Inflation, crime, and sprawl are realities in Colorado. Gov. Jared Polis wants a second term to fight them

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39min 19sec
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democratic Gov. Jared Polis at his campaign headquarters in Denver, Sept. 29, 2022, interviewed by Colorado Matters’ Ryan Warner.

Democratic Governor Jared Polis is running for a second term against Republican Heidi Ganahl.

Polis, who lives in Boulder, served in Congress for 10 years before he was elected governor of Colorado in 2018.

In that first election, Polis promised to provide full-day kindergarten and universal preschool. He met both of those goals and cites them now, along with his management of the COVID-19 pandemic, as proof that he should be re-elected.

In an interview with Colorado Matters, Polis said if he’s elected again he’ll focus on creating affordable housing and reducing Colorado’s fast-growing crime rate.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Ryan Warner: In 1980, Ronald Reagan famously asked Americans in a debate with Jimmy Carter, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ I think economically, mentally, socially, a lot of Coloradans might say no or at least hesitate to answer yes. I'd like you to talk to a Coloradan who says, ‘I'm not better off. I want a change.’

Jared Polis: We've had a global pandemic. We've had the three largest wildfires in the history of our state. Right now there's global inflation, worse in parts of Europe and the rest of the world, but still very significant here in the United States. I think what people are looking to is proven leadership that understands the difficulties and pain people are going through and has a plan to make life better. And that's what we've done.

We got Colorado through the pandemic, ninth-lowest death rate, one of the shortest economic shutdowns in the entire nation, less days out of school than most other states. We upped our wildfire response. We're ready for what lies ahead. We purchased our first state Firehawk helicopter. We've leased exclusive capacities so we don't have to compete with fires in other states. And we've really centered our focus on saving people money.

Every Coloradan and every small business is going to be paying less on their property taxes, whether it's eliminating Social Security taxes, state Social Security taxes. Making it a dollar to start a business to encourage entrepreneurship, sending everybody out a $750 rebate close to a year ahead of schedule, and 95 more things that we got done including free preschool and kindergarten for every family. 

So I think what people understand is, sadly Colorado exceptionalism doesn't set us apart from actions that affect the entire world. But we're forging a very good path forward here in Colorado.

Warner: When it comes to the $750, there was bipartisan support for moving that up and recalibrating what people got in terms of checks. But that was a function of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights of which Democrats have often been very critical. I am curious if you win a second term if there is a marquee proposal similar to what you had four years ago. For instance, you set a goal of universal kindergarten. That's now a reality.

Polis: For a second term there's a lot of work ahead. I think when you look at the big costs that people have, (like) health care. The other big cost people have is housing. Simply put it costs too much to live close to where jobs are in our state. We have so many people I hear from where their 26-year-old’s living in their basement and will never be able to afford that down payment to get out.

People that are forced to live further and further from work, putting more cars on the road, more pollution, more traffic for all of us. So the big challenge that we hope to do is essentially create more opportunities for housing that people can actually afford to buy. So think $300,000s and $400,000s (home prices) as opposed to $600,000s and $700,000s, close to where jobs are, aligning our water needs as a state, our energy needs as a state, and our infrastructure needs in our state with those housing needs to drive affordable housing.

Number two, we're going to make Colorado one of the 10 safest states in the nation. We're currently 21st in violent crime. That's not good enough for the residents of Colorado. We're not a middle-of-the-pack state. 

Editor's note: Colorado did rank 21st in the nation, including Washington, D.C., in 2020 but violent crime has increased nearly 40 percent from its low point in 2013, a steady increase over the last decade that has taken the state from below average to above average.

If I’m reelected governor, we're going to have a thoughtful bipartisan solution that includes better support for behavioral health. We've already begun to do that. Making sure we look at better support for law enforcement. We've already stepped up from the state to support local law enforcement, and a comprehensive approach. Dealing with all the factors that impact crime to help actually prevent crimes before they occur and make Colorado one of the safest states in the nation and we're going to get it done.

