Senator Cory Gardner hasn’t held a town hall with constituents in almost two years, and activists and progressive organizations say his office won’t respond to their requests for one-on-one meetings about specific issues. So ahead of his likely contentious re-election bid in 2020, they’re picking up momentum on a tactic for getting in touch with the Republican that saw success last week: finding out about the somewhat-public events he attends and confronting him there in a very public way.
On Tuesday, August 13, Gardner was popping into restaurants, bars and shops throughout Olde Town Arvada on a tour with Arvada’s mayor, Marc Williams, when dozens of activists arrived on the scene. Gardner was then flanked by a combination of staffers, cops and activists, with whom he occasionally engaged as he walked down the sidewalk. Mindy Mohr, of Arvadans for Progressive Action, said her group had learned of the tour and contacted other interested organizations.
Many of the faces and organizations represented were the same who confronted Gardner at a poorly publicized meet-and-greet event at Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge on Thursday, August 8. Members of Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Conservation Colorado, NARAL Pro Choice, Progress Now Colorado, Indivisible, Denver Young Dems, JeffCo Dems and Moms Demand Action were in Arvada yesterday afternoon.
Greg Davis, a volunteer for JeffCo Dems, wanted to ask Gardner what he’s doing about immigration, funding for veteran’s health care and his lack of public appearances. “We have a lot of people that want to talk to him, and he won't hold a public town hall, and I find that very sad,” Davis says.
Gardner appears to be good at remembering faces, if not inviting the people attached to them to the meetings they’re requesting. He recognized Susan Glass, chair of JeffCo Dems, from the meet-and-greet last week, and Paola Grimaldo, a federal campaign organizer with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, as she had confronted him about supporting the Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for recipients of DACA and Temporary Protected Status. At that event, Gardner had said he hadn’t read the bill. But according to Grimaldo, CIRC had already requested to meet with him about the bill numerous times, and passed 300 pledge cards under the door of his Fort Collins office after staff canceled a planned July 13 meeting. This time, she handed Gardner a copy of the bill.
Rachel Wall came to downtown Arvada because she wanted to speak to Gardner about the Affordable Care Act, which Gardner opposes. She says that prior to its passage, she had been denied health care for most of her life because of a pre-existing condition. She had tried to contact Gardner’s office multiple times. “I would much rather have a conversation, talking and listening,” she says. “I really, really dislike calling people out, but there's a point at which it's kind of your only option, unfortunately.”
Ethan Somers, a Giffords Courage Fellow and gun-safety activist, says he asked the senator about passing a background checks expansion bill that has been stalled in the Senate judiciary committee since January. “His response to me was that he hasn't read the bill, even though it's been sitting in front of him,” Somers says. “He told me to talk to Brian, one of his staffers, and I was able to say, I've actually already sat down and talked to [Brian] about it. Cory knows this bill exists but claims that he hasn't been able to look at it.”
Still, Somers says it was exciting to speak to the senator directly, “to actually be there and say it to his face...and watch it bounce off his eyes and bounce right back to me."
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Robin Horn, of Moms Demand Action, another gun control advocacy group, echoes Somers’s message. “We've never met with Senator Gardner as a chapter. He's never sat down with us to have a conversation, and we would actually like to have that conversation with him about gun violence,” she says.
Even one of the Arvada Police officers assigned to provide security to the senator was disappointed in the communication he got from Gardner’s office. “I only got notified of this two and a half hours ago,” he said to the small group of protestors left at the end of the hour.
Many of the organizations represented in Arvada will continue to attempt to track Gardner’s appearances in Colorado, they say, and organize peaceful but direct confrontations. Meanwhile, even if real Gardner doesn’t show up (or if his staff somehow stops these events from leaking out to the public at large), Cardboard Cory, a mock cutout of the real senator that Democrats have employed to emphasize his lack of availability, will be “touring” the state in a bus along with several progressive organizations starting next week. "Our goal is to talk to folks about the issues that matter in their neck of the woods," says Olga Robak, the tour's communications director. The tour will kick off August 19 in Denver.
Ben Irwin, a spokesman for Mayor Williams, says the mayor's office will not provide a statement on the Arvada event, "as it was the senator's event." Gardner's office has not responded to a request for a statement.