DENVER — Jared Polis, who last year became the first openly gay man elected governor of a state in the U.S., made history again Friday by becoming the first Democrat to address a Denver conservative conference.
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The liberal governor from Boulder was sandwiched between Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson and conservative media critic Brent Bozell on the morning program of the Western Conservative Summit, which is a two-day conclave founded and coordinated by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood. Polis’ speech was relatively unremarkable other than the fact that he gave it.
Polis began his 10-minute speech quipping that his staff had initially thought he’d be addressing an environmental group. He said the real reason he was delivering the address was because he was invited. “We all share in this great state,” Polis said.
The annual summit began 10 years ago, when Colorado was still a swing state. In the past two elections, Colorado has lurched sharply toward a deeper shade of blue. Polis won by 11 percentage points in November as Democrats swept every statewide race and took back control of the state legislature. This spring they completed a whirlwind session that included new legislation on hot-button issues like sex education, gun control and energy regulation. A smattering of Republicans has already started a longshot effort to recall the governor.
Polis strove to find common ground with his audience Friday, talking about how he’s raising two young children with his husband and recalling his time as an entrepreneur and charter school owner. He noted that he signed a bill to provide full-day kindergarten in partnership with a conservative state lawmaker who backed the legislation.
The theme of the conference is freedom of religion and the First Amendment — a reference to the burgeoning movement among some religious conservatives to permit businesses to refuse to serve people whose lifestyles they object to on the basis of their faith. One speaker scheduled Saturday is a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple who won his case at the Supreme Court.
Polis chose to frame the First Amendment emphasis differently.
“One of the themes is protecting the First Amendment, which means protecting the free discussion of ideas,” Polis said. “When we close ourselves off from discussion and debate, when we reject the possibility of hearing, understanding other perspectives, it threatens the fabric of our democracy.”
As he left the stage, Polis received warm applause. A few people stood as they clapped.