Warner: A lot to unpack there. Why don't we start with crime? We can get to housing in just a bit because we've heard from a lot of Coloradans that that concerns them. I think that there are any number of people who would say the Polis administration has not delivered when it comes to public safety. This has become a more dangerous state.

Polis: I think anybody who's serious about public safety – and I have support from many sheriffs and DAs – has really come together around our plan to make Colorado one of the safest states. First of all, how do we put this plan together? We really consulted with and worked with professionals in the field. You know, whether it's law enforcement, police chiefs, sheriffs, DAs, I've held a number of meetings at the Governor's Mansion, at the Capitol, out in the field, visited co-response models in Summit County which we modeled some of our state support for co-response models after. So we've put together a data-driven plan. 

Warner: Give me an example from the plan. Something you want to achieve.

Polis: The first step, we already got through the legislature, which is $160 million investment, more and better policing support for retention, recruitment bonuses. 

One of the things really affecting our entire economy is it’s hard to fill jobs, right? There's more jobs posted than there are applicants. Obviously, that's a better problem to have than not having enough jobs. But it does make it hard in mission-critical sectors, law enforcement, teaching. We hear this from many companies as well.

So retention bonuses, signing bonuses for law enforcement, helping to support training of new law enforcement, training personnel. And then, co-response models. This means that when you have a behavioral health crisis, when you have somebody who's having a psychotic event or a breakdown, it's not always a law enforcement officer that is the best response on the scene. It's often somebody with mental health training and support to bring that situation under control, freeing up our law enforcement resources to go after criminals and fight crime and keep us safer.

Warner: When it comes to recruiting law enforcement, there are some who say that a reform bill that Democrats passed, with some bipartisan support, made it more difficult to be an officer. That you could be sued individually, for instance, for your work on the job. That it has dissuaded people from joining law enforcement. Are the legislature's own actions and your own signature part of the issue in attracting law enforcement?

Polis: When I hear from law enforcement agencies across the state there's a lot of factors that go into the challenges. And again, these challenges are not unique to law enforcement — health care, education. We had to do a program for lifeguards this summer to get our public pools open because there simply weren't enough lifeguards in our pools. So we're seeing this across many sectors.

I think the financial incentives (for) retention helps. The fact that our men and women in blue know that the governor of the state has their back, the additional steps we're taking to keep our law officers safer in the field. I think it all comes together. But it's a challenging time to get the folks we need for a lot of positions and making sure they'll help more Coloradans step up and serve is going to be a key part of keeping our community safer.

Warner: So let me get very clear on the record. You do not believe the police reform bill has resulted in it being more difficult to attract law enforcement?

Polis: I'm a data-driven guy. If there's any aspect of that bill that our law enforcement professionals are saying they want to change or improve. I'm always open to working with the legislature on those improvements.

Warner: On the subject of crime, I'd like to talk about drugs and particularly fentanyl. Earlier in your administration, the legislature passed legislation that reduced penalties for certain amounts of fentanyl. In this past session, they undid that and strengthened those penalties. Do you think that original bill in 2019 contributed to the fentanyl crisis that we have seen?

Polis: Well, it's important that we have some intellectual honesty on this. Fentanyl has been illegal, is illegal and as long as I'm governor will be illegal in Colorado. So what we're talking about here is what penalties you have for possession, I hope there's consensus around stronger penalties for drug dealers. We added new charges that never existed before for pill presses, for instance, that are mixing fentanyl in with other drugs.

The people that we want to go after from a criminal perspective, lock up for a long time, are the people selling, dealing, facilitating this poison entering our communities.

When you talk about an addict, it's complicated. And you might know people who struggle with addiction, I certainly do. There's a criminal element and sometimes it takes that fear of prison or the ability to prosecute to be able to get cooperation from somebody who might be a user so we can actually indict and get the drug dealer. But at the same time, we want to extend compassion and help. We want to make sure that there's a route for treatment, a route for recovering your sobriety.

Warner: And there were aspects of the legislation passed in this last session that did all of that. But back to the question of 2019 and reducing penalties on fentanyl, did that make Colorado less safe?

