Jared Polis Wants To Leave You Alone
Last December, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis was one of the few Democratic governors willing to talk sensibly about pandemic policy after more than 18 months of blue-state lockdowns, mask mandates, school closures, and business-capacity restrictions.
“Public health [officials] don’t get to tell people what to wear; that’s just not their job,” Polis told a Colorado public radio station, declaring that the “medical emergency” phase of the pandemic had passed. Even when the omicron variant spiked this winter, Polis refused to reinstate mandates. His message was clear: Coloradans had had the opportunity to get vaccinated. They could decide their own risk tolerance.
The 46-year-old governor and former five-term congressman is presiding over one of the fastest-growing states in the country, a place that has one of the lowest death rates during the pandemic. Last fall, at a conference held by the conservative Steamboat Institute, he declared that the state income tax rate “should be zero” and he has supported ballot initiatives to reduce the rate. The gay father of two recently signed a free-range parenting bill that effectively re-legalizes the sort of Colorado childhood he recalls as the son of two ex-hippie parents. He has pushed occupational licensing reform and, as conservative states pass laws strictly limiting abortion, he signed legislation guaranteeing a woman’s right to choose. The founder of two charter schools, he is an outspoken advocate of school choice.
A serial tech entrepreneur who amassed a fortune estimated by ProPublica to be “in the hundreds of millions,” Polis was an early champion of bitcoin and is steadfast against limiting speech rights or treating social media platforms as utilities that can’t moderate content or bounce users for transgressing terms of service.
To be sure, Polis is no minarchist and, while critical of President Joe Biden on immigration and free trade, stands by his argument, made in the pages of Reason in 2014, that libertarians should vote for Democratic candidates because they are “supportive of individual liberty and freedom.” He’s called for carbon taxes (while recognizing their potential to become slush funds for expansive new government programs) and in April, he signed the largest budget in Colorado history. Yet he has displayed unmistakable libertarian tendencies, including being the only Democratic member of the now-defunct House Liberty Caucus.
Polis, who is up for reelection in the fall, appeared on The Reason Interview With Nick Gillespie in April. He spoke about guns, drugs, tax policy, and whether Colorado is bringing back a tolerant ethos reminiscent of 1970s America.
Reason: You recently signed the “Reasonable Independence for Children” bill, saying, “Just because a child is playing alone outside doesn’t mean they’re in danger.”
Polis: This has to do with the broad area of parental rights. It’s very reasonable to raise your child in different ways. Some parents are helicopter parents; they watch their kid every moment at the playground. People can argue that’s good [or] that’s bad. Other parents want their kid to go two blocks, play on the playground, and return home by dinner. Those are all acceptable ways to parent. I mean, the government shouldn’t be telling you how to parent.
There’s a legitimate government interest forbidding child abuse, but letting your kid play on the playground [is] not child abuse.
You’re 46. People of our rough age were not just allowed to play outside by our parents—we were forced to. What happened to American childhood?
Parents would get caught up in Child Protective Services [CPS] just because somebody saw their 8-year-old playing on a playground two blocks from where they live. And inevitably the parents would not lose custody and it would be fine, but, like, who wants to get caught up in CPS? So we wanted to be clear that yes, your kids can play alone. It’s reasonably safe. That’s how kids learn. They explore. I used to hike in the mountains near my home when I was 10, with a friend, without parents.
We’re not saying the government should put our foot on the scale either way. If parents want to be helicopter parents, that’s their prerogative too.
You signed a law saying that a woman has a right to an abortion. Are there any limits on that? What was pressing you to say that?
What’s pressing us to do this and other states is what’s happening nationally, which is very scary, in that Roe v. Wade effectively will be overturned. Nationally, this protected a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. We simply put Roe v. Wade into Colorado law. So no matter what happens nationally, the government should not be at that table in deciding whether you complete a pregnancy.
Does the state have any interest more broadly in restricting or regulating abortion as a woman comes closer to carrying a baby to term?
Neither me nor you, since we’re not women, would ever be in the shoes of a woman who’s eight months pregnant [who] found out their child has a major brain defect and will be stillborn. What a horrible choice for a woman to have. But of course the government should not say, “we’re forcing you to carry this nonviable fetus to term.” That is reprehensible. There is no shame on the woman either way. Some women might decide, because of their faith, to go ahead and do that, and that’s gut-wrenching for the woman. Some women might decide to terminate their pregnancy. That’s also gut-wrenching. But it is their decision, not yours and not mine.
How are conservatives in Colorado responding to this?
As I’ve said to many folks that consider themselves pro-life, when you make something illegal, it doesn’t mean it goes away.
In Colorado, we were one of the first states to eliminate the failed marijuana prohibition policy. Did marijuana use go up? No, it didn’t, especially among young people. Prohibition doesn’t work. So let’s meet people where they’re at. There were many on the conservative side that do believe that we should have government overreach here and [that] the government should be making these decisions, not women, not in consultation with their faith or with doctors, but that [the] decision should be made for th
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