In tribute to essential workers, Gov. Jared Polis talks equity, “forging ahead” |

In tribute to essential workers, Gov. Jared Polis talks equity, “forging ahead”

Governor signs bills in Basalt, thanks frontline workers in Aspen Sunday

Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield (right) welcomes Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to the stage for opening remarks at "Refections: A Tribute to Essential Workers" at the Benedict Music Tent on Sunday, June 27, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

During a tribute to essential workers at the Benedict Music Tent on Sunday afternoon, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis found a fitting depiction for the past year and a half in a quote from Duke Ellington: “A problem is a chance for you to do your best.”

“I think that that’s great guidance to all of us, to do our best no matter what life throws at us,” Polis said during remarks at the free thank you event honoring local teachers, medical professionals and fire and public safety officials. “And that’s really what the Colorado spirit is all about: forging ahead despite the obstacles in our path, finding creative solutions that make our world a better place.”

The program, one of many events this month marking the summer return of live performing arts, kicked off the Aspen Music Festival and School season and featured performances from other groups like Theatre Aspen and the band Tuba Skinny.

“It’s hard to think of a more fitting way to kick off our summer season, a music festival and the return to normalcy, than by taking a moment to reflect on our first responders, front-line workers who have powered us through this pandemic and continue to power the Colorado comeback,” Polis said. “On behalf of Colorado, to all of you, I want to say thank you.”

The community is still on that path toward normalcy, Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield said during the event.

“We come together today, during the COVID-19 crisis — we hope it’s near the end but it’s not over yet — with hope and resolve to renew, to rebuild, to revitalize, to reimagine,” Porterfield said. “And as we mourn each loss of life, we also take part in the generous and serving spirit that defines this region.”

Polis highlighted a focus on equity in his remarks Sunday afternoon, praising the collaboration among valley communities working to ensure pandemic recovery and giving kudos to the Roaring Fork School District’s student equity committee. The “Colorado Comeback” statewide pandemic recovery efforts aim “to make sure we build back, yes, but we build back even stronger and more equitably than before,” he said.

The circumstances of the past year and a half have highlighted some of the sectors in need of attention on the equity front: affordable housing, health care access, the justice system.

“During these challenging times, it calls on all of us to dig deeper than ourselves to say, ‘What can we do to make our community a better place?’” Polis told The Aspen Times in an interview after his remarks.


Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs Bill HB21-1271, which incentivizes innovative affordable housing development, at the Basalt Vista affordable housing neighborhood on Sunday, June 27, 2021. | Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

The governor took action on some legislation that works toward his equity efforts earlier Sunday afternoon at a bill-signing ceremony at the Basalt Vista affordable housing development.

Polis put pen to paper on two pieces of new legislation at the midvalley stop on a larger bill-signing tour.

One affordable housing Bill (HB21-1271) encourages incentives for affordable housing development and creates three different programs in the state’s department of local affairs that will allocate millions in grant funding to local governments.

“This is a bill that will really unlock innovation across our state,” Polis said during remarks at the signing.

Another bill on broadband internet access (SB21-060) focuses on expanding broadband service and implementing a program that will reimburse income-eligible households as much as $600 to pay for internet.

In Porterfield’s eyes, Polis has certainly been one to dig deeper; while introducing Polis at the Music Tent, Porterfield said the governor was “a true leader for the people of Colorado.”

“He is a passionate public servant — I just heard one local leader refer to him as the ‘equity governor,’” Porterfield said. “He cares for people, he promotes collaboration, he has worked tirelessly and selflessly to lead this state’s ongoing response to this pandemic.”

With the pandemic not quite over yet and local officials anticipating another momentous wildfire season, Polis said in an interview the state is “absolutely” concerned about the possibility of front-line worker fatigue.

“It’s a long recovery,” he told The Aspen Times. While high vaccination rates in Pitkin County will help curb the spread of the virus now, the pandemic “added an extra level of complexity to the everyday heroism of our firefighters” last year, and not every county in the state has the same high vaccination rates; others, too — from nurses to grocery store workers — also could feel the strain, Polis said during the interview.

The governor noted in his opening remarks that most people in the state are “at most, one degree of separation” from an essential worker who has made immense sacrifices over the past year and a half. And the lives lost to the pandemic still weigh heavy on the minds of those left in the wake, Polis said. But there was optimism, too, in the governor’s recognition of the road that led to the so called “Colorado comeback.”

“Through these newly formed cracks, these voids that we have in our life and those who are no longer with us, there is a light that shines and illuminates the strength within all of us that were called upon as a reservoir during these challenging times,” Polis said. “It’s often in the darkest times that are the true test of character, when the best of ourselves is revealed — in some cases the worst — and across the state we saw Coloradans step up for one another, do what’s right.”


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