Polis: I'm always a data-driven person so if you can show me the policies that make people safer, whether it's more criminalization of fentanyl or less criminalization of fentanyl, I would say I am going to follow the data around making Colorado safer and ending this availability of this poison in our state. I think that absolutely stronger criminal penalties have a role and I was proud to sign the bipartisan bill to add additional penalties that never existed before.

I’m sick and tired of the bodies piling up in our state. We need to make sure that people know how dangerous it is, and avoid even taking that first dose of something that might be contaminated with fentanyl.

Warner: Just one last time here, you talk about bodies piling up. So Colorado reduced penalties around fentanyl and bodies started piling up. Do you draw a connection –

Polis: You’re implying causality. Fentanyl deaths have gone up in every state. There are many states that have felony treatment of fentanyl, there are many states that have misdemeanor treatment of fentanyl. It's illegal in every state. It's illegal in Colorado, always has been. But regardless of what the criminal penalty is, fentanyl deaths have gone up in the United States. 

It's a border security issue, it's a criminal issue of going after dealers and people that are mixing fentanyl in with other drugs because many of the victims are unsuspecting. Of course, it's a drug treatment and rehabilitation issue as well.

Warner: I hear you talking about crime and in a way it sounds like Democrats are the ones to fix it. But I think that your critics will say Democrats are the ones that contributed to it.

Polis: Well first of all it's just wrong. Crime has gone up in Republican states like Texas and Florida. It's gone up in Colorado. Unfortunately, criminals don't care whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge; what matters in reducing crime are the solutions you have to solve it. 

Now the best way to prevent crime is to prevent it from occurring. After it's occurred, of course, you want to capture those responsible, hold them accountable and make sure they're unable to commit a criminal act again. But you also want to make sure that you have better behavioral health support, youth programming, to make sure people don't resort to a life of crime. Recovery treatment to prevent people from being driven to crime from drug addiction. So you really need a comprehensive effort if you really want to have an impact on reducing crime.

Warner: I'd like to talk about housing. The idea of people living closer to where their jobs are. It sounds like that's going to be a priority if you win a second term. What is the power you have and how will you use it?

Polis: It ties into a lot of how we can enjoy life even more in our great state of Colorado, maintain a strong positive business environment because we need to have people that can afford to power our economy and live. People want to be able to support themselves and have kids. It ties into our water future. At the end of the day, we simply can't afford as a state to continue more sprawl, from a water perspective, from a traffic perspective, from a livability perspective.

Warner: So you want to reduce sprawl in Colorado. What's your instrument? What's your tool for that?

Polis: We’ve already begun that work. We've taken a first tentative steps. When we received the American Rescue Act money, over $4 billion, we did a bipartisan statewide listening tour. We said, ‘What are those big challenges in Colorado?’ And in every corner of our state, from Fort Morgan to Denver to Grand Junction to Pueblo, housing, housing, housing came up. Different dimensions, different characteristics but that was an issue.

That's why we began to really make that a major source of investment. And we tied that investment as a carrot to local zoning reforms. Meaning cities have to want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem to be able to benefit from the increased funding to support housing. And we need to go further down that road as a state.

Warner: To put this in different words, the idea was, ‘Hey, local communities, the state will give you some of these dollars if you build housing, affordable housing near where people work or perhaps near transit, for instance.’ So it's been a carrot to this point. What's the stick?

Polis: I think that we're willing to look at all the options of working with communities across the state.

Warner: Name one. I don't know what they are.

Polis: I mean it's about land use, it's about water. We have to tie our water policy to our land use policy. When you look at what's happening with the Colorado River compact, when you look at the climate change that's occurring with the hotter, drier climate, we can't simply allow these things to exist in silos. 

As we work to be thoughtful about what Colorado will look like in the face of a changing climate, from a water perspective, a fire perspective, but also an affordability perspective and a traffic perspective, we really need to make sure that the state is able to be front and center in addressing items of statewide concern, which I've identified here as housing simply costs too much.

Warner: Would you say at any point, ‘Hey, community, you can't build that there?

Polis: Local communities decide what gets built where, but there's a lot of levers the state has both on the carrot and the stick side about making sure we’re doing this in a thoughtful, inter-jurisdictional manner.

