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Holitza: Gardner and Hickenlooper debate, Moderators were the true winners

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

It seems as if a good majority of politicians are incredibly insecure about their past. Both Sen. Cory Gardner and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proved this in their fairly professional representation of government officials at Colorado State University on Oct. 13.


The strictly moderated and straightforward debate held in the Lory Student Center Theatre shifted each candidate’s focus back onto themselves, putting their past and present policies under the microscope for criticism. The debate showed exactly how moderators should go about getting answers out of politicians in order to fully inform the public.

In a time when facts are often less straightforward to politicians even when they are laid bare, and political events are just terrifyingly entertaining, it seems as if, across the country, moderators have put their feet down to say, “Enough with the pandering.” On Tuesday, they actually managed to get straightforward answers.

“When Zelinger posed the question about each candidate’s ability to live up to their word, both candidates became lost for words and could only spout excuses”

9News anchor Kyle Clark and 9News reporter Marshall Zelinger did a commendable job keeping a handle on each candidate, pushing them into clear answers while strictly holding them to their time limits. The two moderators began to demand yes and no answers rapidly without time for excuses as each candidate got defensive.

The questions presented the typical gallery, from health care to a new proposition on the ballot that would have Colorado join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Some tough questions were presented that certainly caught the candidates off guard.

When Zelinger posed the question about each candidate’s ability to live up to their word, both candidates became lost for words and could only spout excuses, but in some cases, they acknowledged their responsibilities. 

When evidence of Gardner’s apathy toward keeping his word was presented by Zelinger, Gardner was put in a tough situation. Zelinger quoted the senator in the context of filling the 2016 Supreme Court vacancy as saying, “Our next election is too soon and the stakes are too high; the American people deserve a role in this process.”

Zelinger pressed him, asking, “Why should anyone trust anything you’re telling us tonight?” as Gardner said he would support President Donald Trump’s decision to fill the current vacancy if a qualified candidate was presented. 

This question blindsided the senator, who quickly said that what he was doing was fair. Filling the vacancy now may be constitutional, but it means that he will not adhere to what he said in 2016.

The Republican senator chose to do what became a consistent and blatant occurrence from  Hickenlooper as well: dodging and pushing an accusation back upon the opposing candidate.


Rather than answer the question of whether or not he was trustworthy, Gardner chose to go after Hickenlooper about a rumor in Congress of expanding the Supreme Court to hold more seats, known as court packing. The rumor, which has not garnered an answer in full support or opposition from former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden, holds some validity as a pathway that Democrats may choose to take. 

The question has become a hot button issue, but the question of Gardner’s trustworthiness seems to have answered itself. He seems to think that going directly in opposition to what he stated four years ago is simply more moral than packing the Supreme Court.

Maybe he should stop and consider putting his own beliefs over that of maintaining the party line. The implication here is that the senator was lying either way, either in 2016 or now.

The practice of using a candidate’s own words against them has always been commonplace in political debates, but having it done in such a blatant and unceremonious way is fairly satisfying. Demanding yes or no answers on each candidate’s policy is a good way of delivering clear-cut answers.

Another hot topic at the debate was repealing the Affordable Care Act, which would be detrimental to everyone who has or needs health care coverage, especially with pre-existing conditions that could complicate a COVID-19 infection. It wipes away a safety net that was hard to install in the first place; a developed nation with a GDP as high as ours should ensure all of its citizens safety, including those least provided-for, in knowing that they can get coverage.

Hickenlooper stated that in the past, GOP senators have blocked any attempt to improve the bill. Gardner, on the other hand, repeatedly stated that his bill mandates coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition without providing any greater detail than that. 

Oil and gas holds a checkered past for both candidates. While Hickenlooper accepted financial compensation from oil and gas companies during his time as governor, they have dropped off of his significant donors list, as he has shifted his focus to creating jobs in renewable energy.

This is a touchy subject for those who currently make a living in the oil and gas industry, as the illusion is that these new renewable energy jobs will not be available to those people, who may lose their current jobs. In some cases, this can be true, but it is a cheaper and more efficient option for Colorado power.

The moderating at this debate should set an example for the presidential debates, demanding answers and not letting the candidates talk around the questions. 

Mason Holitza can be reached at or on Twitter @MHolitza.

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