Democratic U.S. Senate candidates hold first debate in Durango

Former Colo., Gov., John Hickenlooper, was among 11 contenders for the Democratic primary runoff that were part of a forum on Saturday at the Durango Public Library. (Jerry McBride/Durango)  

John Hickenlooper won't attend an upcoming climate change forum in Colorado Springs, his campaign told Colorado Politics.

He will be the only Democratic candidate in the running for U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner's seat not to attend the forum, dubbed "Planet in Peril" and sponsored by a dozen environmental group and several progressive organizations.

Gardner, a Republican, won't be attending the nonpartisan event either, his campaign told Colorado Politics.

Two Unity Party candidates will be in attendance, as well as the other eight Democratic candidates running in the 2020 primary.

"Our goals are to raise awareness, determine which candidates will commit to serious action regarding the climate crisis and environmental justice, and to show that climate is an issue worth talking about," said Tania Van Pelt, an organizer of the event and a member of the steering committee of Indivisible Denver, an event sponsor, in a statement.

The forum is set for 4-7 p.m. Sunday at the ENT Center for the Arts on the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs campus, 5225 N. Nevada Ave.

A spokeswoman for the Hickenlooper campaign said the former two-term governor "believes climate change is both the biggest threat and the greatest opportunity of our time" but couldn't rearrange his schedule in order to participate.

"While a scheduling conflict, unfortunately, prevents him from attending next weekend's forum, he looks forward to talking with voters across the state about his plans to combat climate change by growing our clean energy economy and reinstating and expanding protections for clean air and water," Melissa Miller said in an emailed statement.

"We're disappointed in any candidate that couldn't make time and space in their schedule for the climate forum, especially since climate crisis is an issue that is important to the majority of voters in Colorado," Van Pelt said in a statement to Colorado Politics.

Gardner is scheduled to attend a three-day fundraiser in New York this weekend for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, where he will be a "special guest" along with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Donald Trump Jr. A campaign spokesman, however, said that Gardner won't be at the fundraiser on Sunday when the Colorado candidate forum is taking place.

The Sunrise Movement of Colorado, one of the forum sponsors, said in a tweet that it was disappointed Gardner wouldn't be there to discuss the topic. 

Gardner, the group tweeted, "is skipping a Colorado Senate debate on the climate crisis to raise money for a climate denier’s re-election campaign. [H]is priorities are painfully clear. He is going to keep working to line the pockets of fossil fuel executives at the expense of our future."

One of the Democrats who has been critical of Hickenlooper's record on climate policy tweeted that he was "disappointed" his primary rival didn't plan to make it to the forum.

"Voters want to know how we'll tackle the #ClimateCrisis now," wrote former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in a tweet. "We’ve laid out our plans, endorsed the #GreenNewDeal & signed the #NoFossilFuelMoney pledge. You can't dodge this debate — or frack your way to a clean-energy future."

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