Brita Horn Forgets the “First Rule of Holes”

Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn, sans shovel

We’ve talked before in this space about the importance in politics — and really, life — of knowing the “First Rule of Holes.” If you are not familiar with this rule, it is very simple: When you find yourself in a hole, STOP DIGGING.

Brita Horn is the Routt County Treasurer and one of a gazillion Republicans seeking the office of State Treasurer in 2018. Earlier this month, Horn made the wrong kind of headlines after a mistake in her office meant that millions of dollars of property tax revenue were not distributed to local government programs on a timely basis. As the Steamboat Pilot reported on Aug. 1, Horn did not respond particularly well to this problem:

…she declined Tuesday to explain how the mistake occurred other than to make references to a software vendor and a personnel issue she said she couldn’t discuss in public.

She vowed the mistake wouldn’t happen again.

“I don’t call it an issue, I call it a concern,” Horn said of the incomplete payments. [Pols emphasis] “Routt County has some of the most amazing people that work for the citizens, and we’re finding these people are humans and make mistakes. I definitely take responsibility for the staff, and I’m ensuring it’s not going to happen again.”

Unfortunately for Horn, this “issue” “concern” is back in the news again. As the Steamboat Pilot reported on Wednesday, hell hath no fury like a former employee scorned:

The employee who Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn claims made a $5.8 million error that deprived local taxing entities of millions of dollars worth of their revenue for more than two months is speaking out and contesting her recent dismissal from the county.

Rani Gilbert, who was fired from the treasurer’s office in July for reasons unrelated to the property tax error, said she thinks Horn is wrongly blaming her for the mistake.

“I just want the people of my community to understand she has convicted me of something I did not do,” Gilbert said. “I’ve gone way out of my way to do the very best I can for Routt County.”

Gilbert also revealed this week she had her attorney send a letter to the county commissioners less than two weeks prior to her dismissal alleging Horn and her chief deputy treasurer Patrick Karschner engaged in unethical and possibly illegal behavior this summer.

Gilbert’s complaint against her supervisors specifically alleged she had evidence that Karschner had been working on Horn’s campaign for state treasurer during business hours in May in violation of county policies. Horn and Karschner denied that claim Wednesday. They also said they were not aware of the complaint prior to commencing pre-dismissal proceedings against Gilbert.

This isn’t earth-shattering stuff by any means, but in a GOP Primary with multiple candidates and no obvious frontrunner, these are the sort of stories that can sink a campaign. When Republican voters are having a hard time picking a favorite among similar candidates, stories like this give them a reason to narrow the field.

Local Group First to Test New Signature Gathering Rules

According to a press release from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, we have a guinea pig for new signature-gathering rules for ballot measures:

Backers of a measure that would limit housing growth in Colorado might be the first to test a new provision that requires anyone trying to amend Colorado’s constitution to collect a percentage of voter signatures from each of the state’s 35 Senate districts.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office this week approved the petition format for proposed Initiative 4, which allows its backers, Daniel Hayes of Golden and Julianne Page of Wheat Ridge, to begin collecting signatures to try to get the measure on the 2018 ballot. They have until Nov. 30 to collect 98,492 valid voter signatures, including at least 2 percent from each Senate district based on current voter registration figures.

The provision requiring the collection of signatures in each Senate district was approved by voters in 2016 to make it more difficult to amend Colorado’s frequently amended Constitution. Amendment 71 or “Raise the Bar,” as it was called, is being challenged in court by Hayes, another individual and two health organizations. They claim it is unconstitutional on several fronts.

Prior to Amendment 71, signatures were required to be collected from each of seven congressional districts.

Beware the Big-Number Boogeyman

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Colorado’s total state budget is $29 billion. That’s right; billion with a “B.” That’s a big number. It’s bigger this year than it was two years ago.

All too often, Colorado’s most extreme conservatives use these oversimplified statements as if they are some kind of thunderclap in the raging debate over our state’s finances. It’s a particular line of attack I call the “Big-Number Boogeyman” argument.

