State Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, staked political ground in the far corner of the Republican-Libertarian right the last few years, voting against proposed tough state-wide drunk-driving laws, which he decried as part of a series of tax and fee-generating “nanny bills.” Now, though, as a candidate gunning for Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey’s Fourth District seat in Washington, Gardner is vowing to sponsor new nanny state-style legislation meant to impose consistent harsh penalties on drunk-drivers. What’s changed?
Gardner didn’t answer messages left by the Colorado Independent over the last two weeks on the matter.
He did however speak to the Denver Post for a lengthy article on drunk driving published Sunday. Gardner was the only lawmaker quoted.
State Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, who plans to introduce legislation in January to make a repeat drunken driving arrest a felony, said some of the sentences [handed down] stunned him.
“We’ve got to address those areas where the law isn’t treating offenders as seriously as it needs to in order to prevent it from happening again,” Gardner said.
The Post also might have contacted Democratic State Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, who sponsored HB-1171 in 2006, a bill that dealt with alcohol-related repeat driving offenses and one introduced in the last few years that passed into law. Gov. Bill Owens signed the bill in June of that year. The new law lowered legal blood-alcohol levels; required repeat offenders to install ignition-locking breathalyzers; instructed courts to include repeat offense convictions on driving records; and charged offenders fines to be used to pay for addiction treatment.
Gardner voted against Riesberg’s bill, which was introduced during Gardner’s first term in office. Then as now, Gardner represented state House District 63, which includes Yuma County, where he lives. With the exception of Adams County, only the western half of which is included in District 63, the counties in Gardner’s district have notched remarkably low numbers of drunk-driving fatality cases. A safe estimate for the entire district would be 5 homicide DUIs since 2005.
In the whole of Markey’s Fourth U.S. Congressional District, however, the numbers are sadly elevated, and not just because it’s a wider swath of territory. The Fourth District includes Weld and Larimer counties, sites of high numbers of drunk-driving fatalities. The number of vehicular homicide charges from 2005 to 2009 in the U.S. Fourth Congressional District is safely three times greater than in the state district Gardner presently represents.
The motives pushing Gardner on this issue are difficult to determine. A personal experience? An ideological shift? Pure politics? As mentioned above, he hasn’t returned messages.
Ask cynics and they’ll point to Gardner’s equivocations on the campaign trail over the past months, most notably his seeming manipulation of the so-called birther question pushed by right-wing talk radio hosts and websites such as World Net Daily, where President Obama’s eligibility for office is assailed based on questions surrounding the legitimacy of his birth certificate.
Last month Gardner tried to finesse the topic at a town hall meeting in Fort Collins. “The [Obama] administration is trying to say [Obama] was born in this country,” Gardner said. It was an answer that either failed to satisfy everyone or one that half satisfied all of the people that mattered.
Gardner also made a big show of calling out Markey for announcing her August health-care town hall schedule late. He said she was running from the people and that he was happy to fill the “leadership void” and be the one to communicate with citizens.
Yet Gardner has been notably unavailable to answer questions posed by the media.
So is Gardner selectively endorsing the nanny state? What role does he think the state should play in Coloradans’ lives? The Denver Post should ask him. We want to know.
An editing error included parts of Arapahoe and Adams counties in the Fourth Congressional District in an early version of this post. The two counties were removed from the district in the 2000 census. Thanks to Bob Moore at the Fort Collins Coloradoan for the fact check.