Gardner spars with Democrats in Minturn

Nate Peterson
Vail Daily
Jim Grabowski of Edwards asks U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado about concerning questions during a campaign event Tuesday at the Minturn Saloon.
Justin Q. McCarty | Special to the Daily

MINTURN — Sen. Cory Gardner touted his bipartisan record Tuesday night at the Minturn Saloon in a campaign stop that drew supporters and a sizable Democratic contingent.

Gardner, speaking to a crowd of about 60 that included local Democratic state lawmakers Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail and Rep. Dylan Roberts, faced a number of pointed questions from Eagle County residents, particularly on the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act and his stance on climate change.

Joy Harrison, the former chair of the Eagle County Democrats, pleaded with Gardner to support the CORE Act in a seven-minute back-and-forth exchange.

“It’s an incredibly important bill that would preserve these incredible public lands for our kids and our kids’ kids,” Harrison said. “Your vote and your support is absolutely critical because Republican senators, your colleagues, are looking to you to see what you will signal.”

“The CORE Act has supporters and it has people who don’t like it,” Gardner said. “I think what’s important in Colorado is that we find that way to find something that people can support. I think that’s incredibly important.”

“You’re dismissing so much work and so much coalition-building that has gone into this,” Harrison said.

“All I said is we’ve got to find a way to find something that works,” Gardner responded.

“The work is already done,” Harrison said.

Gardner then responded that he has heard concerns from the Forest Service and the Department of Defense on the bill, which would preserve 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado.

“To be clear, I do not oppose this bill,” Gardner said.

“Will you come out and support it for all of us in the room?” Harrison asked.

“Joy, give me a second,” Gardner said. “What I hear from people in the Defense Department, when they have concerns with it, I take them at their word. So we know there are issues.”

Gail Flesher also grilled Gardner on whether he supports the lawsuit that Colorado recently joined suing the Environmental Protection Agency over a new rule that would replace the 2015 Clean Power Plan.

“I voted that climate change is real. I think it’s very important that we work to address climate concerns,” Gardner said. “Here’s what I’m concerned about — regulations that people will testify will kill thousands and thousands of jobs. I’m not willing to destroy our economy.”

Touting his record

Gardner, before taking questions, said he’s proud of the work he’s done in the Senate. Among those accomplishments: Getting the Bureau of Land Management moved to Grand Junction from Washington, D.C., passing a law that aims to protect wildland firefighters by requiring agencies to outfit crews with GPS locators and deploy drones to scout and map blazes, and bringing broadband to rural communities.

He also talked about getting sanctions passed against North Korea, joking that one of his proudest moments as a senator was calling Kim Jong Un “a whack job” in an MSNBC interview, and then having the North Korean leader respond by calling Gardner a man mixed in with human dirt, who has lost basic judgment and body hair. Gardner said he’s still got the quote framed on his wall.

Of the BLM move, Gardner said: “I believe that we’ll have better decisions, we’ll have a better result when the BLM management is nearest the people and the land that they impact.”

He added: “Every single one of those things I talked about, it wasn’t done by a Republican or Democrat. It was done by Republicans and Democrats coming together. Because that’s how we solve problems in this country and that’s what I’m excited about and continue to stand for.”

Different takes

Donovan zinged Gardner on Twitter last month after the reinsurance bill she cosponsored to lower premiums for Coloradans was given a federal waiver.

Gardner, in a video, touted his work on helping move the bill along, which Donovan took serious issue with.

“I think what was most frustrating about him filming a video, putting it up and claiming credit for something that he’s actively trying to undermine and eliminate was the point of frustration,” she said. “We’re from different parties, we have different values, we can disagree and have different priorities. But don’t post on social claiming credit to do something. He clearly claims credit for reinsurance and he is trying to dismantle the ACA on which reinsurance depends on.”

Kaye Ferry, the chair of the Eagle County Republicans, who hosted the event, said Gardner’s message was positive and that he listened to his critics on Tuesday and tried to give honest answers.

“He’s never really changed. He’s always been the same Cory all the way through,” she said. “So I think he listens and I think he responds and I think he tries to make the best of the situation, which he did tonight. Unfortunately, we have parts of the community that just aren’t satisfied with any answer you give them.”