Where Senate candidates Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper stand on Colorado issues

Cory Gardner vs John Hickenlooper on Colorado issues: Where the U.S. Senate candidates stand


Cory Gardner


Cory Gardner

U.S. senator



Background: The economy went into a recession in February as the coronavirus began to spread and led to lockdowns across the country. In Colorado, more than 500,000 people have filed for unemployment and the state is facing billions in lost revenue.


Sees need for targeted federal relief

A: Gardner supported a federal economic relief bill to provide targeted help to small businesses and schools. He supports extending the $600 extra payment for those on unemployment but he was satisfied with the lower $300 level recently put in place. He wants to extend the Paycheck Protection Program to help more businesses and provide additional money if needed.


Background: The U.S. House in May approved a $3 billion package designed to stimulate the economy amid the coronavirus and help people make ends meet. Republicans opposed the legislation, dubbed the HEROES Act, and the Senate has not acted on it.


Supports pared-down stimulus package

A: He supports additional aid and backed Republican-led legislation for a “skinny” stimulus package that Democrats rejected as short-sighted. Gardner supported an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, more money to help school districts reopen, and $300 extra in unemployment insurance but opposed additional money for elections and other proposals for additional stimulus checks.


Background: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that President Donald Trump signed into law in December 2017 reduced the individual tax rate for most taxpayers and nearly doubled the standard deduction. In addition, it repealed or dialed back certain other deductions and removed the penalty for not obtaining health insurance. It also reduced the corporate income tax and pass-through business tax rates. The $1.5 trillion package but did not spur the economy as expected.


Touts the Trump tax cuts

A: Gardner celebrates the Trump tax cuts for helping boost Colorado’s economy, though some analysts doubt the extent of its impact. Most people received a tax break but the largest cuts went to the wealthiest and corporations. Colorado’s budget also benefited from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act because the bill removed existing deductions and tax breaks, generating millions in new tax revenue for the state.


Background: Rural Colorado continues to face shortages of critical professions like doctors and teachers. A stunning 98% of new jobs in the past decade have been created along the urban Front Range, leaving wide swaths of the state behind. Recent federal assistance has come in the form of a farm bailout and tax incentives, but produced mixed results.


Wants to remove regulations

A: Gardner in 2016 introduced a bill that he said would ease the burden of what he said was economy-killing overregulation on rural communities and offer tax credits to incentivize development and investment in rural America. “The cranes in Denver present a stark contrast to the storefronts on Main Street in rural towns throughout Colorado,” Gardner said at the time. “Growing up on the Eastern Plains in Yuma, I know firsthand the challenges small communities face when it comes to not only attracting new businesses and investment, but also retaining residents.”


Background: President Donald Trump received bipartisan congressional approval for a rework of NAFTA -- now known as the USMCA, or United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The deal includes new protections for auto manufacturing and labor and the environment, and it relaxes market restrictions on dairy products to encourage trade. It came as a welcome relief to many Colorado farmers and manufacturers. But the Trump administration’s tariffs have created strained relations around the globe in recent years.


He splits from Trump on tariffs

A: Gardner supported the USMCA because he said it would help Colorado's agriculture industry. But when it comes to tariffs, he splits from Trump. He was vocal in his opposition to Mexico trade tariffs and the trade war with China.


Background: The topic of paid family leave became a dominant conversation at the state Capitol for the past two years, but Democratic leaders recently abandoned their attempt to create a program. Instead, the idea’s supporters are pursuing a ballot measure in November. In the meantime, state lawmakers developed legislation to provide paid sick time to workers.


He’s worried about impact on businesses

A: Gardner said at a debate he is skeptical and still “trying to figure out the impact on businesses and small businesses in particular.”




What is the top challenge for teachers in Colorado and what can you do at the federal level to address it?

Background: Colorado ranks near the bottom in terms of teacher pay and per-student funding and the current state budget crisis is only making the situation worse. Colorado lawmakers will underfund education by $1 billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, compared to the constitutional requirement for classroom spending.


He wants Washington to step back

A: Gardner’s campaign platform does not include much about education. On his U.S. Senate website he talks about “reducing the federal role in education and returning authority” to the local level.


Background: Student debt is emerging as a bigger problem in Colorado than other states. About 734,000 Colorado borrowers are paying off student loans, totaling $26 billion, a 2019 study found. The amount of student loan debt increased 176% in a 10-year span that ended in 2017.


Supports tax break to encourage loan repayment

A: Gardner introduced legislation that would allow employers to make up to $10,000 a year in tax-free contributions to their workers’ student debt payments, an effort the Colorado Republican says he hopes will spur more job growth and retirement savings.


