The annual State of the State speech in Colorado is as much a ritual as a tradition, and Governor Jared Polis's 2021 version, delivered at the Colorado Capitol today, February 17, was no exception. But the speech was also a way to judge the enthusiasm of Polis's fellow Democrats (and occasionally Republicans, too) for his assorted proposals, policies and prognostications, as evidenced not only by when members applauded, but how enthusiastically they did so.
Before Polis's arrival, the House chambers were as full as at any point since the start of the pandemic. Not only was the room crowded with senators, representatives and journalists, but special guests were present, too, including U.S. reps Joe Neguse and Jason Crow, as well as health-care workers, educators and more. Polis even gave a shout-out to his seventy-something parents, whom he said he hasn't been able to see in person for a year.
As a result, six feet of social distancing between the assorted humans was pretty much impossible, and while the overwhelming majority of those present wore facial coverings, there were definitely a handful of exceptions that Speaker of the House Alec Garnett chose to ignore. "Members and guests, please take your seats," he said as the designated speech start time arrived. "It's eleven o'clock. ... No more selfies. No one can tell if you're smiling behind the masks, anyway."
Shortly thereafter, Garnett handed the gavel to Senate Majority Leader Leroy Garcia, who introduced Polis — and the applause that greeted the governor as he entered the chamber was polite. No notable whoops, but it went on for quite a well, helping to establish a benchmark for our scoring system.
Scoring category one? Regular applause: modest, but not overly enthusiastic. Category two? Lengthy applause: a prolonged response that Polis often ended by moving forward with his remarks. And category three? Lengthy applause with hoots, in which clapping escalated to verbal exhibitions.
Of course, the pandemic wasn't a subject appropriate to boisterousness. Note that Polis asked for a moment of silence to recognize the 5,655 Coloradans lost to date to COVID-19. And his introductory litany of events was similarly somber.
He stressed: "I'm mindful that as I speak to you this morning, many of you are facing some of the toughest times in your lives. Too many of us have lost someone close to this terrible pandemic, battled illness ourselves or dealt with the anxiety of having a loved one in the hospital but not being able to be by their side. Many others have lost jobs that not only filled days with purpose, but kept a roof over your family's head. ... And as if the pandemic and resulting global recession was not enough, we have weathered record-breaking wildfires that destroyed homes and claimed lives. We've witnessed brutality inflicted on Black Americans, and grappled with how to address systemic discrimination against communities of color. And we watched in shock and horror as the foundation of our democracy itself came under attack by a violent mob intent on overturning the results of a free and fair election."
In short, he summarized, "This has been one of the most challenging years of our lifetimes. But as Coloradans, we face down tough times with grit and overcome them together."
This tonal shift took Polis's remarks in a more positive direction. This is how his audience greeted the lines that followed.
"I want to thank the leaders of the General Assembly, this one and the last — Speakers Becker and Garnett, Leaders McKean and Neville, President Garcia and Leader Holbert, and all the members who came together last December to support a package of legislation that put Colorado families and Colorado businesses first."
"Colorado needs the best ideas from both parties, so that together we can rise to meet the challenge before us. Nothing could be more important."
"I want to thank Senator Fenberg, Senator Winter, Speaker Garnett and Representative Gray for their leadership on this important and challenging issue and their work to bring together the business community, local governments and environmental advocates around the important need to reduce traffic."
"I thank the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who supported putting Prop EE on the ballot last year. Because of your work and the support of over two thirds of Colorado voters, we can now combat one of the worst challenges confronting our children — smoking and vaping — while investing in one of the best things for our children: universal preschool."
"I salute all of the children, parents and educators who have done their best to adapt. It’s why we should continue the General Assembly’s bipartisan efforts, led by Representative McCluskie and Senator Lundeen’s work through the School Finance Interim Committee, to make funding more equitable and student-centered, so that every Colorado child has a chance to succeed."
"We’ve given what we could, and together we raised almost $24 million for the Colorado COVID Relief Fund, supporting more than 1,000 organizations in all 64 counties of our state."
"Today, Colorado has one of the highest vaccination rates and one of the lowest transmission rates in the country."
"This year I propose we eliminate the business personal property tax for tens of thousands of small businesses, reducing paperwork and protecting them from onerous tax requirements."
"To help hardworking Coloradans, I propose we double the Earned Income Tax Credit, and provide up to $600 in tax credits per child for nearly 200,000 families in our state through the Colorado Child Tax Credit."
"While of course we need in-person school now for our kids, we also need it for Colorado moms and dads."
"The ongoing effort to ensure opportunity and justice for all means much more. It means taking our lead from Representative Herod and Senator Buckner to stop the school-to-prison pipeline, by investing more in school counselors and less in overly harsh punishments."
"I want to thank the Legislature — and particularly the leadership of President Garcia, Senator Hisey, and Majority Leader Esgar and Representative Will — for providing the resources to open Fishers Peak, Colorado’s newest state park."
Lengthy Applause With Hoots
"As our transportation habits change, so should the way we support our transportation system. We should reduce vehicle registration fees to save people money and support the recovery, while modernizing the way we fund our transportation system."
"I propose that we stop taxing seniors’ Social Security benefits. Many seniors live on fixed incomes, and we should not tax the Social Security benefits they depend on. With the leadership of Senators Moreno and Hansen, and Representatives Weissman and Sirota, I am confident we will get it done."
"With the leadership of senators Danielson and Pettersen, and now Senator Buckner and Representative Gonzales-Gutierrez, we passed a law to ensure women are paid the same as men."
"It means honoring those Coloradans who have bravely served our country, yet been dismissed from the military and prevented from receiving certain state veterans’ benefits because of who they love. With the leadership of Senator Moreno, Representative Ortiz and Adjutant General Clellan, we will start to right this wrong. I will be excited to see the Restoration of Honor Act reach my desk."
"It means partnering with Senator Gonzalez and Representative Gonzales-Gutierrez to ensure state data isn’t used to enforce a broken and inhumane immigration system."
"I also want to thank the Behavioral Health Task Force, which, under the capable leadership of Michelle Barnes, developed the blueprint that will streamline our mental health services, a far too often overlooked area of health care. I appreciate the bipartisan sponsors — Representatives Young and Pelton, and Senators Fields and Gardner — for taking on this vital issue."
"I’d like to take a moment now to thank our incredible Colorado firefighters, who tirelessly labored to save every life, every home, and every piece of property they could — even in the midst of a global pandemic."
"This past year, we’ve been bruised, battered and shaken to our core — but nevertheless, the State of Colorado remains strong."
Click to read the prepared text of Governor Jared Polis's 2021 State of the State speech.
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