U.S. Rep. Jared Polis draws large crowd to Silverthorne town hall
May 11, 2017
Democratic congressman Jared Polis says he usually holds town hall meetings in Frisco when he visits Summit County. But this year, with tension in national politics rising to a fever pitch, he needed a bigger venue.
"This is a record turnout in Summit County," he told a crowd of roughly 300 people assembled at the Silverthorne Pavilion on Thursday. "I think this is about three or four times the usual amount of folks."
Polis is a five-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives serving Colorado's second congressional district, which covers Boulder, Fort Collins and parts of the High Country, including Summit. Unlike some of his Republican colleagues, who have been met with criticism and even jeers at town halls in recent months, Polis mostly received support as he sought to tap into the surge of political energy the election of Donald Trump has sparked.
"I think if there's any silver lining to all the troubling things that are going on in Washington, it's this renewed sense of civic engagement that we're seeing with you here today and also with the record number of letters and phone calls that I assume not just my office is getting," he told the crowd.
Several attendees, including local resident Kari Kronborg, said it was the first time they had ever attended a town hall meeting.
"I have never been to an event like this before, and this year I did my very first march — in fact, I've done two," she said. "I'm 62 years old and I had never marched before in my life."
Dave Devanney, a part-time Summit resident, said he travelled from Battlement Mesa to hear Polis' thoughts on oil and gas drilling, which he said is encroaching on his home.
"We're being assaulted by oil and gas development," he said. "I know that Representative Polis has been a champion for this in his life and I wanted to give him some kudos for that and encourage him to continue that effort at the federal level to get some responsible guidance for oil and gas."
Attendees asked a wide range of questions over the course of the hour-and-a-half long event. President Trump came up frequently, but health care, the environment and public lands emerged as common themes.
For constituents worried that they might lose health coverage or see national monuments stripped of their protected status by the president, Polis couldn't offer much relief.
"The House passed a version of a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act but unfortunately replaced it with something that was much worse by almost any account," he said.
He went on to cite estimates from the Congressional Budget Office predicting that a previous version of the bill would have caused 24 million people to lose coverage and increase premiums for those who retained it by 15 to 20 percent.
Polis also offered what he said was good news: that the Senate would not be considering the House bill and would instead start from scratch.
When asked about the fate of public lands under President Trump, who has said he would like to free them up for more drilling and mining, Polis said he would do his best to fight for existing protections but acknowledged the administration's wide authority there.
"The protection category for national monuments is tenuous," he said. "It would break with precedent to have a president remove national monuments for that level of protection, but it is within the power of the presidency."
Several questions were laced with an air of activism, as constituents sought ways to get more involved in policy making.
"What can we do to help preserve land, water, air and health care, and how can we help you?" one attendee asked.
The answer to that, Polis said, was to "fight for the resistance" and pressure lawmakers and the White House to listen to their concerns.
"This sort of mass engagement is absolutely having an affect," he said. "They failed in the House with their first attempt to repeal health care and they narrowly succeeded the second time, but it was not easy because their policy was not popular."
Towards the end of the Q&A session, Frisco resident and county assessor Beverly Breakstone asked a question that's been on the minds of statehouse watchers:
"I have a question based on some observations I've made today — are you running for governor?"
Polis sidestepped on that but still left the possibility open.
"I'm certainly not talking about future political plans here other than to say that I'm focused on this job, I've been focused on the resistance because it's very important right now," he said. "If I am going to do something else, you won't hear about it for the next couple of months."