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Coronavirus pandemic gives Colorado Gov. Jared Polis unprecedented power

Alex Burness, Denver Post
Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters on Wednesday, April 29, 2020, at the Colorado Capitol.
Jesse Paul | The Colorado Sun

Something unusual happened last week: The authority of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis was overridden.

Polis had issued an executive order allowing petition signatures for proposed ballot measures to be collected remotely — a lifeline to issue campaigns staring down the prospect of not being able to qualify for the November ballot due to pandemic precautions. On Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously ruled that no, Polis didn’t have the authority to do that.

It was the first major check on the governor’s power since March 10, when Polis, flanked by cabinet members, called the media to his office and declared a state of emergency in Colorado. Polis made clear through actions, if not words, early in the pandemic that he’d be the face of the state’s pandemic response, holding frequent press conferences — he rarely does so during normal times — that, for a period, were must-see TV broadcast throughout the state. He spoke for close to two hours at a time at various points, explaining data and strategy at length, attempting to convey optimism but also persuade residents to take precautions.

Since that March emergency declaration, the governor has had sweeping authority to control Colorado’s pandemic response path. He has issued more than 100 executive orders, according to a state tally, and led what at many points has been Colorado’s only fully functioning branch of government: The court system has dramatically scaled back proceedings, and the General Assembly has been in recess since mid-March except for a little over three weeks when lawmakers returned to finish their top priorities.

That has meant that enormous decisions have fallen largely to one man and his advisers. Which businesses can stay open? Who might face eviction, and when? Which freedoms and social norms are on pause? And, for a while, anyway: Which ballot measures might have a chance to qualify for November? With the state legislature having closed up shop for the year but the pandemic still far from over, that dynamic is likely to hold for months to come, with fewer checks and balances than exist in normal times.

Read more via The Denver Post.


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