My Coffee with Rep. Jared Polis

I met with Rep. Jared Polis this afternoon at Canyon Mine Coffee in Lafayette. I swear, Jared has so much energy that if we could plug him in to the power grid we could close one coal plant. And it's not just energy, the guy is bursting with ideas and intellectual curiosity. I very much enjoy discussing any topic with him.

He first talked about the town halls he's been doing. Unlike many reps who got defensive and minimized town halls this August, Jared said that when he realized how popular they were, he scheduled more of them. He took advantage of everyone's interest to talk to more people. He also said that while people came with a clear agenda (70-30 for health care in Boulder, 60-40 against in the mountain towns), they were there to talk and treated each other civilly.

Jared clearly talks with people not just because it's an important part of his job, but because he enjoys it. Great attribute in an elected official.

So I then asked him about our financial system. First off, he agreed that at present nothing is different. The firms that are too big to fail are even bigger and there is no new regulation in place. At the same time, we're still not sure what is in the original toxic assets. So we are no safer. However, he also pointed out that if nothing is done, it would still be 30 years before there was another crisis (my guess is 10 -- our top bankers are pretty dumb) and so there is time.

He split his response into both what will probably happen and what he would like to see happen. What is presently occurring is Barney Frank (and his committee) are working on the legislation they will bring to the house. The major effort in this will be measuring leveraged assets and unsafe concentration of leveraged paper on a single type of instrument. He sees the government requiring detailed transparency to the government -- hedge funds and others could hide what they invest in from the public & each other but would have to let the feds see everything. The reason for hiding it is it shows their investment strategy which is (arguably in my opinion) a competitive advantage.

He also sees big changes coming in consumer protection. This is one of those things that is very visible to voters (although he did not say it that way). He thinks we will see a lot of consumer protection brought in to protect people from getting mortgages that they cannot afford or that have predatory features. He discussed how this was a small part of the recent meltdown, but that it was the starting point for the whole house of cards and it hurt a lot of individuals.

Jared also discussed what he would like to see happen, but he doesn't think is likely. The biggest is that he would use anti-trust to break up the large firms so we don't have any firms that are too big to fail. This goes to Jared's instinctive approach to issues -- a progressive free enterprise response. Have the government remove the need for the government to intervene. I think this would also make banks a lot more competitive which would also be a big help for the economy.

He also worries that the new regulations may be more onerous than required on groups that do not use leverage such as venture capital. His point is that the danger is not the instrument but the leverage. So he hopes that the invasive oversight is based on leverage, not on the instrument or total dollars. He has a good point here -- if a venture capital group goes out of business it does not have much impact on the economy.

I asked him what he thought of the idea that the large financial institutions be required to provide total transparency of everything they have, and the government then invites Google, Yahoo/Finance, etc. to come up with tools that let people get a complete detailed accurate picture of each company. He mentioned some concerns but did appear to find the idea intriguing. (I don't know if it's a good idea -- but it could turn out to be a superb way to accurately value and measure the risk of every company.)

Jared concluded this part by pointing out that he is not on the relevant committee and as such, he has little to no input. It sounds like he'll mention his preferences to a couple of the appropriate people, but that's as far as he goes. And he concluded by saying that he will of course, vote for whatever bill comes out, even if he's not thrilled with it (I wonder if he got burned bad when he voted against the health care bill in committee ...).

Next on to health care. I started off by saying that the giant problem we face is how much we spend on health care and the rate of growth. Jared agreed and rattled off the percentage of our economy going to health care, what it is in the rest of the developed world, where we rank in quality of care, etc. He clearly knows the background on this. And he agreed that this is a giant problem.

He then agreed that the proposed legislation doesn't do much to address this part of the problem. He sees some savings from making health insurance more competitive and expanding the insurance pool. What's really interesting is where he went next on this, discussing preventative care and implementing health taxes on items like soda pop (we provide free pop at work so we'll be contributing on a tax like this big time). What I find interesting is he did not turn to using high tech or bringing market forces to bear but instead is looking at eliminating root causes.

He also discussed pouring efforts into research. I think this is spot-on -- if the pharmaceutical industry can come up with a pill to cure cancer or heart disease, that is a giant reduction in health costs. And a significant increase in quality of life and longevity.

