Wives of Udall, Gardner powerful activists in their own right

 
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he two men running for U.S. Senate in Colorado have spent more time gabbing about birth control and abortion over the past four months than most women do in a lifetime. There are, no doubt, other topics Cory Gardner and Mark Udall would have preferred to discuss. But winning the election means winning women over.

For all their policy talk around women’s issues, there has been notably little focus on the two women the candidates already have won over: their wives.

Jaime Gardner and Maggie Fox share some commonalities not just as political spouses and moms but also as public-policy professionals who have worked on issues related to energy and the environment. But the differences between them are as stark — and as revealing — as the differences between the men they married.

Jaime Gardner, like her husband, has not been highly accessible to the media. The Gardner campaign never responded to requests to chat with the congressman’s wife, though she regularly weighs in on the campaign from her active Facebook profile.

“Congratulations to my best friend and love of my life on becoming the Republican candidate for United States Senate in Colorado!” she wrote April 12 after her husband cleared the crowded field of Republicans looking to unseat Udall.

Since then, much of her social-media activity has focused on her husband’s tight bid for the Senate. Her Facebook features flashes of her marching with Gardner and his campaign in the Greeley 4th of July parade. In such images Jaime Gardner, slender with wavy brown hair, is the picture of a supportive wife. She’s outfitted in casual capris, a breezy top, large sunglasses. She waves a small American flag. Jaime Gardner also posts campaign ads and endorsements, leveraging the supportive community in which she’s embedded to get the Gardner message out at a rate of as many as 200 likes per post.

Even so, in a campaign with ads that have featured many members of the Gardner family — including both of the couple’s young children and the congressman’s grandmother — Jaime Gardner hasn’t taken a starring role. She mostly appears in B-roll of the kind commonly served up by campaigns so that Super PACs and the like can have access to footage of the candidates and, in this case, their family walking hand in hand in their Sunday best.

“She’s definitely taking a supporting role,” said Debbie Brown of the Colorado Women’s Alliance, noting that Jaime Gardner typically hasn’t been at the campaign events Brown has attended.

“She’s a mom of two young children and due sometime in December with their third child,” Brown added. “So I think she’s taken a very supportive role, but it’s much more low-key. … She’s busy with kids.”

When not campaigning online for her husband, Gardner presents like a highly identifiable young conservative mom. She runs a “Coffee With the Saviour” group for new mothers and laments that “Summer truly means double the chores, and my housekeeping has suffered.” She posts about her kids — Alyson, 10, and Thatcher, 2 — and jokes about global warming when it snows 5 inches over the family’s hometown of Yuma, on the eastern plains.

What’s less identifiable — and not highlighted by her husband’s campaign messaging — is that Gardner is more than a housewife.

She also works at High Plains Communications, which describes itself as “a small consulting firm, with specialties in regulatory monitoring, energy education, event planning, writing & editing services.” Indeed, Gardner has a substantial career in environment and energy communications. She was a public-information officer for the Bureau of Land Management, and the director of communications for the BLM, Steven Hall, enthusiastically endorses her ability to navigate delicate regulatory situations with “political acumen.”

Gardner is also currently listed as the executive director of the Colorado Resource Alliance, an anti-regulation organization focusing on energy that delivers updates about state and federal regulatory processes to members that include local governments and industry groups.

Most notably, Gardner was hired last year to be president of the Consumer Energy Education Foundation. CEEF’s mission includes public outreach on “energy efficiency and the broad development of all energy resources,” fostering “cost-efficient energy policies” and supporting “academic programs that help reduce the costs of energy on consumers.”

CEEF is considered pro-industry, and the Sunlight Foundation reported that the group has close ties with oil and gas industry lobbyists, specifically the Consumer Energy Alliance, an organization described as “a front group that represents the interest of the oil industry” by the National Resource Defense Council. The CEA routinely spends $200,000 a year lobbying for the industry in Washington, D.C., including during the years Gardner has been in the House.

During her time at CEEF, Jaime Gardner’s Facebook took a turn toward energy when she posted an article declaring fracking “America’s Greenest Energy Source.”

The responses to the post were mixed, but Gardner dispatched others’ critiques and concerns about fracking with polished, professional politeness.

“[W]e have the longest standing and best environmental laws in the world, and I’d much rather have the resources developed here than other countries where they don’t have that protection,” she wrote. “All that being said, I’m all for an ‘all of the above’ approach. We need wind & solar & biofuels…they just aren’t economic or efficient on a large scale at this point.”