I'm a strong supporter of local control but where the decisions of one community affect the quality of life in a neighboring community or a community across town, that's where we really need to look at this as an inter-jurisdictional and statewide manner. And housing fits squarely into that category where the decisions of one community affect the quality of life for the entire metropolitan region of Colorado Springs, of Denver, of Grand Junction, of Pueblo, or of Eastern Colorado.

Warner: The numbers are remarkable when it comes to housing prices. We looked back four years ago when you were running for the first time. In Pueblo, the median price of a house is up 70 percent, 40 percent in Denver. This year the city of Fort Collins ranks seventh in the country in housing price increases. The market has slowed a bit recently given interest rates but Coloradans are still being priced out of homes. This occurred in the four years you have held office. I go back to the question of has your administration come up short on this? 

Polis: I can't help it if we made Colorado an even more amazing place to live. The truth is we have, with preschool and kindergarten, with saving people money. We have people from across the country and across the world who say, ‘Look, Governor Polis’ success story in Colorado, it’s something we want to be a part of.’ And that creates its own challenges like housing.

Now we have an opportunity to address this. The average price in Colorado, I think it's about $600,000 for a home. Obviously, it's going to depend a lot on the markets. 

We are still considerably lower than California. They're now in many markets over $1 million for the price of a home. We have a few markets that are that high too, but overall the state is around $600,000. If we fail to take the kind of steps that I'm talking about in terms of creating more affordable housing opportunities, $300,000s and $400,000s (homes) near where jobs are, Colorado will become like California.

So I think we need the courage of our convictions and we need to act boldly and we need to act now and sooner, or else we'll be acting after the fact. Now, finally, states like California and Oregon are looking at housing and doing something about it. And you see some of the measures they're doing around accessory dwelling units and density around transit corridors and Colorado can do that now under our leadership or we can simply step aside, avoid conflict, wait 10 years and do it after homes cost $1 million right here in Colorado.

Warner: It seemed that you were hinting at the notion of tying population and development to water. Could you expound on your view there? I mean, you know, I think the plainest way to put this is water might be the final arbiter of how many people can live in a place based on how much is available.

That's a good way of looking at it. Again, another alternative and a road we don't want to go down for our state and again this is a difference between my opponent and I. I oppose ‘buy and dry’ policies that dry up agricultural lands to support our growing suburbs. I've come out against the project to buy out the water rights of San Luis Valley, ending generations, centuries of farming and ranching to support more homes in Douglas County.

Warner: Well, she, too, actually has said that she opposes that diversion.

Polis: That's good. But with me, it's not a question of having to get me to do it, it's a matter of principle. I don't support pitting one part of Colorado against another. It's not some painstaking path I agonized over. It's a very simple discussion and that's where I'll always be.

It also means that we need to make sure we can develop in a water-smart way. You look at some of the steps the city of Aurora is taking around water efficiency and developments, we're aligning that with more water efficiency for state-owned facilities. But it's also about how we build and have housing for the future in a more water-sustainable way.

Warner: What about storage? You know, these giant storage projects get reviewed and held up for years. What potential is there, there?

Polis: Of course. I think that we have to move forward and we support additional storage projects in Colorado. Each of them is expensive, each of them is difficult, you can't store your way out of a hotter, drier climate. That being said, of course, we support additional water infrastructure projects. But at the same time, we really need to look, make sure that we can grow our community in a sustainable way that reduces our usage without sacrificing our quality of life.

Warner: Can you name one that you support — a water storage project?

Polis: Well, they're locally driven. So I mean, which ones have state financial support? We have funded the state water plan. We plan to continue funding the state water plan. Each and every one of the storage projects is locally driven by the local basins and the communities and the hardest challenge is often getting the entire community on board to support it. Often they affect several communities, and of course the state will step up to help where we can with the resources that we have to help make sure that we can deliver on more water storage.

Warner: If you see the local buy-in — but it doesn't sound like you're prepared to name a project that has your backing?

Polis: There's many underway across the state. Again, the challenge is always getting them through and getting them done. The state can be a funding partner. We should be a funding partner. But these are not originated by the state, nor should they be. They're always originated by local communities and water basins across the state.