The Big-Number Boogeyman’s tactic is cynical, yet effective. He throws around big numbers most of us can’t relate to and points out how the budget keeps growing. He is quick to dismiss those advocating for more public investment as hopelessly greedy liberals who can’t prioritize.

Last week, the Colorado Springs Gazette took a page out of the Big-Number Boogeyman’s handbook.

In an editorial, it erroneously depicted a shrinking K-12 budget as a direct consequence of the state’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage for those with incomes at 133 percent of the federal poverty line ($16,000/year).

To make its argument, the Gazette relied on the wrong facts. Instead of looking at the $11 billion general fund, it used Colorado’s $29 billion total state budget (all funds).

(If you’re starting to think like the Boogeyman and his followers, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Wow, $11 billion is a big number.” Before I lose you, divide that $11 billion by our population. It accounts to a mere $2,000 for every man, woman, and child.)

Remove the Big-Number Boogeyman bias and here’s what’s left: It may seem like Medicaid’s share of the budget is exploding, but that’s because Medicaid expansion is funded by a federal government match. When you look at the general fund — the true measure of where our tax dollars are going — you see percentages for Medicaid have remained virtually unchanged over the last five years.

Based on its incorrect theory, the Gazette then declared a solution to the problem (one it created by using out-of-context numbers): If we want higher paid teachers, kick people off Medicaid. Fiscal crisis solved!

The Big-Number Boogeyman and his henchmen went wild.

“$29 billion and we can’t find money for roads and schools?”
“We just need to prioritize better!”
“The budget grows bigger every year. How much more do you want?”

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Gloves Come Off as Republican Infighting Escalates

UPDATE: Don’t forget that Sen. Mitch McConnell will be in Colorado next week (August 17) for a fundraiser hosted by Sen. Cory Gardner.

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Sen. Cory Gardner (left) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (Associated Press)

In case you somehow missed it, Congressional Republicans spent most of 2017 in a fruitless quest to repeal and (maybe) replace Obamacare. Despite seven years of campaign promises to destroy the Affordable Care Act and the Congressional majority to theoretically make it happen, the GOP couldn’t come up with a reasonable piece of legislation that could even make it onto the Senate floor for a debate.

While some Republicans are still pretending that they might eventually repeal Obamacare, most are spending the long August recess trying to avoid the subject altogether. Instead of talking about healthcare changes with constituents, Republicans such as Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) are desperately trying to figure out how to explain some pretty awful votes. When Congress returns to work after Labor Day, healthcare won’t likely be a focus of their attention; as Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch colorfully explained, Republicans “shot their wad” on healthcare.

Republicans may indeed move on to other legislative priorities without accomplishing anything on Obamacare, but the political wounds from the first half of this year may not heal anytime soon. Right-wing radio host Sean Hannity is calling for the head of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:

As the Huffington Post explains, red-on-red anger is on the rise:

While moderate Republicans like Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) are receiving warm adulation from constituents for opposing a bill that would have repealed Obamacare, other GOP lawmakers are facing attacks from their right flank over their handling of the health care debate.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) drew a primary challenge this week from businessman Danny Tarkanian, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, who blasted the senator for failing to support Trump during last year’s presidential campaign and for “obstructing” his agenda in Washington, D.C…..

…The inability to repeal Obamacare has also roiled the race for an Alabama Senate seat made vacant by Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General earlier this year.

Ousted Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who is running in the Republican primary, released a television ad on Tuesday defending himself against attacks made by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his allies in Washington, D.C.

“They lied about repealing Obamacare. Now Mitch McConnell’s D.C slime machine is spending millions spreading lies about Roy Moore,” the narrator in the ad said.

Frustration over the failure to repeal Obamacare isn’t just limited to Republican Primary fights. Dark clouds are bubbling over in the White House New Jersey as well:

Trump’s comments were in response to this statement from McConnell.

It was just about a year ago that Sen. Gardner was publicly campaigning to be the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) for 2018. If he could get his hands on a time machine, we’d guess that Gardner would happily take a do-over on that decision. Come to think of it, Gardner would probably prefer to just erase 2017 altogether.

“Punching Hippies?” More Like “Barbarians At The Gate”

Sen. Michael Bennet, former President Barack Obama.

