The first openly gay man elected to a freshman term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Polis said that his victory in Colorado’s 2nd district will help make Congress more diverse.
“We need more members of minority groups, more women and more people of different sexual orientations so Congress represents our country as a whole,” he said.
While Polis said he is proud that his sexual orientation did not negatively affect the outcome of his bid for a House seat, he noted that he is more impressed by the progress made this election season toward equal rights.
“This election shattered many boundaries,” he explained. “Through Hillary Clinton, through Barack Obama and even on the Republican side through Sarah Palin, the glass ceiling is being broken.”
Though citizens in Arizona, California and Florida voted to amend their state constitutions in ballot measures during this general election to define marriage as between a man and a woman, Polis noted that he is confident that “it is only a matter of time before [the LGBT community] gets the same rights as other Americans.”
Polis, who will represent the city of Boulder and its vicinity come January, said that the most difficult thing about running for office was raising enough money to be competitive.
But Polis had a financial head start. He began amassing his own personal fortune — estimated by the Rich Register to be $160 million — during his time at the University.
Polis founded American Information Systems, an internet access provider, with two friends from the University. He then went on to create successful online-consumer businesses, including proflowers.com and the e-greeting card website bluemountainarts.com.
He said he believes his business background will help him work to solve the current economic crisis.
“I’ve created 500 jobs and successful companies,” Polis said. “We need people with that kind of business expertise to turn our economy around.”
Jonathan Sills ’96, a friend of Polis and a fellow former Forbes College resident, said he is confident that Polis’ passion for technology and business will translate into a successful term in the House.
“The internet was used much more effectively and innovatively in this presidential election than in the past,” Sills explained. “Jared is part of that revolution. Jared coming into Congress can be an important part of the generational shift from baby boomers to a younger generation that is more comfortable using technology in novel ways to solve problems and engage constituents.”
Former University politics professor Carol Swain, who advised Polis’ thesis on the effect of the internet on politics, said that though Polis received a mediocre grade, he clearly had great aspirations.
“He was one of the most memorable students I had met at that point because back then he was just very serious about his businesses,” explained Swain, who is now a professor at Vanderbilt. “From my perspective, the thesis was just like checking a box off of a checklist, but his interests were far beyond Princeton.”
Polis, who was a member of the College Democrats and served as USG communications director while at Princeton, said that he sees the transition from business to politics as a natural one.
“I really enjoy both business and public service,” Polis explained. “I succeeded in business early on in my life, and that enabled me to give back later on with public service.”
Sills, for one, noted that Polis “had a vision early on of a life for himself in public service. He tried to shape his educational experiences and those outside the Princeton classroom to help him realize that dream.”
Elected to the Colorado Board of Education in 2000, Polis has focused his public service on education policy. As chairman of the board, he took part in bipartisan efforts for online education opportunities, expanded educational funding and better access to teacher-preparation programs, he said.
He also founded the Jared Polis Foundation, through which he established two charter schools for underrepresented minority children in Colorado.
“[The foundation] donate[s] thousands of computers, honor[s] teachers and support[s] public policies to improve our schools,” he explained.
Polis said that he plans to continue his education mission in Washington, D.C.
“I am very excited [that] the No Child Left Behind policy of the Bush administration expires next year,” he added. “I am looking forward to work[ing] on building a new policy.”
Polis is also looking forward to having both a Democratic Congress and a Democratic White House for the first time since 1994.
“I am particularly excited that there is a whole crop of new progressive leaders to work with President-elect Obama to turn this country around,” Polis explained.
For students who wish to follow in his footsteps in the public sector, Polis advised that they “jump right in and do it.”
“There are many opportunities to get active in creating change,” he said. “The biggest part is showing up.”
And he seems to have followed his own advice, Swain said.
“I’m not surprised he is congressman-elect,” Swain noted. “He clearly had a vision of where he wanted to go, and he hit the ground running.”