Littwin: Another easy question; another apparent whopper of a white lie
October 19, 2014
The question in the 9News Senate debate was half softball, half gotcha and the answers, by themselves, meant little in the greater scheme of things.
Except for this:
On the night that co-moderator Kyle Clark directly challenged Cory Gardner's apparent unwillingness to tell the truth, Gardner seems to have told, well, a whopper of a white lie.
It began this way: In trying to gauge how bipartisan Mark Udall or Gardner might be, Clark asked if either could recall voting for a candidate from the opposite party. Udall said he couldn't, at least not in the Past 10 years. Gardner said "no."
Ace reporter Lynn Bartels, who has covered Gardner for years, was a little skeptical, and so she slid into the fact-check machine and didn't come out until discovering this little gem:
Gardner, as he has said, was a Democrat back in the day. What I'd never known was that he was a registered Democrat for eight years, from 1992 to 2000. That's more than one-third of his voting life. And so, to believe Gardner, we have to believe that in his eight years as a Democrat — as a very vocal Democrat, one actively involved in party affairs — that he never managed to vote for a member of his own party, even one whose nomination for office he had officially seconded.
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Of course, I'm told there could be an alternative explanation for his recall deficit. Maybe he couldn't recall as a result of concussions that he suffered during his football years.
Do you believe Gardner's simple "No"?
Does anyone believe that?
But the real question is, if Gardner did lie, why would anyone lie about such a meaningless circumstance? If you add in the "There is no federal personhood bill" when there obviously is a federal personhood bill, and when you further add that Gardner says he didn't vote for a government shutdown when he did, in fact, make votes that led directly to a government shutdown, you might wonder if there's a trend.
I called the Gardner campaign to get Gardner's side of the story. I laid it out for them. I asked for real alternative possibilities. And in what has become part of the Gardner narrative, the office didn't call back.
Debate day — the fourth debate in nine days — had begun brilliantly for Gardner. The polls keep coming in showing Gardner with a narrow but consistent lead. And then Deadspin, the sports gossip site, wrote a gotcha story saying it had caught Gardner in a lie. It wasn't much of a story even if true, which it wasn't. Gardner had told the Washington Post an anecdote involving his football days in Yuma and about a nearby opposing team that persisted in using the old single wing formation. That's a deeply inside-football metaphor, but Gardner likes to do football metaphors.
Someone must have told Deadspin that Gardner never had played. Deadspin contacted an old Yuma teacher, the local high school football historian, who said that Gardner never played. Deadspin called the Gardner campaign, which (see above) never responded. But the story was wrong. It turns out Gardner had played junior varsity ball. The campaign tweeted out the story and a photo of Gardner in uniform. Deadspin's source told the Denver Post he had been wrong. And suddenly, as Deadspin apologized for its mistake, it was another example of the media attacking Gardner unfairly.
The Colorado Independent had its own fling with this. Gardner was quoted in the Congressional Quarterly transcript of a House hearing saying he has had two hip surgeries. The Independent quoted the Quarterly transcript, but the Quarterly, it turned out, had quoted the wrong congressperson. The Gardner campaign immediately tweeted that we had it wrong. The Independent took down the story in about two minutes and apologized for reproducing the error. The Gardner campaign, which had never returned the Independent's calls and emails (see above and further above), reveled in the mistake for about two weeks.
So, there was Deadspin, and then there was the 9News debate's decidedly anti-spin. And then there came Clark's question, which may have transformed the debate.
In case you missed it, when addressing Gardner's insistence that the federal personhood bill he co-sponsors is not actually a federal personhood bill, Clark said, "Let's talk about what that entire episode may say about your judgment more broadly. A charitable interpretation would be that you have a difficult time admitting when you're wrong, and a less charitable interpretation would be that you're not telling us the truth. Which is it?"
Clark's question didn't faze Gardner. He gave the same answer he always gives these days, that the bill is just a statement of belief. Hey, it's what he says.
And so, did Gardner tell the truth on his voting record? (Just look at all the trouble Kentucky U.S. Senate candidate Alison Grimes has gotten herself into by refusing to say whether she had voted for Barack Obama, when anyone could guess she had — and all she has done is make people wonder if she's too slippery to give a straight answer.)
As Bartels noted, Gardner seconded the nomination of former Fort Collins Mayor Susan Kirkpatrick in 1998 at the Democratic 4th Congressional District Assembly. Did he not vote for her? And then there's this: As a Democrat for eight years, did Gardner vote a straight non-Democratic ticket in election after election?
Hey, I don't know the answers. I'm just hoping that someone has the chance to ask him the follow-up question.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.