Protests prompt Senator Cory Gardner to cancel Steamboat meeting, says county GOP chair

Lisa Schlichtman
Steamboat Pilot & Today
Nancy Working, left, talks with Linda Delaney Friday afternoon while waiting for Republican Senator Cory Gardner outside of Carl's in downtown Steamboat Springs. The women were part of a large crowd of people, who stood outside the restaurant where the senator was scheduled to make an appearance with local leaders from the Republican party. Gardner never showed.
John F. Russell

An email from the chair of the Routt County Republicans confirms U.S. Senator Cory Gardner’s office canceled his private lunch with a small group of local supporters in Steamboat Springs Friday because of a protest that was taking place outside of Carl’s Tavern where the meeting was to be held.

“I just talked to Cory’s folks,” Republican chair Don Mathis’ wrote in an email he sent out Friday morning to those planning to attend the lunch with Gardner and that was obtained by the Steamboat Today late Friday night. “His security staff feels that due to the current threat assessment and current events that he will have to cancel today’s meeting at Carl’s Tavern.”

When asked what “current events” he was referencing in his email, Mathis acknowledged it was the “Everyone’s Voice is Important” protest, organized by Routt County Democrats after they learned Gardner was going to be in Steamboat for a private meeting.

When Casey Contres, the senator’s press secretary, was asked by Steamboat Today reporter Tom Ross why Gardner had canceled the meeting on Friday, Ross was told Gardner had to reschedule the meeting in order to “accommodate a necessary health care meeting.” There was no mention of the protest or a perceived threat.

Several messages were left at Senator’s Gardner’s offices in Washington, D.C., and Denver, asking for a clarification on the reason the lunch meeting in Steamboat was canceled. Those messages were not returned.

Mathis said he did not believe the protesters in Steamboat posed a serious threat to Gardner’s safety, but he added that the recent GOP baseball shooting in Washington, D.C., and the current attitude of protesters around the state and nation, made the threat assessment understandable in his opinion.

Mathis also questioned whether the protest in Steamboat was totally peaceful.

“A lady in her 50s or older, blocked me with her sign,” Mathis said. “The protesters were also putting their signs up on the windows of Carl’s, tapping on the glass and doing a little dance. It’s all kind of like mild terrorism.”

Chuck McConnell, another local Republican leader, said the gathering with Gardner was never meant to be a “secret meeting.”

“It was a feedback meeting between Cory and Republicans who supported him in the election,” McConnell said. “It was blown way out of context.”

Mathis also expressed his disappointment in Catherine Carson, chair of the Routt County Democrats, for organizing the protest instead of picking up the phone and talking to him about the meeting.

“She jumped to conclusions,” Mathis said. “I would have invited her to the meeting. Now, probably not.”

Carson said she did not find out about the meeting until Thursday morning and was focused on making sure the community at large had a chance to share their voice with Senator Gardner.

She said the name of the protest, the Peaceful Everyone’s Voice is Important Protest, also demonstrated its intent.

“It’s important for our citizens to have a way to remind Senator Gardner that everyone’s voice is important, not just a select group of Republican officers and high-end donors,” Carson said. “Senator Gardner is scheduled to vote on the health care bill this week, and there are a lot of people in our area that are concerned about losing healthcare for their children, themselves and their grandparents.”

Carson said the gathering of 100 people outside of Carl’s Tavern, who held up signs reading “Save the ACA” and “Repair Not Repeal,” was peaceful and very friendly. She said the group included children, young professionals, people with disabilities, senior citizens and “everyone in between.”

On the morning of the protest, Carson said she contacted Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen to review the city’s rules for peaceful demonstrations. She said protesters were very careful not to block streets or pedestrians or access to businesses.

“We organized this in 24 hours,” Carson said. “That’s the energy we had. Getting 100 people energized to try to share their voice with the senator shows there’s a lot of concerned individuals out there.”

Gardner’s last public appearance in Steamboat was Aug. 23, 2016, when he was the keynote speaker at the Routt County Republicans’ Lincoln Day Dinner. According to a recent report in the Denver Post, he hasn’t held a town hall meeting in the state since March 2016.

Gardner did meet with officials from Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Friday morning about the health care bill, but that meeting was not publicized.

Both Mathis and McConnell said they would like to see Gardner hold a town hall meeting in Steamboat Springs or Routt County in the future, and they said they had intended to talk to the senator about that issue at the meeting on Friday.

“Knowing it was a brutal election year, we’re trying to shift our methodology to be more bipartisan,” Mathis said. “We’re such a small community. Why can’t we all get along?”

To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email or follow her on Twitter @LSchlichtman