Young Blood

Rising political powerhouse Jared Polis is rich, tireless and filled with contradictions.

That's how Evie Hudak feels. In an e-mail exchange, she calls Polis's absences "more excessive than other members'. I have expressed some concern to him about it, and it has gotten better since then." Nonetheless, Polis "puts a tremendous amount of energy into his board work.... I'm sure he aspires to future political office (so, probably, do some other boardmembers), but he acts as if he is going nowhere else."

Republicans who wish he was gone entirely tried to use the 2000 census to hasten his departure. Board of Education members correspond to the state's congressional districts, and the Colorado constitution calls for an at-large seat like his to be added when the number of districts are even, to prevent deadlocks. During the '90s, Colorado had six districts, but the most recent census authorized a seventh. As such, former state house speaker Doug Dean reasoned that the term for the education board's at-large seat should end after two years instead of its normal length, six years, because a boardmember from the seventh district would be elected in 2002. Dean wasn't alone in this assumption. "I know Ben Alexander thought it would be a two-year term," DeHoff says. "Ben was assuming he'd serve for two years and then resign when we got a seventh congressional district, and we assumed Jared was feeling that way, too. But Jared said, 'I was elected to a six-year term.'"

Largely because Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar -- the man whom Polis supports for the U.S. Senate with his dollars and his Navigator's dashboard -- determined that the term shouldn't end early, two separate Republican attempts to legislate the at-large seat out of existence came to naught. Once the position was declared safe until January 2007, the board had to temporarily alter some of its procedures. Chairmen were previously selected for two-year terms, but with an even number of members, it was decided that this period of time be sliced in half, with representatives from each party taking one-year turns as chairman and vice chairman. Hence, in 2003, DeHoff was chairman and Polis was vice chairman, and this year, those roles are reversed.

Anthony Camera
Jared Polis cheers with students in the Summerbridge 
Anthony Camera
Jared Polis cheers with students in the Summerbridge program.

DeHoff didn't like the compromise, but he signed on to it -- and he acknowledges that the board has seldom been hamstrung by the even-number configuration. "There's rarely a partisan divide, even if there's an ideological or doctrinal divide," he says. "It rarely breaks along party lines."

Hudak isn't so sure. Republicans "are less willing to be cooperative with" Polis, she says. "Sometimes they seem suspicious of his motives. Sometimes they are argumentative, and in general, they seem less forgiving and patient with him than with other members. When he first became chair, they made an effort to cooperate, but at our April meeting, they got upset when he carried on a conversation at length with some people who spoke during public comment, and they made some rude comments. It seemed like the honeymoon was over. However, at our retreat in June, we talked through the concerns they had, and things seem to have settled down."

That makes sense, since Polis isn't in lockstep with traditional Democratic positions on education. In 2003, for instance, he voiced his support for vouchers as long as laws concerning them are initially tailored to assist disadvantaged youth -- a position not far from the one espoused by conservative icon Bob Schaffer. But Polis's convictions didn't prevent Republicans from coming after him again with regard to the New America School. As the institution's founder, Polis was originally on its board of directors, and political opponents as well as frequent supporters like Hudak saw that as a potential conflict of interest, since the charter school would be under the supervision of the State Board of Education. On this issue, Polis acquiesced, resigning from the New America School's board. He dismisses the situation as "pure politics."

Maybe so, but that's the game he has chosen to play, and Orr thinks he's improved at it. "He's grown a lot since he came here," he says, "and he's gotten a lot of valuable experience."

In the beginning, Hudak adds, other boardmembers feared that Polis "lacked knowledge about education issues because of his youth, not being a parent, etc. That has been somewhat true; however, he has made substantial efforts to get to know the education Œlandscape' in the state.... He seems to devote a great deal of time to being a well-informed SBE member; his wealth allows him to do that, in terms of both traveling around the state and having the time to do so."

Even DeHoff admits that Polis isn't phoning in his board duties. "The hiccups he's had in his tenure on the state board have been from not really understanding the role of the board and the role of the individual on it," he says. "But he's learning."

A mid-July day in the life of Jared Polis affords more educational prospects than most people encounter in a month.

The itinerary begins at tony Kent Denver School, where representatives of Summerbridge, a program that helps promising students from disadvantaged backgrounds progress during the summer months and beyond, have readied a presentation for city officials. The most prominent invitee is Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, who arrives with his retinue at close to 9:30 a.m., when things are slated to begin. A hefty press contingent is also on hand, including Rocky Mountain News photog Maria Avila and Denver Post shutterbug Kathryn Scott Osler.

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