The Denver Post's bizarre juxtaposition of Jared Polis and Marilyn Musgrave

Jared Polis.

On Sunday, the front page of the Denver Post's Perspective section was dominated by endorsements of Democrat Jared Polis, who's running for Congress in the 2nd District, and Republican Marilyn Musgrave, making her third re-election bid in the 4th District.

Hard to imagine stranger bedfellows, considering Musgrave’s well-documented loathing of gay rights and Polis’ run to be the first openly gay man ever elected to Congress as a non-incumbent. In a year where citizens nationwide have bemoaned crippling legislative lethargy, the two candidates look like a side-by-side recipe for congressional gridlock.

The two ostensibly found themselves teamed on the front page because their races -- Polis’ for the open seat vacated by Mark Udall in his run for the Senate and Musgrave’s tight fight against challenger Betsy Markey -- have a much higher profile than the five safer contests in the state. But from there, the pairing gets a little dubious.

In the Post's endorsement of Polis, the editorial board says he’s the man to bring a "breath of fresh air in an otherwise sluggish Congress." Their endorsement of Musgrave -- the paper’s first in her four runs at the office -- comes on the heels of her transformation to "Marilyn Version 2.1;" they say she's now leaving her "divisive social issues of no practical concern for her district" at the door in favor of local economic issues and alternative energy. Considering the history of the candidates, however, can we imagine that these two will agree on anything, much less change the image of Colorado as a state The Daily Show's Jon Stewart claimed had absolutely no middle ground in his visit during the DNC? In Colorado, he said, "You're either a rapture-awaiting Promise Keeper or you drive a car that runs on gorp."


Musgrave, during her 2006 re-election run, famously declared to the Family Research Council's "Values Voters Summit" that gay marriage was "...the most important issue that we face today." She told the audience that "when you're in a cultural war like this, you have to respond with equal and hopefully greater force if you want to win," and warned of a grim future if gay marriage, in her all-consuming quest against what she has termed "the radical homosexual agenda," was not banned.

"[Musgrave] doesn't like the idea of one gay person," said Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the first openly gay congressman. "So obviously the idea of two of us hanging out makes her very unhappy."

And Musgrave’s stance clearly isn’t lost on Polis. In a Post article from December 2007, Jennifer Brown wrote, "Jared Polis, campaigning as the first openly gay candidate for Congress from Colorado, can't wait to take his partner to a delegation dinner in Washington, D.C. The Boulder Democrat wants to sit beside Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a Republican from Fort Morgan, who tried to put a same-sex-marriage ban in the Constitution four years ago."

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Polis doesn’t want to talk about Marilyn 2.1’s plan for Yuma County’s farm-to-market roads.

Polis -- whose platform champions the Clean Air Act, decries climate change and global warming, suggests Clinton-era pay-as-you-go budgets and calls for a repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act -- stands a world apart from Musgrave, whose campaign issues throw in a few token barbs at George Bush ("When President Bush attempted to eliminate funding for the Commodity Supplemental food program, Marilyn, a member of the Congressional Hunger Caucus, successfully fought to protect the program") but otherwise hold firm to eliminating earmarks, defending the unborn, keeping tax cuts in place, promoting gun rights and highlighting Musgrave’s position as "a proven leader in the defense of traditional marriage."

In 2004, as noted in his Westword profile, Polis equivocated on the depth of his involvement with the Rocky Mountain Progressive Network, whose executive director, Michael Huttner, called on every public official in Colorado supporting Musgrave's proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage to sign a "fidelity pledge." But for Marilyn 2.1, the Post editorial board must have been impressed that she’s never taken her eye off her next campaign. In a June 2007 article, Karen Crummy reported that Musgrave had voted with her party 96 percent of the time. Yet two months after her squeaker win in 2006, the Post prognosticated that the GOP had soured on spending so much money to defend Musgrave’s seat and suggested that voters might soon see "…a revamped Musgrave. No more chatter about gay marriage and more talk about rural issues, such as ethanol and farming."

Nothing wrong with a politician running a perpetual campaign. Maybe the Post was so impressed by its prediction coming to fruition -- or Musgrave heeding their advice -- that they felt the nod was warranted.

In the Post's endorsement of Democrat Stan Matsunaka over Musgrave in 2002, the editorial board wrote, "Matsunaka's Republican foe, state Sen. Marilyn Musgrave, can cite a good record in working for lower taxes, especially in reducing the personal property tax on business, another way of helping boost district employment. But she is best known as a militant foe of abortion and gay rights." The paper endorsed Matsunaka again in 2004: "Musgrave... has left the district's interests by the wayside during her freshman term, pursuing instead a national anti-gay agenda."

Add the endorsement of challenger Angie Paccione in '06: "In Congress, Musgrave has pursued an extreme agenda and has offered all-too-predictable support for the president on issues ranging from restrictions on embryonic stem cell research to tax and war policy. Her largest burden, though, is that she simply hasn't much to show for her four years in Congress.”"

The questions before voters in 2008 are ones left speculatively unaddressed in the Post's pick: after three elections and three non-endorsements, if Musgrave is an extremist forced into a moderate’s clothing as the paper predicted two years ago, why is the Post buying it? Isn’t Musgrave the epitome of the so-called sluggishness or extremism that Polis would supposedly fight? And, most critical of all, what might Polis say to Musgrave at the delegation dinner?

The Post acknowledges, then and now, that Musgrave has frittered away most of her six years of opportunity to work in a bipartisan fashion and leave her radical social agenda at the door -- and it supports Polis, who emerged victorious from a tough Democratic primary in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, with a chance to prove his mettle on Capitol Hill. In placing its emphasis on the narrower issues of those voters in each congressional district, the paper must also remember -- particularly in light of the recent series of crippling legislative fights in Congress -- the needs of the state and the nation as a whole. -- Joe Horton

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts