We can’t say we were surprised that Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner declined to meet with the Sentinel’s editorial board because it’s part of a pattern.

Gardner has achieved a level of notoriety over his proclivity to dodge his constituents. The New York Times took note of the trend with a Jan. 19 story, “Where is Cory Gardner?”

It makes sense, perhaps, that Gardner was reluctant to meet with The Denver Post, which famously took back its endorsement of his 2014 bid for the Senate. But the Western Slope is GOP-friendly territory and we were willing to reserve judgment on Gardner’s first term in the Senate until we had given him a chance to defend his positions.

We’ve endorsed both Gardner and former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in the past and looked forward to comparing and contrasting their positions.

But Gardner’s unwillingness to answer tough questions leaves us empty and disturbed. If he manages to retain his Senate seat having studiously avoided newspapers and townhall meetings across the Western Slope, what incentive does he have to answer directly to the people ever again?

Contrast his behavior with that of Colorado’s other U.S.senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, who regularly meets with the Sentinel unsolicited to discuss what he is focusing on in Washington, D.C.

Gardner’s performance in debates and his campaign materials haven’t helped us much either, as his primary focus during this campaign has been on attacking Hickenlooper rather than outlining his priorities and his agenda.

Hickenlooper, on the other hand, was generous with his time, spending more than an hour with the editorial board and taking any and all questions thrown his way, including ethics violations which have become the focus of Gardner’s attack ads.

They were inadvertent reporting errors, Hickenlooper said. He took responsibility for them and paid his fine. We would go a step further and characterize the ethics investigation as a contrivance meant to lay the groundwork for the attack ads.

Hickenlooper is the same affable politician who was a frequent visitor to the Western Slope when he was governor. Now he’s ready to brandish his relentless optimism inside the Beltway to become a “bridge builder” for progress on health care and a shift toward cleaner energy.

But not from an extremist position.

“I’m the guy who stood in front of Democrats and said, ‘We’re not going to have socialized medicine and ban fracking,” he said, referring to his appearance before the California Democratic Party convention when he was campaigning for president. He was roundly booed.

Hickenlooper may not be radical enough for Californians, but his pragmatic problem-solving has worked well for Colorado.

As he described his qualifications to be a change agent in Washington, D.C., he harkened back to the numerous compromises he was able to broker as a two-term governor and Denver’s mayor.

He brought the oil and gas industry and environmental groups to the table to hash out the nation’s first methane-capture regulations. He got suburban mayors, the majority of whom were Republicans and conservative independents, to back “the most ambitious transit initiative in modern American history,” he said.

“It’s not an impossible thing” to tackle big problems, he said. “You just have to listen harder.”

“I’ve never persuaded anyone yet in my life to change their mind about something that matters by telling them why they’re wrong and I’m right,” he said. “That’s not going to change anybody’s mind.”

Hickenlooper, who established the first craft brewery in the state, pointed out that he’s not a career politician. “I had 20 years as a small businessperson so I know what problem-solving is. I know the importance of optimism and persistence and mobilizing people around you. They’re the same skills we need in the Senate — someone to bring people of different sides together.”

He doesn’t support a single-payer health-care system like Medicare for All, but he does believe in universal coverage. A public option — “some amalgamation of Medicare and Medicaid” — could help achieve that, but it would have to compete fairly with insurance companies. “It will grow if government is good at doing its job,” he said — and help bring down costs through competition.

We would have liked to ask Gardner about his vision for health care, especially since he’s voted often to repeal the Affordable Care Act. We would have also asked about his role in relocating the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction or securing passage of the Great American Great Outdoors Act. But if he won’t answer our questions or explain why he’s refused to call out the worst of President Donald Trump’s behavior, then he forfeits acknowledgment of any legislative wins.

Should Gardner win a second term, we hope that he’d heed this criticism and make himself more available in his next term.

Recommended for you