Hick gets my vote for U.S. Senate

John Colson
Hit & Run

As we ease toward Election Day (Nov. 3 in case you were unsure), there are a few local races that concern me, and one is between incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and challenger John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, former mayor of Denver and former governor of Colorado.

Just so you know right off, I’ll be voting for Hickenlooper.

Gardner, 46, has been in the Senate for five years, after narrowly defeating an earlier incumbent, Sen. Mark Udall, in a surprise upset and by a margin of less than 2% in a contest decided by roughly 2 million voters.

Before that, Gardner served as U.S. congressman for the 4th District, the district now held by Republican Ken Buck, and before that he spent six years in the veritable political wasteland known as the Colorado Legislature, a post he was appointed to in 2005 to replace another Republican who, in turn, was elevated to the state senate.

Prior to that, Gardner was a legislative aide to the late Sen. Wayne Allard, a legend in Colorado politics, and reportedly used his connections there to get the appointment to the State House.

Suffice it to say, Gardner appears to be one of those “career politicians” who Republicans generally viewed with disdain during the GOP’s years of demanding term limits for all elective offices.

I’ve watched Gardner’s slow-motion, never-controversial career with some trepidation ever since he beat Udall, which happened during the Republican sweep of federal and state offices in 2014, largely fueled by racist backlash to then-President Barack Obama.

Interestingly, Gardner has tied his political fortunes to the tail of the most racist president this nation has seen in many years, Donald Trump.

In the 2016 election, Gardner initially endorsed Trump, but later backed away after the infamous Access Hollywood tape became public — the one in which Trump openly bragged about seizing women by the genitals any old time he felt like it.

We’ll never know if Gardner secretly voted for Trump last time around, but he has endorsed him again in the current election cycle and has notably failed to speak up against Trump’s worst excesses in office.

In fact, he has voted with Trump’s position about 89% of the time, according to the website

It is somewhat difficult to assess Gardner’s time in the Senate, since he rarely has poked his head up above the oily surface of that Republican-dominated chamber.

As a reporter, I noticed early on in his tenure in the U.S. Senate that Gardner almost never offered opinions on the most controversial matters of any given day, even when doing so might have won him some accolades from his Colorado constituency. For instance, he voted along the party line for Trump’s $1.7 trillion tax cut (the size has varied in public reports) that primarily benefited businesses and the wealthy.

One notable exception was Gardner’s criticism of the president’s response to the Unite The Right rally in Chalottesville, Virgina, in 2017, where neo-Nazis clashed with counter-protesters in a melee that left more than 30 injured and one young woman dead from an assault by automobile.

Trump remarked that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the issue, and Gardner responded that “we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”

He also “expressed concern” over Trump’s tariff obsession and some other issues, but in general has hewed closely to all things Trumpian.

And, to give Gardner his due, he has been ranked somewhere between eighth and fifth (in 2018 and 2019, respectively) among the Senate’s most bipartisan senators, though in the current wickedly partisan atmosphere in Washington, earning a high ranking for even rare bipartisanship is not a big leap.

Hickenlooper, as mayor and governor, has left us with a somewhat mixed record due to his over-friendly positions toward the oil and gas industry that has scarred and polluted our state egregiously.

By all accounts, he did a pretty good job as mayor, winning nearly $5 billion in tax hikes to build the city’s light rail system and at one point trying to find a way to curtail homelessness in the city (the effort failed, unfortunately).

As governor, he was credited with helping Colorado ride the crest of America’s pre-COVID economic growth. Gardner has claimed similar-sounding credit, citing tax cuts and deregulation initiatives.

Probably, neither one actually did much to boost the economy, other than simply standing aside and letting it happen.

Hickenlooper has been advertising his environmental creds, and he gets points for passage in Colorado a measure that became a nationwide model for requiring the energy industry to find and address methane leaks in their infrastructure.

But his unwillingness to tackle the industry on a variety of fronts has left him vulnerable to attacks by activists around the state.

“Hick,” as he is known, has been very public in his support for gun control in the state, while Gardner has mainly held back from supporting gun-control measures introduced in the Senate. But Hick earned considerable criticism when he blamed an aide for his agreement to support limiting high-capacity magazines for assault rifles, though in general activists feel he has helped the gun-control cause somewhat.

So, there is some distance between the candidates on a number of issues, which should come into play when they meet for a debate Oct. 13, which will be televised on Rocky Mountain PBS.

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