban Denver’s 6th Congressional District to try to unseat five-term Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman. Doug Lamborn, the six-term Republican congressman in El Paso County’s 5th Congressional District, easily won his primary and is a heavy favorite to keep the seat.

Polis, a tech entrepreneur and one of the wealthiest members of Congress, advocates single-payer health care, local control over Colorado’s $31 billion oil and gas industry and lofty renewable energy goals for the state.

He invested $12 million in his campaign and is a fierce critic of the Trump administration’s immigration policies and efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Polis also wants to secure free preschool and kindergarten for all Colorado children.

Stapleton, a distant relative of President George W. Bush, closely wedded himself to Trump on virtually every issue — even refusing to condemn the Trump administration’s immigrant family separation policies — except trade, where he opposes tariffs that could produce a trade war and harm Colorado industries.

He welcomed the federal repeal in the individual mandate that helps subsidize the Affordable Care Act and has pledged to fight any public expansion, especially when it comes to Medicaid.

Stapleton attacked Polis as someone who would chase energy jobs out of Colorado, and he also opposes Polis’ pledge to modify a constitutional amendment that severely restricts Colorado’s ability to raise taxes or spending.

Polis argues that Colorado’s rapid population growth — 5.6 million people and counting — demands a fiscal system that allows the state to invest needed billions of dollars in its underfunded infrastructure and public education.

A former state board of education member and founder of English-language schools for immigrants, Polis defeated former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who was endorsed by Colorado’s teachers unions. Former state Sen. Mike Johnston, an educator and gun control advocate, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne also ran.

Stapleton defeated former state Rep. Vic Mitchell, who invested nearly $5 million in his own campaign; Doug Robinson, a first-time candidate and nephew of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; and businessman Greg Lopez.

A voter-approved initiative in 2016 allowed unaffiliated voters, Colorado’s largest voting bloc, to participate in either the Democratic or the Republican primary. Early numbers showed more than 30 percent of active voters cast ballots, a high percentage for a primary in a non-presidential election year.