France was starving when the French Revolution began in 1789. Someone told the queen, Marie Antoinette, the people had no bread, and her supposed response is among history’s most memorable quotes: “Let them eat cake.”
The infamous queen – while not malicious – was pitifully ignorant of the people’s situation. Antoinette, queen since she was 19, had lived luxuriously her entire life. She had no understanding of how the French people actually lived. She imagined a simple, happy lifestyle, and even had a village set up for her to spend time in and pretend she was a peasant.
Fast forward a couple hundred years. The Denver Post reported in August that one in three Coloradans are struggling to eat, and 40% of those going to food pantries are doing so for the first time. Our unemployment rate is among the country’s worst at 8.4%. In December, Colorado Public Radio reported a sharp demand increase in southern Colorado food pantries because students couldn’t get school free lunches. Businesses across the state have permanently closed their doors, and tens of thousands have lost their jobs.
Despite one of the worst crises in modern history, Governor Polis has been remarkably flippant. Most blatantly, he declared March 20th “Meat-Out Day.” Agriculture is the second largest industry in Colorado and one of the most affected by the COVID economy. Rather than doing everything in his power to support ranching, Governor Polis is overtly attacking the industry. The ranchers in our state senate districts who have just had one of the most difficult years of their career are fighting not only the consequences of the pandemic but also the hostile governor of their own state, who’s calling for a boycott of their product.
Polis’ actions have real consequences not only for Colorado ranchers but for the state’s economy more broadly. Board members of the Colorado-based American Hereford Association, the second largest beef breed association in America, have called Polis’s declaration the “last straw” and are discussing the possibility of relocating to Oklahoma City.
While the Governor moralizes from his ivory tower about what food choices he prefers, millions of Coloradans wonder about their next meal. Sen. Rhonda Fields said it best on the floor of the Senate: “Some people can’t even get meat, can’t get vegetables. Some people are starving. And we’re trying to give people this sense of preference? We don’t have the luxury right now in this COVID-19 environment to say we have a holiday where we can’t eat meat.”
The governor’s obliviousness fits a pattern he has displayed in recent days and weeks. He’s used social media to tell us that his spirit animal is a dolphin and that he loves the video game Mario Kart. His indifference contrasts sharply with his sobriety at the height of the pandemic. Has he lost interest in the crisis?
The callousness of his actions, during this level of hardship, are as revealing as they are jaw-dropping. Here is a man who has lived abundantly for decades. A dot-com multi-millionaire and Boulder socialite before ascending to the Governor’s mansion, he cannot relate to the lives and work of the Coloradans he supposedly serves. Over the past several weeks and months, he’s made it clear that he is out of touch with Colorado.
The actions of the governor could reasonably be seen as spiteful. But as with Marie Antoinette, they are not. They are the unempathetic foolishness of a disconnected leader. Confronted with a state struggling to make ends meet, he proclaims, “Let them eat kale!”
Jerry Sonnenberg represents Colorado Senate District 1 on the Eastern Plains. Barbara Kirkmeyer represents Colorado Senate District 23 in Weld and Larimer counties.
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