GOP “Leader” Senator Cory Gardner—He’s There for the NRA, Not Its Victims February 25, 2018
“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” “It’s the FBI’s and police departments’ fault”. “School shooting massacres are caused by mental illness.” “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.” “Arm teachers to fight back.” “It’s too early and too ‘political’ to talk about firearm/assault weapon regulation.” “Regulating firearms will lead to taking your guns away.” Heard this all before? After every horrendous shooting in schools, houses of worship, workplaces, and entertainment venues, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and their GOP enablers recycle the same set of falsehoods and nothing changes. To use the words from Donald’s inaugural address, the “American carnage” caused by these weapons continues.
After the 2/14/2018 killings of 17 students and teachers at Parkland, FL’s Marjory Stoneman High School, survivors of that massacre vowed that, “We are going to be the last mass shooting.” In a 2/18/2018 CNN interview, Stoneman High student David Hogg appeared with fellow students Emma Gonzales and Cameron Kasky to push for reforming gun laws. In Hogg’s words, “We’ve sat around too long being inactive in our political climate, and as a result, children have died. If our elected officials are not willing to stand up and say, ‘I’m not going to continue to take money from the NRA because children are dying,’ they shouldn’t be in office and they won’t be in office because this is a midterm year and this is the change that we need (CNN, 2/18/18, McLaughlin & Chavez).” Kasky stated that he and his classmates wanted to stigmatize politicians who take campaign contributions from the NRA. Kasky stated, “This is about us creating a badge of shame for any politicians who are accepting money from the NRA and using us as collateral (CNN, McLaughlin & Chavez).” Stoneman High students took their message on the road. On 2/20/2018, several of them traveled by bus to FL’s capital, Tallahassee. They planned to call on the legislators to ban assault rifles, the weapon used in the Stoneman High massacre and in several others. On the bus, 16- year old Daniel Bishop said, “This shooting is different from the other ones. Sandy Hook, they were elementary school kids who couldn’t stand up for themselves; Virginia Tech was 2007, a different time. But this one, I have, I just have a gut feeling—something is going to change (NY Times, 2/20/18).”
So far, “gut feelings” notwithstanding, nothing has really changed. On 2/20/2018, while several tearful and angry Stoneman High survivors watched from the gallery, the GOP-controlled FL House of Representatives blocked debate on a bill to prohibit assault weapons by a 71-36 vote. However, this “Red”-dominated body found the time to declare pornography, not assault weapons, “a health risk (Mosbergen, huffingtonpost.com, 2/21/18, Chapman, shareblue.com).” Stoneman student Emma Gonzales reacted with fury. She tweeted, “How could they do that to us? Are you kidding me??? #Never Again We are not forgetting this come Midterm Elections—the Anger I feel right now is indescribable @Emma4Change, 2:28PM, Feb 20, 2018. FL GOPers are not the only ones marching in lockstep with the NRA because of their campaign contributions and endorsements. Our federal GOP House and Senate are also “bought and paid” for NRA lackeys. One of the NRA’s top allies is Senator Cory Gardner. The NRA has ponied up at least $3,879, 064 for him. Gardner is one of the NRA’s Top Ten Senators (Kos, Einenkel, 2/14/18). Who is this Cory Gardner?
Freshman GOP Senator Cory Gardner (43) is currently CO’s junior Senator. Yuma, CO native Gardner worked on his family farm’s implement dealership. At the University of CO Law School, he joined the conservative Federalist Society. After receiving his 2001 law degree, Gardner became the communications director for the National Corn Growers Association. In 2002, he became an aide to conservative CO GOP Sen. Wayne Allard. In 2005, Gardner was appointed to fill a vacancy in the CO House. He won a full term in 2006, and ran unopposed in 2008 (CQ & Barone Political Almanacs 14, ourcampaigns.com). In the 2010 Tea Party year, Gardner handily defeated Democratic rookie Betsy Markey in the CO 4th Congressional District (CD). The strong GOP 4th CD includes CO’s Eastern Plains that border KS, NE, and OK. Wealthy/conservative Douglas County also rests in the 4th (Barone & CQ 14).
In the House, Gardner faithfully followed GOP leadership. He voted with his hard-right party 93% of the time both in the 112th and 113th Congresses (Wash. Post, U.S. Cong. Votes Database). Gardner was a close friend of then House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) and joined him on the 2012 vice-presidential campaign trail. Gardner repeatedly voted for repealing Obamacare (Barone 14, Huffington Post, Seay, 3/03/14). Gardner favored the GOP 10/2013 government shut down and was against raising the debt ceiling. He encouraged talk that Obama was not a U.S. citizen, loony “birther” drivel (Col. Indep. 2/27/14). Gardner had a Tea Party voting record. Hard right anti-regulatory Koch Industries directly gave Gardner $10,000 in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles in addition to the $300,000-450,000 its additional committees and lobbyists delivered for him (OpenSecrets.org, DCCC, gardnerpath.com). Environmentalists labeled Cong. Gardner “the most anti-environmental congressman in Colorado history (Barone 14).”
House GOP leadership trusted Gardner, rewarding him as a freshman with the Energy and Commerce Committee assignment. Republicans saw the ever-smiling Gardner as “youthful and tactful,” a fellow they needed to “tweek their ‘branding (CQ14, See Col Independent, Tomasic, 3/05/14).’”