Warner: Economists at CU-Boulder just released their business confidence index and pessimism abounds among corporate leaders. They cite inflation, interest rates, the supply chain among other factors for their negative perceptions. What would you tell these pessimistic business leaders?

Polis: To be clear, they're not pessimistic about Colorado. This is about the global business climate. I think if we ask them they're probably more optimistic about our state, but we are subject to the economy. Colorado is part of the United States, the United States is part of the world. I can tell you on behalf of the state of Colorado, we're prepared for what lies ahead under my leadership. 

We would be entering any potential recession with the highest reserve levels in both absolute numbers and as a percentage that Colorado's ever had and we're well positioned for what lies ahead. We have a diverse economy. We're working to recruit more companies here. We’re getting a good strong diverse economy to weather whatever lies ahead. I can tell you Colorado's recovery is one of the strongest in the nation.

Warner: You and your opponent both want to repeal the state income tax, although you'd go about it differently. The income tax is the biggest source of revenue to the state government, $11 billion a year give or take right now. Why do you want to repeal that tax and how do you replace that amount of revenue?

Polis: So there's a big difference here between my opponent's plan and my plan. First of all, what I'm talking about is revenue neutral. So it means that I'm not talking about making government smaller or making government bigger. I'm just talking about how we can get the revenue we need to function, support our schools, support our prisons, support law enforcement in a way that is less … 

Warner: She very much wants to make governments smaller, by the way.

Polis: She wants to eliminate the income tax which would reduce the state general funds by about 40 percent, and that would mean slashing school budgets, increase class size, cutting teacher pay, closing down prisons, all the things that are supported out of the general fund. I'm talking about simply making sure that we can encourage productivity and growth through a tax code that works for Colorado, that's fair, and more pro-growth.

Warner: So what is the alternative source of income, massive income?

Polis: The big sort of audacious idea that I like to talk about, it will be a matter for the people of Colorado to vote on, to be clear. But I would look at replacing income tax, I consider (income) positive, we shouldn’t penalize it, with taxing something that's negative, like pollution, emissions and carbon.

So if we can move to revenue neutral, not making the government bigger, not making government smaller, just funding what we need in a way that supports the growth of business, supports individuals earning income, and instead penalizes things that we all agree are negative like pollution and carbon emissions. I think that would be a better way to go for our state. 

Warner: And a massive change that you want to bring about in a second four-year term, do I have the timeline correct?

Polis: Well, again, I, I want to be clear that the voters have their say in what I'm talking about because this would be a fiscal matter for the voters of our state, if we can successfully put together the numbers, make it work. In the meantime, the income tax has gone down twice during my time as governor. I'm hopeful we can deliver additional cuts to the income tax.

My opponent talks about eliminating it without replacing it with anything. That would absolutely completely undermine funding for our schools, our prisons, our roads. Colorado would become a less safe place, a more dangerous place and a place where our schools would rank last in the country. 

Warner: She says that it would become a more business-friendly place and that that would be a boost in terms of revenue to the state.

Polis: You know what? Businesses need to hire people and we need good schools to prepare people for success. When businesses look at coming to Colorado, they're always asking the tough questions about our schools and what families can expect and if you're cutting teacher pay by 40 percent, increasing class size and making Colorado less safe by defunding state patrol and defunding our prisons, you're not going to have any businesses coming here even if the tax rate is zero.

Warner: Your opponent says that, during your term, there have been 4,000 hires in state government and that she thinks that the state payrolls are bloated. Do you think that's true?

Polis: Well, I hope she can identify some areas to cut because … 

Warner: Transportation is one of them. She thinks that CDOT just has too many people.

Polis: When you look at where the people are, and particularly at an agency like CDOT, many of them are here because they're federally funded through the American Rescue Act for two years or for three years, and then those positions go away. To make sure that we administer those funds, every state has hired people to make sure that we're able to use those funds.

If she can tell me who's doing something that doesn't need to be done, I would be thrilled to write that out of the budget and save that money and send it to our classrooms or to keep Colorado safe by funding our police.

