Colorado entered a new era of Democratic political dominance Tuesday as Jared Polis was sworn in as the state’s 43rd governor, promising to make the state’s booming economy fairer and health care more affordable.
"Our mission now is to make Colorado a place for all families to have a chance to thrive today, tomorrow and for generations to come," Polis said after taking the oath of office. "I believe there is nothing that Colorado needs to do that Coloradans can’t get done. There is nothing wrong with Colorado that what is right with Colorado can’t fix."
Polis' longtime partner, Marlon Reis, and their two children stood with him for the ceremony on the west steps of the state Capitol. He took the oath at precisely noon, his left hand on a siddur, a Jewish prayer book.
In his first speech as governor, Polis celebrated the diversity of the state and recognized the historic moment: Polis is the first openly gay governor elected to lead a state. He also is Colorado’s first Jewish governor.
“I am very conscious of the fact that there were many brave people over the years who made it possible for someone like me to be standing here giving a speech like this,” he said. “I am grateful and forever indebted to those who came before me — who struggled for equal rights, who stepped up for public service in all its forms, who made difficult sacrifices and worked faithfully toward a brighter future for our state, our nation and our world.”
Citizens turn out
The landmark moment drew hundreds of supporters, including Joshua Verez, an educator who moved to Colorado last year.
"This is a moment in history," said Verez, a gay man who was one of the first Coloradans to gather for the inauguration Tuesday morning. "This is Colorado getting to set an example for the entire country that someone who is gay and Jewish can be governor of a state as great as ours."
LGBT community leader Corky Blankenship, who lived in San Francisco when Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to any office, was assassinated, said he was on the verge of crying all day.
“I’ve never been happier,” he said. “It’s from one end of the spectrum to the other. From one end of the rainbow to the other.”
Polis, who previously represented Boulder and other northern Colorado communities in Congress, handily won election over Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton. During his campaign, he pledged to expand health care coverage while driving down costs, push the state toward more renewable energy and increase spending on early education.
Polis' pledge to protect the environment was one of the many reasons Max Stroeher, 20, supported the Democrat. Stroeher also was outside the Capitol early Tuesday.
"Trying to push Colorado toward sustainability should be a really important goal for the state," he said.
Linda McLane, who has supported Polis since he first ran for Congress in 2008, said she wants him to lead the conversation on stricter gun control.
“I think Colorado has been a leader by taking a couple of small steps,” she said. “But we can do more.”
Denver businessman Andrew Feinstein, who supported Polis in the election, said he believes Polis will continue to improve the state’s economy.
“Given Gov. Polis’ tremendous success in the private sector … I’m confident that he will be a great steward and advocate for Colorado businesses,” he said.
While Polis supporters were eager for the new governor to lead the state further to the left, Colorado Democratic legislative leaders invoked the ceremonial theme of diversity by sounding a bipartisan tone Tuesday.
"Together, we are driven to build an economy that expands opportunity for all, invest in our future and protect the Colorado way of life," said House Speaker KC Becker. "It’s on all of us to problem solve during the days and years ahead."
Senate Republican Assistant Minority Leader John Cooke, who attended Tuesday’s ceremony, said there are policies he’s looking forward to working with Polis on.
“It was great hearing from Gov. Polis about his plans to lower taxes, and I am excited to work with him to reduce the burden of government on the people of Colorado,” Cooke said in a statement.
Republican state Rep. Lori Saine said she hopes Polis makes good on his promise to listen to voices from both political parties.
“I commend his optimism and hope that he is successful as he seeks to govern Colorado for all,” she said in a statement.
Other Democrats sworn in
Along with Polis and his lieutenant governor, Dianne Primavera, three other statewide elected officials — Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Treasurer Dave Young and Attorney General Phil Weiser — also took the oath of office. For the first time in 70 years, all statewide office holders are Democrats.
Colorado voters also handed Democrats the state Senate, which had been under Republican control during the last four years.
"Everyday Coloradans are going to have a government that is working for them instead of competing with corporations and the 1 percent," said Jenny Davies, a communications specialist who has represented AFL-CIO union, the ACLU and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.
At the same time voters elected Democrats who ran on a progressive agenda, they rejected requests for additional taxes for education and transportation. It's unclear how Polis and lawmakers will prioritize spending in a state budget that is subject to constitutional constraints.
Tuesday's ceremony included a performance by the Denver Gay Men's Chorus and an ensemble of the Denver Women's Chorus. The national anthem was sung by Andrea Neidig, a Latina singer and radio personality.
Prayers and blessings were offered by the Rev. Dr. James D. Peters Jr. of the New Hope Baptist Church, Rabbi Susan Miller Rheins of Temple Sinai and Terry Knight of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. Colorado Supreme Court Justice Nathan B. Coats administered the oath of office.
Tuesday evening, Polis and his supporters will celebrate his inauguration at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Revelers will be serenaded by LGBT rights advocate Cyndi Lauper and Colorado’s own Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.
Polis is scheduled to deliver his first State of the State address Thursday to a joint session of the Colorado legislature.
During a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Polis said he will elaborate then on how he plans to "save people money on health care, improve our schools, reduce corporate tax giveaways and reduce the income tax rate and put our state on a path toward renewable energy."
He told reporters he has already established a group to discuss reforming the state's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and he gave an early nod to a proposal by lawmakers that would create a state-run health insurance program.
Staff writer Anna Staver contributed to this report.