Tusinski: Gov. Jared Polis is not the progressive you think he is

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Collegian | Dylan Tusinski

Dylan Tusinski, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

In 2018, when Jared Polis was first running to be Colorado’s governor, he pitched himself as a progressive candidate set to disrupt the Coloradan political establishment.

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While on the campaign trail, Polis held rallies in the Colorado State University Lory Student Center and across Colorado alongside congressmen Bernie Sanders and Joe Neguse, both of whom are among the most progressive national politicians in the country. The aim was to drum up support from Colorado’s progressive voters, and it worked.

Over the course of his 2018 campaign, Polis voiced support for all sorts of progressive causes. He pitched the idea of an in-state Medicare for all, expressed support for taxing the rich, proposed putting a tax on carbon emissions and stumped for a Green New Deal-esque pivot toward 100% renewable energy.

All of these would’ve been good policies if Polis had actually decided to implement them. Needless to say, though, he didn’t.

Over the course of the last four years, Polis has done lots of work to contradict the progressive policy plans he was elected to implement.

Instead of shifting to renewable energy, Polis decided to rapidly increase oil and gas production in Colorado. He oversaw a huge boom in fracking and passively allowed fracking companies to pump “forever chemicals” into the ground, according to CPR News.

Due to Polis’ lax environmental regulations, Colorado’s air quality has become one of the worst in the country, with state air pollution regulators going so far as to falsify data in order to approve oil drilling permits.

The environment isn’t the only realm in which Polis has doubled back on his progressive platform, though. Another notable example is health care.

Polis was a staunch supporter of single-payer health care in 2018. He ran on a progressive platform that would’ve given Colorado a revolutionary in-state Medicare-for-all program, and to his credit, Polis did help his Democratic colleagues in the Colorado Legislature create a bill that would’ve helped kickstart such a program.

“When we elect a progressive candidate, we should expect them to stick to their word. If his first term showed us anything, it’s that Polis is just a moderate in progressive clothing.”

Shortly after, though, Polis and the Democrats dropped the policy when the pandemic hit — when people needed affordable health care most. In the two years since, there hasn’t been any movement on the issue, either from Polis or his party. Instead, Colorado’s private hospitals raked in historic income due to Polis’ and Democratic inaction.

To underscore it all, though, when Polis and his Democratic colleagues were sizing up their legislative priorities back in 2018, they knew they’d need to increase taxes on the wealthy if they wanted to get anything done. They knew their plans were too big and too bold to work underneath Colorado’s existing tax codes, so they started drawing up legislation to raise the taxes on the 1%.

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When push came to shove, Polis decided not to tax the rich. Estimates from a few years back found that Polis had a net worth of over $300 million, and a bombshell report from last year found that Polis paid “little or no federal income taxes” for the better part of the decade before he became governor, according to Colorado Politics.

But hey, despite all the broken campaign promises, environmental degradation, structurally unfair income inequality and expensive health care, Polis did do a couple things right. To his credit, he approved a universal preschool program in the state, capped insulin prices and codified abortion rights into Colorado law.

Those are all meaningful progressive policies we’re better off for having, and Polis deserves credit for implementing them.

Even though those are all good things, they feel small in comparison to the dozens of broken promises and policy betrayals Polis oversaw.

Between Polis and his election-denying, abortion-restricting Republican challenger Heidi Ganahl, Polis is clearly the right choice. Polis may be a bad governor, but his opponent is much, much worse.

At the end of the day, though, we could do so much better. We deserve so much better. When we elect a progressive candidate, we should expect them to stick to their word. If his first term showed us anything, it’s that Polis is just a moderate in progressive clothing.

Reach Dylan Tusinski at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @unwashedtiedye.