Background: The use of hydraulic fracturing technology allows energy companies to drill miles-long horizontal wells and extract oil and gas deposits by fracturing shale rock. In Colorado, fracking has led to a boom in the energy industry in Colorado, which counts $30 billion in economic impact and tens of thousands of jobs. However, the proliferation of wells and their location near Front Range communities is generating conflict.


He’s a major industry supporter

A: Gardner is a supporter of the oil and gas industry, and the industry has supported his campaigns in return. He doesn’t believe additional regulations are needed. In addition, he supported an effort to roll back a regulation to limit methane emissions from drilling sites on federal land. The critics of the rule, which was put in place by President Barack Obama, suggested it amounted to federal overreach. As for the state-level methane limits, he accepts the state has its own regulations and believes each state should set the bar themselves.


Background: The political conversation about climate change is significant in Colorado, where the Democratic-led legislature is making significant policy shifts with support from Gov. Jared Polis. In Colorado, just 23% of the state’s power is generated from wind, solar and hydroelectric power, with the rest coming from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Any policy moves would affect the energy industry that employs more than 30,000 workers in the state, among oil, gas and coal.


He supports wind and solar energy but opposes reductions in fossil fuels

A: Gardner touts an all-of-the-above approach to energy policy and supports efforts to boost wind and solar industries in Colorado. But his campaign website says he rejected the premise that addressing climate change means shutting down power plants that rely on coal and other fossil fuels. He touts his Great American Outdoors Act , because it addresses biodiversity and climate change by not allowing development of certain public lands. He also fought for increases in federal funding for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.


Background: The Green New Deal is a resolution authored by progressive members of Congress to tackle climate change and further economic equity. Unveiled in 2019, the resolution is short on details and not actual legislation, but it lays out broad goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to help put people to work on renewable energy technologies.


He opposes the Green New Deal

A: In 2019, he opposed a measure to advance the proposals outlined in the Green New Deal even as he acknowledged that human activity is contributing to climate change. He says such a plan would decimate the fossil fuel industry and cost thousands of jobs.


Background: Coloradans this year will choose whether to direct the state to develop a plan to reintroduce wolves into the state in 2023 under Proposition 114. The idea is that connecting wolf populations in the Northern Rockies with packs in the south will enable recovery of a species that was nearly hunted to extinction in the early 1900s.


Opposed for many reasons

A: The recent discovery of a wolf pack in northwestern Colorado means state-led reintroduction is not necessary, Gardner says. He also is concerned about the livelihood of ranchers and hunters who would be impacted by wolves.


Background: The topic of gun regulations is prominent in Colorado, dating back to the Columbine High School shooting and more recently the attack on the Aurora theater. The state instituted universal background checks and lawmakers recently approved “red flag” legislation to try to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental health issues.


He does not

A: Gardner has called himself a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights and not backed any restrictions. Instead, he is focused on providing more access to mental health services and sponsored legislation to create a crisis line.


Background: The Electoral College picks U.S. presidents by awarding electors to the candidate who wins each state, rather than the one who wins the most votes nationwide. Colorado has been at the forefront of the debate in recent years about potential changes, and home to the “faithless elector” movement in 2016, a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. A controversial 2019 bill to join a national popular-vote movement that faces a repeal vote in November.


Opposes the national popular vote

A: Gardner in 2019 wrote an op-ed in the Denver Post that said the 2019 bill passed by the state legislature is “an affront to the very institutions of our democratic republic. This bill guts Colorado’s independent voice and will have a profound negative impact on Colorado’s influence going forward.” Gardner’s leadership PAC, Project West PAC, donated $50,000 to a group opposing the national popular vote.


Background: The rules in the U.S. Senate necessitate 60 votes to pass legislation, rather than a majority vote of the 100-person chamber. If Democrats retake the chamber, some in the party want to abolish the rules to require a supermajority vote. The current Republican majority now uses a simple majority to approve Supreme Court nominations.


It’s unknown

A: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in 2015 appointed Gardner to a task force that would evaluate ways to reform filibuster rules. But it’s unclear where Gardner stood then, or now, on the issue.



Supreme Court vacancy

Should the U.S. Senate confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court before the November election, and do you support adding members to the court?

Background: President Donald Trump’s move to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court is emerging as a cornerstone issue. And it’s generating renewed interest in increasing the number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. It comes as Republicans in the U.S. Senate have used their majority to appoint conservatives to the federal court system.


