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Legislature

Senator gets chided by constituents at town hall

Cory Gardner caps off day of three town halls in Lakewood, his first in more than a year

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U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner's constituents had a lot of questions for him at his first Denver metro area town hall in more than a year on Aug. 14 at Colorado Christian University's event center in Lakewood.

But it was difficult for most to hear the Republican from Yuma over the boos and profanities he received over and over from the more than 300 attendees who filled the center.

"People of disparate party views can disagree and still work together," Gardner said at one point, following a particularly raucous response to one answer. "Our country will be stronger when we we'll be able to listen to people we disagree with."

The town hall in Lakewood was the final meeting in a series of three the senator held that day — the others were in Colorado Springs and Greeley.

The town halls followed months of the Cardboard Cory Gardner campaign, where constituents, frustrated by Gardners lack of face-to-face meetings with residents, made six cardboard cutouts of the senator and took them to impromptu town halls.

"It's amazing he's finally hosting a town hall, and I want to see what he has to say," said Denver resident Amanda Mininger, before the town hall started. "He represents us, and he should be able to speak to us in person."

Gardner faced questions and criticism from constituents on a variety of topics, ranging from relations with North Korea, Republicans' efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and his support of President Donald Trump.

One thing Gardner received unanimous support for was his condemnation of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who incited violence in Virginia on Aug. 12, leaving one person dead and 19 injured.

"There is no moral equivalency between the two sides," Gardner said at the beginning of the town hall, referencing the white supremacists and their counter protesters. "We have to fight racism and bigotry in our country. Any and all white supremacists should go back to their caves."

Several attendees received standing ovations for asking questions about Gardner not supporting hate groups, but supporting a president who does not explicitly condemn them and has White House officials like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who have been tied to white nationalist groups.

"I'm glad to see you giving real responses to questions, but how can you still support a president who puts people like that in power?" asked Denver resident Jonathan Rose.

In response, Gardner reiterated that hate groups are unacceptable, but said it wasn't his place to ask the president to remove members of his staff.

Many voiced concerns about cuts to Medicare and the price of insurance if the ACA were to be repealed. One attendee was even ejected from the town hall because he wouldn't stop screaming, "You're taking our health care" over other peoples' questions and Gardner's answers.

But a couple conservative constituents also chided Gardner for his health care approach from the other side.

"I know the majority of people in this room are here to say the ACA should continue, but I want to remind you of who put you in your seat," said one woman. "I want to know when you're going to repeal and replace?"

Gardner also heard from constituents who wanted to ensure he would protect the state and world's environmental health and sustainability.

"We have an incredible outdoor legacy, and I want to do right for my children," Gardner said. "I do believe the (Environmental Protection Agency) has overreached at times. We shouldn't be doing something if the cost outweighs the benefits."

By the end of the hour-and-a-half town hall, the audience allowed Gardner to speak more completely, even if they didn't like what they heard. And some issues weren't brought up at all, like education.

"I wanted to ask what he was going to do to protect our Title I students," said Angela Anderson, a Jeffco resident, referencing the many students who are on the free and reduced lunch program. "I also wanted to ask how we could work on educating our students about the damage that racism does to a society. So many don't understand racism exists in ways for all of us."

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