The Denver Post has a story up today that is worth reading, despite a headline that some of our more aggressively liberal Democrats might find a bit incendiary–“At town hall that focused on health care, [Sen.] Michael Bennet says single-payer system isn’t best option.”

In a dialogue this week largely focused on defeating efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet dismissed another system elsewhere along the ideological spectrum: government-sponsored, or single-payer, health care.

Bennet, speaking Monday night at a town hall in Greeley, said the existing system should be the focus.

“I think we should have a discussion about how to expand Medicare, so that more people can be part of it or maybe be able to buy it and how to do the same with Medicaid.”

Bennet emphasized that his Democratic colleagues frequently debate a single-payer health care system, but that he was “in the early days of this, myself”. The senator also said he hoped the topic “won’t turn into a litmus test” for Democratic candidates.

Creating an option for individuals regardless of their income or age to buy into government-managed health insurance programs would restore one of the central objectives of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, one lost in the vain attempt to win Republican support for the bill: a “public option” that would regulate the cost of private insurance by forcing it to compete with a nonprofit model. There are good arguments for Democrats adopting a “Medicare for all” platform as part of a broader counterattack on health care leading into the 2018 elections–in addition to this being a way to build on the Affordable Care Act’s success in expanding coverage instead of trying to tear the existing law down.

At the same time, there is a significant percentage of voters on the left who have much more expansive designs for health care reform than reviving a public option, to include a single-payer model like the one proposed in Colorado last year via Amendment 69. This pressure comes despite the fact that Amendment 69 failed by nearly 80% of the vote.

There are a number of reasons why Amendment 69 failed as badly as it did, and not all of them have to do with a lack of support for single-payer health care in the abstract. Many Colorado Democrats who support going beyond the scope of Obamacare to address access to care in America still couldn’t support Amendment 69, believing that a nationwide solution was the only viable path forward–as other states who started down this road themselves discovered. There were also specific problems with the proposal as written that hadn’t been accounted for, costing it support from would-be allies. When you combine soft support on the left with the total wall of opposition from conservatives to anything that can be remotely considered “government health care,” Amendment 69’s fate was sealed. So much so, in fact, that it was more useful to Republicans as a wedge to drive within the Democratic coalition than as a rallying point for Democratic candidates in 2016.

And it has to be said: a radical change to health care like moving the entire nation to a single-payer system is politically no more viable a prospect today than it was in Colorado last year. Where the broader adoption of something Americans know and trust like Medicare could attract enough support to pass–especially after a big Democratic win in 2018–there remains a far too vast ideological chasm between the right and left to achieve more than that right now. Progressives face a years-long task of unwinding pervasive conservative messaging on this and so many other issues. They faced the same challenge in 2010, too, and the total blockade of Democratic policy priorities by Republicans since the passage of the Affordable Care Act raises legitimate questions about whether the highly compromised Affordable Care Act was worth the collateral damage. The combined objectives of policy gains and legislative majorities, in a nation that is as deeply divided as ours, makes this a far more difficult question than impatient ideologues want to admit.

The political reality of this is tough medicine for a left newly emboldened in opposition to President Trump, but it’s critical that Democrats understand the limits of their own political capital. In 2004, Colorado Democrats retook majorities in the state legislature not by proposing far-reaching “Hail Mary” progressive policy goals. They won by pledging to be more competent with the government the voters already knew.

That’s where it has to start today, too.

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (August 9)

Members of Congress are holding fewer town hall meetings in August than they have in recent years — try to contain your surprise. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► The war of words between the United States and North Korea reached a new level on Tuesday after President Trump promised to unleash “fire and fury” on the reclusive country if it continues to threaten the U.S. with nuclear weapons. Trump’s strong rhetoric is raising concerns in Asia, and as the New York Times reports, Trump’s bombastic (pun intended) statements caught his own staff off guard:

President Trump delivered his “fire and fury” threat to North Korea on Tuesday with arms folded, jaw set and eyes flitting on what appeared to be a single page of talking points set before him on the conference table at his New Jersey golf resort.

