Gard­ner faces an­gry as­sem­bly with coal mine not on its mind

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jesse Paul

U.S. Sen. Cory Gard­ner was shouted at and de­rided dur­ing a Du­rango town hall Fri­day af­ter­noon that was slated to cen­ter on the Gold King Mine but which fo­cused on any­thing but, as an un­ruly-at-times crowd pressed the Repub­li­can on health care.

“Why on earth did you vote for the Repub­li­can (health) care bill when the vast ma­jor­ity of your con­stituents op­posed it?” one man asked Gard­ner to cheers.

“Seven years ago, when I ran for Congress, I said that I would vote to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare, and I’m go­ing to con­tinue to live up to the prom­ise that I made,” Gard­ner said, be­ing yelled down. “The rea­son is: The Af­ford­able Care Act isn’t work­ing.”

Gard­ner has been chas­tised for months by lib­eral ac­tivists for fail­ing to hold an in-per­son town hall with his con­stituents, and his first such ap­pear­ance in more than a year was full of fire­works.

The first-term se­na­tor was joined by Democrats U.S. Sen. Michael Ben­net and Gov. John Hick­en­looper, as well as Repub­li­can U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez, who to­gether ear­lier in the day toured the Gold King site with En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency chief Scott Pruitt on the eve of the site’s mas­sive waste­water spill two years ago.

But not one ques­tion at the filled town hall was about Gold King, and Gard­ner — and at times Tipton — were the main fo­cus of ev­ery­one there.

“I take it there are a lot of Don­ald Trump sup­port­ers in the room here,” Gard­ner joked as one per­son in the au­di­ence booed and oth­ers jeered.

Dur­ing a tele­phone town hall Wed­nes­day night that drew about 6,000 peo­ple, Gard­ner also faced ques­tions about health care. Last week, he cast votes in fa­vor of ev­ery ma­jor Repub­li­can pro­posal to undo the Af­ford­able Care Act — also known as Oba­macare — from re­peal-and-re­place to re­peal-and-de­lay.

Fri­day’s group of politi­cians took ques­tions from peo­ple ran­domly picked from the crowd for about 45 min­utes be­fore the event broke. Gard­ner and Ben­net stayed more than an hour af­ter the sched­uled end of the event to con­tinue talk­ing with con­stituents side by side.

One man used his floor time to ask Gard­ner and Tipton when they would re­turn for a longer, in­di­vid­ual town hall with vot­ers. “This venue is en­tirely too small,” the man com­plained. “The amount of no­tice we were given was un­der 24 hours, and it’s in the mid­dle of the work­day.”

“It’s great to see you face to face!” Gard­ner said, laugh­ing. “We’re here to an­swer ques­tions,” adding that he didn’t have his sched­ule in front of him but that he would hold more con­stituent meet­ings.

Tipton said he has had other town halls in his dis­trict, which in­cludes Du­rango, and that he is work­ing through the 29 coun­ties his con­stituents live in.

“We will have one,” he said. “That’s a prom­ise.”

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