Meet Colorado’s First Family
A conversation with Governor Jared Polis and first gentleman Marlon Reis.
Jared Polis would rather do the interview on the playground. After a brief family photo, the governor of Colorado and his partner, first gentleman Marlon Reis, suggest moving to the sunnier side of Boulder’s Whittier Elementary—which features a modern, weblike play structure—so we can talk. That will be more fun for the kids, they say, who’ve come along with their dads on this early spring, slightly windy Saturday. Their seven-year-old son and four-year-old daughter dangle and screech with delight, punctuating the interview with calls of “Daddy! Look how high I am!”
“Good job, kids! You’re climbers!” Polis shouts from his seat at a shaded picnic table, where he’s cradling Gia, a 10-year-old Cairn terrier. Gia is the couple’s “first child,” jokes Reis, who coincidentally attended Whittier as a boy. Colorado Parent spoke to the first couple about their lives as parents and public figures, how they share in their kids’ passions, and—amidst an extremely demanding schedule—their love of simple quiet time together.
Colorado Parent: How do you typically spend Father’s Day?
Reis: We get a chance to call our own fathers and celebrate them, and usually with the kids we’ll do something like a cooking project together. The kids always have some sort of a surprise, like an art project, that they’ll do and give to us. Our bedroom has all of their artwork, and they’re constantly making sure all their art is still there.
Polis: Yes. And the kids have twice the number of fathers, so it’s twice the holiday!
[The kids call Reis “Daddy Mon”—a compressed kid pronunciation of Marlon. Reis says he is very fond of the nickname.]
CP: What summer activities do you like to do in Boulder as a family?
Polis: We like to go on hikes in the hills above Boulder, sometimes to Mount Sanitas or Chautauqua. Gia likes it, too.
Reis: We go on picnics in North Boulder Park.
CP: What are the kids into right now?
Reis: The kids are getting more and more into board games like Clue, Life, and Scrabble. The new Life has new careers and different living arrangements—different than the one we grew up with in the ’80s. They love playing games that give them choice; they are sponges for information.
Polis: Our son beat us in Scrabble for the first time the other day. That was a milestone! And our daughter is currently in love with all things Disney.
Reis: We also just started showing them episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Our son has a million questions while we’re watching.
Polis: Nature documentaries, too.
Reis: Yes. We are trying to instill an appreciation for the planet and taking care of it. My pet issue—pardon the pun—is animals and animal welfare. Our son’s class is studying recycling and composting, and this summer I’m working with [Colorado House Representative] Lisa Cutter of Evergreen; we are planning to do a recycling workshop at the Capitol. The kids can help with that, too.
CP: Do you have a driving parenting philosophy or advice you return to?
Polis: We just try to engage them and have fun, and when they have something they’re interested in, make sure we can teach them about it. They go from passion to passion: Pokémon Go one month, astronomy the next, and Zelda the next. But they want to learn a lot about whatever they’re doing.
Reis: Mine isn’t necessarily advice, but when I was growing up, after homework was done, my parents and my sister and I would all sit together in the living room and just talk about the day. So it’s become important for all of us to just sit together and talk about whatever comes up. Sometimes it’s completely silly. Just spending time, making time, is important.
[Polis and Reis’ daughter announces she needs to go to the bathroom.]
Reis: Every time we say to go before we leave the house…
CP: Your kids’ lives are not like other kids’ lives. What do you say to them about that?
Reis: This is not theory—this is something we deal with on a daily basis. It’s changed their lives in that they understand politics from an early age—certainly earlier than I learned about it. They appreciate what government is, and they know their dad is an elected official. We are trying to protect their privacy to make things as normal as possible, but they’re better at this than I am. They go around rooms, say hello to everyone, shake hands and say, “This is my daddy—he’s the governor!”
CP: Governor Polis, you’re not traveling out of state quite as much these days. How are you enjoying that change?
Polis: [As a congressman], I was in D.C. every week—now I’m in Colorado full time. I’ve taken my daughter to work on take your kid to work day, and to things like openings of a museum—things that are fun for them.
CP: Talk a little about the recent passage of HB19-1262—State Funding for Full-day Kindergarten—a promise you made as a candidate for governor.
Polis: Isn’t it exciting? [Starting this fall], every kid in the state will be able to go to full-day kindergarten and won’t have to pay. Early childhood is so important as we’ve seen with our own kids, but the data shows that if we really care about these achievement gaps based on income and race, it’s really important that every kid gets a strong start. Our state has been behind, and parents had to pay for full-day kindergarten. Some couldn’t afford it—and even those who could find a few hundred dollars a month, it came from other priorities. That might have meant no summer camp or no college savings. So now full-day kindergarten will be free because kindergarten is just as important as first grade and second grade—and the state should treat it the same way. We hope to expand preschool opportunities soon as well.