A version of this article first appeared on October 16, 2022 in Townhall.com.
I’ve seen it before: A state governor wants to get national notice, so he starts a nationwide public relations campaign. If he is a liberal, his performance usually isn’t much to brag about, since “progressive” policies have a way of gumming things up. So the campaign re-packages the governor as something he isn’t.
Now Colorado’s first-term liberal Democrat governor, Jared Polis, is playing that game. His national rebranding is as a “libertarian.”
Some conservative and libertarian national editors and columnists have fallen for it. If they had researched the record, they would have learned that, as Ari Armstrong concluded in a recent Independence Institute study, “More government control over people’s lives has been the dominant theme of Polis’s administration.”
In 2010, I returned to Colorado after 24 years in Montana. Colorado used to be a great place to live—partly because of the physical environment, but also because it was one of America’s most liberty-minded states.
In recent years, though, the state has been on a downward slide. Since Polis was elected governor in 2018, the rate of descent has accelerated.
Every time I drive to my office in central Denver, I see this once-beautiful city afflicted with vandalism, beggars, homeless encampments, and drugs. Colorado now leads the nation in automobile thefts, and statewide statistics show a spike in violent crime as well (pdf: 2022 statistics are only partial).
As one who regularly travels by automobile throughout the West, I can testify that Colorado’s neglected roads are the worst in the region.
State COVID-19 Lockdowns
Some writers give Polis credit for imposing COVID-19 mandates that were less harsh than those imposed by other Democrat governors. In fact, Polis’s lockdown orders were atrocious. In an April 30, 2020 op-ed, I summarized the situation:
“Over the last 50 days Coloradans have been pelted with 42 new or amended state Coronavirus executive orders. . . . [T]hey cumulatively regulate almost every aspect of your life. If you violate one, you face a fine of up to $1000 and jail time up to a year. Multiple violations could mean multiple penalties. . . . If a state decree permits what a county decree prohibits, the county one controls. If the county order permits what a state order prohibits, then the state order controls. You must follow whichever rule most restricts your freedom.”
These orders were poorly drafted and often nonsensical. One limited “social interactions” in a way that seemed to ban even Zoom calls and in-person conversations with your spouse.
Moreover, Polis’s orders, like those of some other governors, discriminated among businesses in transparently political ways: Marijuana stores, mostly owned by lefties, were allowed to stay open, while more conservative businesses were forced to close.
Some of the orders were flatly unconstitutional. For example, one purported to ban out-of-staters from traveling through Colorado unless they were returning home. Another tried to block Coloradans and out-of-staters from transporting most goods across the state.
According to an Independence Institute team led by Senior Fellow Paul Prentice, Polis’s lockdowns destroyed 43 percent of all Colorado small businesses. Aside from the economic damage, the cost to quality of life and individual freedom cannot be calculated.
More Taxes and Spending
The Colorado constitution requires the legislature to refer most proposed tax increases to the voters for approval. This is the “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights” or TABOR. II’s fiscal policy expert, Ben Murrey, points out that during his term in office, Polis and the legislature repeatedly have evaded TABOR by labeling their tax hikes as “fees.” They have imposed new or higher “fees” on energy users, real estate, insurance companies, paper bags—the list goes on. A 36 percent increase in the gasoline tax was called a “road usage fee.”
State spending has soared. Polis tried to raise it even more by pushing a ballot issue to bust TABOR’s requirement that excess receipts be returned to the taxpayers. The voters repudiated his proposal.
So he was forced to return some money to taxpayers. But accompanying each refund check was his letter taking personal credit for the refund and avoiding all mention of TABOR.
Now Polis’s is running campaign commercials in which he claims to have saved Coloradans money through temporary fee reductions. In fact, the reductions are postponements of scheduled increases he and the legislature previously enacted. These “reductions” were paid for by cutting TABOR refunds that otherwise would gone to the taxpayers.
Presumably to burnish his “moderate” or “libertarian” image, Polis says he would like to end the state income tax. But since he has been in office there have been two measures on the ballot (one passed, one pending) to reduce the income tax—and Polis has done nothing to help either of them.
Colorado’s “libertarian” governor and his Democrat-controlled state legislature have a penchant for creating expensive new government programs and bureaucracies. My favorite (in an ironic sense) is an agency with the Orwellian name of “Department of Early Childhood.” It administers a new universal preschool program. Polis also won legislative approval for state funding of all-day kindergarten.
It is difficult to imagine a more anti-libertarian step than moving small children away from their parents and turning them over to the state.
Polis also has signed several bills imposing additional mandates on over-regulated health care providers.
Polis has signed a sweeping package of anti-gun bills, including background checks with no time limits, an overly-broad “red flag” law, and—in keeping with his penchant for bureaucracy—an “Office of Gun Violence Prevention.”
He also approved a bill empowering cities and other localities to impose sweeping restrictions on gun purchase and ownership.
Crushing Business through Regulation
Polis purports to be for free markets, but this is just for show. In one gubernatorial message responding to a regulatory bill, for example, he denounced the regulation—and then, instead of vetoing it, allowed it to become law without his signature.
Among the many intrusive regulatory bills he has signed are those micro-managing property rentals and imposing price controls. Some are enforced with truly draconian penalties, such as the packaging law that imposes fines of $5000 per day.
He also signed legislation delegating to the Department of Public Health a variety of new “environmental justice” tasks. And just when America desperately needs a stronger economy and more energy, new regulations have caused Colorado oil and gas employment and drilling permits to plummet.
Perhaps Polis thinks he can mitigate the damage through his new state subsidy for purchasing electric bicycles!
Polis is independently wealthy: He spent over $18 million of his own money on his gubernatorial campaign. So his national disinformation campaign likely will last a good deal longer.
Don’t be fooled.