The piece of paper, as it turned out, was a fact sheet on the opioid crisis he had come to talk about, and his ominous warning to Pyongyang was entirely improvised, according to several people with direct knowledge of what unfolded. In discussions with advisers beforehand, he had not run the specific language by them. [Pols emphasis]

The inflammatory words quickly escalated the confrontation with North Korea to a new, alarming level and were followed shortly by a new threat from North Korea to obliterate an American air base on Guam. In the hours since, the president’s advisers have sought to calm the situation, with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson assuring Americans that they “should sleep at night” without worrying about an imminent war.

Yes, you read that correctly. President Trump improvised threatening North Korea. If we end up in a military conflict with North Korea, maybe Trump can go do the fighting himself, too.

Hopefully, North Korea is listening more closely to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

 

Luis Toro of Colorado Ethics Watch calls for more transparency in campaign fundraising in light of a Denver Post story that Treasurer Walker Stapleton is using a big loophole in the law to raise unlimited amounts of money for his upcoming campaign for governor. The editorial board of the Denver Post is also not thrilled with Stapleton’s loophole maneuvering:

While his move can be viewed as an understandable and inevitable outgrowth of the reality of how tangled campaign finance laws corrupt our politics, we wish the treasurer had set a better example and not led us down this path — for others surely will follow.

As The Denver Post’s Mark K. Matthews reported, the Republican plans to appear at a high-dollar fundraiser on Aug. 21 on behalf of BetterColoradoNow, an independent expenditure committee that seeks to cause trouble for Democratic candidates. Stapleton is doing so even though he hasn’t made his candidacy official. His coyness allows him to avoid rules that prohibit cooperation between such committees and candidates.

We argue that Stapleton’s planned workaround violates the spirit of the law and the clear expectation of Colorado voters, who have consistently sought to set strict limits on political fundraising. Such dodges add to the reasons voters feel down in their bones that the system is falling apart.

 

► Big news from the Washington Post regarding Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign:

FBI agents raided the Alexandria home of President Trump’s former campaign chairman late last month, using a search warrant to seize documents and other materials, according to people familiar with the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Federal agents appeared at Paul Manafort’s home without advance warning in the predawn hours of July 26, the day after he met voluntarily with the staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The search warrant was wide-ranging and FBI agents working with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III departed the home with various records. Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, confirmed that agents executed a warrant at one of the political consultant’s homes and that Manafort cooperated with the search.

As “The Fix” concludes, there are few phrases scarier than “predawn raid” when it comes to the topic of a federal investigation.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Durango officials pressed Gardner and others to allocate more time for questions at skinny town hall

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Sen. Cory Gardner (R).

Last week’s skinny town hall, with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and other Colorado lawmakers, was originally scheduled to last 45 minutes, with about 10 minutes going to each of four lawmakers, followed by a question-and-answer period lasting maybe five minutes.

That plan was scrapped not at the request of Gardner or the other politicians, but at the insistence of the event’s moderators and local officials who were unhappy with the time allocation and decided to push for a longer question period, according to one of the moderators.

“We just committed all of them to three minutes each instead of ten, so that left more time,” La Plata County Commissioner, and co-moderator of the event, Brad Blake told the Colorado Times Recorder today. “We asked them, ‘Well how about if you guys just do three minutes instead of 10. We’ll hold you to that, and there will be more time.’ And that’s what happened.”

Blake said the decision to push for more time came from him, Durango Mayor Dick White, a co-moderator, and a county official.

“We talked to them and their handlers about, ‘Hey, we’d really like to get some more question-and-answer time in,'” said Blake. “People don’t want to hear a ten-minute opening from everyone. They wanted more discussion.”

As it was, the question time was limited to 30 minutes (total, for four lawmakers present) during the formal portion of the event, and Gardner and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) stayed for additional questions.