Although he had initially declined to run against freshman Dem. Senator Mark Udall in 2014, GOP leadership finally convinced Gardner to run and cleared the primary field for him (Wash. Post, Cillizza, 2/28/14, NY Times, Peters, 2/26/14). Sen. Mark Udall quickly became one of the “most endangered” Dem. Senators because of Gardner’s affable personality. The Koch Brothers poured at least $970,000 into ads for Gardner and directly gave him $10,000 (Scripps Media & AP 3/18/14, OpenSecrets.org).
The Human Rights Campaign gave Cong. Gardner a Zero grade on gay rights issues (Col. Indep., 2/27/14). Gardner was strongly anti-choice from the start of his political career. He supported repeated failed attempts in CO to pass a so-called personhood constitutional amendment to grant fertilized eggs legal recognition, outlaw abortion in all cases, and threaten fertility research and treatment (Col. Indep.,Tomasic , 2/27& 3/05/14). When the personhood issue again came before Coloradans in 2014, Gardner, now needing the votes of women and independents, “suddenly” changed his mind, read, “flip-flopped.” When Sen. Udall attacked him for his election conversion, GOPers and writers on the Denver Post vulgarly labeled Udall “Mark Uterus.” The Denver Post endorsed reactionary Gardner. They wrongly called him good on energy issues and no threat to abortion and gay rights. Turnout among women and Hispanics was low in 2014 CO and Gardner edged out Udall by a 2% margin (See U.S. Senate election Colorado, 2014).
In the Senate, Gardner has continued to amass a hard- right record. The conservative Chamber of Commerce gave him a 92% rating and the Americans for Prosperity Koch front group gave him a 100% score. Sen. “I care about women’s rights” Gardner received a Zero score from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. On gay issues, the Human Rights Campaign gave Gardner an “improved” 16% rating (govtrack.us). As in the House, Sen. Gardner is a “Red” up-and-comer. He was part of the group of 13 Sen. GOPers that worked to repeal Obamacare and voted for every repeal Obamacare version that came before that chamber. Gardner warned GOPers that failure to pass a repeal Obamacare bill would lead to a backlash by big GOP donors and the grassroots. He voted for Donald’s top 1% tax cut (fivethirtyeight.com, Bash et al CNN, 5/09/17, Parlapiano, et al, NY Times, 7/25/17, Hulse, NY Times, 9/22/17). Gardner is pro-fracking and supports construction of the Keystone Pipeline. He stated he believes climate change is occurring, but is unsure if humans are causing it (See “Politico,” Restuccia, Broder, NY Times, 3/09/11). Although the Centennial State voted for Hillary by a 4.9 percentage margin and Donald’s CO approval record hovers in the mid-thirties, Sen. Gardner has voted with Trump 92.4% of the time (fivethirtyeight.com, westward.com, Bianchi, 1/12/18)). The Sen. GOP leadership, however, thinks highly of Gardner. Since 2017, Gardner has been chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which recruits and helps finance “Red” Senate candidates. He is sixth in the Senate GOP leadership.
As previously noted, the NRA has lavished Sen. Gardner with at least $3,879, 064 in campaign contributions (NY Times, Leonhardt et al, 1/04/17, Kos, 2/14/18). It has not been disappointed in their “investment.” When Gardner ran for the Senate, the NRA gave him an “A” rating for being the “only candidate in the race who will support the rights of Colorado’s law-abiding gun owners and sportsmen(nrapvf.org).” In 2016, Gardner voted against an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) which sought to ban gun sales to anyone known or suspected of being a terrorist. He opposed an amendment making it necessary for background checks to take place for guns bought at gun shows and online (cpr.org). After the 2017 Las Vegas Strip massacre, Gardner requested that this shooting not be “politicized” and offered thoughts and prayers to the victims, (Time, Jenkins, Chryssafis, 10/03/17, “WESTERNSlOPENOW”), straight out of the NRA’s playbook. In response to the Parkland, FL high school shooting, Sen. Gardner called for having a “discussion over improving mental health care and getting help for people with substance abuse.” Gardner also wanted to “understand” why authorities in Parkland did not follow up on possible warnings about the shooter, another NRA talking point. However, Gardner did not mention more regulation of assault type firearms. Ian Silverii, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado aptly noted, “Instead of listening to the survivors of Columbine (CO), Aurora (CO), and other preventable tragedies, Gardner only pays attention to the gun lobby and his campaign funders (denverpost.com, Matthews, 2/16/18).”
Don’t count on Gardner’s “commander,” Demagogue Donald, despite his recent talk about some gun control, doing anything major. Donald, as seen in his tweets, is more sympathetic to the NRA than to gun victims and survivors. Remember, he ran in 2016 with the NRA’s strong backing. Donald suggests arming teachers, an utterly insane NRA proposal. He needs a card to tell him how to show compassion to victims’ families (See NY Times, Hirschfeld Davis, 2/21/18, CNN Vasquez, 2/22/18, Parsons, LA Times, 2/21/18).
Retired FL GOP Cong. David Jolly said it all. In his words, “Republicans will never do anything on gun control and if voters want to address gun violence, then we must flip the House.” To counter NRA voters who always show up at the polls, Democrats must vote in droves in 2018 to take back the House, Senate, governorships, and state legislatures. There are more of us than them. We must also vote in droves in 2020 to defeat Donald, Sen. Gardner, and all his friends. We must vote in EVERY election for gun control candidates and progressive legislators. It’s great that high school students are now fighting for gun control, but this battle will be a long one. These students and all of us must hang in there.