Though Gardner left her position at CEEF right around the time her husband’s senatorial bid kicked into gear, that message on energy — that fracking for natural gas is a crucial, and safe, bridge to a cleaner “all of the above” energy strategy — has become an important part of her husband’s campaign.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s wife, Maggie Fox, has spent her three-decade-plus career at the opposite end of the energy and environment political spectrum.

A longtime environmental lawyer and militant environmentalist, Fox worked for two decades at the Sierra Club before becoming the CEO of former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project in 2009. She held that position until this year.

The D.C.-based nonprofit, which also has an office in Boulder near the Udall home in Eldora, focuses on raising awareness of, and action on, climate change around the world.

Fox held a powerful, public and political position as the head of the international CRP. She spoke at a United Nations Foundation Summit on Social Good and joined such greenie celebrities as Leonardo DiCaprio in calling for a price on carbon pollution.

Like Jaime Gardner’s former employer CEEF, the CRP has had an affiliated lobbying arm — the Climate Protection Action Fund. From 2009 to 2010, Udall’s first years in the Senate and the group’s only years on record, the Fund spent $300,000 on federal lobbying efforts.

Unlike Jaime Gardner, Fox is a major on-the-ground feature of her husband’s campaign. The Udall children — Jed, 26, and Tess, 24 — are grown, and Fox left her job at the CRP in January to join Udall’s re-election effort.

“We’ve climbed mountains together. We’ve raised children together. There are certain things in our marriage that have shown us that being together is more important than doing our own thing,” Fox told a gathering of women last month at the home of Nancy Cronk, Democratic candidate for Aurora’s state House District 37.

Fox heads Women for Udall, popping up on social media and touring the state, making dozens of stops from Carbondale to Cortez in her trademark red cowboy boots. She’s easily as comfortable on the stump as her husband, whose policy gravitas she combines with qualities he doesn’t always possess — levity and contagious ease.

“I love politics and democracy. The whole deal. It’s been my gig since before I met my husband, for a very long time,” she told the women gathered to send her husband back to D.C. for another term in the Senate.

Like Udall, whom she met while they worked for Outward Bound, Fox appears clipped from a Patagonia catalog. Speaking to the handful of supporters in Aurora, she stood tall, tanned and rangey, her wide grin framed by a sharp chin-length bob. Fox told the story of the red boots she was wearing and the eponymous tour to turn out women voters.

The boots were a spot-on Christmas gift from Udall (although Fox jokes that she suspects their daughter was in on the selection process). She considered the gift a good-luck token and wore the boots throughout Udall’s first senatorial election, inaugurating the “Red Boot Tour.”

“Women who have a bit of sass … we do it with focus and also keep an understanding that you can have a light heart and get some serious work done,” Fox said of what she likes to call “doing Democracy” by canvassing voters and energizing volunteer groups. “These boots have become a way to giggle.”

Through her work on the trail, Fox has become a familiar female face of a campaign that has been — and been criticized for being — laser-focused on “women’s issues.” Those who know Fox and her commitment to reproductive rights took particular umbrage when The Denver Post lampooned that focus as “obnoxious.”

For her part, Fox seems galvanized by such critiques.

“We’ve known for more than a decade that women are in charge of elections in this country and this state,” she said. “Women are picking the candidates who are moving the country forward.”

Fox said women voters take “the long view” and have patience for tough issues, such as the Affordable Care Act, knowing that important changes don’t always happen smoothly or overnight. She added that women aren’t single-issue reproductive-rights voters, that they care about economic equality and a problem-solving approach to politics. Then she doubled down on the assertion that women can decide not just her husband’s election but every election.

“If women got clear about how in charge we could be of every election, we could claim it by 2016,” Fox said, in what was likely a hint about former first lady Hillary Clinton, who came to Colorado last week to stump largely on Udall’s behalf.

By last count, women made up a slight majority of Colorado’s active registered voters. That said, female voters — particularly the young, unmarried ones who reliably support Democrats — tend to “fall off” during midterm elections. But it’s women’s approach to community, not just their numbers, that Fox is interested in tapping.

While on the stump, Fox encourages women to leverage the many social interactions they have over the course of the day— at work, their kids’ schools, the supermarket and the bank — to get out the vote for Udall. It’s an approach that bears no small resemblance to Jaime Gardner’s postings on Facebook, which draw on a personal — albeit electronic — touch in reaching out to neighbors, churchgoers and fellow parents with pro-Gardner messages.

“Through those connections, you will deliver this race,” Fox told the women voters who had come to hear what she had to say.

[Maggie Fox on the Red Boots Tour via Facebook.]

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