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Representative-elect Jared Polis (D), 2nd Congressional District of Colorado
In Their Own Words

Representative-elect Jared Polis

---interviewed by Ellen G. Witman

When the 111th Congress debuts next month, a record 45 Jews will take the oath of office: 32 Members of Congress and --- regardless of the outcome in the still-contested Minnesota election --- 13 Senators. The three newcomers to the House of Representatives are John Adler (D NJ-3), Alan Grayson (D FL-8) and Jared Polis (D CO-2). The Philadelphia Jewish Voice interviewed John Adler last month. We hope to provide an opportunity to learn about all of these new Jewish voices in Congress in the coming weeks.

Jared Schutz Polis succeeded fellow Democrat Mark Udall as representative of Colorado's 2nd Congressional District encompassing areas northwest of Denver including Boulder. Jared Polis is the first open gay man to enter Congress. Jared Polis is a successful businessman having founded such well known internet ventures as bluemountainarts.com (an online greeting card company), and ProFlowers (an online florist). In 2004, Fortune magazine estimated his wealth at $160,000,000. He has devoted much of his fortune to philanthropy through the Jared Polis Foundation.

PJV: You are a self-made Internet guru, but you have been involved with a lot of other businesses as well. Why don’t you tell me about them and some of the things you are most proud of from your pre-Congressional days.

Sure. I founded a number of Internet companies. The first one was an Internet access provider in the mid-west, American Information Systems, also BlueMountainArts. com, Pro-Flowers.com, and several others along the way. I really enjoyed being part of the Internet and technology sector for a number of years. After meeting some degree of success in the private sector, I got involved with public education here in Colorado because I firmly believe that we need to do a better job preparing kids for the next generation of good jobs and to give everybody the opportunity to succeed. So, I served six years on our state Board of Education, and I started and ran several charter schools to serve nPJV immigrants to help them learn English and graduate high school.

PJV: I see you also started one for people who are homeless.

Yes, I co-founded the Urban Academy for Learning for homeless youth in Denver and teenagers in transitional housing to meet their educational needs.

PJV: Education seems to be one of your top priorities or at least you have spent a lot of time working in that area. What led you to that area of both professional and philanthropic work?

Well, I really think that education is about our future as a society. Like a lot of progressives I am concerned about the lightening gap between the haves and the have nots. I strongly believe the only real way to address that medium- and long-term is through enhancing educational opportunities particularly for our most at-risk families.

PJV: I also read about other issues in which you are actively engaged including health care and environmental issues. On your website you endorse Universal Health Care. When you come to Washington in January, one of the top issues on the agenda will be health care reform. Do you think we will get to Universal Health Care or do you think there are stages in between or do you think there is something else we should be looking at?

I absolutely believe Universal health care is the goal that I support. Our country currently has over 40 million and through this recession with people losing there jobs I wouldn’t be surprised if it was shortly 50 million or 60 million people who lack health insurance. Not only do we all effectively pay for it – those of us who have health insurance – but also are forced to have worse health care outcomes because the uninsured lack access to preventative and primary care.

PJV: Have you spoken to any of the Democratic leadership or members or President-elect Obama’s team? Do see a particular plan you like or are you going to be part of putting together a plan on health care reform?

I plan on supporting and cosponsoring John Conyers’ bill for universal, single payer Health Care. There will also be an effort led by the incoming Administration to improve access to health care and even if we don’t get to all the way to universal health care initially we can always expand coverage for people who lack health care today.

PJV: I saw that you were selected by Speaker Pelosi to be a member of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

Yes. I am really thrilled to have that vote of confidence from leadership and to represent our class on the Steering and Policy Committee which helps determine committee assignments for other members as well as set policy throughout the course of the Congress. So, it’s a great place to be, and I fully enjoy interacting with more senior members on that committee.

PJV: Well it is quite an honor to be selected. Do you have particular committees in mind you would like to be assigned to yourself?

I will find out my own committee assignments in January and I look forward to working in whatever capacity leadership feels I can be of the most value to Congress. I have experience in business and experience in education and there are a lot of areas that that might be helpful in.

PJV: Absolutely. I want to move to a couple of international issues as well as the domestic ones. You have been opposed to the war in Iraq for a while I gather from what I have read on your website.

Uh huh.

PJV: Where do you think we go from here? What do you think America’s position on Iraq should be when you get into Congress in January?

I support a timeline for withdrawal. I don’t believe our ongoing and indefinite presence in Iraq is constructive towards building stability. I want to make sure we have a specific endgame in mind and we work with the Iraqi government to facilitate the withdrawal of all American troops.

