A Queerty Original!

Gay Politician Jared Polis Opens Up

Above you see a picture of Colorado-politico Jared Polis in Iraq last year. The never-ending war has become a cornerstone in Polis’ Congressional campaign, perhaps because of his parents’ past opposition to the Vietnam War, a vicarious history Polis cites as one the main components of his political activism.

Of course, the war hardly counts as Polis’ only political interest. The 32-year old, who made a fortune riding the world wide web, has long been active in his state’s educational evolution, both in elected office on the Board of Education and through his own eponymous foundation. The Colorado native also toots his environmentalist horn.

In fact, the issue is number one on his website:

Preserving our natural resources for future generations is a critical priority. As a matter of personal and collective integrity, we need to stand up for the environment by initiating and supporting policies that emphasize sustainability through innovation and collaboration.

That said, it comes as no surprise that a report on Polis’ previous oil and mining investments caused a bit of stir yesterday.

Polis addressed that report in this exclusive interview with our editor, Andrew Belonsky. The boys talked more than just investments, of course, like Polis’ Barack Obama endorsement, how Colorado reflects the United States and, yes, whether this peace-loving Boulder-resident has ever taken a toke.

Read all about it, after the jump…

Andrew Belonsky: Your campaign website cites your parents’ anti-war activism as a political inspiration, but, more than that, why are you running for office?

Jared Polis: Sure, really to make a difference. I really enjoyed the work I’ve done running some schools as superintendent and starting some companies, but a lot of the issues that I care about, that are our future, that are our planets’ future, depend upon our political issues that need to be addressed in Congress. That’s really the only place you can have a real impact on ending the war in Iraq and protecting the planet from global warming. In my own desire to give back, to making the world a better place and making sure that everybody has hope and opportunity, I decided that running for a public office and serving in Congress would be the best way to do that.

AB: I understand you have foundations that benefit educational purposes, but couldn’t you – as we’ve seen since Bill Clinton left the White House and as we’ve seen with a lot of gay philanthropists, you can make quite a difference in the private sector with foundations and raising money. Is Congress really the most effective?

JP: There are all different ways to make a difference and, as I’ve said, I’m thrilled to have started and run some public charter schools that have served over 1,000 new immigrants and helped them learn English. I’ve been very active in the LGBT equality movement here in Colorado. I was one of the major donors to Referendum I, which would have established domestic partnership. It narrowly failed, but we came very close. I’ve been very active on that side of things, but, again, there’s only one place that you can go to end this war in Iraq. There’s one place you go to have a real impact on global warming. There’s one place you can go to have universal equal rights for gays and lesbians and transgendered people and that’s Congress. That’s federal action. While having influence on the outside is important and we need people to do that, and while working on a state and local level is also critical, somebody needs to step up and run for Congress and show leadership on that level. And I have an opportunity to do that with an open seat. Our member of Congress is leaving to run for Senate.

AB: And do you ever get any arguments that you’re too young?

JP: You know, I think it has more to do with qualifications and what somebody has done in the past than one’s age, per se. I’ve been in elected office; I’ve served on the state Board of Education; I’ve been chairman of the state Board of Education; I’ve started businesses; I’ve served on environmental boards, like Colorado Conservation Voters. I don’t think there’s any doubt about my qualifications for this position. That being said, I don’t think that age will be much of an issue. You know, it could also resonate with some, because I’m twenty years younger than the other candidates and I think some people feel that we’re ready for a new generation of leadership.

AB: About Colorado – it’s a very interesting state. It’s the epicenter of the American Evangelical movement and it was essential in – what was it, Amendment 2…

JP: Yes, Amendment 2, which banned anti-discrimination statutes from local jurisdictions.

AB: Until it was overturned. But now we have people like you. Tim Gill is based in Colorado, Jon Stryker’s sister, Pat – leaders in the gay rights movement. The state has been leading the movement.