Said he’d vote for a qualified nominee

A: In March 2016, when President Barack Obama nominated a Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, Gardner said the next president should fill the vacancy: “Our next election is too soon and the stakes are too high; the American people deserve a role in this process as the next Supreme Court Justice will influence the direction of this country for years to come.”
But this year, before Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for the court, Gardner said in a statement, “When a President exercises constitutional authority to nominate a judge for the Supreme Court vacancy, the Senate must decide how to best fulfill its constitutional duty of advice and consent.” Gardner said he would vote for a “qualified nominee.”
Gardner has called court packing as an element of what he said was a radical, left-wing agenda.


Background: The U.S. Senate voted down two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump in January, a decision that split Colorado’s two senators along party lines.


Voted to acquit

A: Gardner voted to acquit Trump of all charges in the impeachment trial. Gardner also multiple times voted against permitting witnesses in the Senate trial.


Background: Colorado lawmakers are asking voters to repeal the property tax-constraining Gallagher Amendment. The constitutional measure has saved Colorado homeowners an estimated $35 billion in residential property taxes since voters adopted it in 1982, easing the financial blow of the state’s rising cost of living. But the drop in property tax revenue also has set off a cascade of problems for the public sector, squeezing local budgets in rural areas that can least afford it, while shifting more costs to a state government that has financial challenges of its own.


He stands in opposition, calling it a tax hike

A: Gardner said he doesn’t agree with Amendment B to repeal the Gallagher Amendment because it would void a forthcoming property tax break for homeowners.


Background: COVID-19 continues to seriously impact Colorado. More than 70,000 Coloradans have tested positive for COVID-19 or are considered positive due to symptoms presented, and more than 2,000 have died. Now the prospect of a vaccine is on the horizon but the state is still struggling to respond.


Working to get more federal help and supports vaccine

A: Gardner says his priorities are reducing the spread of the virus, getting the economy restarted and providing needed supplies and tests to front line workers. At an October debate he said he supports a bill that would increase funding for vaccine development, unemployment relief, childcare support. At a later debate, he would trust a vaccine: “I will take the vaccine. We need to get it distributed.” He said he hoped the government would be able to distribute a vaccine in under a year.


Background: The issue of health care is one of the strongest dividing lines in the race as the two candidates debate the merits of the Affordable Care Act. In Colorado, about 94% have health insurance coverage, a recent survey found, but the number of people who are uninsured is rising at the national level. The reason is mostly the cost of insurance. At the state level, a bill to create a public option died in the legislature in 2020 and a government single-payer failed at the ballot in 2016.


Opposes Affordable Care Act but wants to protect people with pre-existing conditions

A: Gardner opposes the Affordable Care Act. He also objects to the creation of a public option or expansion of Medicaid to cover everyone because all represent government intervention and he worries lower federal reimbursement rates for health care would hurt rural hospitals.
He has not outlined his own health care plan as a replacement for the ACA, but wants a plan that expands telemedicine and lowers prescription drug costs. He supports protections for those with pre-existing conditions but a bill he introduced would not offer the same level of current protections and it would still allow insurance companies to deny coverage to people.


Background: Colorado is one of seven states with no restrictions on abortion. A ballot measure on the 2020 ballot asks voters whether they support a ban on abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy expect if the woman’s life is threatened.


He supported a more restrictive limitation on abortion

A: Gardner supports the ballot measures, saying he is “pro-life.” He also supportd a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, a more restrictive measure.


Background: The Democratic-led General Assembly in Colorado approved legislation in 2019 that would make the state one of the nation’s first to import prescription drugs from other countries. The Polis administration is delaying implementation amid the budget crunch, but the measure requires federal approval. President Donald Trump supports drug importation, but the next presidential administration could play a role.


Voted against drug importation

A: Gardner has introduced legislation to help lower drug prices. But in 2017 Gardner, along with Democratic colleague Michael Bennet, voted against a budget amendment that expressed support importing drugs from Canada. Twelve Republicans voted for the amendment.
Gardner says he has introduced legislation to lower drug prices by making it easier for generic drugs to reach the market more quickly. He also introduced a bill that would create a database of prescription drug prices in order to increase transparency.


Background: Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, the first of 11 states. Medical marijuana legalization has spread to 33 states. But the drug is illegal under federal law, creating barriers for the industry.


Supports legalization

A: At the October 9 debate, he said he supports federal legalization of marijuana. In addition, Gardner is a sponsor of a bill that would permit states to choose their own marijuana policies without federal influence. If the bill becomes law, states could legalize marijuna without worrying about federal intervention.


Background: One major consequence of the federal-state split on marijuana legalization is the difficulty of banking. The U.S. House passed the SAFE Banking Act in 2019 to allow marijuana businesses access to financial services like loans, lines of credit and even bank accounts. These financial services are currently difficult to obtain because the drug is illegal at the federal level. The measure won bipartisan support, but has stalled in the U.S. Senate.


