DENVER | Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis handily defeated Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton in the Colorado governor’s race Tuesday, becoming the first openly gay man to be elected governor in the United States.
Polis will succeed Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited. He briefly acknowledged his landmark election in a victory speech, though he never campaigned on the issue of his sexual orientation, and later embraced his partner, Marlon Reis.
Polis, who is also the state’s first Jewish governor, quickly turned to health care, children’s education, protecting public lands and immigration — key themes of his campaign.
“All too often people see (the election) falsely as a zero-sum game” of winners and losers, Polis said Tuesday. “We’re going to show that we can all win together, and tonight is the beginning of that incredible journey for our state.”
Polis, 43, invested a record $22 million of his own wealth in the campaign. He is a five-term congressman and technology entrepreneur who promised to fight for universal health care, renewable energy standards and publicly funded preschool and kindergarten. He vowed to stand up to President Donald Trump’s efforts to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Polis beat the two-term state treasurer who had defended Colorado’s constitutional restrictions on taxing and spending. Stapleton, 44, insisted Polis’ ideas for funding education, roads and energy would bankrupt the state.
“Though this has been a tough campaign, now is the time for all of us to come together in Colorado,” Stapleton said in his concession speech.
The vote for governor also amounted to a referendum on Trump. The president endorsed Stapleton, who embraced the administration’s antipathy toward so-called sanctuary cities that don’t closely cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Carly Everett, 24, an independent voter from Littleton, said Trump’s attitude toward immigrants and racial rhetoric was the reason she voted a mostly Democratic ticket.
“It’s about Donald Trump, and a lot of bad things going on right now are about him,” Everett said after voting in Morrison. “I voted mostly Democrat to oppose the direction the country is headed.”
As Democrats led Republicans in turnout before the polls closed, state Republican Party chairman Jeff Hays urged GOP members to “either close that gap or surrender our state to the most radical Democrats their party has ever nominated.”
Colorado has not had a Republican governor since 2007. Republicans hold offices that were competitive Tuesday as Democrats won secretary of state and sought to take attorney general and state treasurer.
Democrats also fought for control of the state Senate, which the GOP holds by a one-vote margin. Democrats have a comfortable majority in the state House.
Colorado has one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates and highest rates of economic growth, largely fueled by the tech, aerospace and oil and gas industries.
Citing the threat of climate change to Colorado’s outdoors industry, Polis proposed a 100 percent renewable energy standard for Colorado by 2040. Stapleton attacked the goal, saying it would harm Colorado’s $31 billion oil and gas industry.
Polis, who raised the ire of the fossil fuels industry by once supporting limits on drilling, insisted the green standard was a goal, not a mandate.
He also unapologetically called for universal health care coverage as a long-term goal and suggested a first step might be to create a regional market with neighboring states.
Stapleton praised Trump’s elimination of tax penalties for those without health insurance but, like many other Republicans this election cycle, insisted he would defend an expanded Medicaid program that covers one in four Colorado residents.
For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: https://apne.ws/APPolitics