Warner: Speaking of the state income tax, I want to ask you about Prop 121, which would cut it from 4.55 percent to 4.40 percent. Are you for or against 121?

Polis: I really ran for governor to get rid of our income tax, cut our income tax. We've done it twice. This will be the third time. I'll be voting for it.

Warner: On the same subject, the highest earners in Colorado would see fewer deductions if a different measure Prop FF passes. The additional state revenue would pay for universal free school lunches. Does that have your support, Governor?

Polis: I haven't made up my mind on that one. I don't have an objection to the funding mechanism but at the same time I sort of ask myself, if we had this would it be better just to be able to pay teachers better, reduce class size or is the best use of it lunches for upper- middle-income families? 

I mean it's up to the people of Colorado. It doesn't affect the state finances one way or the other because it's effectively revenue neutral with the mechanism. So I'll look forward to reviewing that in my Blue Book like everybody else and making my decision.

Warner: You have invoked climate change and I'd like to explore it further with you. During a recent debate in Pueblo you boasted that you drove a combustion engine car:

(Gubernatorial debate, Jared Polis and Heidi Ganahl, Sept. 28, 2022)

Polis: I drive an internal combustion engine and I’m proud of it.

Ganahl: I also have a Chevy Express conversion van with 120,000 miles on it.

Polis: Not everybody can afford a Tesla like my opponent.

Ganahl: You can.

Polis: Yeah. I drive an internal combustion engine. I think that’s all you need to know about it, right? 

Ganahl: Why don’t you walk the talk, Jared?

Warner: It was in such stark contrast to your administration's drum beat around electric car adoption, were you undermining your own beliefs to appeal to certain voters with that?

Polis: I believe in freedom. You probably see my ads. What do you get with me? Lower taxes, more freedom. Very simple. Drive what you want to drive. 

Do I want to make sure we have the infrastructure so people can choose electric vehicles? Absolutely. We've increased the availability of different models of electric vehicles on the market. I want to empower people to make choices.

I choose a Ford Escape. Will my next car be electric? Perhaps it will when I shop for one in a few years, but I'm only about six years into this car. It has a few more years to go. 

I'm willing like every consumer to make those trade-offs. I'm all about empowering people to make the best choices for them. There should be no shame or there should be no pride. I want to increase the availability of those decisions. So if you want to be able to choose electric you can have the convenience of low-cost charging available across the state.

Warner: But I think people concerned about climate change look to you for leadership. And think, ‘Why is this guy celebrating the combustion engine?’

Polis: ‘Celebrating’ is a heavy word. I'm not ashamed and I'm not bragging. It’s what I drive. My prior Ford Escape was a hybrid Ford Escape and I totaled it about eight years ago. I had that one for about eight or nine years. And then, unfortunately, they discontinued the hybrid model. I liked the hybrid. If they had one, my current car would be a Ford Escape hybrid. But then they discontinued that so now I drive the regular Ford Escape.

I'm about increasing choices for Colorado. That's what they get with me. More freedom, lower taxes and of course part of empowering people to choose electric cars if they want them is making sure that they have low-cost access to charging, including on our corridors, our highways, our scenic byways, making it easier to charge at work. We've now upped purchases of EVs for the state fleet to about a third of our new vehicles. That saves taxpayers money.

We've also empowered school districts to use electric school buses, which can reduce their operating costs, their diesel fuel cost, which frees more money up for the classroom to pay teachers better and reduce class size. Those are the kind of smart investments that I'm happy to support.

Warner: I want to talk a bit about ozone, which can cause lung damage, make asthma worse, and cars are a big contributor. 

The EPA now wants to move Colorado from a serious rating to a severe one. And that would have two major effects, drivers would have to buy a cleaner and more expensive blend of gasoline. It would also put new permitting requirements on industrial sources. 

When you and I talked a few months ago, you said that the change by the EPA was fine with you. You've since changed that position, asking the EPA to reconsider, particularly, the mandate on the more expensive reformulated gasoline. Now you say you will pursue all legal strategies to avoid that requirement. Why the change?

