Tuesday, February 25, 2020 -
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Gov.-elect Polis speaks to the IJN

Jared Polis, pictured in the IJN offices. (Tim McClanahan)

Jared Polis, pictured in the IJN offices. (Tim McClanahan)

The name of Colorado’s governor-elect is not new to these pages. A quick search through Intermountain Jewish News archives brings up articles about Jared Polis going back to 2004.

That first article was about Polis’ parents and their stationary company, Blue Mountain, and its website, which “Jared Polis, the couple’s eldest son and then a junior at Princeton, designed.”

Fast forward 14 years and Jared Polis’ internet savvy has become a thing of legend. The entrepreneur made his fortune — and at an estimated $400 million it is a substantial one — in the early days of the internet, back when it was still spelled with a capital “I,” when the word “website” had a capital “W” and on-line was hyphenated.

Then he moved on, to philanthropy and public service.

In 2000 he founded the Jared Polis Foundation and was elected to the Colorado State Board of Education. Indeed, the focus on education and technology informed his philanthropy. A 2005 L’Chaim© article reported on Polis donating thousands of computers to schools. He also founded and served as superintendent of a charter school, New America School, which educates new immigrant students in the Denver area.

In 2008, Polis was elected to the US Congress, representing Colorado’s Second District, which includes his hometown. Polis brought his tech knowledge to his new role, delving deeply into internet-related legislation, including net neutrality, freedom of information and intellectual property.

He also engaged in foreign relations, which an interview with the IJN prior to his election hinted at. Speaking in 2008, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was Iran’s president, Polis spoke of the importance of deterring Iran from developing nuclear weapons, as well as the importance of the US-Israel relationship.

Both of these were revisited during Polis’ next meeting with the IJN, in 2015.

On Nov. 6, 2018, Polis was elected governor of the State of Colorado, making him the first Jewish person to hold Colorado’s highest elected office.

In a post-election phone interview, the IJN had the opportunity to ask Polis several questions, from how it feels being Colorado’s first Jewish governor to the current status of the US-Israel relationship.

Q: What does it mean to you to be the first Jewish governor of Colorado, and do you think it’s significant?

I think it’s exciting to know that in our state we can elect somebody of the Jewish faith to be governor. The Jewish values that are instilled in me play a big role. Not only in my worldview but also the reasons that I’m seeking office.

As a great-grandchild of immigrants from the Ukraine and Russia and Poland, I’ve always advocated for Colorado being an inclusive state that welcomes immigrants and refugees, promotes civil rights and celebrates people of all faiths and no faith here in our state.

I’m excited in a day and age where anti-Semitism is on the rise we can provide a more inclusive force in Colorado.

Q: The ADL reports that hate crimes are on the rise in Colorado and nationally. The largest target is the black community, but there’s been a rise against Jews specifically as well. What can the governor’s office do about it?

We have to not just combat hate crimes, but I need to do my best as governor to use responsible rhetoric that brings people together and rejects the false moral equivalency between Nazi sympathizers and those who are exercising their free speech rights.

There are increasing threats against all minority communities, including our Jewish community, in part because of irresponsible rhetoric used by some national leaders. It’s important that the governor try to unify our state and show that we all have something to give and celebrate our diversity.

Q: Were the midterms a referendum on that type of rhetoric?

I think it’s important that we reject anti-Semitism on the left and the right.

While there’s always been a strain of anti-Semitism on both extremes we’ve seen it resurgent on the right in the last few years.

It’s very important that elected leaders of both parties call it out for what it is and make it clear that anti-Semitism is unacceptable, as is racism, sexism or homophobia.

Q: The elections brought a wave of progressives into Congress, some of whom are not necessarily pro-Israel. Is there a larger trend within the Democratic party of turning against Israel?

No. I think the importance of the US-Israel relationship economically and from a security perspective enjoys broad support on both sides of the aisle.

I think that in this day and age with all the uncertainty in the Middle East and with relations with many other countries, [the US-Israel relationship] is an extremely important relationship strategically for our country and that’s recognized by almost all members of both parties nationally.

Q: So you don’t see that having a larger impact on Congress?

The US-Israel relationship has extremely strong support on both sides of the aisle. There are a few Republicans and a few Democrats who don’t support the importance of that relationship, but it has a strong majority support on both sides of the aisle.

Q: Governor Hickenlooper has done a lot of work with Israel, including going on missions, signing anti-BDS legislation in 2016, and forging economic ties where there could be commonalities between Israel and Colorado, such as water issues. Do you plan to continue that?

Absolutely. We’d be very excited as a dry mountain state to be able to learn from Israel with regard to water generation and efficiency. I look forward to working with leaders of both sides to improve commercial ties between Colorado and Israel.

Q: The last time we spoke with you, in 2015, you were very engaged in foreign relations. Will you miss dealing with those kinds of global issues?

I certainly enjoy co-chairing the Kurdish caucus and I’ve been a big support of Kurdish autonomy. The Kurdish people and their regional government have been a good friend of both the United States and Israel and have been treated very poorly by the Iraqi national government and before that by Saddam Hussein.

As governor I will focus more on building commercial relationships. It means that I would focus on the US-Kurdish relationship from a commercial perspective rather than a national security one. I want to encourage Colorado small businesses and large businesses to trade and do commerce with countries across the whole world. I look forward to helping Colorado businesses open doors for new markets and new ideas.

Q: The federal government has been somewhat frozen when it comes to getting things done. What issues do you see states taking a bigger role on if that trend continues?

I want to move forward to improve our schools. I started it as superintendent of a school that helps immigrants learn English.

We want to focus on expanding access to preschool and kindergarten. The early childhood [education] issue is so important.

Making healthcare more affordable.

Protecting our amazing environment in Colorado, our parks, our open spaces that help make our quality of life what it is.

Q: You’ll be able to do that independent of federal government?

All the opportunity to move forward in these areas is going to be at the state level.

Q: Of the main issues you focused on during the campaign — healthcare, education, sustainability — which do you think will be the hardest to achieve?

Nothing’s easy or it would be done already, but I’m willing to take on anybody and any special interest to make progress on all the issues that I ran on and hope to deliver on.

Q: There’s a trend right now in politics of independently wealthy people seeking office. Some say it protects the individual from special interests. Do you think it’s a trend, and is it good for society?

While it wasn’t the main thing I ran on a lot of voters did also vote for me because they knew that I wasn’t beholden to powerful special interests and I would stand up for them.

Our bigger focus was on making progress. I think in healthcare, people valued that I wasn’t backed by the pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies and that I would [be able] to save them money.

I don’t know if [wealthy people seeking office] is happening more than it did a century ago. I think that people from all walks of life are willing to roll up their sleeves and run for office. If you look at Congress, you have teachers there and nurses and retired military and successful business people.

In general, you want to elect people that are successful as opposed to not successful in whatever career they’ve chosen.

If your career is military, that doesn’t mean that you’ve become wealthy, but it means you’ve worked up the ranks and gotten good performance ratings and you retire as a high-level officer.

For a nurse, it might mean that you had some type of supervisory capacity and you went over to public service.

So I think that we want to have representatives of all walks of life that have been successful in their careers, because they’re going to carry that success into the public sphere.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Shana Goldberg

IJN Assistant Publisher | shana@ijn.com

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