Vice President Mike Pence’s Aspen visit brings out supporters, protesters
Vice President Mike Pence hosted the well-heeled Monday afternoon at a private club fundraiser in downtown Aspen and is expected to leave Tuesday morning after meeting with a group of Republican governors in town for a meeting.
Pence’s Gulfstream V airplane landed at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport about 2 p.m. after he attended a fundraiser for Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in Windsor near Greeley.
He greeted and talked with a group of about 30 supporters at the airport and waved to reporters from The Aspen Times and a Denver news station but did not take questions from the media.
Anna Zane, chairwoman of Pitkin County Republicans, was within the group of supporters at the airport and said she appreciates that Aspen draws politicians from both parties.
“(Pence) was very gracious and he spoke to every one of us,” she said. “It’s an honor to have the vice president come to town. I don’t know that we’ll ever turn Pitkin County, but we can change some minds.”
Roger Nicholson of Snowmass Village said he was “thrilled” to meet Pence and praised the vice president’s politics.
“I admire him sticking to his faith and sticking to his principles, and I asked him to please stick with them,” Nicholson said. “And he said, ‘That means so much to me.’”
Pence’s motorcade almost immediately left the airport, though he didn’t arrive in downtown Aspen until about 3:15 p.m., when his motorcade came down Main Street, turned right onto Galena Street and parked in the alley behind the Caribou Club, located on Hopkins Avenue.
The VIP reception at the club was not originally scheduled to start until 5 p.m., according to an invitation sent out last week. Well-dressed couples who paid $35,000 a pair to attend the reception could be seen entering the club in the mid-afternoon.
Bob Jenkins, Pitkin County Republicans vice chair, had said he expected a relatively small crowd of about 25 couples to attend the fundraiser, which will benefit both President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee. Trump will receive $2,700 per person from each $35,000, while the RNC will receive the rest, Jenkins has said.
A small group of mainly young women with a rainbow banner that read “Hypocrite” on it protested Pence’s appearance from in front of the Isis Theater across from the Caribou Club entrance. A lone man carried a sign that read: “Mike Pence Satan Thanks You” on one side and “Mike Pence Hitler Thanks You” on the other.
By the time Pence left the club about 4:45 p.m., a group of pro-Trump fans had gathered across from the women with the rainbow banner, and shouted “Go Trump” as his motorcade passed on Mill Street. Pence’s Suburban slowed down and he waved to the supporters on his way out of downtown.
As a congressman, governor of Indiana and as vice president, Pence has repeatedly opposed efforts to legalize gay marriage and other measures meant to improve the lives of members of the gay community.
The Caribou Club is owned by two gay men, one of whom did not return a phone message last week seeking comment about his decision to hold the event. Also, efforts to reach members of AspenOut, the group behind Aspen’s Gay Ski Week in January, for comment on the event were not successful Monday.
However, the issue appeared to be resonating within the larger, national gay community with online publications like Queerty, Out Magazine and LGBTQNation running articles on the subject. Newsweek, The Denver Post and talkingpointsmemo.com also published pieces emphasizing the gay issue.
Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, issued a statement Monday about Pence’s Aspen visit.
“Vice President Pence has made a career out of demonizing LGBTQ people and undermining our rights,” said Lucas Acosta, HRC’s national press secretary. “Coloradans deserve to know more about Pence’s opposition to basic hate crime protections and the Equality Act as well as his failure to combat HIV transmissions.
“Equality voters will remember Gardner and Pence’s horrific record on LGBTQ issues and will hold them accountable in 2020.”
The last time Pence visited Aspen — in December 2017 — neighbors of the home where he stayed in the Owl Creek area hung a rainbow banner on a shared driveway pillar that read “Make America Gay Again” and planted numerous small rainbow flags in the space between the two homes.
The Colorado Democratic Party also weighed in on Pence’s appearance at the two Colorado fundraisers, which were both closed to the public.
“It’s pretty clear that the GOP knows how unpopular and vulnerable Donald Trump is, which is why they’re sending Vice President Pence and other members of Team Trump for closed-door fundraisers for Sen. Cory Gardner and Republicans instead of a public event,” according to a statement issued Monday. “(Perhaps) these private fundraisers are a sign that they’ve finally given up their desperate attempt to turn our state red.”
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Monday evening that he still hadn’t been able to track down the name of the Caribou Club member who hosted the event and had made no headway in persuading that person or the Trump campaign to pay for his deputies’ overtime providing security for Pence.
“Usually by this time, we’re aware of who’s going to pay,” he said. “I’ve been trying for a week and I still can’t get anyone to tell me who the Caribou Club host is. So far I’ve been ghosted.
“I’m concerned we’re gonna get stiffed.”
DiSalvo has said he will provide security for free if politicians meet with members of the general public. However, his department charges the hosts of political events to which the public is not invited, and campaigns generally pay up, he has said.
He estimated that overtime costs for the numerous deputies who worked security Monday were between $10,000 and $20,000. If the Sheriff’s Office is not reimbursed, Pitkin County will have to foot the bill for the private fundraiser security.
Other agencies involved in the security besides the Secret Service and the Sheriff’s Office were Aspen Police, Aspen Fire, Colorado State Patrol, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the U.S. Forest Service.
Pence is scheduled to participate Tuesday morning in a quarterly meeting of the Republican Governors Association, which is taking place in Aspen, according to vppublicschedules.com. He is set to leave Aspen at 9:30 a.m. and fly to Des Moines, Iowa.
Aspen Times journalists David Krause and Austin Colbert contributed reporting to this story.
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.