PJV: So you pretty much go along with what President-elect Obama is presenting?

Yes, he seems to be very interested in working with the Iraqi government to do that. There is some question about whether there would be any residual troops or some residual troops. I fall into the camp that we should not have a residual or ongoing presence in Iraq.

PJV: And turning to Iran for a minute: Iran seems to be moving along the nuclear road. Many people, particularly many in the Jewish community, consider Iran almost a bigger threat to Israel’s security than Iraq. How do see dealing with Iran on the issues of both the nuclear threat and some of the statements Ahmadinijad has made about the existence of the state of Israel?

Well, clearly the best hope for change is from the Iranian people. Hopefully, they will put a more moderate regime in place than Ahjslsl in his desparate measures to maintain his own popularity has continued to vilify Israel and the United States. I do think that attacking Iran would be counterproductive in that it could increase the popularity of Ahmadid if there was a nationalistic effort to rally around him. So I think that certainly engaging in dialogue as Barack Obama has advocated, without giving an inch on nuclear security or the security of Israel or the United States, is the way to go.

PJV: Have you traveled to the area?

I’ve been to Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Egypt.

PJV: Business trips or pleasure?

No, I went to Iraq last year - Bhagdad; you don’t really go there for pleasure.

PJV: No, you don’t go there for pleasure. Fact finding trip?

Yes, to see what was going on firsthand. And in Aman, Jordan I met with dozens of Iraqi refugees and heard their stories.

PJV: That must have been very educational.

Yes, very.

PJV: Let me ask you one additional question about the security of Israel. It is affected by many things besides the Iraq war and Iran and it’s even affected by some of its own actions from time to time. I don’t know how much attention you have focused on Middle East peace issues, but as Olmert departs, as he seems to be doing, do you have any advice you might give to his successor from whichever party that may be?

Again, I think it is critical for Israel to continue with the peace process negotiating a mutually agreeable outcome with the Palestinians. Olmert has been pursuing that direction and certainly Tsippi Lisni and Ehud Barck are also pushing in that direction. Ultimately, tt is up to the Israeli people who they choose, but hopefully it will someone who will continue the peace process.

PJV: What do you look forward most in coming to Washington and being a member of the 111th Congress?

Well, you know another issue that is critical for us to tackle is global warming and climate change. I am a strong advocate of a cap and trade system to reduce global carbon emissions because there’s a critical impact on global security as temperatures rise and places undergo rapid change in the climate, so I think we need to have a nPJV renPJVable energy policy coming from Washington. That will also be one of the top things I plan to work on in the next session. This is a very challenging time for our country and the world. Our country is engaged in two wars, will likely have a trillion dollar budget deficit, the global economic recession, the threat of terrorism. We need to be as creative as we can in forging solutions to the problems that we face.

PJV: What did you thing of Obama’s selection for his environmental team?

I’m impressed with his energy team; I’m impressed with really all of Barack Obama’s selections so far. I think he has showed that he values competence and the ability to get things done. I think it is shaping up to be a great team.

PJV: I saw in one of the articles about you that you said that neither your religion nor your sexual orientation was an issue in your campaign, that neither one of them came up. But sexual orientation has been an issue in terms of legislation over the years and while there may not be legislation around sexual orientation this year, there was hate crime legislation dealing with sexual orientation last year. Do you think that either of these issues – clearly you are not the only Jewish member of Congress – will come up as you propose legislation and seek to strengthen the progressive agenda?

I think that Congress is at its best when it represents the diversity of the American people. I believe there are three incoming Jewish members of our class. Again, I believe that our faith is represented in Congress and the more that Congress can represent people of different races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, the more it will represent all the American people.

PJV: One last question about your affiliation with the Jewish community in Colorado: do you feel that your parents’ values, your values you grew up with -- I know you said your parents were ‘60s people – but do you think Judaism has played a role in shaping the values that you now have?

Absolutely. You know growing up in the Jewish faith with the values of Tikkun Olam and doing good in the community and giving back as well as the value of education for society is something I grew up with and certainly helps morally inform my public work.

PJV: Are there any other issues you would like to talk about?

No, that’s it I think. Those are some of the big ones.

PJV: OK. Well we are really looking forward to seeing you in Washington. There is going to be a big Jewish delegation coming to Washington for Obama and there are events planned around the Inauguration, so maybe you will drop by and say “Hello” to other progressive Jewish Democrats.

Sure. Make sure my staff is notified of that and if I can I will try to come by.

PJV: Thank you very much Congressman-elect Polis.


To view previous editions of "In Their Own Words", please click here.

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