We then got on to the public option. Jared clearly sees having real competition among insurers as being critical to fixing the system. And also setting up exchanges so people in small companies can get good insurance and almost everyone is covered. He discussed how we do have single payer (Medicare) and socialized medicine (the VA). He thinks the best approach is single payer but realizes that is a non-starter. So his preference is a very competitive insurance market. In his discussion of this the public option was not listed as a must -- it was the competitive market and exchanges that were the must do.

I asked him about eliminating the tax deduction for health insurance which would cause businesses to drop it as a benefit. He replied with the very good point that people are freaking out over the present proposed changes which have zero impact on most of them. So imagine if it was a change that did affect them. Good point. (I did offer that once these changes go in, if people see the exchanges working well, then maybe we can move it to an individual purchase.)

I then yelled at him discussed his fighting the tax surcharge on wealthy Chapter S corporations. (I have to admit it's weird to tell him he should be raising my taxes). It was a pretty detailed discussion but what I took from it was a specific concern that it would reduce investment by small businesses (it would) and that is a bad thing to do in a recession. Especially as small business is the job growth engine in this country. I still think it could have been handled better, but I do think he had good intentions and was speaking to a real problem.

I asked him a couple of times if he would vote for the health care bill if it had that tax increase in it, and he avoided answering each time by insisting that it wasn't going to happen. (Jared may be more open and direct than most politicians -- but that doesn't mean he's going to say something that causes himself major problems.)

For the next question I told him his answer was ColoradoPols -- and then asked him what his best source of input was from constituents. He laughed and replied David Thielen's blog. Clearly Jared is a very intelligent guy. He then got serious and said that it comes in via letters, phone calls, email, and in person. He called out in person as the most valued, as it was the largest time commitment by a constituent. And second was individually written letters (I assume he meant the same for email). And he totally discounts the form letters.

He also clearly likes letters from kids. He says some comes with artwork, and sometimes he gets letters from everyone in a class. The artwork they put up on the office walls. So if you really want to get Jared's attention, have your kid send a picture illustrating your point.

On to LGBT issues (about which I know next to nothing). He talked about some bills that are moving forward now. I asked about Don't Ask Don't Tell and he said that, first of all, 70% of the enlisted ranks think it should be lifted. But that there is more resistance in the officers. He thinks that is more of a generational issue -- higher ranks tend to be older. But he followed up that the Obama administration appears to be laying the groundwork for overturning it in 2010 (I assume after the election) and that all hell will break loose if it isn't done then.

We discussed the Defense of Marriage Act also (hey, I do know those two) and he think we will have to get to 25 to 30 states recognizing gay marriage and then the federal government will recognize it. I think this is a very accurate estimate. Sucks that it has to wait, but democracies take time to change. I also told him about the effort in Hawaii (led by my mom!) where full equality except for the word marriage (they also have a constitutional amendment) passed the house and was ignored in the (overwhelmingly Democratic) senate. He pointed out that politicians shouldn't be scared of political damage from supporting gay marriage but rather the damage comes from not supporting it. He brought up our own Marilyn Musgrave as an example. Could be ...

Finally we discussed oil. That led into a discussion of energy production, carbon, etc. He did immediately clue in to the distinction that oil was a national security as well as a climate issue (where coal is merely a climate issue). He ran through the litany of renewable energy sources. I asked about nuclear and he thinks it's one source but only where the local populace welcomes it. He says Florida seems receptive while Colorado appears hostile. (Mom -- he did mention tidal!)

I asked how will we be powering cars in 10 years and he thinks it will still be oil plus hybrids, but with much better gas mileage. He talked about how Israel is going all-electric for cars and some other initiatives like that. He thinks a state could do it, and Colorado would be a great example. But he doesn't see it happening. When I mentioned that Hawaii is trying, that got a very excited response. If Colorado would make a serious effort, I think we would see Jared push for significant federal support for that effort.

So there you go. The main thing you walk away from Jared with is not a specific policy initiative, it's that he is very thoughtful, intelligent, and intellectually curious. He's not perfect, but he's damn good. This also means anyone who wants a one-dimensional representative who gives knee jerk answers to questions is going to be disappointed by him. But for those of us that want someone who thinks issues through and sees the big picture -- great Congressman.

Original post & recording of the interview at Liberal and Loving It - Jared Polis Interview 

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