A mis­han­dling by Gard­ner on dis­abled protest

The Denver Post - - OPINION - He­len H. Richard­son, The Post

U.S. Sen. Cory Gard­ner should have left protesters in his of­fice Thurs­day un­til he got into town that night — re­gard­less of the time his air­plane’s wheels touched down — and met with them to dis­cuss their fears that Repub­li­can cuts to Med­i­caid would also cut off life-sup­port­ing ser­vices.

In­stead, the first-term Repub­li­can’s staff had the dis­abled protesters ar­rested and phys­i­cally re­moved from his down­town Den­ver of­fice Thurs­day night as he was headed into town for the con­gres­sional break.

The ar­rests were hard to watch. We are ashamed. This is a man who we have stood up for when he didn’t hold town hall meet­ings. We’ve given him the ben­e­fit of the doubt that he would fight for a bet­ter ver­sion of the Repub­li­can re­peal of Oba­macare, us­ing his vote as lever­age for a more mod­er­ate bill.

Our dis­ap­point­ment is tem­pered only by as­sur­ances that for two days Gard­ner’s lo­cal staff mem­bers slept in the of­fice with protesters — a move that al­lowed the protesters to stay and en­sured they would have ac­cess to bath­rooms and other care. Gard­ner’s staffers were fac­ing pres­sure from the build­ing own­ers and other ten­ants. Gard­ner’s down­town of­fice lobby space is small, and nine overnight protesters in­con­ve­nienced oth­ers in the build­ing. Gard­ner met with mem­bers of ADAPT — a Colorado-born group fight­ing for dis­abil­ity rights — once this year. His staff mem­bers have met or held phone calls with ADAPT mem­bers an­other 15 times in the last year.

We don’t con­done the be­hav­ior of the protesters. There’s a more ef­fec­tive way to get things done, even in pol­i­tics to­day, than break­ing laws and get­ting ar­rested.

That said, we agree with the mes­sage of the protest.

The Repub­li­can bill has been silent — by de­sign — on how $772 bil­lion would im­pact Med­i­caid pa­tients over the next 10 years. The dis­abled com­mu­nity has valid rea­son to fear. As Den­ver Post re­porters Danika Wor­thing­ton and Mark Matthews re­ported, the dis­abled make up 7 per­cent of Med­i­caid par­tic­i­pants in Colorado but ac­count for 27 per­cent of the pro­gram’s costs. Repub­li­cans in Congress are try­ing to cut Med­i­caid fund­ing without re­form or spec­i­fi­ca­tion of what should be cut. “Let states fig­ure it out” has been the mantra.

No doubt, Gard­ner faced a tough sit­u­a­tion, and its com­pli­ca­tions were mul­ti­plied, his spokesman, Alex Si­cil­iano tells us, by the fact the sen­a­tor’s plane back to Den­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port was di­verted and didn’t land un­til around mid­night.

But surely a sen­a­tor fac­ing such a scene back in Den­ver could have de­manded that he be al­lowed to meet with the protesters and try to defuse the sit­u­a­tion.

The GOP cre­ated the un­cer­tainty for vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions that in part drove ADAPT protests across the coun­try to step up their op­po­si­tion. In Rochester, N.Y., 25 peo­ple were ar­rested. Gard­ner shares in that re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The sen­a­tor should have been a leader and tried to use his skills as a politi­cian to con­vince ADAPT that their con­cerns were valid and had been heard, but that now it was time to leave for health and safety rea­sons. After that, po­lice in­ter­ven­tion could have been war­ranted. The mem­bers of The Den­ver Post’s edi­to­rial board are Wil­liam Dean Sin­gle­ton, chair­man; Mac Tully, CEO and pub­lisher; Chuck Plun­kett, edi­tor of the edi­to­rial pages; Me­gan Schrader, edi­to­rial writer; and Co­hen Peart, opin­ion edi­tor.

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