Senator Michael Bennet Announces First Town Halls in More Than Two Years

Senator Michael Bennet during an October campaign visit at a Metropolitan State University of Denver watering hole.
Senator Michael Bennet during an October campaign visit at a Metropolitan State University of Denver watering hole. Michael Roberts
Update: Senator Michael Bennet is set to take part in his first town halls in more than two years, and rather than schedule the first one in a majority Democratic area, he's venturing into the Republican stronghold of Colorado Springs before heading to not one, not two, not three, but four additional communities across the state.

The initial event is slated for 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 16, at Tesla Education Center, 2560 International Circle, in the Springs. In addition (update 2), he'll take part in a second town hall from 1:45 p.m.-2:45 p.m. at Pueblo Union Depot, 132 West B Street in Pueblo, plus a third (update 3) at 5:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District building, 8805 Independence Way, in Alamosa.

The next day (update 4), Bennet has scheduled two more town halls on the Western Slope. On Friday, March 17, at 8:15 a.m.-9:15 a.m., he'll be at the Double Tree Hotel, 501 Camino Del Rio, in Durango. Then, from 2:45 p.m.-3:45 p.m., he'll be at Colorado Mesa University' south ballroom, 1455 North 12th Street, in Grand Junction.

Bennet has managed to avoid much of the negative publicity over a failure to hold town halls even though his office acknowledges that the last in-person event of this type in which he participated was way back in 2014. In contrast, Republican Senator Cory Gardner has been pummeled for not scheduling town halls where he could actually interact directly with constituents. Instead, he's held telephone town halls that have been criticized by many local activists.

Continue to read our previous coverage for more about Bennet's town hall history.

Original post, 5:36 a.m. March 2: In recent weeks, Republican Senator Cory Gardner has gotten arguably the worst publicity of his political career over allegedly dodging in-person town halls for fear of encountering constituents angry at his consistent rubber-stamping of policies associated with President Donald Trump. Indeed, a February 24 Denver town hall in which a cardboard likeness stood in for him received national coverage. (Gardner took part in a telephone town hall yesterday.) Turns out, though, that Democratic Senator Michael Bennet didn't star in any town halls last month, either, and it appears that the last one he conducted took place way back in 2014 — though a spokesperson maintains that this drought is about to end.

When Katie Farnan, a member of Indivisible Front Range Resistance, spoke to us in advance of the Gardner-free town hall, which she helped organize, she made a point of mentioning that Bennet also had some work to do in this area. "Senator Bennet has voted in ways that many Coloradans support, especially ones that reject the Trump agenda," she said. "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."

Granted, there's been some misinformation about how long it's been since Bennet put on a town hall. Amid the flurry of bad PR over Gardner's clumsy handling of his situation, Colorado Peak Politics, which describes itself as "Colorado's conservative bully pulpit," tweeted this note: "Hm, googled Bennet and town hall and this was only one we found...from 2009."

Apparently, this particular CPP representative needs some lessons about how to navigate a search engine. A few minutes of clicking revealed announcements and posts about a series of Bennet town halls in ’09, including one in Edwards, plus more in 2011 and 2013. There was also a Bennet town hall tour in 2014, with one notable session taking place in a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus.

click to enlarge A cardboard Cory Gardner attended a town hall meeting last week, but the real one didn't. - BRANDON MARSHALL
A cardboard Cory Gardner attended a town hall meeting last week, but the real one didn't.
Brandon Marshall
However, we weren't able to find links to town halls in 2015, 2016 or 2017 — and while Bennet spokeswoman Laurie Cipriano maintains that he's "held dozens of traditional town halls since becoming a senator in 2009," she wasn't able to provide a list of such events or even the date of the most latest one. She believes the most recent town hall took place in 2014.

Bennet spent much of the period last month when Congress was out of session on a trip to Cuba, Cipriano notes. But she stresses that "since the start of 2017, Michael has held several constituent meetings. He spends the work week in Washington but has participated in numerous public events on the weekends in Colorado, among them an interfaith church service, the MLK Day Marade, [a service] academy nominations ceremony and a naturalization ceremony."

Of course, none of those events qualifies as a town hall. Gardner tried a similar tactic to blunt criticism, putting out a news release in the days prior to the Denver event pointing out that he had recently huddled with the Colorado Space Coalition at Metropolitan State University of Denver, answered the questions of some MillerCoors employees while accepting the National Association of Manufacturers’ Award for Manufacturing Legislative Excellence, appeared at the Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner, and spoke at the Governor's Forum on Agriculture at the Renaissance Denver Stapleton Hotel.

But Cipriano, who confirms contact with Farnan's group, stresses that Bennet will do more than meet with individual groups during the forthcoming weeks and months. In her words, "Our office is planning town hall meetings for March and April."

Presumably, Bennet will be there — no cardboard stand-in required.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts