The race for Colorado governor has hit a new low. Homophobic bumper stickers attacking Democratic nominee Jared Polis have appeared in Eagle and at least one other nearby community over the past several weeks.
In addition to being loathsome, the stickers also misspell Polis's first name. The message emblazoned over rainbow-striped images, including a puckered set of lips, reads, "Don't Vote for Jerod Polis or He'll Love Your Ass."
Local officials were originally torn about whether to talk publicly about the stickers because they didn't want to bring more attention to the material. That's clearly a concern of the Polis campaign, which declined to discuss the subject when contacted by Westword.
But Eagle County Democratic Party chair Joy Harrison says folks in her area changed course in the wake of two disturbing national events: the pipe bombs mailed to prominent critics of President Donald Trump last week and the anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, which left eleven people dead. Polis is Jewish as well as gay.
Harrison notes that "the pipe bombs and what happened at the synagogue, and the intensity of the rhetoric, caused all of us to say, 'Let's look at this a little more closely.'"
The first time Harrison heard about the stickers was "maybe three weeks ago," she goes on. "I remember a staff member from one of our campaigns came in and said he'd seen one of the stickers on a dumpster behind our building — and he was very offended. I walked out and looked, and that was the first one I saw."
She reacted by covering up the sticker with duct tape. But the incident wasn't isolated.
"The Eagle County building has a right-of-way area, a long strip of land where traditionally people plant their election signs," she divulges. "And there were stickers affixed to yard signs for Jared Polis and Dylan Roberts, who's one of our state representatives."
The stickers proved difficult to peel off, so some of the signs had to be replaced. But then, Harrison points out, "we started to notice them more and more in other places," including utility poles in town. "You drive down the street and go, 'Oh, God, there's another one.'"
In addition, she continues, "Kerry Donovan, our state senator, who's running in the election, saw one in Vail a few days ago. There were multiple Jared Polis signs at the West Vail roundabout that had stickers on them. That was the first time we'd heard about them outside the town of Eagle."
Early on, Harrison made a report about the stickers to the Eagle Police Department. She recalls that "the officer took the information and said, 'We'll keep an eye out for mischief.' But this past week, I learned that he didn't file an incident report."
That changed after journalist David O. Williams began working on a story about the stickers that appeared in the Vail Daily on October 30. He contacted the Eagle police in the context of reporting about the stickers, and on Monday, a day prior to the piece's publication, "an officer came over to our office and took an official report," Harrison reveals. "They gave us an incident report number that time, so we know they're taking it more seriously now."
Eagle authorities have now reportedly identified a person of interest in the case.
The governor's race has gotten heated at times. But Harrison resists the temptation to pin the blame for the stickers on Treasurer Walker Stapleton, the Republican gubernatorial nominee.
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"I don't know that it has as much to do with Walker Stapleton as it does with plain old homophobia," she says. "This is just a sign of the atmosphere and the empowerment people are feeling to act on their worst impulses and spew this kind of negative and vile message. And I'd attribute that more to Donald Trump as the person who's really enabling people to speak and act like this than to Jared Polis's opponent."
In her view, "People are realizing that this kind of behavior is filtering down to every community from the top. We're seeing that right here in little Eagle, and I find that shocking. I feel that we live in a very tolerant community. It may lean a little bit Democratic or progressive, but it's really a microcosm of Colorado, where we have diverse political views, as well as great wealth and great poverty. I think people are trying to make it a better community for families to live and thrive here, and not to have to move away because it's too expensive. So it was disappointing to have something like this show up in Eagle. I thought we were above that. But I guess there's a little bit of this in every community."
The decision to speak out about the stickers represents "a mixed bag, for sure," Harrison acknowledges. "You have to decide what battles you're going to fight, which remarks from your opponents you're going to challenge. And the person who did this is the kind of idiot who can't even spell 'Jared' right. But the events of this last week alarmed everybody, I think. They showed what hate-mongering can lead to."
This post has been updated to include information about a person of interest in the bumper sticker case reportedly being identified by authorities in Eagle.