DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis became Friday the first elected Democratic official to speak at the Western Conservative Summit, the largest conservative gathering outside Washington, D.C., and it went better than many would have thought.
Attendees greeted Mr. Polis with applause — and some even gave him a standing ovation — while the governor, for the most part, used his speech to find common ground on shared American values, religious freedom and the First Amendment.
“In this year of historic firsts, I’m of course honored to be first elected Democrat to address the Western Conservative Summit,” said Mr. Polis, who was elected in November.
Organizers at the Centennial Institute, which hosts the annual event at the Colorado Convention Center, said they have invited prominent Democrats for the last decade to speak, without success.
“For nine years, they’ve said no, and have not come to join us, except for this year,” said Centennial Institute director Jeff Hunt. “For the first time in our history, we are proud to welcome the governor of the state of Colorado, Jared Polis.”
Mr. Polis joked that when he first received the invitation, “my staff thought it was from the Western Conservation Summit, and they said, ‘You know, gov, this will be a great chance to talk about your renewable energy plans and everything you’re doing on solar and wind.’”
“And then they looked at it a little more closely and then discovered it was going to be a different event,” he said.
In many ways, Mr. Polis was an unlikely ice-breaker: The Boulder Democrat, the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States, holds considerably more progressive views than his predecessor, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, on issues such as the environment and the oil-and-gas industry.
Mr. Polis said he came because he “pledged to build a Colorado for all” in his inauguration address, “no matter who you voted for in the last election.”
Andrews and Armstrong tried to feature a prominent Democrat at the summit. Hunt and Sweeting pulled it off at #WCS19. Hosting @GovofCOPolis is the biblical way to do a political conference. Build walls as needed, yes, but build bridges too @erichogue— John Andrews (@JohnAndrewsJr) July 12, 2019
He said that 96% of the bills he signed during his first legislative session had bipartisan support, although the Democrat-controlled body was also accused of steamrolling Republicans with contentious bills on gun control, fracking and the national popular vote.
Mr. Polis drew laughs with a story about his 4-year-old daughter. When her brother asked which political party she belonged to, he said she replied, “the happy birthday party.”
“As Coloradans, in many ways, we are all the happy birthday party because we are in the Centennial State,” Mr. Polis said. “The 100th anniversary of our independence, 1876, is when Colorado became a state in our great union.”
Not everyone was impressed. Pro-life activist Abby Johnson, who appeared at the podium later Friday morning, took Mr. Polis to task on abortion.
“I thought it was cute that his daughter said that this should be the happy birthday state,” said Ms. Johnson, whose story was the basis of the 2019 movie “Unplanned.” “How flipping ironic that this is one of the few states in our nation that allows an unborn human being to be killed up until the date of birth, denying that child its birthday.”
Referencing the conference’s theme, “Defending Religious Freedom & America’s First Amendment,” he told how his great-grandparents came to escape religious persecution, discussing his Jewish faith and quoting the New Testament.
“American values have stood together against Nazism, against Stalinism, and now we must stand together against attempts to sacrifice our nation’s ideals and betray who we are as a people,” Mr. Polis said. “How do we do this? It’s not easy work. We do this by listening to one other and not just listening to sound bites and caricatures of one another.”
Other conservative luminaries speaking Friday included Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Media Research Center president Brent Bozell.
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