JP: I think Colorado is in a lot of ways a microcosm of the whole country. We have a liberal college town that I happen to live in, Boulder; we have a major urban city, Denver; we have areas where the far right and the radical Christian right holds sway. It’s a very diverse state and, like the country, it’s hard to pigeonhole it. But, also like the country, Colorado has been evolving in a more tolerant direction. I’ve certainly been a part of that through my efforts in the equality movement. We have a long way to go. We don’t have domestic partnership in this state. We just achieved work place protection, but we have a long way to go, because there are many parts of this state where there is still rampant discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

[A Polis Campaign commercial decrying the war in Iraq.]
AB: Let’s take this conversation national for a moment. I understand you have endorsed Barack Obama.

JP: I have.

AB: And why is he you choice for President?

JP: I have great respect for both of the candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I think what’s paramount is beating John McCain, but I personally identify with Barack Obama’s message of change. A critical aspect of my campaign is taking on the special interests and I think that Obama will have the fortitude to do that. I’ve also been impressed that he, like me, is not taking money from political action committees.

AB: What was that article today in the Denver Post? What do you make of that – the article on your former investments in oil companies?

JP: Well, I think that when you’re running for office, people comb through everything and look through everything, so there are certainly no surprises. I had to disclose my full financial picture, I think about nine months ago. There’s certainly nothing new and I think candidates run for office, they have to expect this additional scrutiny.

AB: What do you think of that scrutiny? Is it useful in anyway?

JP: Well, yeah. It’s certainly not fun for the candidates, but I think it’s a necessary and useful part of our democracy. Voters will make of it what they will. There are a lot of things that get reported that certainly don’t matter to voters. If you’re putting yourself out and you’re running for office, you put yourself before a higher level of scrutiny. People want to know about your voting records, your past business dealings, anything that’s relevant. Obama’s been very up front, for instance, about how he used drugs when he was young, recreationally, he tried them out. As long as people are open and honest and not hiding anything, I don’t think it’s much of an issue. It only becomes an issue if somebody’s hiding something.

AB: Have you used drugs?

JP: I have not – believe it or not.

AB: Wow. Growing up in Boulder.

JP: I grew up kind of a square. I’ve never smoked pot or used any other recreational drugs.

AB: With regard to the Post article, how would you reply to a voter who says it’s hypocritical that you profited from companies you decried?

JP: No voter has ever said such a thing to me. I have earned my money in the Internet industry, primarily through my entrepreneurial success with American Information Systems, Bluemountain.com, and proflowers.com. When I found out that some of my asset managers had purchased stock in some mining companies, I instructed them to sell that stock.

AB: Another thing that came up in the Denver Post article, which I had actually noticed when preparing for this interview, was the amount of personal money that you’ve put into your own campaign. There are two sides to that: obviously it takes a lot of dedication and confidence to invest so much money in yourself, but other people could wonder, “Well, does this mean he’s having trouble drumming up cash?” Are you finding resistance from voters?

JP: I’ve actually been thrilled by the reception. We’ve raised in donations from other people over a million dollars. And that’s without a penny of PAC money. There’s actually an inaccuracy in the article at the end that says we have a small amount of PAC money, but we have zero in PAC money. So, I’ve raised over a million dollars from individuals, which is roughly the same amount of money that I’ve put in. I’ve been thrilled with the outpouring of support locally as well as nationally.
Polis offered some more thoughts on the Denver Post article post-interview:

I can see how voters would be misled by today’s story in the Post, however they left out some pretty significant details that I think are worth mentioning. It’s very important to note that immediately upon learning that I owned stock in these companies, I sold them.

There’s only one candidate in this race who has voted to help oil companies and that’s Senator Fitz-Gerald. The real issue is not just that she took thousands of dollars of corporate PAC money from them, but that she turned around and voted with the polluters in the state Senate.

Senator Fitz-Gerald even sponsored a bill that was called, by the Denver Post, “an oil and gas dream bill”, that went after Colorado’s seniors, ranchers and working families. Then, in another Denver Post article from February 21, 2002, Senator Fitz-Gerald called the oil and gas industry, “the goose that lays the golden egg”.

Senator Fitz-Gerald’s record is one of aiding the oil and gas industry, supporting pollution-causing coal, and taking PAC money from the global mining industry.