U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner made an appearance during the recent Douglas County Fair and Rodeo — sort of.
On the fair’s closing day on Aug. 6, Castle Rock became the latest of many pit stops made by a cardboard cutout version of the senator.
“Cardboard Cory” has been making its way across the state through a movement in which critics of the senator take cardboard cutouts of him to public events. Then, they encourage people to ask the cutouts questions they would pose if speaking to Gardner face to face.
The tour aims to “starkly highlight his (Gardner) absence during August recess month,” according to the movement’s website, gardnertownhall.com, and his “reputation for avoiding the public.”
Gardner, however, in an Aug. 11 written statement, maintained he connects with constituents regularly.
“Every chance I get, I’m in Colorado meeting with Coloradans in the community, at their workplace, or at events like a county fair that I went to with my family earlier this week,” he said.
But members of Indivisible Douglas County CD4 brought “Cardboard Cory” to Castle Rock on Aug. 6 to protest what they called alack of outreach. The organization is a local chapter of the nationwide Indivisible group, which formed in protest of President Donald Trump’s policy agendas.
The Douglas County Indivisibles carried their “Cardboard Cory” around the county fairgrounds for more than two hours, gathering video of local residents asking it questions. Videos are posted on the Indivisible CD4 Twitter page.
Why get involved
“The point is that Sen. Gardner needs to at least give the appearance of paying attention to his constituents,” said Jeffrey Brothers of Castle Rock, who along with Jeanette Schwecke and Sue Zloth,are among the organizers of the Cardboard Cory tour’s Douglas County appearance.
Schwecke, a 17-year Castle Rock resident, said she participated Aug. 6 partially out of curiosity.
“I jumped at the chance just because I wanted to see what the local impression would be of having Cardboard Cory out there,” she said.
Castle Pines residentZloth, who leads Indivisible Douglas County CD4, said she and the others have been disappointed with the senator’s availability to constituents.
“His lack of interaction with us, the fact that he won’t have a town hall, he won’t sit down with us, he won’t listen to his constituents,” Zloth said. “The whole point is as a senator it is his job, his duty, to interact with his constituents and he’s not doing it. It’s very frustrating.”
All members said they regularly reach out to the senator’s office. They’ve requested meetings, sent emails, faxes and made calls. Members of Indivisible also met with staff in Gardner’s office earlier this year, but aside from that, they said theyhave not been able to meet with the senator.
Issues important to Brothers, Schwecke and Zloth span from health care to immigration to education.
As of Aug. 6, their hope was for Gardner’s office to schedule a town hall in or near the Denver metro, so they could ask him those questions in-person. Their chance may have arrived: On Aug. 11, Gardner’s office announced three new town hall dates — one in Colorado Springs, another in Greeley and a third in Lakewood — all scheduled for Aug. 15.
A ‘debunked idea’
But the Cardboard Cory tour has critics of its own.
Owen Loftus, who’s worked in Republican politics in Colorado for 10 years, including stints as a communications director with the state party and the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, called the Cardboard Cory tour a political stunt.
He questioned where the movement’s funding is coming from and the motives of those sources. He also doesn’t buy into the claim that Gardner is ignoring constituents.
“They’re upset that they’re not getting their way. They want Cory Gardner to have a town hall on their terms just so they can shout him down,” Loftus said of activists involved with the tour. “They’re not interested in having an adult dialogue.”
Loftus commended Gardner’s office for using more than town halls to reach constituents, naming telephone town halls and social media as examples.
“Thanks to technology he’s able to reach more people,” Loftus said. “And he takes tough questions.”
Jeff Wasden, a 20-year Highlands Ranch resident, said he has met with the senator or his staff as president of the Colorado Business Roundtable. He, too, disputes the idea that Gardner isn’t listening — or available — to constituents.
“I completely discount the premise that Cory is not accessible and is not listening,” he said. “I’ve benefited from those outreach opportunities with him in D.C. and in Colorado. I know that they answer their phones and that they’re listening and they’re meeting with people.”
Meeting with constituents
The scheduling of the Aug. 15 town halls — which come on the heels of an Aug. 4 town hall in Durango attended by Gardner, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper — earned some points with the Indivisibles.
“I think the fact that he met with Bennet and Hickenlooper is great. I thought it was a great bipartisan image,” Brothers said of the Durango town hall. “What I would like to see him do is take a leadership role on the bipartisan issue, on the bipartisan structure, because he’s in a split state.”
Gardner said in his written reactions to the “Cardboard Cory” tour that he hopes constituents continue to contact his office.
“If there is anyone that believes we can help them with issues ranging from Social Security and the VA to immigration and the IRS,” he said, “we are here to help.”