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Gardner and Hickenlooper face off in Pueblo debate

Ryan Severance
rseverance@chieftain.com
The Pueblo Chieftain

For the first time before the Nov. 3 election, incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and former Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper went toe-to-toe in a debate Friday night, as each candidate put forth their best case to represent Colorado in the United States Senate.

Gardner characterized Hickenlooper as someone who thinks it’s all about him and his own self-interests and not the people of Colorado, while Hickenlooper said change is needed in Washington and that nothing is going to change if new people aren’t sent there.

The debate was different than a typical debate in a typical year not marred by a global pandemic, as the candidates distanced themselves seated on the stage at Pueblo Community College’s Center for New Media studios with no audience present. They verbally sparred with each other for about an hour during the proceeding, which was hosted by The Pueblo Chieftain, sponsored by AARP, and moderated by Editor Steve Henson.

The debate, which was live-streamed and will be replayed on public access channels, provided voters their first chance to see Gardner and Hickenlooper discuss their positions and ideas among themselves and how they differ from each other on policies.

The two men discussed a number of important topics, including ethics, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.

The candidates were asked about the ads Gardner’s campaign has been running on television in reference to Hickenlooper’s violation of Colorado gifts rules in 2018 when he accepted a ride in a Maserati limousine at a conference in Italy and traveled on a private jet owned by a home builder to Connecticut for the commissioning of the USS Colorado submarine. A state ethics commission found him in violation in June.

“Several years back, John Hickenlooper apparently forgot he worked for the people of Colorado. That’s why he took private jet trip after private jet trip in violation of our state constitution,” Gardner said. “And he didn’t show up at his own ethics trial.”

Hickenlooper called the violations two minor reporting errors that were inadvertent.

“The Denver Post referred to them as honest mistakes, relatively minor,” Hickenlooper said. “These attacks against me are really because this Republican dark money can’t defend Cory Gardner’s record and they’re going to spend, as we’ve seen, tens of millions of dollar in constant attacks.”

The two discussed healthcare issues as well, as Hickenlooper noted it’s the topic the candidates probably disagree most on.

Hickenlooper said Gardner has voted 13 times to try to defund or otherwise limit the Affordable Care Act with no alternative plan in place, and that he has voted nine times to eliminate protections for the 2.4 million Coloradans who have pre-existing conditions.

Gardner said there are two things Republicans and Democrats agree on when it comes to healthcare, and that is having and maintaining coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and wanting to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Gardner said he recently introduced a bill that would indeed require coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions, which Hickenlooper called a “cruel lie.” Gardner repeatedly encouraged Hickenlooper to read the bill.

Gardner said he does not want government-run healthcare, but rather a patient-centered system.

“We will work to drive down the cost of healthcare and increase the quality of healthcare,” Gardner said.

As for the current U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, Gardner said he supports filling the seat while Hickenlooper said he believes the American people deserve a voice and that the selection shouldn’t be rushed through.

When discussing the COVID-19 pandemic, Gardner said there are three things that must be done: addressing the pandemic itself and flattening the curve, taking care of individuals, and making sure businesses can keep people hired. Gardner noted his support of the federal CARES Act that provided funding to states.

Hickenlooper questioned why the state, and country, still do not have adequate testing capacity and protective equipment even though the virus first came to the U.S. more than nine months ago.

Hickenlooper also said the state needs to make sure schools and businesses can stay open safely as a vaccine is awaited, and that when that vaccine arrives it should be distributed carefully and fairly without any bias toward political purposes.

Gardner spent time touting legislation he has passed, saying he passed more legislation into law over the past six years than the entire Colorado delegation combined.

One of the pieces of legislation Gardner touted the most was the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, which fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at a level of $900 million every year and addresses the approximately $20 billion maintenance backlog on federal public lands.

And Hickenlooper touted his economic work as governor, saying Colorado went from 40th in job creation in the country to No. 1 during his tenure.

The two candidates are scheduled to face off in more debates in the coming week.

Chieftain reporter Ryan Severance can be reached by email at ryans@chieftain.com or on Twitter @RyanSevvy. Help support local journalism by subscribing to the Chieftain at chieftain.com/subscribenow

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper debates Sen. Cory Gardner on the campus of Pueblo Community College.