Polis: Well, first of all, I am not only fine (with) but supportive of being able to have increased authority over reducing industrial emissions and some of the pollution. So there's been no issue we've raised with that.

Warner: … is the idea that polluters would be cracked down upon, essentially? 

Polis: Absolutely, because we all value cleaner air in our state. We want to make sure that we can reduce asthma, people are healthy. It's a really important priority for us. And we have made significant investments in cleaner air.

Warner: But presumably reformulated gasoline is also about people's health.

Polis: When you look at the cost and the benefit, it just doesn't add up when you look at the cost to Coloradans. We're going to do everything we can to stop it and I think we will. But if they increase gas prices – there's different estimates … 

Warner: The EPA says three cents.

Polis: Three cents a gallon, 30 cents a gallon, maybe let's call it 10 cents a gallon, whatever it is. It's probably somewhere between 8 cents a gallon. If you look at the value of that money, we could do so much more to clean our air than the marginal at best improvements from reformulated gas. For instance, you could put that money into supporting and making it even more affordable for Coloradans to drive electric vehicles and e-bikes.

We have an e-bike program for people who want to commute with e-bikes. And of course, we'd love to be able to reduce the price even further of electric vehicles for those who choose them.

Warner: So is that your message to the EPA? Hold off on this, we'll invest it there.

Polis: There's a negotiation piece and there's a legal piece and I can probably speak more to the negotiation piece. We hold our cards pretty close for fighting for our legal prerogative here in our state to make sure that Coloradans aren't forced to pay more for gas.

On the negotiation side we can show what the dollarization would be and how we could get not just as-clean air as if the reformation went forward, but significantly cleaner air with the same resources that we're excited to look at.

We want to do more with less. We don't want to do less with more and we want to make sure we maximize the improvements to our air, minimize costs to Colorado consumers.

Warner: We do know that transportation is a massive contributor to greenhouse gasses. And it's also one of the trickiest to reduce. If you convert a coal plant to some sort of different power source, that's a big change in one fell swoop, but transportation is thousands and millions of vehicles. Little, little plants all around. How do you make a real dent in that and the behavior driving it?

We talked about electric cars. Do you have any other ideas about how you transform a transportation system, perhaps how you invest in transit to make the kinds of dents in those greenhouse gas contributions that you want to do?

Polis: It ties back into our discussion around housing. Housing is a climate issue. Housing is a pollution issue. People, generally speaking, don't want to have a 45-minute commute to work. They do it because it's where they can afford to live. If people can afford to live closer to where their jobs are, less cars on the road, less traffic, cleaner air. 

Of course, moving towards supporting the choice that people make to drive electric vehicles, reducing costs. Of course, more transit. We made transit free in Colorado for the month of August, not just RTD but many transit agencies across the state.

We're parsing that data. The initial data shows increased ridership but we're really looking at analyzing that and seeing whether that's something we can continue during ozone season in the future. And of course, making sure there's new transit opportunities like Front Range Rail. We created that Front Range Rail commission and we're working hard on delivering a product that can get people where they want to go faster and less expensive than if they drive on their own.

Warner: Where would the money come from for Front Range Rail? I mean are you talking about the corridor from Fort Collins down to Pueblo?

Polis: We work with the legislature to create a special district for that. If there is a proposal that has value for people, it would go to the voters who live in that district to approve it or deny it.

Warner: Let's talk about COVID. President Joe Biden recently said the pandemic is over. Do you agree?

Polis: You know we ended all of our health-related pandemic requirements about a year before. We encourage individual responsibility in our state. 

We wanted to arm people with the tools they needed. We’re one of the leaders in vaccinations, made it available. Free masks for teachers. We got schools back early and (provided) teachers who wanted to have free medical grade masks from the state. Testing available, large testing sites across the state. 

So we really got through this in a thoughtful way and I'm glad the president said that. I think we've kind of been there in Colorado for some time.

Warner: Your opponent mentions that you are still retaining emergency powers under some of the pandemic realities. Is that true or is it time to give those back?

Polis: It's one of those things that's kind of more political than real. There’s an emergency declaration, just as there often are for fires for years after for funding resources. 

