Po­lis’ anti-frack­ing agenda riles Colorado

Gas in­dus­try, Repub­li­cans de­cry plans

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

DEN­VER | Rep. Jared Po­lis and his per­sonal for­tune were in­stru­men­tal in help­ing Democrats wrest con­trol of Colorado from Repub­li­cans, but now Democrats fear that he may jeop­ar­dize ev­ery­thing they’ve worked for with his anti-frack­ing cru­sade.

The mul­ti­mil­lion­aire Demo­cratic con­gress­man from Boulder is spon­sor­ing two bal­lot mea­sures tar­get­ing hy­draulic frac­tur­ing, and, in do­ing so, he’s awak­ened a pow­er­ful foe that has even more money than he does: the state’s oil and gas in­dus­try.

If Ini­tia­tives 88 and 89 gather enough sig­na­tures by Aug. 4 to qual­ify for the Novem­ber bal­lot, an­a­lysts say the en­su­ing po­lit­i­cal blood­bath could wipe out the Democrats’ gains over the past decade by boost­ing pro-frack­ing Repub­li­cans and en­dan­ger­ing the re-elec­tion bids of Demo­cratic Gov. John Hick­en­looper and Sen. Mark Udall.

The sit­u­a­tion wors­ened for Democrats af­ter the pro-frack­ing Mr. Hick­en­looper aban­doned his push for a spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion, which was aimed at con­vinc­ing Mr. Po­lis to drop his ini­tia­tives in ex­change for a com­pro­mise bill giv­ing lo­cal­i­ties more au­thor­ity over the in­dus­try.

“If there’s no com­pro­mise com­ing, [Mr. Po­lis] is go­ing to end up do­ing this,” said Den­ver poll­ster Floyd Cir­uli. “He’s go­ing to be the fi­nancier of a group of peo­ple who will spend ev­ery wak­ing mo­ment crit­i­ciz­ing the gov­er­nor. That is so ut­terly un­be­liev­able for a person who is am­bi­tious in the Demo­cratic Party.”

Then again, Mr. Po­lis is no or­di­nary Demo­crat. Be­fore he turned 30, he was one of the so-called Gang of Four that, start­ing in 2004, sunk un­told mil­lions into cre­at­ing a po­lit­i­cal ma­chine aimed at es­tab­lish­ing a per­ma­nent Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in Colorado.

Known as the “Colorado model” or the “blue­print,” the plan was wildly suc­cess­ful, but it came at a price. Un­like the Gang of Four’s other three mem­bers — Quark founder Tim Gill, heiress Pat Stryker and busi­ness­man Rutt Bridges — Mr. Po­lis had po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions of his own.

There’s been no one to check Mr. Po­lis as he pur­sues his agenda with lit­tle re­gard for the im­pact on oth­ers. Democrats bit their tongues in 2006 when he spon­sored Amend­ment 41, an ethics ini­tia­tive that has cre­ated havoc for of­fice­hold­ers, and then again in 2008, when he de­feated vet­eran Demo­crat Joan Fitz-Ger­ald, the first woman state Se­nate pres­i­dent, in the con­gres­sional pri­mary by out­spend­ing her 4 to 1.

Mr. Po­lis in­sists his ini­tia­tives are com­mon­sense re­forms that will be widely sup­ported by vot­ers in Novem­ber. Ini­tia­tive 88 would in­crease set­backs from drilling op­er­a­tions from 500 to 2,000 feet, while Ini­tia­tive 89 would cre­ate an en­vi­ron­men­tal bill of rights that would al­low lo­cal­i­ties to en­act frack­ing rules stricter than those of the state.

The cam­paign, Safe. Clean. Colorado., re­cently re­leased a poll con­ducted in May show­ing that more than half of vot­ers sur­veyed would vote for the mea­sures.

“I don’t think it has any­thing to do with help­ing Democrats or Repub­li­cans or in­de­pen­dents. It’s about solv­ing a prob­lem,” said Mr. Po­lis last month on KDVR-TV’s “#COPol­i­tics” show. “And I hope Democrats and Repub­li­cans can come to­gether around a so­lu­tion, and I’m con­fi­dent that they will, whether that’s at the bal­lot box or the leg­is­la­ture.”

He had agreed to pull his anti-frack­ing ini­tia­tives if the state leg­is­la­ture passed the com­pro­mise bill with­out changes, but with no spe­cial ses­sion in the works, Mr. Po­lis finds him­self un­der enor­mous pres­sure to aban­don his cam­paign.

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