Also at the skinny town hall were U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

 

Trump Escalates Rhetoric on North Korea

President Donald Trump

As the New York Times (and every other publication on earth) is reporting:

President Trump threatened on Tuesday to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea if it endangers the United States as tensions with the isolated nuclear-armed state grow into perhaps the most serious foreign policy challenge yet in his young administration.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

The president’s comments came as North Korea earlier in the day escalated its criticism of the United States, as well as its neighboring allies, by warning that it will mobilize all its resources to take “physical action” in retaliation against the latest round of United Nations sanctions.

The statement, carried by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, was the strongest indication yet that the country could conduct another nuclear or missile test, as it had often done in response to past United Nations sanctions. Until now, the North’s response to the latest sanctions had been limited to strident yet vague warnings, such as threatening retaliation “thousands of times over.”

May cooler heads prevail.

Gardner Approval At Career-Ending Lows

A clear indicator of the growing peril faced by Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner following the failure of the GOP-dominated federal government to repeal the Affordable Care Act has been a swift decline in Gardner’s in-state approval rating as measured in consecutive polls. Back in March, Gardner recorded a lackluster 39% approval in a poll done by Keating Research. By early July, Public Policy Polling found Gardner at a dismal 27% approval. And here are the latest PPP numbers one month later:

The last two surveys from PPP have shown President Donald Trump’s approval in Colorado holding steady at 40%. But since July’s poll, Sen. Cory Gardner has slipped a further three points to only a 24% approval rating among Colorado voters. Like we said last month, the huge spread between Trump’s approval and Gardner’s–not to mention how far underwater Gardner is in these surveys–is evidence that Gardner has lost support from liberal and conservative Colorado voters alike. Evident in these numbers is the failure of Gardner’s attempts to appease both sides in the debate over health care, railing against Obamacare out of one side of his mouth while making empty promises to protect popular features of the law out of the other.

Even during tough political times, most politicians find a floor in their support; usually at or near the overall percentage of partisan and like-minded independent voters. If these numbers are accurate, Gardner has fallen right through that floor into the abyss of having no friends on either side of the aisle. That can only happen when one’s perceived dishonesty overtakes any difference of opinion about a given issue among the voters.

That’s where Gardner finds himself today. It doesn’t matter what he says, because no one trusts him.

And we don’t even know how you begin fixing that.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (August 8)

Worried that people don’t like you? Your approval ratings can’t be worse than those of Cory Gardner. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► President Trump is a model of consistency when it comes to low approval ratings. As CNN explains:

Six months into his presidency, Donald Trump’s overall approval rating stands at its lowest point in CNN polling, while three-quarters of Americans say they can’t trust most of what they hear from the White House.

Overall, 38% say they approve of Trump’s handling of the presidency, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, with 56% saying they disapprove. Just one other newly-elected president has held an approval rating below 50% at this point in his presidency since modern polling began: Bill Clinton, whose approval rating stood at 44% at this point in 1993.

Enthusiasm breaks against Trump by a 2-to-1 margin. Nearly half in the new poll say they strongly disapprove of Trump’s handling of the job (47%), while just a quarter say they feel strongly positive about Trump’s performance (24%).

Trump has been President for 200 days already? Covfefe!

 

► Here in Colorado, new poll results show that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) remains less popular than President Trump. Gardner’s approval/disapproval split is 24/56, compared to 40/53 for Trump.

Back in March, Gardner’s approval ratings were at a miserable 39%. At the rate he’s going, Gardner’s approval ratings will be in the single digits by Christmas.

 

► An in-depth Climate Change study compiled by a slew of federal agencies tells a story that President Trump may not want to hear. From the New York Times:

The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.

The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited…

…The report was completed this year and is a special science section of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft report, and the authors are awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it.

One government scientist who worked on the report, Katharine Hayhoe, a professor of political science at Texas Tech University, called the conclusions among “the most comprehensive climate science reports” to be published. Another scientist involved in the process, who spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity, said he and others were concerned that it would be suppressed.

Each one of 13 federal agencies — including the EPA — is supposed to “approve” the report for distribution by August 18. Scientists are worried that the Trump administration will dismiss this report entirely.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Gardner Gets Charges Dropped Against Protesters Without Disabilities

Embed from Getty Images

FOX 31:

A judge on Tuesday morning dismissed charges against five protesters who were accused of trespassing in Sen. Cory Gardner’s Denver office…

Gardner requested the charges be dropped and the Denver District Attorney’s Office followed through with the request at a hearing Tuesday morning.