There is a declaration around the pandemic that allows us to draw increased Medicaid funding from the federal government. I don't think she really means she would cut that off if she became governor, because Colorado would lose tens of millions of dollars but there are no restrictions on anything, requirements for get-togethers or anything like that. It’s simply for funding purposes that we keep this open. We will do what we need to, to pull down more federal resources for Colorado whether it's for fire recovery or whether it's for pandemic recovery.

Warner: Let me link this topic to one we spoke of earlier. You know, critics of COVID lockdowns draw a line between those restrictions early on and today's inflation. They argue that had businesses not been forced to shut down or to scale down, that huge federal stimulus wouldn't have been necessary and that inflation wouldn't be as high. How do you respond to that argument?

Polis: I used to think about these things more when I was a member of Congress at the national level. There's a lot of drivers of inflation. Monetary policy is one of them. Federal deficit spending is one of them and in the state of Colorado, we have a balanced budget requirement. We do not allow deficit spending. In fact we've record surpluses. That's why not only did everybody get $750 back, but we have record reserves. But yes, much of the money Congress spent was deficit spending.

The third issue is global instability. The war in Ukraine. The interruptions of the global supply chain. Those are all inflationary. Across the world you see inflation increasing. We've centered our agenda in Colorado.

I don't think any governor candidate can come and say I'm going to fix global inflation. That's not within the authority of a state or governor. What we can do is say, ‘We're going to do everything we can to cut costs and reduce fees and reduce taxes.’ And that's exactly what we've done, delivered 100 ways to save people money: Social security income, no longer subject to state income tax; enormous property tax cuts, items like diapers, no longer subject to the sales tax starting in January. At our community colleges in health care fields It is now free to become a certified nursing assistant, an EMT, phlebotomist. These certificate programs are now entirely free at our community colleges.

When I announced at a Community College of Aurora a few weeks ago, I met one young man training to be an EMT. He said, ‘With the money you saved me, I was able to fix my car to be able to get to class.

Warner: While the Dobbs decision on abortion at the Supreme Court left the question to states, Republicans including U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham are increasingly focused on a federal ban. Would you like to see federal protections for abortion given that reality or leave it to the states?

Polis: Big difference here, again, between my opponent and I. My opponent celebrated the end of Roe v. Wade and now wants to have additional criminal charges to women and doctors in Colorado. 

I was very saddened by the repeal of Roe v. Wade. I was born in 1975. I grew up in the era of Roe v. Wade. So my mother tells me stories about the pre-Roe days with some of her college sorority friends and what they had to do and the challenges they faced including increased health risks and dangers.

I grew up thinking that protection would always be there. It's now gone. That makes the race for governor more real for people in Colorado. There are states bordering Colorado where literally, even today, women, nurses, doctors, are facing criminal charges for the reproductive health decisions that they make. I think that's wrong. Government should not have a place at that table. It should be between a woman and her doctor.

Warner: What you've answered there is with the idea that Colorado gets to be self-determining. But if … 

Polis: Not something I celebrated. I would have much rather we had the national protection of Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, people now have to turn to their governor to protect our freedom. I wish that wasn't the case.

Warner: Without the protection of Roe v. Wade, would you like to see federal protection for abortions congressionally?

Polis: I would support the codification of Roe v. Wade just as we did here in the state of Colorado. 

Warner: Federally?

Polis: I support freedom. I support choice and I think that making sure that women don't have to face criminal charges when they've dealt with these very difficult decisions is something that should be a given in this day and age in our country.

Warner: Before we go, give me a recent example of something you've changed your mind about.

Polis: It’s not so much changing my mind. It's reacting to new data. I think my leadership during COVID was an example of that. We always looked to the latest data. I would stay up late at night pouring over reports.

That's the same approach I'm going to take to public safety. If there's things in prior bills that need to be changed, we're going to get them changed. But show me what works in other states, what doesn't work in other states so we can change it here, and what's working in Colorado.

I think that's the best way to move our state forward rather than bring an ideological MAGA agenda to the state of Colorado and try to impose it on them. Let's try to learn from real world data to make our lives better in this amazing state that we call home.