U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper, who has criticized Sen. Cory Gardner for taking a “vacation” during the coronavirus pandemic, himself took vacation time out of state during wildfires when he was governor.
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has sought in recent months to contrast his work as governor with the efforts of Gardner, a Yuma Republican, during this year’s pandemic and referred to the Senate’s regularly scheduled August recess as a vacation for Gardner.
“When Colorado faced wildfires and floods, we didn’t go on vacation while people were suffering,” Hickenlooper said during a virtual event last week.
But governor’s office calendars and previous news coverage show that least twice while governor, he left Colorado for apparent vacations while parts of the state were on fire.
A recent campaign ad — Hickenlooper’s first negative one in his 17-year political career — also called Gardner out for going on vacation instead of passing coronavirus relief. Gardner campaign spokesperson Jerrod Dobkin said Gardner didn’t vacation in August but rather spent the month crisscrossing Colorado. Gardner’s social media accounts show him visiting different parts of the state, taking part in several wildfire briefings, and campaigning.
Hickenlooper traveled June 7, 2018, to Bilderberg meetings in Turin, Italy, where Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission subsequently determined he violated state ethics laws by accepting free meals and a ride in a Maserati limousine from Fiat Chrysler. Hickenlooper acknowledged that he used vacation time for the trip but “was always on the job as governor,” one state ethics investigator wrote.
Six days before he left for Italy, a train near Durango allegedly ignited what came to be known as the 416 fire, one of the most destructive wildfires in the state’s history, forcing thousands to evacuate, destroying 54,000 acres and resulting in tens of millions of dollars in economic harm.
Sweetie Marbury, who was the mayor of Durango then and who has endorsed Hickenlooper, says the governor was always in contact with her and others in the southwest mountain town, even while traveling.
“John was always right there in our corner,” she told The Denver Post.
Hickenlooper took another trip on July 22 of the same year, after the 416 fire was largely contained but continued to burn. He flew to New Hampshire for a summer vacation, according to local media reports at the time. His heavily redacted calendars indicate his only state business over the course of about a week was a speech in Boston.
Kevin Klein, the state’s director of homeland security and emergency management, said he kept in touch with Hickenlooper that summer as the governor traveled.
“When Colorado faced crises, Governor Hickenlooper didn’t stop working, and Coloradans got the help they needed,” said Melissa Miller, a Hickenlooper campaign spokesperson. “The same can’t be said for Senator Gardner, who said it would be ‘unfathomable’ for the Senate to go on recess without passing coronavirus relief and then did exactly that, multiple times.”