Attending various events for Congressman Jared Polis over the last three years is an interesting contrast to watching President Obama. At every event regardless of the crowd Polis makes a point of discussing legislation that is bipartisan. He is often at pains to describe Republicans as either someone he can work with or someone he disagrees with on a particular issue.
He never calls them names. He is often the adult in the room. And at his town hall on Tuesday that was certainly the case.
There were way too many activists pushing dubious science and even worse dubious politics. In contrast to the reporting in the Colorado Weekly and various other media outlets my count of the protesters out front of the town hall yielded about fifty people with another ten or so people trying to get past them into the library or the town hall. It was a passionate group that was completely unwilling to listen to Polis.
As I have written before, oil & gas production in greater densities now seen in the bountiful natural gas fields of Colorado causes air quality problems. There are also non-hysterical public health issues under study here in a state wide bipartisan science driven project that is examining every aspect of the oil & gas industry in Colorado. Anyone can participate in the study’s public phase (Fracking Sense) at CU through the Center for the American West in person or via podcast.
There is yet no evidence of a new public water crisis in Colorado. There are spills and casing failures, but they merit clean up and monitoring not industry bans. That is no different than Colorado’s steel, refinery, printing, and other heavy industries. There are air quality issues and testing will reveal over time whether Colorado’s new and aggressive rules are strong enough or require more action. There are local impact issues around traffic, noise, sight obstruction, and basic disruption in populated areas from oil & gas.
The protesters wanted to waste time on the first two issues. Polis is laser focused on local impact. He took a lot of abuse from emotional activists. The same people who failed to produce enough signatures on Initiative 89 to get it on the ballot.
That was the most important news in the town hall. Despite one protester verbally confronting Polis’s mother that she, “should be ashamed of your son,” Polis defended the protesters’ passion for local control. But he also diplomatically explained that when standard signature verification modelling was done on Initiative 89 there were not enough John Hancocks to make the ballot.
That would have left the industry with two strong pro-industry initiatives on the ballot and only Initiative 88 on the ballot for the activist community. Clearly Polis had decided that if the activist community could not deliver signatures even with his financial backing, they could not deliver the votes in the face of a huge oil and gas campaign backed with perhaps twenty million dollars. He was express in saying that he had stepped into a void this time, but next time such a campaign would have to be a grassroots one.
Polis was under enormous pressure from the state Democratic Party to not inadvertently maintain a fight that would energize Republicans more than Democrats. He pledged to keep the possibility of a renewed 2016 campaign in a more favorable presidential election year in the forefront of the commission charged with recommending a solution to oil and gas development in Colorado.
But Polis is growing year by year in his political skills. He knew losing was not only bad policy, but bad for his influence on a wide range of Progressive issues. Losers do not have leverage.
And for the activist community you have to wonder what are they thinking? If you are going to attack Polis, villify him, insult his mother, is he going to stand with you in the future? Maybe, just maybe, you might want to remember he is the best deep pocket friend you have. Or perhaps, had.