Inside Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner’s unannounced visit to CU-Boulder

The 30-minute visit with GOP students was a mix of policy and pushback

Sen. Cory Gardner visited the University of Colorado-Boulder on March 1, 2019. (Photo by John Herrick)

Last Friday, Sen. Cory Gardner made an unannounced visit to the University of Colorado-Boulder, where he went to law school. The Republican from Yuma, who rarely makes himself available to the public, was speaking to the campus student GOP group, which chose not to advertise the event. 

As he approached the designated classroom, Gardner was waylaid by a woman with a question. Would you support a resolution blocking the president’s emergency declaration to build his border wall, asked the woman, a Boulder resident named Katie Farnan, who is also a member of the progressive political organization Indivisible Front Range Resistance.

The senator, who has long supported President Donald Trump and has already endorsed him in the 2020 presidential race, walked past her without directly answering. His staff and an event organizer asked Farnan to wait in the hallway. “I’m his constituent, too,” she called after them.

Gardner walked to the front of the classroom. “Am I supposed to start?” he asked. So began his speech to about 20 people, most of them students, on the second floor of the Hellems Arts and Sciences Building.

Gardner is up for reelection in 2020 with several high-profile Democrats already in the race to unseat him, but this wasn’t a campaign stop, and the College Republicans at the CU Boulder group that invited him announced on its Facebook page only that a “special guest” would be appearing. While the gathering was public, no signs advertised the senator’s appearance outside the building or near the classroom. Gardner said he was already in town for meetings when the event was scheduled.

A club member, who asked not to be identified, later told the Daily Camera Gardner’s identity was withheld to prevent media, activists and protesters from showing up and to foster a respectful, non-contentious environment.

Senator Cory Gardner speaks at a state assembly at the Colorado Christian University where about 554 delegates were present on March 24, 2018. (Photo by John Herrick)

Early in his speech, Gardner touted his plans for workforce development, which he said will help employers find skilled workers and help students pay off tuition debt. While answering questions from the students, he mentioned his support for designating a former Japanese-American internment camp in southeastern Colorado, Camp Amache, part of the national park system. He said he will be introducing an investment tax credit bill for renewable energy battery storage to spur research and development. A student asked about his position on a resolution to block Trump’s emergency declaration. 

“We’re still looking into a lot,” Gardner replied. He added that he’s been talking to constitutional law and immigration experts on the matter.

As he was speaking, the resolution to block the declaration had already passed the Democratic-controlled House, and its passage in the GOP-controlled Senate hinged on just one more Republican vote. On Sunday, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky became that vote. It’s expected that both chambers lack the votes needed to override a presidential veto. The Senate is expected to vote on the resolution this month.

“I’d like to hear you say what it is that [President Trump] has done positively that outweighs the almost unanimous opinion in this country of the mistakes he’s made — ongoing mistakes?” Tim Weston, a CU-Boulder history professor who identified himself as an activist, asked Gardner.

“Do you think there is a unanimous opinion in this country?” Gardner replied.

Before Weston could fully answer, Gardner went on, “Do you think a majority of Americans oppose the president? Do you think almost half the country voted for the president?”

“I know they did,” the Weston replied. “But I think the poll numbers since you have been in office have been stuck in the mid-to-low 40s.”

“How much did Donald Trump lose Colorado by?” Gardner asked sharply.

“I don’t know,” Weston said.

“It was less than 5 percent,” Gardner said. “He did better than Mitt Romney or John McCain.”

“That’s not my question,” Weston went on. “How can you ignore the trashing of the media, the extreme upset he has created around racial issues, the lies …”

Talking over Weston’s questions, Gardner said, “I opposed Roy Moore’s election to the United States Senate. I spoke out against Charlottesville. I said we must call evil evil. And I also talked about where I disagree with the president. I make it very clear. I talked about it today with the U.S. agreement on North Korea. You know what? We have an economy that’s strong. We have people earning more wages. We have less regulation that’s allowing businesses to flourish. And I just disagree with you.”

“But I’m asking you …” Weston started.

“What do you teach?” Gardner interrupted.

“I teach Chinese history. I’m asking you about Donald Trump’s ongoing immorality as a human being and whether or not that is acceptable,” Weston said.

“I have made it clear, and I will continue to, that I am going to agree and disagree. Because I know that this approach that I’ve seen on the left is a move toward socialism.”

“No, it is not,” Weston said.

“It absolutely is. What is ‘Medicare for All?’ Is that socialism?” Gardner said.

“Medicare for all is …” Weston said.

“What about the Green New Deal?” Gardner interrupted. “Is that socialism? Why isn’t it?”

“Why isn’t it? Because …” Weston said.

“Getting paid for not going to work? That’s not socialism? Everybody gets a job?” Gardner said, cutting Weston off again, before pointing to the moderator and asking to move on.

Students looked around at each other, some shaking their heads and others smiling and holding back laughter as Gardner and the professor continued to go back and forth. Weston later told The Colorado Independent that he left feeling like Gardner dodged his questions, and at times acted like a “bulldog,” firing questions back in response.

“This is a man that holds a very small number of public forums,” Weston said. “This is an alum of CU-Boulder. He should come back to his alma mater and he should have public forums.”

