Senator Cory Gardner is among Republican lawmakers who thus far in 2017 haven't scheduled any town hall meetings of the sort called for by his critics, who portray him as a virtual rubber stamp for President Trump even though he announced that he wouldn't vote for The Donald last October. But Indivisible Front Range Resistance is among the groups that is staging a Gardner town hall in Denver tonight anyway (get details below), and Katie Farnan, one of the main organizers, says the event will go on whether the senator shows up or not.
"We're not being silly, we're not ridiculing him, we're not doing any kind of charade or theater," Farnan says. "We want him to come. But if he can't, that's fine. We'll still do it."
Gardner is trying his hardest to avoid the impression that he's dodging his constituents. Yesterday, in advance of the town hall, his office issued a release headlined "Gardner Meets with Coloradans Along the Front Range," featuring the following canned senatorial quote: "Washington D.C. cannot operate in a vacuum, and that’s why I’m always eager to meet with Coloradans and gain their input on a variety of issues."
Yet the Wednesday, February 22, get-togethers touted by Gardner's minions took place without any public notice and were extremely controlled, before audiences unlikely to castigate him for actions such as voting in favor of Betsy DeVos, President Trump's controversial Secretary of Education nominee. (DeVos and her family have donated nearly $50,000 to Gardner; his office never responded to multiple inquiries from Westword on this topic.)
For instance, the senator huddled with the Colorado Space Coalition at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and he also answered the questions of some MillerCoors employees while accepting the National Association of Manufacturers’ Award for Manufacturing Legislative Excellence. In addition, Gardner appeared at the Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner — a private event — and spoke at the Governor's Forum on Agriculture at the Renaissance Denver Stapleton Hotel.
After the forum, Gardner briefly chatted with Colorado Politics' Peter Marcus, who pigeonholed him in the hotel's kitchen, as seen in the screen capture at the top of this post. In the interview, Gardner said he'd consider taking part in telephone town halls, but he continues to resist in-person events at which members of the public can attend no matter their party affiliation. He's previously suggested that demonstrators at such gatherings might be paid political operatives, though he's offered zero evidence to back up this claim.
More cornering took place on Thursday, February 23, when a group of activists, including Katherine Amato of Indivisible Front Range Resistance, managed to squeeze into the same elevator as Gardner and ask him about holding a town hall. He told them only to "check his website" and got out as quickly as he could. The incident was caught on video, as seen in the Facebook post below.
Farnan, for her part, takes umbrage at Gardner's suggestion that she and others calling for a town hall have a profit motive for doing so. "I haven't seen my paycheck, unfortunately," she says. "And I hate to be snarky, but the only one who's actually getting paid is the senator. And taxpayers are the ones paying him."
Granted, Farnan's phone has an Ohio area code, and that makes her wonder if her calls to Gardner's office have been dismissed as outside provocation. But the mother of two children under age three has lived and worked in Colorado for five years, and her main political actions outside the voting booth prior to hooking up with Indivisible Front Range Resistance involved canvassing locally for the campaign of President Barack Obama in 2012. "If you'd asked me two months ago who my representatives were, I probably would have stumbled over that," she admits. "I'd never seen the inside of a representative's office. But now I have."
Her level of engagement changed this past November.
"As I watched the election, I was a little incredulous," she admits. "I was skeptical that we were going to have a Trump presidency. And afterward, I was dazed and concerned. It felt like an assault on all fronts. In the past, most elected officials had been public servants who had experience in what they were doing and didn't bend the country to the point where it might break. But with Trump, it really feels like he might bend it and break it."
Then, in January, Farnan saw a tweet featuring the Indivisible Guide, described as a "practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda." She notes that "it was written by a couple of former congressional staffers who'd studied the Tea Party's tactics and realized we could use them, too."
The four pillars of the guide's approach, Farnan continues, are "calling campaigns, office visits, town halls and public events where your member of Congress will be. That's what the Tea Party focused on; they were always there, and they were pretty relentless about being present and holding their members of Congress to account. And that's important. To me, Trump is a distraction, a side show. But the members of Congress are the machinery behind him that's trying to strip away the advances we've made over the last eight years and even before that. To me, that's what we need to focus on."
Last year, Gardner seemed unlikely to be a significant water-carrier for President Trump. In August, as we reported, he formally offered his endorsement after months of vacillating, saying, "I’m voting Republican up and down the ticket. A Republican president will make a difference, even a Republican president named Donald Trump." But the following October, after the release of a 2005 Access Hollywood recording in which Trump, not knowing that his microphone was hot, told unctuous TV personality Billy Bush about how his star power allowed him to do anything to women, including "grab ’em by the pussy," Gardner joined other GOP officials in retracting his endorsement.
The Gardner statement read: “I will not vote for Donald Trump. If Donald Trump wishes to defeat Hillary Clinton, he should do the only thing that will allow us to do so — step aside, and allow [vice presidential nominee] Mike Pence to be the Republican Party’s nominee. If he fails to do so, I will not vote for Hillary Clinton but will instead write in my vote for Mike Pence."
Once Trump defeated Clinton, however, Gardner's tune changed. "He hasn't voted outside of his party or outside of Trump," Farnan points out. "Two things he's been strong-ish about have been looking into Russian interference in our election and talking about the Muslim ban needing to be rewritten. But he hasn't gone nearly far enough — and he represents a state that didn't vote for Trump by a pretty good margin. For him not to take that into account in any way for his voting is why we're calling him out. We're saying, 'How are you reconciling your activity?' Because to us, it looks like 'party over state' in every way."
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Hence the town hall, which gets under way at 5:30 p.m. tonight, Friday, February 24, at Byers Middle School, located at 105 South Pearl in Denver. The gathering is a joint project of Indivisible Front Range Resistance, the Colorado branch of Together We Will, CAPE Denver, Indivisible Denver, Denver CAN, Boulder CAN and the Fillmore Street Group, and while Farnan is reluctant to predict the size of the crowd that will attend, she points out that the organizations' collective Facebook pages have more than 10,000 cumulative likes.
The Gardner town hall won't be the last effort of this type, Farnan pledges. "The more elusive he gets, the more visible we get," she says. "And it's not just Gardner. Senator [Michael] Bennet has voted in ways that many Coloradans support, especially ones that reject the Trump agenda, but he hasn't held a town hall, either. We've been talking to them and trying to find out when they would hold one. That's another tactic of the Tea Party. They really held their own representatives to account, and we need Democrats to be stronger than ever."
As for Gardner, Farnan says, "The narrative he's shaping is that we're not real. We have no choice but to prove otherwise."
Click to access the Facebook events page for the Town Hall With or Without Cory Gardner.