Meet Jared Polis, the man behind the movement to ban energy development

Gov. John Hickenlooper has been hard at work trying to negotiate a legislative agreement to head off a spate of anti-oil and gas initiatives being pushed by Congressman Jared Polis, the Boulder almost-billionaire who hates fracking as much as he loves Obamacare.

(Full disclosure: My firm represents energy companies, and I also I drive a pickup powered by an oil byproduct called gasoline, so my viewpoint isn’t without bias.)

Polis wants to give local governments the power to ban oil and gas development, and he’s ready to open his big fat wallet to pass an initiative that does exactly that.

Hickenlooper, trembling at the prospect that Polis’ ballot-box blackmail might succeed, has been pushing hard for some sort of a compromise that adds still more regulation to state’s the oil and gas industry. (Note: Colorado already has the toughest oil and gas regulations in the world) in exchange for Polis dropping his pro-ban initiatives.)

For their part, the state’s anti-drilling zealots have pilloried the negotiation.  “Energy bans or bust” is their battle cry.

The energy industry, meanwhile, has been less than united on the Hick-led negotiation, with some companies saying it makes sense to negotiate in order to preempt the possibility of a doomsday scenario where a Polis-funded pro-ban initiative passes, while other companies call the whole thing untoward blackmail.

After three months of on-again, off-again negotiations and a fast-approaching August deadline when initiatives must be certified for the November ballot, prospects for a Hickenlooper-brokered legislative compromise aren’t entirely doomed, but most would agree they grow dimmer by the day.

While we don’t know how all of that will play out, what we do know is a lot about the man responsible for the imbroglio, Mr. Polis.

The first thing you need to know about Jared Polis is that he is really rich and he likes to spend his wealth buying elections.  Strike that, it isn’t the first thing you need to know about Polis.

It is the only thing you need to know about Polis.

In 2000, Polis made his (less than) grand entry on Colorado’s political stage, spending a million bucks running for an obscure seat on the state Board of Education. His opponent spent $11,000.  Polis needed every dime of that $990,000 spending advantage; he won by 90 votes.

In 2004, the stakes got higher — Polis was one of four really rich dudes who got sick of Colorado being a center-right state, so they decided to, for lack of a better word, buy the Legislature.  The audacious (and expensive) plot has become the stuff of legend in political circles nationally. A couple of books have been written about it. Wealthy liberal donors in other states have replicated the model. Colorado, meanwhile, has lurched wildly to the left in the years since.  There at the beginning underwriting the effort was our man Polis.

In 2008, Polis ratcheted his sights still higher, this time running for Congress against a widely respected Democratic leader named Joan Fitz-Gerald, who among other things was the first female president of the Senate in the state’s history.  Fitz-Gerald was the prohibitive favorite early, but Polis had an ace up his sleeve — cash money galore.  By the time it was over, Polis spent north of $5 million to win the campaign, much of it funding ads that spewed all manner of slur at Fitz-Gerald. Fitz-Gerald, who has since cut a powerful niche running a prominent political organization, is far too classy a person to ever say publicly what she thinks of moneybags Polis.

Polis, I suspect, doesn’t care.

And if ever there were a place suited for a man rolling with a full wagon train of political cash, it is Washington, D.C.  Polis’ free-spending proclivities have put him on the fast track to power in Congress.  Indeed, while underwriting these various anti-oil and gas initiatives, Polis is simultaneously knee-deep in a campaign to become the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political committee charged with making Nancy Pelosi speaker of the House again.  If Polis earns the nod of his Democratic peers, it would make him the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House.

Any guess why Polis believes he is the man for the job?

According to Politico, “(Polis’) camp is pushing the Colorado Democrat’s prolific fundraising as proof that Polis would be up to the challenge of raising hundreds of millions for House Democrats.”

Give it to Polis; his formula isn’t complicated — it starts and ends with him opening his wallet.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader in the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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