As Weston and Gardner sparred, Farnan watched from the back of the room and then jumped in to repeat the question she asked in the hallway: How was Gardner going to vote on the resolution to block Trump’s emergency declaration?

“I’m talking to people at the Pentagon. I’m talking to people …”  Gardner replied.

“Is it an emergency?” Farnan interrupted.

“I think we have a crisis,” he said.

“What’s the crisis?” she asked.

“We have 12 million people who are in this country without documentation. We have a challenge in human trafficking and we have a challenge in narco-trafficking,” he said.  

“You represent me, Senator Gardner. What is your feeling about whether Trump has the right to take my taxpayer money to divert it to an emergency?” Farnan asked.

“That’s what we are looking into to to try to determine under the law,” Gardner said.

After about 30 minutes of conversation and debate, Gardner and several of the students gathered at the front of the room for a photo. The senator mingled for a few minutes as students migrated to a table at the back of the room to grab slices of pizza.

And then Gardner left, flanked by two staffers, dogged down the hallway by two women seeking answers to their questions. He declined to answer any questions from The Colorado Independent.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this coverage. As a voter, a constituent and a CU Boulder alum, I am disgusted by a public representative acting so combatively and appearring at an event that was not openly advertised in advance, ESPECIALLY since said elected official doesn’t readily make himself available to his electorate, Just a note: I sincerely hope he isn’t still in office in 3018 (see your photo caption).

  2. Gardner pulls these unannounced fly-by meetings/events quite a lot out of fear people might actually show up and ask him questions. His other bag of tricks includes cutting people off and asking them questions when they ask him a tough question, and claiming to carefully weigh the merits of legislation before voting the way Mitch McConnell tells him to. His best trick is right out running away when someone wants to ask him something, because he is just too busy for the unwashed. Cory Gardner absolutely sucks.

  3. As an alumni, I can’t abide.

    How incredibly unpopular did you have to be to sneak in and out of public appearances for fear of shaming.

    Maybe you should feel shame, Cory. That’s how morality works.

    • I won’t be lectured on morality by people who support infanticide You have no morals and this is wrong in any civilized society. Democrats are truly evil people.

      • Gary,
        I won’t be lectured on morality by people who support calling legal medical procedures “infanticide” because the voice in their head tells them abortion is murder.

    • Jay, are you two people? One male grad is an alumnus; a female grad is an alumna. Alumni is plural. Too bad an undergrad degree seems not to teach this anymore. I remember well the contempt with which I saw Diana DeGette treat her constituents with whom she disagrees. It cuts both ways… And hiding behind calling something a “legal medical procedure” means you have silenced your own conscience. A sad day indeed.

      • There you have it. You can inevitably put the modern Republican into one or more of just three buckets. Religious extremist, racist, or Rambo.

        Please keep your bronze age superstitions away from the Science. The tyranny of the minority will attack abortion forever, but it doesn’t mean the majority has to tolerate it.

        If you’re interested in living in a religious state, there’s always Israel or Saudi Arabia.

    • I ask, what’s the difference between “socialism”, wherein a government or bureaucracy controls a centrally-planned economy, versus crony-capitalism, wherein a few corporate Lord’s control a centrally-planned economy, and controlling the government in the process (and securing over $110 BILLION in annual taxpayer-funded, government-given subsidies in the process)?

  4. “Do you think almost half the country voted for the president?”

    Correction: Almost half the VOTERS voted for Mafia Don.
    Barely over 26% of total registered voters voted for either Trump or Clinton 2.0.

    Those not voting for one of two highly unpopular candidates makes a strong statement, especially when those non-voters reach the 47%-48% mark.

    Support by a small minority is no “win” for ANY democracy.

    It’s interesting that Clinton was portrayed as the supporter of globalism, Trump the “nationalist”, yet the global Elite are still thriving.

    Not quite sure where Gardner is pulling his stats to claim strong wages, which have remained highly stagnant (per the BLS)…except for the already wealthy elite.

    Interesting too that Clinton called for raising taxes, Trump called for lowering taxes, yet via tariffs, taxes have still ultimately risen (per the Fed).

    Regardless whether “Dem” or “GOP”, the same ultra-powerful & wealthy continue to gain ever-more power & wealth.
    Meanwhile the rest of us continue to lose out to highly under-reported inflation, as we continue to lose ever-more rights, freedoms & liberties.

    This are the constructs of the neo-feudal new American corporatocracy.
    Politicians only represent the Elite.

  5. Classical Conservatives John Trenchard & Thomas Gordon warned about pseudo-conservatives like Gardner in their Cato’s Letters.

    Too bad there was no one more eloquent than Weston to engage Gardner in challenging debate.
    Gardner’s a fool.
    Weston seemingly even more so.

  6. Jay, are you two people? One male grad is an alumnus; a female grad is an alumna. Alumni is plural. Too bad an undergrad degree seems not to teach this anymore. I remember well the contempt with which I saw Diana DeGette treat her constituents with whom she disagrees. It cuts both ways… And hiding behind calling something a “legal medical procedure” means you have silenced your own conscience. A sad day indeed.

  7. Sen. Gardner is a lightweight. He votes overwhelmingly for Trump’s priorities and can’t stand the heat from many of his constituents, This is why he has so few public forums. Seems like he has taken the same tactic as Rep. Coffman whose trademark was to leave early by a side door. We do know how that turned out for Coffman!

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