It’s a poorly kept secret that Governor Jared Polis is a nerdy geek. Or a geeky nerd. Like the good ol’ fashioned kind, the kind who’s smart and well-read and has hobbies that mark him as a member of the culture. It might be in vogue now, but the nerdtastic reference has not always been welcome — perhaps especially not in the Colorado State of the State address.
But the guv let his geek flag fly on Tuesday, January 17, in his 2023 State of the State speech, not only projecting his goals for Colorful Colorado in his second term, but also reassuring residents that the “best is yet to come” in his vision of “a Colorado for all.” We hope that includes a continued dip into the nerd-reference well for metaphors and comparisons in the coming years, because Governor Polis, you’re speaking our language.
Lots of news sources will be listing the governor’s main points in terms of policy. Instead of adding to that throng, we thought we’d cover the seven ways in which the State of the State was (with apologies to Weird Al Yankovic) ridin' nerdy. Gandalf from Lord of the Rings
Only three minutes into his speech — really, at the end of his introductory comments — Polis invokes none other than Gandalf the Grey. This comes right after referencing Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, which is always a smart move when making a Lord of the Rings reference: Offer the sports comparison first. Polis is clearly practiced in ways to avoid the wedgies and swirlies that plague the fantasy-novel aficionado in middle school. Also, Gandalf took on a Balrog and lived to tell the tale (eventually). That’s badass. South Park Okay, maybe Colorado natives Trey Parker and Matt Stone are easy pulls for the governor when talking about believing in the brightness of the state’s future, especially since they’re in the process of single-handedly saving one of Denver’s greatest and most notorious landmarks, Casa Bonita. Polis even mentions that he got a sneak preview of the renovated interiors of the Pepto-pink palace, and promises in the speech that “Y’all are gonna love it.” No word on whether anything but the sopaipillas will be edible, however.
Grammar and spelling Like any nerd worth his pocket dictionary, Polis mentions that one of the central questions for the Centennial State’s 150th birthday is how to “learn to pronounce sesquicentennial and semi-quincentennial correctly.” This is, of course, just a joke, but an endearingly geeky one. And one with an important undercurrent: In today’s politics, intellectual rigor has become something of a negative in some circles. Elocution, effective communication, appreciation for education and rational thought? There’s some nerdiness that America as a whole should embrace once again.
Bible nerds! As my youth pastor used to tell me: The Bible is the most exciting book you’ll ever read. I’m not sure he and I were appreciating the same things, but I did enjoy the rampant violence and acts of divine vengeance and miracles and retribution and revelations. Also, there are those great old Archie comics where the whole Riverdale gang starts quoting Scripture and whatnot. So yes, Bible nerds are a thing, and apparently our governor thumbs through the Good Book now and then, as he quotes Isaiah 54:2-3 to help guide urban planning: Make your tent bigger, stretch them out and make them wider, do not hold back. Make the ropes longer and stakes stronger, because you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your children will live again in cities that were once abandoned. Amen. Star Wars George Lucas didn’t just make a movie — or six movies, with three more with his (and Disney’s) imprimatur. He made a language, a common currency between those of a certain age, from Gen X forward. So it shouldn’t be surprising that a little less than an hour into his remarks, Polis starts talking about education reform in terms of Luke Skywalker’s training under Jedi Master Yoda. What might be a surprise? We get to hear the governor’s Yoda impression. “Two available jobs for every unemployed Coloradan, we have,” he croaks admirably, in an impersonation that he clearly didn’t need to practice just for this speech. The great James Baldwin Literary nerds get a shout-out, too — and this is a bookish reference that suggests much more than the actual message of the central quote, which is itself important enough. “There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation,” Polis recites. “The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.” True, and pertinent, and inspirational. But it makes a difference that the quote came from James Baldwin, who spoke and wrote extensively about both racial and sexual oppression. The reference to Baldwin accomplishes exactly what a good quote should: Refer to the topic at hand, and subtly underpin some of the other arguments made at other points.
Weird Colorado science In wrapping up his comments, Polis extends one more olive branch to the nerd/geek community, this time toward the biologists and Big Bang Theory fans who’ve come to believe that science isn’t just important — it’s pretty cool. He does so not only by projecting us conceptually into Colorado’s future — in 100 years, for our 250th anniversary of statehood — which he first compares to the age of the biblical Methuselah, then acknowledges as “less than one-tenth the lifetime of Colorado’s oldest 2,510-year-old bristlecone pine.”
It’s a very Colorado comparison, but the nerdiness — like the rest of Polis’s appearance at the State Capitol — is just yummy icing on a very geeky cake.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE...
Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.