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Colorado’s Jared Polis Could Be the First Openly Gay Man to Be Elected Governor of a U.S. State

Rep. Jared Polis became Colorado’s first gay man to win the Democratic nomination for governor.

On Tuesday, the five-term member of the U.S. House of Representative won a decisive victory in a four-way race that was called just after 7:45pm. Polis, who early results indicate took 44 percent of the overall vote, defeated former Colorado State Treasurer Cary Kennedy (25 percent), former State Sen. Mike Johnston (23 percent), and current Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne (seven percent), although those totals could change as more votes are tallied.

The 43-year-old businessman will face off against current Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton—a Trump supporter—to vie for Gov. John Hickenlooper’s seat. The Democratic incumbent, who is term-limited, is rumored to be weighing a presidential run in 2020.

In a victory-night speech calling Colorado the “hands-down the best state in the United States of America,” Polis credited the “awesomeness of Colorado and our unwavering spirit” for his win.

“We will win in November,” he told supporters. “Together, we can prove that in our America, in our Colorado, anything is possible.”

If elected in November, Polis would become just the second openly LGBTQ person in history to occupy a governor’s chair. Oregon’s Kate Brown became the first—and only—bisexual governor after winning a 2016 special gubernatorial election, but the office has yet to be held by a gay man. Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey left the position in 2004 after being outed following an infidelity scandal.

Polis—who has two children with his husband, Marlon Reis—would also be the first LGBTQ governor in a same-sex marriage. Brown is currently married to Dan Little, a data expert with the U.S. Forest Service.

Although head-to-head polling has yet to be released between Polis and Stapleton, the Democrat stands a good chance of making history in the 2018 general election. Stapleton, a second cousin of former President George W. Bush and one-time Florida governor Jeb Bush, would be just the second Republican governor elected in Colorado in 44 years.

One of the wealthiest members of Congress, Polis spent $11.5 million of his personal fortune in the Democratic primaries—and is expected to continue digging into his sizable piggy bank.

After their respective races were called on Tuesday, Stapleton began his uphill climb to the general election in comments blasting a Polis victory as “a government takeover of your health care.” The Democrat, who is running on a staunchly progressive platform, has backed universal health-care, all-day preschool, kindergarten for every Colorado child, and a statewide shift to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

“The choices could not be clearer,” Stapleton said on Tuesday night. “The difference could not be more stark.”

In a statement released Tuesday night, the Victory Fund touted Polis as just one of a handful of gubernatorial candidates making history in 2018. Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, a Latina lesbian, is the first LGBTQ person to win the Democratic nomination for governor in Texas, while Brown holds a double-digit lead in her campaign for reelection.

Annise Parker, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, called the achievement “huge.”

“While it is a historic and promising night for the LGBTQ community, primary voters chose Jared not because he could be a historic first, but because of his unquestionable integrity and positive vision for Coloradans,” Parker claimed. “Voters will have a stark choice in November—between a long-time public servant who governs with values, and the Republican nominee who stands behind the divisive rhetoric and destructive policies of Donald Trump. I am confident Coloradans stand with Jared.”

Although Polis would be the first gay man to win election if Coloradans vote him in this November, he is not the first gay Democratic nominee for governor. Maine’s Michael Michaud was uncontested in the 2014 primaries but lost to incumbent Republican Paul LePage in the general election.


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.