Young Blood

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

Not Senator John Andrews, who's still frosted about a billboard the RMPN put up near the Capitol that accused him, Governor Owens and Representative Lola Spradley of spurring Colorado's post-9/11 economic downturn. "Mike Huttner runs around doing these frat-boy pranks on Polis's nickel," Andrews proclaims.

Andrews can't say for certain, but he presumes that Polis's most elaborate scheme to date involves the formation of two political parties that apparently espouse conservative ideals: the Pro-Life Party and the Gun Owners' Rights Party.

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

The organizations first aroused Andrews's curiosity when he couldn't find anyone in traditional conservative circles who knew anything about them. The main contact person for the groups, lawyer John Sackett, deepened the enigma by shielding the name of the person or persons who hired him to collect signatures that led to the parties' certification by Colorado's secretary of state this past spring; Sackett claimed attorney-client privilege. These clues led Andrews to conclude that the parties had been started by liberals who hoped they might siphon off votes from Republicans in much the same way that ballots filled out for Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election were perceived to have come at the expense of Democratic candidate Al Gore.

Also sniffing around was Mike Rosen, KOA talk-show host and columnist for the Rocky Mountain News. Rosen heard from a man who said his son was part of the petition drive and confirmed to him that the parties were stalking horses. On top of that, Rosen wrote in a May column, he found a reference in the secretary of state's petition file to the law firm of Foster, Graham and Huttner -- yes, that Huttner. So he called Polis, who'd been a semi-frequent guest on his program and had never previously failed to reply to him, to ask if the parties were his babies.

This time, Polis didn't call back. Correspondingly, he took weeks to respond to an open letter sent to him by Andrews on the same topic -- and when he finally dialed Andrews's number, he didn't directly answer questions about the political parties. "It was clear that Jared was just being coy and enjoying this man-of-mystery-and-money role that he's carved out for himself," Andrews mutters.

Today, Polis sings much the same tune. "There's a reason I won't address the charges," Polis says. "It's the sort of thing where if you start selectively addressing certain things and saying no to certain things, then if you don't answer something, it's like you're saying yes. So I don't want to address any of that stuff. In general, I think it's an advantage politically to keep people guessing."

To Colorado Republican Party chairman Ted Halaby, who put out a press release in February accusing erstwhile senatorial candidate Rutt Bridges of being behind the parties before identifying Polis as the chief suspect, such Clintonian logic is positively appalling. "I think this was Jared's opportunity to come clean with the Colorado voters, not hide behind ambiguous statements," he affirms. "If he was behind the effort and it wasn't some subterfuge, then there's no reason for him not to be candid about it. But if he was behind the effort and he wants to hide his participation, it speaks with a loud voice about what his clear intentions were in terms of misleading and deceiving the Colorado voter."

In terms of the upcoming election, the Pro-Life Party and the Gun Owners' Rights Party won't have an impact, because neither fielded candidates. Their inactivity can be seen as further evidence of their illegitimacy, and indicates that they were dumped when the Republicans caught on.

The cost of this charade was upwards of $75,000, Rosen estimates, but Polis could certainly afford it, and the entertainment value of freaking out the Republican establishment may have made it worth the investment. For Polis, a good deal can pay off in something other than negotiable currency. "To a certain extent, it's ridiculous," he says, "but it's also fun when Republicans see everything as the arm of Jared Polis."

On a Saturday night in July, Polis is among the fun-seekers at Cinema Latino, the anchor for what he says is the nation's only Spanish-language chain of movie theaters. The operation is modest at this point -- he also owns theaters in Phoenix and Fort Worth, bringing his screen total to 24 -- but he hopes to open two more branches in new markets over the next year and expand from there.

The Aurora base is bustling on this evening, with hundreds of locals drawn to films such as Spiderman 2 and Catwoman, presented in either dubbed or Spanish-subtitled variations. The building previously housed a second-run theater, but Polis paid to spiff it up, and he likes it to be kept scrupulously clean. A piece of popcorn that hits the carpeting near the concession stand lies there for less than fifteen seconds before an employee sweeps it up. That pleases Polis, as does the spotless condition of the restrooms.

He keeps just as close a watch on other aspects of Cinema Latino's business. In an office upstairs, across a hallway from projectors lazily spooling out enormous loops of celluloid, he shows off a computer that tracks each snack or beverage purchase in real time. (Among the theater's customers, Fanta far outsells Coca-Cola, and the most popular munchies are manufactured by the Bimbo Group, a food supplier in Mexico.) Across the room, a chart traces the theater's financial performance. Polis says the most popular diversions are animated movies -- Shrek 2 did well -- and action-adventure offerings, but nothing has compared to The Passion of the Christ. The demand to see Mel Gibson's gory chronicle of Jesus's final hours was so spectacular that staffers booked it on two screens in spite of having only one copy. After a portion of it was shown in one part of the house, it was moved to another projector and cranked up again.

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