U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who has been criticized for his aversion to holding town halls, was ambushed Wednesday by a mariachi band at what was supposed to be a small, members-only meeting with the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort.

The serenade for the Yuma Republican didn't last long, however.

Three organizations - including two focusing on Latino issues - were behind the musical interruption. Tuesday night, they paid $250 to register as Chamber members and brought six members of a mariachi band from Mexico City to play a "love song" and demand Gardner hold a public forum, said Hilda Nucete, a program director of Denver-based Conservation Colorado.

"It was a gift," Nucete said, referring to the Spanish song "Where Are You, My Heart?" The song, she said, is about "when the guy really messes up and you're trying to get back the girl, so we're trying to get (Gardner) to fall in love with us again."

The band interrupted a question that was being asked by Hannah Parsons, the Chamber's chief economic development officer, who moderated the talk. The band stopped playing after a few seconds and Parsons told Nucete and others to defer questions to Gardner's staff.

Meanwhile, about two dozen people from the Colorado Action Network protested across the street from the resort, also demanding to speak with the senator.

Gardner participated in a members-only event with the Chamber called Coffee with Cory. Chamber spokeswoman Patrice Lehermeier said 50 people signed up to the hourlong event, affording them an opportunity to meet with the senator before he answered questions on various topics, including economic growth in Colorado Springs, transportation work along Interstate 25 on the city's north side and the cyber workforce.

Protesters said they were tired of Gardner ignoring their requests for a public forum and promised to continue disrupting his appearances until they get what they want.

In an interview, the senator noted that he has held several dozen town halls over the course of his time in office. He also said that he has met with protesters separately.

"We'll continue to do whatever we can to be in Colorado Springs, listening to people," Gardner said. "I know my staff have met with the same people out in front and if they weren't, I hope they can sit down and have an honest conversation with our office."

Gardner and other Republican lawmakers have been averse to holding town hall meetings at which advocates for immigrants and the Affordable Care Act have jeered them for supporting President Donald Trump's efforts to bar Muslims, deport foreigners living in the U.S. illegally and repeal the health care law known as Obamacare.

In February, Gardner held a 45-minute telephone town hall that drew about 10,000 people. He fielded a dozen questions before he departed for an event with President Trump at the White House, The Denver Post reported.

In a statement, Jessica Lawyer of CAN said no one from Colorado Springs was able to ask a question during the call.

"His Colorado Springs constituents are not being heard," Lawyer said, "and it's a slap in the face to come to our city and have a members-only coffee, again silencing the average constituent that doesn't have the money or the inclination to join the Chamber of Commerce."


Chhun Sun is a sports reporter with an emphasis in preps. He joined The Gazette in April 2015 and covered public safety for three years before joining @gazettepreps staff. The Thailand-born Cambodian-American has been in journalism for nearly two decades.

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