DENVER — Colorado took a formal step to the left Tuesday with the inauguration of Democrat Jared Polis, the nation’s first openly gay governor whose overwhelming election victory and party’s consolidation of legislative control promise ambitious changes for energy and environmental regulation, health care and state-funded early childhood education.
Several thousand people gathered on the state Capitol’s west slope on a crisp morning to watch the ceremony under sunny skies. Current lawmakers and former governors attended under tight security that included closed streets.
Polis was accompanied by his partner, Marlon Reis, as he took the oath of office after a thunderous 21 cannon salute. Their children, Caspian and Cora, also attended.
Polis promised to pursue education for all children, affordable health care for more families and strict environmental protections.
“Right now our nation is experiencing a period of growing divisiveness,” Polis said. “But here in Colorado we choose a different path.
“We will never, ever be outworked,” he declared. “We will never be stunted by a lack of imagination.”
Polis is a wealthy tech and education entrepreneur and former five-term congressman from Boulder. He succeeds Gov. John Hickenlooper, a centrist Democrat, former Denver mayor, petroleum geologist and beer pub entrepreneur who served the maximum two terms. Hickenlooper is considering a 2020 presidential run.
Polis trounced then-state treasurer Walker Stapleton in November. Health care and Donald Trump’s presidency were the top issues in the campaign.
Polis’ inauguration marked a special day for LGBTQ advocates nationwide.
The planned festivities include an evening “Blue Sneaker Ball,” named after the footwear Polis sported during his campaign. Pop singer and LGBTQ activist Cyndi Lauper and the R&B combo Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats were scheduled to perform.
Former state Rep. Diane Primavera, a health care advocate, was sworn in as lieutenant governor. Primavera is a cancer survivor and most recently led Colorado’s Susan G. Komen Foundation chapter in its battle against breast cancer.
Polis has promised action on oil and gas drilling and on marijuana policy.
Hickenlooper brokered a tentative compromise on fracking between Colorado’s expanding $32 billion oil and gas industry and environmentalists opposed to drilling.
He also oversaw the creation of Colorado’s first-in-the-nation recreational marijuana market, which opened in 2014.
Polis once supported fracking limits but has abandoned the stance, saying there’s a place for Colorado oil and gas exports even as he pursues a 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2040. Democratic lawmakers are working this session to strengthen air and water quality rules for the fossil fuels industry.
Polis, who was a member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, says he’d pursue more industry financing opportunities and add autism to the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.
Polis has called for universal health care, suggesting Colorado could partner with neighboring states to create a regional market. Lawmakers are studying a state-run insurance market for Colorado.
Polis and Democrats also will pursue funding for full-day kindergarten — and, if Polis gets his way, universal preschool, modeled after an Oklahoma program.
Polis earned his wealth by starting an internet company in college and revolutionizing the online greeting cards and floral retail industries. He served on the state board of education before going to Congress.