Colorado Governor’s Race: Jared Polis Defeats Walker Stapleton And Makes History

<p>Meredith Turk/CPR News</p>
<p>Governor-elect Jared Polis speaks at the Democratic election night party on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.</p>

Updated 3:20 p.m. -- Democrat Jared Polis was elected to be Colorado’s next governor on Tuesday, defeating Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and making history as the nation's first openly gay man elected to lead a state. He'll also be Colorado's first Jewish governor.

"Tonight we celebrate and tomorrow we roll up our sleeves," Polis said in a victory speech in downtown Denver. "We have work to do to to turn a bold vision into a reality."

Polis had been leading in the polls for weeks, despite GOP efforts to paint him as too liberal and out of touch for a purple state like Colorado. He will succeed term-limited Democrat John Hickenlooper. Polis, who made his fortune running a greeting card company, is a Boulder resident and has been member of Congress representing northern Colorado since 2008. He invested a record $22 million of his own wealth in the campaign.

“I called congressman Polis and congratulated him," Stapleton said in a concession speech in the south Denver suburbs. "Now is the time for all of use to come together as Coloradans.”

Polis said Tuesday, "We proved that we're an inclusive state that values every contribution regardless of someone's sexual orientation or gender identity," Polis said during his victory speech, according to Denver's CBS4 TV station. "For the LGBTQ pioneers ... who endured so much hardship and hurt to make it possible for so many of us, myself included, to live and to love openly and proudly, and to the people in this room, I want to say I am profoundly grateful for all the work we've done to overcome."

It was a dramatic moment for Colorado, dubbed a "hate state" nationwide when voters in 1992 approved a ban on municipal antidiscrimination laws to protect gay people. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional four years later.

"I'm certainly proud of our state," he told NPR. "I think we are forward looking and an innovative state, our state sent the first Native American to the United States Senate. And I think it's a point of pride among Coloradans that we value people, our neighbors, our friends, and even candidates for office based on their ideas and the content of their character. And you know, not based on who they love."

"Simply put, this is an unprecedented and a historic night," said Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, the state's largest LGBTQ advocacy organization. "Tonight, voters rejected hate and division and elected leaders who will represent and fight for all of their constituents."

Colorado Election Results

The topic of being the first openly gay man elected governor didn’t come up in the campaign, although he did include his husband and two children in campaign ads. And he gleefully thanked his partner, Marlon Reis, on stage, who will now be, "The first, first man in the history of Colorado." And Polis thanked his "great-grandparents, who came to this country penniless, fleeing persecution as Jews in Eastern Europe."

Polis was among a number of high-profile "firsts" on Election Day:

  • Sharice Davids of Kansas and Debra Haaland of New Mexico, both Democrats, became the first Native American congresswomen.
  • Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, both Democrats, became the first Muslim congresswomen.
  • The first open lesbian mom in Congress, also from Minnesota, is Democrat Angie Craig.
  • Democrats Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar became the first Latina congresswomen from Texas.
  • Democrat Ayanna Pressley is Massachusetts' first black member of the House.
  • Republican Marsha Blackburn is Tennessee's first female senator. Republican Kristi Noem is South Dakota's first female governor.
  • Democrat Jahana Hayes is Connecticut's first black woman sent to Congress.

The Centennial State's next leader backs single-payer health care system, which he says he will pursue in conjunction with other Western states. “I won’t give up until we’ve achieved a way to save people money and provide a universal basic level of care,” he told Colorado Matters in September.

He also wants to move Colorado to 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2040. “This transition will create good green jobs and save Coloradans money and make us more competitive as a state,” he said. And he's in favor of greater distances between oil and gas drilling operations and homes and schools, although he opposed Proposition 112, which voters ended up rejecting Tuesday night. It would have required setbacks of 2,500 feet for oil and gas operators.

Polis wants the state to fully fund preschool and kindergarten, and increase education spending overall in an effort to reduce class sizes and bump up teacher pay. "As Governor, I will bring together a winning coalition to establish universal full-day kindergarten and preschool in every community across our state within two years," he promised during the campaign. "High-quality, full-day kindergarten and preschool promotes school readiness, closes achievement gaps, and supports the healthy development of all children."

Still, Polis opposed Amendment 73, which would have raised $1.6 billion for schools via income tax on high earners and corporations. He objected because it would have been enshrined in the state constitution, and “I’ve long been on the side of trying to simplify and get many of these fiscal provisions out of our state constitution so that our state can be more governable,” he told Colorado Matters.

Polis struck a bipartisan tone on Wednesday when he was asked by NPR for his thoughts on being a gay governor in Colorado after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple.

"It's important to remember that when you're elected governor you're everybody's governor," he said. "I'm governor for people in Colorado who are conservative, who didn't vote for me. As well as of course being able to honor the aspirations of those who did vote for me, and I look forward to doing a good job for our state and when it comes to fixing our roads and reducing traffic, it doesn't matter if you're gay or straight. When it comes to expanding healthcare coverage and saving people money, which is one of our big goals, it doesn't have anything to do with who you love or what gender you are."

"I just want to do a good job for the people of Colorado," he added in the NPR interview. "I'm excited to break barriers and I'm excited to highlight the inclusive nature of our state which we're proud of. You know, and at the same time while of course we are faith to a certain extent shows our values and of course the fact that I'm open about who I am can certainly inspire some people. At the end of the day, we still have to fix the roads and improve the schools and save people money on healthcare. And that is really why I was elected and that is what we're going to get to work to do."