Republicans piled on U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper on Friday following a report the Democrat took some vacation time and traveled out of state while a wildfire was burning in southwest Colorado two years ago when he was governor.
The salvos are in response to a steady stream of attacks Hickenlooper and his allies have been mounting against U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, his Republican opponent, for lawmakers' failure to pass a pandemic relief package after Gardner declared in late May that is was "unfathomable" for the Senate to go into recess without approving more aid.
“When Colorado faced wildfires and floods, we didn’t go on vacation while people were suffering,” Hickenlooper said last week at a campaign event, The Denver Post reported Friday in an article that included evidence Hickenlooper took what appeared to be two vacations during a 2018 fire.
The Post cited two instances when Hickenlooper logged vacation time and left the state while the massive 416 Fire burned near Durango. One trip was to Italy in June to attend the international Bilderberg conference, and the other was to New Hampshire in July.
Earlier this year, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission fined Hickenlooper for gifts violations related to travel expenses he accepted at the conference.
A spokeswoman for Hickenlooper's campaign told Colorado Politics that Hickenlooper kept in touch with emergency response and local officials while traveling.
“When Colorado faced crises, Gov. Hickenlooper didn’t stop working, and Coloradans got the help they needed,” said Melissa Miller, Hickenlooper's communications director. “The same can’t be said for Sen. 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.”
A spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has been flooding the airwaves with attack ads aimed at Hickenlooper, pounced on The Post's report in a statement that also gets in a dig at the Democrat's brief presidential run.
"As Coloradans faced devastating wildfires, John Hickenlooper chose to leave on 'vacations' to boost his future presidential run, but now that he’s running for Colorado elected office again, he is lying about them," Joanna Rodriguez said.
"If as sitting governor, Hickenlooper was willing to abandon Colorado families in their time of need to pursue his vanity project, it's safe to assume he'll leave them hanging if elected to a job he said didn't attract him and he wasn't cut out for."
Noting that the 416 Fire burned more than 55,000 acres and cost some $40 million, the state Republican Party threw in references to Hickenlooper's gift ban violations in a tweet attacking the Democrat.
"While Colorado was was experiencing one of the 'most destructive' wildfires in state history, Hickenlooper was breaking ethics laws and riding in Maserati limousines in Italy," the Colorado GOP said.
Sweetie Marbury, who was mayor of Durango during the 416 Fire and has since endorsed his Senate campaign, told The Post that the governor kept in contact while the fire was burning and "was always right there in our corner," including while he was traveling.
"While Colorado burned, Gov. Hickenlooper vacationed in Italy — a trip where he was later found to have accepted illegal gifts — and took a New Hampshire lake vacation," Gardner said through a campaign spokeswoman, in a statement. "Coloradans were suffering and our governor was missing in action."
Hickenlooper released an ad in early September charging Gardner with going "on vacation for a month" without helping pass a COVID-19 relief bill over the summer, citing the Senate's August state work period, when the chamber was in recess.
Gardner aides point out that Gardner spent the month visiting parts of Colorado, including attending briefings on wildfires, as well as campaigning.
House Democrats passed a $3 trillion aid proposal in May, but the GOP-controlled Senate didn't take it up and has spent months trying to advance an aid package of its own. After returning from a scheduled monthlong recess in August, Republican senators put forth a slimmed-down proposal, but Democrats blocked a move to consider it.
Note: This story has been updated to include a comment by the mayor of Durango about the 416 wildfire and a comment from Gardner.