The state of our union is depressing, more than usual.
Political passion has moved way too far on the wrong side of reasonable, and it’s no way to run a government. I’m concerned we can’t turn back the dial. If there’s a template, however, Colorado’s senators, Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner, might provide it.
Ideologically they could not be more different, but those disagreements haven’t gotten in the way of their collaboration on bills they think benefit Colorado, at least not so far.
Right now, for example, they’re working to convince the Trump administration that Grand Junction is the best place to put the national headquarters for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his second-in-command, David Bernhardt, a native son of Rifle, told me in separate chats that the Gardner-Bennet partnership gives Colorado an edge over competing efforts to lure BLM.
Bennet and Gardner have worked together to try to reinstitute a path to legal status for some undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Gardner and Bennet were on the same team working in vain to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and to pass the Restore Our Parks Act.
Gardner is a moving target for Democrats, neither apart from or totally with the unpopular president.
He supported investigating after a Boulder woman, Debbie Ramirez, came forward to say then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was sexually inappropriate, including exposing himself, when they were college students at Yale. Ultimately, Gardner voted to confirm the nominee whom Democrats despised.
Before the final vote, Gardner’s wife, Jaime, received an anonymous text with a video showing a person being beheaded.
“What I’ve seen is this movement from political disagreements to almost castigation of people and ideas,” Gardner told me in a call after that. “It’s moved from political opposition to outright hatred.”
He wouldn’t engage in which side is more to blame. He laments, however, that politics has become so mean-spirited.
“If somebody didn’t like a bill I sponsored or something I said, I don’t look at them as evil,” Gardner said. “I might look at them as wrong.”
It took several days to connect with Bennet to talk about civility in politics.
It was the same week former Obama Attorney General (and potential presidential candidate) Eric Holder said, “When they go low, we kick them.” It was a play on what Michelle Obama said at the Democratic National Convention two years ago: “When they go low, we go high.” She was saying Democrats were better than the pettiness of their enemies. Holder said they aren’t.
“Civility is important but insufficient,” Bennet eventually said in a statement provided by his staff. “What is required is for elected officials to respect their constituents by not degrading the institutions we need to govern our country.”
The next morning, Bennet called me back and we talked about the issues over which he and Gardner have been willing to compromise, because they were good for the state, and how that contrasted with the mood in Washington.
“We have a good working relationship,” Bennet said. “And we need to have a lot more consistent bipartisanship in Congress.”
Bennet has always seemed to be a man above politics, who seeks a compromise and wisdom over partisanship. We will see if that’s a true picture. Gardner’s re-election campaign begins Nov. 7, the morning after this year’s vote.
If the blue wave materializes this year, especially in Colorado, Democrats will look to pick up a Senate seat in a purple state in 2020. That means taking down Gardner by any means possible.
In 2016, when Bennet ran for re-election, he and Gardner co-sponsored legislation to return millions of dollars in royalties from mineral leases to local governments in northwest Colorado, the Anvil Points settlement. They also worked together to spur cleanups at abandoned mine sites, another score for Bennet in a part of the state where most Democrats dare to tread.
But who we believe Bennet to be and his loyalties will be tested. I’ve been saying it for a while: Don’t be surprised if Gov. John Hickenlooper is tapped to win back the seat Gardner won from Mark Udall in 2014.
Bennet was a former federal government lawyer who came to Colorado and became a business negotiator. Hickenlooper, then Denver’s mayor, made Bennet his chief of staff. From there, Bennet became superintendent of Denver Public Schools, before he was picked in 2009 to fill the Senate seat left open after Ken Salazar joined Barack Obama’s Cabinet.
Bennet has to know he and Hickenlooper in the Senate would be a Democratic dream team for the Centennial State.
A couple of days after, Holder sought to clarify his thoughts on kicking on — where else — Twitter.
“I’m saying Republicans are undermining our democracy and Democrats need to be tough, proud and stand up for the values we believe in — the end,” he tweeted.
Holder tacitly spoke to the national mood of Democrats, a mood that will be pressed upon Bennet’s strength of character.