The protesters occupied Gardner’s office at 1125 17th St. and said they wouldn’t leave until they got to talk with the senator about health care.

There appears to be some confusion in news reports about who exactly this group of protesters was. The five protesters whose charges were dropped today are not from the disability-rights group ADAPT, who staged a two-day occupation of Gardner’s Denver offices in June. These are protesters from the group Democratic Socialists of America, who staged a much briefer sit-in in Gardner’s office before successfully speaking with him on the phone. As of this writing, it’s our understanding that the charges against the ADAPT activists have not been dropped. And remember, these were charges requested by Gardner’s staff:

The last remaining disability advocate who was jailed following a more than 48-hour sit-in inside Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s office was released early Saturday, and the Denver Sheriff’s Department said in a statement that officials within Gardner’s office were the ones who filed trespassing charges against the protesters. [Pols emphasis]

It appears that Gardner asked for the charges to be dismissed against the DSA protesters in part because of a subpoena issued to Gardner personally to testify in that case. If that’s right, it would mean Gardner is taking this action to shield himself from scrutiny, not to show benevolence to the protesters. That’s particularly true if, as it appears, that Gardner asked for the charges to be dropped against protesters without disabilities while not doing the same for the ADAPT disability-right protesters who staged a much higher-profile occupation.

We’ll be watching to see how this story resolves, but stories of a magnanimous Cory Gardner appear to be premature at best.

Tuesday Open Thread

“To take revenge halfheartedly is to court disaster; either condemn or crown your hatred.”

–Pierre Corneille

Bennet Swings Into August Town Halls While Gardner Hides

Sen. Cory Gardner (R).

FOX 31 reports:

Democratic Senator Michael Bennet is slated to hold two town hall meetings in Colorado this week, one Monday afternoon and the second on Tuesday.

According to Bennet’s office, the first town hall will be held in Greeley and is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. and last about an hour. Doors open to the public at 5:00 p.m…

Bennet’s town hall on Tuesday will be held at Northeastern Junior College, Hays Student Center, Tennant Art Gallery in Sterling.

That meeting will begin at 5:00 p.m. and also last an hour. Doors open to the public at 4:30 p.m.

Sen. Michael Bennet wasted no time setting up the first of a number of town hall meetings running throughout the August congressional recess. And he’s not alone: we expect to see the whole delegation out engaging with constituents this month, with even former town hall holdouts like Rep. Mike Coffman having discovered that taking your lumps in front of a hostile crowd is better for you than hiding from your constituents or relying on stilted meeting formats designed to impede public access.

The one exception to this rule is Sen. Cory Gardner, who has done tremendous damage to his public image by steadfastly refusing to hold public events even after that refusal became an extreme liability. Last Friday during Gardner’s pummeling by a last-minute crowd in Durango, he made vague promises to hold a town hall at some point in the future–but it’s an honest question how much it would even help him now. During the debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act that dominated the first seven months of the year, Gardner became a poster child for inaccessibility to constituents. From being chased around the state by protesters to Gardner’s ill-advised visit with Filipino strongman Rodrigo Duterte while constituents waited, it’s hard to imagine how Gardner could have done more to alienate Coloradans who wanted to talk to him. And at this point, with Gardner’s approval rating parked below 30%, the damage may be done.

One problem we could see plainly in Gardner’s responses to questions during Friday’s impromptu event was a surprising lack of preparation. When drilled repeatedly to explain why he voted for health care legislation that broke his former promises to protect Medicaid and jacked up premiums, Gardner reverted to bizarre repetitions of his prior promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act–and that only made the crowd more upset. It’s true that Gardner didn’t have a lot of time to study up for this event, and the time for questions expanded only after public outcry. But if what we saw Friday is Gardner’s best performance under fire, it’s a lot easier to understand why he’s so averse to holding public events.

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Maybe Sen. Gardner just isn’t as good at this as everyone thought.

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