He’s a sponsor of the measure

A: Gardner is a lead Senate sponsor of the bipartisan measure and believes marijuana businesses should have access to banking, but he hasn’t been able to get it through the Senate. He said the legislation “gets Washington out of the way and gives them the access they need to do business and pay taxes.” He is also a sponsor of the bipartisan STATES Act to keep the federal government from interfering with marijuana businesses in states where it's legalized.




A popular spot

A: Gardner said his favorite place in the state is Medano Creek at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Mosca.


Background: Colorado likes to think of itself as the “state of craft beer.” It’s also home to two large brewers, MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, and about 400 small independent breweries. The Beer Institute, a trade association for the global beer companies, forecasts the direct economic impact at $5.3 billion and suggests the industry contributes to a broader $13.6 billion in commerce. The Boulder-based Brewers Association estimates craft brewers alone contribute $3.3 billion to the state’s economy.


A hometown favorite

A: Gardner held a light-colored beer in a campaign commercial -- in part to mock his rival. “I just like beer,” Gardner declared while holding a beer in a campaign ad that draws attention to Hickenlooper’s previous comments about not wanting to run for Senate. “Count on Hickenlooper for beer, and me to get things done,” he says in the ad. His favorite beer is the Scottish Ale from Tumbleweed Brewery in his hometown of Yuma.


Background: The fierce debate over who can use Colorado’s federally owned public lands -- and for what purpose -- is a constant fault line in Colorado politics. The U.S. House last year passed the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act -- a massive public lands measure that would designate roughly 100,000 acres for new wilderness and recreation in the state, and remove more than 200,000 acres from oil and gas development. The measure has stalled in the GOP-led Senate and faces a veto threat from the White House.


He won’t support the CORE Act but passed other public lands legislation

A: Gardner is not supporting the CORE Act, in part because of opposition from U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, whose district covers much of the land that would be designated under the bill. However, he led the push for the Great American Outdoors Act, a measure that provided full funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which will help preserve public lands.


Background: The Trump administration relocated the federal Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction in July 2019, a move supported by Republican and Democratic leaders in Colorado. The Department of the Interior said about 40 BLM employees would transfer to the new location, far fewer than initially hoped. But the move drew controversy and a congressional investigation after critics suggested it was designed to gut the agency.


He led the relocation push

A: Gardner sponsored legislation to move the land management agency’s headquarters to Grand Junction and worked with the Trump administration to make it happen.


Background: The Trump administration has aggressively promoted energy production on public lands, including in Colorado. The state is among the leaders in drilling on public lands, and the effort is expanding. The federal Bureau of Land Management wanted to limit oil and gas production on 190,000 acres in eastern Colorado, but in 2019 the agency suggested granting protections to fewer than 2,000 acres. This has riled wildlife conservationists who want to protect habitats, including those for the sage grouse, and also those who want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Proponents counter that the lease proceeds can help fund national parks.


Supports the oil and gas industry

A: Gardner voted to confirm Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a Colorado native who supports drilling on public lands. And he doesn’t oppose continued drilling on public lands and offshore, the proceeds of which funded conservation efforts in the Great American Outdoors Act he shepherded to law earlier this year.


Background: The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited conversation about racism in America and in the campaign, forcing the candidates to draft plans for how to address inequities and structural barriers for people of color. In addition, candidates are looking at how to address police brutality.


Voted for some police reforms

A: Gardner voted to advance a police reform bill introduced by South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican, called the JUSTICE Act. The bill would create a commission to evaluate how various institutions impact Black people and leverage federal funding to incentivize police departments to make reforms. The bill nudges departments to stop using chokeholds, but does not ban them outright, as Democrat-backed legislation in the U.S. House proposed.



Immigration and DACA

How would you address the nation’s immigration system? What in particular would you support in regards to the DACA program and should state and local law enforcement cooperate with federal immigration authorities?

Background: On a procedural level, the Supreme Court earlier this year upheld the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, for people brought to the U.S. unlawfully as children. A question still remains about granting citizenship status to those in the country illegally. And the aggressive efforts of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is prompting states like Colorado to explore limits on their authority. Federal authorities say such moves amount to sanctuary policies.


A moderate on the issue with a mixed record

A: Gardner has a mixed record on the issue. In 2014, he voted against the repeal of the DACA program and since joined as a sponsor on 2017 legislation to help younger immigrants. He was part of discussions in 2018 that included a path to citizenship. But in other votes, whether on building a wall on the southern border or administration actions on immigration, he sided against changes to the immigration system.


The Issues

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The Candidates

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Cory Gardner

Cory Gardner

U.S. senator   

John Hickenlooper

John Hickenlooper

Former Colorado governor and Denver mayor