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SGN interviews Jared Polis, openly Gay candidate for Congress in Colorado
SGN interviews Jared Polis, openly Gay candidate for Congress in Colorado
by Mike Andrew - SGN Contributing Writer

Congressional candidate Jared Polis was in Seattle Monday to campaign for fellow Democrat Darcy Burner. Burner is running against incumbent Republican Congressman Dave Reichert in Washington State's 8th District, which takes in most of King and Pierce Counties south and east of Lake Washington. "She is a terrific candidate!" Polis says. "It will be exciting to be in DC with Darcy in Congress and Barack in the White House. I have confidence we can turn the country around from the failed leadership of the past eight years."

At first glance, Polis might not seem like a typical Democrat. An internet entrepreneur who founded three online companies before he was 25, one of Success Magazine's Top Ten young entrepreneurs, and the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for 2000, he sounds more like a Republican base voter than an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama.

Nevertheless, Polis is a long-time activist and Democrat, an early endorser of Barack Obama, and the odds-on favorite to succeed Democrat Mark Udall as the US Representative for Colorado's 2nd Congressional District. Udall is running for an open US Senate seat, and is considered likely to beat his Republican opponent.

"I grew up with a legacy of activism," Polis explains, noting that both his parents were members of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) in the 1960s. "I'm not sure I know what a typical Democrat is. We're a broad and diverse party. We're the party that's committed to provide hope and opportunity to people regardless of their background."

Should Polis win his Congressional race, which seems probable, he would become the first openly Gay man elected as a freshman Congressman. Rep. Gerry Studds (D-MA), who served 1973-1997, and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), elected in 1981 and still serving, both came out while already sitting in Congress.

Polis believes that electing Democrats like Burner to Congress is crucial. "It's very clear that DC is the place where we have to deal with the challenges we face as a nation," he says. "My prospects are good. And in Colorado as a whole, Barack is three to four points ahead, but it's a hard-fought state. Both candidates have been here several times."

He cites four priorities he plans to work toward in Congress. "To end the war and bring the troops - and the money - home. To rebuild the economy, recover from this severe recession and avoid depression. To end our reliance on fossil fuels - which strains the economy and contributes to climate change. And to continue my interest in public education."

Polis has signed on to Burner's Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq. The Plan calls for the US to create the necessary conditions for withdrawal of troops by engaging Iraq's neighbors in a political stabilization program and helping to reconstruct the Iraqi economy. "Sixty-some candidates have signed on," he notes. "That's testimony to Darcy's terrific leadership. It's critical that a number of us get elected in November."

Like Darcy Burner, Polis believes government action is necessary to rescue the nation's economy, but he is skeptical of the bailout plan approved by Congress. "We can do a lot better," he says. "As it is, we will have to deal with the aftermath. We have to work to prevent a legacy of debt. We're talking about $700 billion worth of budget deficit."

Economic reforms are especially important to Polis because "my district includes the working class suburbs of Denver, which have the highest foreclosure rate in the state, and one of the highest in the country." Colorado's 2nd District also includes Boulder and Vail, and is reliably Democratic, having elected a Democratic Congressman in every election since 1974.

Polis also pledges to work for an inclusive ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) that offers federal protections to Transgender workers as well as Gay men, Lesbians, and Bisexuals. "We can't leave any part of our community behind," he says. "People who go against conventional gender roles and stereotypes are the ones most in need of protection."

A controversial version of ENDA that failed to include Transgender workers passed the US House of Representatives last year, but did not advance to a vote in the Senate.

Polis is a leading advocate for public education. As a member of the Colorado State Board of Education, he was part of the team that wrote and passed Amendment 23, requiring that the state increase funding of K-12 education by the rate of inflation plus 1% through 2011, to avoid budget cuts. He is also the founder of two charter schools catering to students with special needs - the New America School for immigrants seeking to learn English, and the Academy of Urban Learning for homeless youth.

While the charter schools concept remains controversial among public education advocates, and Washington State does not currently permit charter schools, Polis cites the advantages as "site-based management, flexibility, and the creativity charter schools allow for. For example, we started a school for 16-20 year old immigrants, to help them to learn English. Forty percent of our women students had kids. They wouldn't succeed in an ordinary school environment."

Polis has been endorsed by the National Stonewall Democrats, the HRC, the Victory Fund, the Sierra Club, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) among others. He serves on the Board of Directors of Colorado Conservation Voters, the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, and the Anti-Defamation League. He is the Chair of the Commission on Financial and Investor Literacy and Vice-Chair of the Colorado Commission for High School Improvement.

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