Young Blood

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Largely because Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar -- the man whom Polis supports for the U.S. Senate with his dollars and his Navigator's dashboard -- determined that the term shouldn't end early, two separate Republican attempts to legislate the at-large seat out of existence came to naught. Once the position was declared safe until January 2007, the board had to temporarily alter some of its procedures. Chairmen were previously selected for two-year terms, but with an even number of members, it was decided that this period of time be sliced in half, with representatives from each party taking one-year turns as chairman and vice chairman. Hence, in 2003, DeHoff was chairman and Polis was vice chairman, and this year, those roles are reversed.

DeHoff didn't like the compromise, but he signed on to it -- and he acknowledges that the board has seldom been hamstrung by the even-number configuration. "There's rarely a partisan divide, even if there's an ideological or doctrinal divide," he says. "It rarely breaks along party lines."

Hudak isn't so sure. Republicans "are less willing to be cooperative with" Polis, she says. "Sometimes they seem suspicious of his motives. Sometimes they are argumentative, and in general, they seem less forgiving and patient with him than with other members. When he first became chair, they made an effort to cooperate, but at our April meeting, they got upset when he carried on a conversation at length with some people who spoke during public comment, and they made some rude comments. It seemed like the honeymoon was over. However, at our retreat in June, we talked through the concerns they had, and things seem to have settled down."

That makes sense, since Polis isn't in lockstep with traditional Democratic positions on education. In 2003, for instance, he voiced his support for vouchers as long as laws concerning them are initially tailored to assist disadvantaged youth -- a position not far from the one espoused by conservative icon Bob Schaffer. But Polis's convictions didn't prevent Republicans from coming after him again with regard to the New America School. As the institution's founder, Polis was originally on its board of directors, and political opponents as well as frequent supporters like Hudak saw that as a potential conflict of interest, since the charter school would be under the supervision of the State Board of Education. On this issue, Polis acquiesced, resigning from the New America School's board. He dismisses the situation as "pure politics."

Maybe so, but that's the game he has chosen to play, and Orr thinks he's improved at it. "He's grown a lot since he came here," he says, "and he's gotten a lot of valuable experience."

In the beginning, Hudak adds, other boardmembers feared that Polis "lacked knowledge about education issues because of his youth, not being a parent, etc. That has been somewhat true; however, he has made substantial efforts to get to know the education Œlandscape' in the state.... He seems to devote a great deal of time to being a well-informed SBE member; his wealth allows him to do that, in terms of both traveling around the state and having the time to do so."

Even DeHoff admits that Polis isn't phoning in his board duties. "The hiccups he's had in his tenure on the state board have been from not really understanding the role of the board and the role of the individual on it," he says. "But he's learning."

A mid-July day in the life of Jared Polis affords more educational prospects than most people encounter in a month.

The itinerary begins at tony Kent Denver School, where representatives of Summerbridge, a program that helps promising students from disadvantaged backgrounds progress during the summer months and beyond, have readied a presentation for city officials. The most prominent invitee is Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, who arrives with his retinue at close to 9:30 a.m., when things are slated to begin. A hefty press contingent is also on hand, including Rocky Mountain News photog Maria Avila and Denver Post shutterbug Kathryn Scott Osler.

After a few minutes of waiting for Polis, whose foundation donated oodles of computers to the project, Summerbridge director Jenn Fitchett decides to get the party started. Hickenlooper takes a seat on the stage of Kent's El Pomar Theater along with other dignitaries and a handful of Summerbridge instructors and students. Several speakers later, Fitchett is about to play a Summerbridge video when loud noises emanate from the theater's entryway. "It sounds like a tornado around here early in the morning," she jokes as she tries to locate the cause of the racket.

Sure enough, it's Polis, clad in his typical sports jacket. He's 23 minutes late and has a shaking-off-slumber look, but the video gives him time to regroup. Afterward, he cheerfully engages in a Summerbridge cheer dubbed "the spirit clap." The clap's pattern gets increasingly complicated as it goes along, and Polis is utterly incapable of mastering it. As he thrusts his fist into the air, crying "Summerbridge!," he snickers at his own ineptitude.

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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