Governor Polis’ Springs town hall marked by protests 

Cheers and some jeers

click to enlarge Gov. Jared Polis speaks at the town hall at Sierra High School on May 4. - DEREK KUHN
  • Derek Kuhn
  • Gov. Jared Polis speaks at the town hall at Sierra High School on May 4.

Governor Jared Polis encountered some jeers, but mostly cheers at his May 4 visit to Colorado Springs, one day after the legislative session ended with Democrats in control of both houses and the governor’s office for the first time in years.

Appearing in a sport coat and his signature running shoes, Polis took the stage to a standing ovation from most of the 250-member audience at Sierra High School, while 10 to 20 detractors remained seated. About a dozen citizens staged a protest before the town hall along Jet Wing Drive, some holding signs that read: “Recall Polis.”

click to enlarge About a dozen protesters held “Recall Polis” signs outside the school. - DEREK KUHN
  • Derek Kuhn
  • About a dozen protesters held “Recall Polis” signs outside the school.

But in the school auditorium, aside from some occasional groans, the audience listened to Polis’ commentary on passage this legislative session of a raft of progressive bills, including funding for full-day kindergarten.

His signature campaign issue in his decisive victory last November over Republican Walker Stapleton, the measure sets aside $175 million next school year for the program, about $52 million less than Polis had sought. It will funnel millions to Harrison School District 2 alone, Polis said. While D-2 already offers all-day kindergarten, as do some other districts, the extra funding enables the district to use the state allocation for other needs, Polis noted.

“I think at the end of the day, it takes a lot of us working hard with one another, to make sure that Colorado is an even greater state 10 years from now, 20 years from now,” he said.

Sponsored by the Independent, Colorado Springs Business Journal and the Southeast Express, Polis’ town hall featured questions from reporters and editors of those publications and two Sierra High students, Delicia McKalpain, senior class president, and Gianni Peebles, senior class vice president.

While some who attended asserted on social media that town hall sponsors censored questions about the controversial “red-flag” bill, which creates a process to remove firearms temporarily from people who pose a threat to themselves or others, sponsors disputed that.

“We told them there were no topics off limits,” says Publisher Amy Sweet. “The papers didn’t screen the questions.”

Deb Walker, executive director of Citizens Project, tells the Indy she reviewed 101 audience questions during the one-hour town hall, and submitted only about a dozen of them to the moderator.

No topics were purposefully side-stepped, Walker says. “Our intention was to address a wide range of topics,” she says. “Frankly, some of them were statements and not questions. Others were illegible.”

Polis responded to questions running the gamut from oil and gas to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and health care.

A measure adopted by the General Assembly this year giving local governments say over when and where companies can drill has drawn opposition from some, who note voters defeated a similar ballot measure last November.

The governor said the bill attempted to end long-standing “oil and gas wars” over how Colorado regulated the industry, which often fell into “gray areas” of authority, and led to lawsuits.

“Local control is a big part of the answer,” he said. “This bill essentially says cities and counties are able to listen to residents and have a role [in deciding where drilling can happen]. Weld County might approve it differently than ... Broomfield.”

On other issues...

• One measure heading for the November ballot, and backed by Polis, would ask permission for the state to keep revenue collected above caps imposed by TABOR, while leaving intact the TABOR provision requiring voter approval of tax increases. Polis called the caps, based on population and inflation, “artificial,” and said they stymie the state’s ability to respond to needs. Excess money retained by the state must be spent on public schools, transportation and higher education, the bill dictates.

• Several health care bills passed this session, among them a re-insurance measure Polis predicted will drive down premiums by at least 10 percent next year. Another would end surprise out-of-network medical billings, he said, and yet another pairs Colorado and Florida in an effort to legalize the importing of prescription drugs from Canada, which are cheaper than those purchased in the U.S. The bill requires a waiver from President Donald Trump, who Polis says has indicated approval.

“We’re getting ripped off,” Polis said. “We are the very first states to allow savings to consumers by importing drugs.”

Also, a public option for health care remains alive on Polis’ agenda, he said, pending study on how best to create consumer groups to negotiate for better rates.

• To advance bipartisanship, Polis urged Coloradans to seek common ground, such as love for the state and its assets. “I vowed to be governor of Colorado for all,” he said, “and I will try to do what I can to bridge this divide that exists along race, that exists along political ideology, that exists along economics. It’s not just being somebody who’s an advocate for the war against the wealthy, for the wealthy against the poor, for the middle class against the wealthy. No. It’s for everybody. We’re all in the same boat, right? As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘We might have come over on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.’”

After Polis’ closing remarks, most of the audience stood to applaud while a group of detractors chanted “recall Polis.”

When LaDonna Robertson waved a cloth recall sign, a D-2 security guard grabbed her left arm and pulled her across several auditorium seats before she fell onto the floor and began to wail, as seen in a video which captured the incident.

Attendees were made aware that signs were not allowed at the town hall.

Robertson appeared on KVOR’s Richard Randall Show on May 6, where she said after the town hall concluded, she displayed the cloth sign.

“The next thing I know, I’m being dragged to the ground,” she says. Noting she had undergone back surgery on May 1, Robertson said she suffered bruises to her arms and a sprained wrist.

Robertson told Randall she wanted to ask Polis how many boxes he wanted her to bring to his office when he’s recalled.

A D-2 spokesperson declined to comment on the incident, however, they told KKTV that they’re investigating it. 

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