Cory Gardner Tells Me About Telephone Town Hall When It's Almost Over: Thanks!

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Update: Last night, Senator Cory Gardner was scheduled to take part in his second telephone town hall over the span of eight days, a tactic apparently intended to undermine criticism about his failure to conduct in-person town halls, despite multiple demands that he do so and even a late February forum in Denver that went on in his absence. I wasn't planning to take part, but a Gardner robo-call urged me to do so, albeit when the event should have been almost over.

As described in our previous coverage, on view below, activist Jeff Hart had signed up for Gardner's March 1 telephone town hall, which was originally set for 10 a.m., only to be moved up to 9:30 a.m. at the last minute. However, Hart didn't receive a robo-call inviting him to jump in until 9:50 a.m., twenty minutes into an event that lasted only 45 minutes.

Last night's telephone town hall was supposed to get started at 7:10 p.m. Then I, too, received a robo-call with instructions about how to participate. But it came in at 7:50 p.m., meaning that the town hall would have been just five minutes from concluding if it lasted as long as the first one. Stranger still, I didn't sign up for the town hall, and the call came in on my cell phone, whose number I have never provided to Gardner's office. My most recent attempts to reach a spokesperson for the senator were handled via e-mail, and I provided my office line as a secondary contact.

So how did Gardner's minions get my cell-phone number? I have no idea — but I've got to admit, I'm a little freaked out right now.

Continue for our previous post.

The graphic accompanying the page on Senator Cory Gardner's Senate website pertaining to telephone town halls.
The graphic accompanying the page on Senator Cory Gardner's Senate website pertaining to telephone town halls.

Original post, 7:19 a.m. March 8: At 7:10 p.m. tonight, March 8, Senator Cory Gardner will take part in his second telephone town hall following withering criticism about his failure to schedule in-person events, as epitomized by a February 24 Denver town hall that went on in his absence. But an activist who tried to participate in the earlier conversation rips the way the first one was staged, and argues that the format leaves the vast majority of voices unheard.

The complaints about the March 1 telephone town hall come from Jeff Hart, a former candidate for the Colorado House of Representatives and current chair of Colorado Common Cause's board of directors; he makes it clear his take is his own and he's not speaking for CCC. Hart's government experience includes supervisory positions with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

"I signed up and was confirmed to participate in Senator Cory Gardner’s 10 a.m. telephone town hall today," Hart wrote in a post he shared on Facebook shortly after the March 1 session concluded. "Then I received an e-mail from his office at 8:18 a.m. saying, 'I wanted to let you know that the time of today's live telephone town hall call has been changed to 9:30 a.m. MST. If you signed up on my website you will be receiving a call around 9:30 am MST.'"

In Hart's view, "moving up the time of any town hall by thirty minutes, with only 72 minutes' notice, is not just inconsiderate, it’s unacceptable. This is a tactic too often used to confuse constituents and minimize the time that an elected official has to spend with them."

On top of that, Hart continues, "I did not receive the call from his office to join the town hall until 9:50 a.m., twenty minutes into the telephone town hall already in progress — and the town hall ended at 10:15 a.m. So our senator graced us with his presence for all of 45 minutes if you were called to join the town hall when promised — or in my case, I got to listen to my senator for all of 25 minutes while he answered maybe a half-dozen questions from other participants."

Jeff Hart.
Jeff Hart.

Gardner's inquisitors didn't include Hart. "As soon as I got on the call, I immediately pressed 'star' as instructed to join the queue to ask a question," he notes. "No surprise to me, with the likely hundreds — or thousands? — of other constituents on the same call, I did not get a chance to ask my questions."

What Hart didn't like about last week's telephone town hall are the same things that make them preferable to many officials — especially those likely to face tough interrogation from political opponents. Telephone town halls are much easier to control, in that they severely limit the number of questions and don't allow an outlet for the sort of passionate crowd reactions that can make in-person events so unpredictable (and often uncomfortable) for their stars.

For now, however, the telephone town hall format appears to be the only one Gardner plans to use. Click to get more information about tonight's town hall; participants must sign up at least one hour prior to the 7:10 p.m. start time.

Meanwhile, here are the questions Hart wanted to direct at Gardner last week. In his words, "Maybe I’ll get a chance to ask them at the next 20- to 45-minute telephone town hall."

Question one: "You voted to confirm Scott Pruitt to head EPA, a climate-science denier who plans to gut EPA’s budget and their authority to protect our environment and our climate. You justified your vote by saying he promised to change the culture at EPA and because he promised to make EPA pay for the Gold King mine spill. EPA is not a mining company. Mining companies who took the riches from the mines were responsible for the pollution at Gold King and at thousands of mines across Colorado and across the country, not EPA, and not the taxpayers of the U.S. We all learned in kindergarten that if you make a mess, you clean it up. Why do you believe EPA and taxpayers should pay to clean up the messes made by the mining industry and other extractive industries? Shouldn’t the polluter pay to clean up their own mess? Your staff member Andrew Dunkley told me that you also supported Pruitt because Pruitt promised to work with the state legislatures to ensure adequate reclamation bonds from mining companies. The head of EPA has absolutely no authority and little if any influence over what fifty state legislatures do. How are you going to ensure that reclamation bonds are adequate on both federal and non-federal (e.g., private or state) lands to ensure that EPA and taxpayers are not stuck with billions of dollars in cleanup bills in the future?"

Question two: "Why have you held in-person town halls in the past, but none during this recess? Don’t you believe your constituents deserve a chance to see and speak with their senator in person? Do you believe a 20- or 45-minute town hall meets the legitimate expectations of your constituents to have quality time with their senator?"

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