I live on the high plains of eastern Colorado, just outside a town called Joes, population eighty. Joes is in Yuma County; a county that went 85% for Trump in 2016, that voted 60% against the 2018 state constitutional amendment to prohibit slavery, and which is the home of Senator Cory Gardner. This is where I grew up, and this is where I choose to live today.
I pick guitar in a local country band that normally plays the Joes Community Center once a month; these days, we’re limited to tailgate concerts, and soon we’ll have to shut down for the winter.
Just like you, dear reader, the folks in Yuma County are humans. And while my neighbors and I don’t always agree on abstract political concepts, we can all agree on basic human values, including decency, kindness, and honesty.
Where we do disagree, I make every effort to avoid the insulting language that is so often directed at rural voters. Rather, I prefer to focus on the subtleties of the rural-urban divide. On the rural side, these subtleties include: the advantage of a shared ideology within a small community; limited real-life exposure to diverse behaviors and opinions; the complete absence of liberal perspectives in broadcast radio; and the peer pressure of maintaining “face” in a region that celebrates being tough above nearly all else.
These efforts at civility are mutual, and I’m proud that my neighbors and I generally manage this well; and when we fail to do so, we apologize.
I am unable to extend kindness and civility to those who would lie, obfuscate, or otherwise deliberately and cynically manipulate the emotions of good, honest people.
To that end, since the election of Donald Trump, I’ve been contributing a left-leaning opinion column for my local paper, The Yuma Pioneer.
On a whim, back on July 18, 2017, I submitted an insincere request for a meeting via Cory Gardner’s website. If I recall correctly, I was particularly disgusted by Gardner’s confirmation votes for Trump’s cabinet members, including Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, and Rex Tillerson.
I had absolutely no expectation that he’d agree, certainly not if he’d read any of the earlier emails I’d sent him, which were almost universally profane and (in my humble opinion) fucking hilarious.
Eight days later, July 26, I received a message from Gardner’s office.
Hi Mr. Hill,
Thank you for reaching out. We would love to set something up. Is there any chance you are available for a phone interview on Tuesday, Aug 1 at 9:30am MT? Let me know if that works.
I’m not a political reporter. I don’t conduct interviews. I write opinion pieces and weird novels. I’ve got High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder; which leaves me flying-by-instrument in social settings, a situation further complicated when I can’t analyze facial cues. With a phone call, the invisible person on the other end consists exclusively of the words that I hear thru the receiver. If those words come across as insincere, look out.
I spent the next several days reading up on the senator’s stances on various subjects. With global warming as my primary concern, I made a list of questions, all of which were designed to gain a peek into Cory’s soul.
Here’s the annotated transcript. For clarity and brevity, I’ve omitted several chunks of the conversation. If you’ve any concerns about contextual integrity, you can hear the whole thing, unedited, here or at the end of this article.
August 1, 2017, 9:35 am
Cory Gardner: Hey, Greg. It’s Cory Gardner callin’. How are you?
Gregory Hill: Hey, Cory. How’re you doin’?
CG: It sounds like you’re down in Joes today.
GH: Yes, I am.
CG: That’s a 358 number if I remember correct.
[Cory is establishing his knowledge of Yuma County telephone prefixes.]
GH: I’m putting in ground rods after a lightning strike rendered much of our electricity problematic.
CG: Oh, man. Have you guys been gettin’ this rain like we have the past three or four nights?
GH: Yeah, we got three tenths. And I think, what’d you guys get? Four inches over the last week? That’s crazy!
[I don’t actually think that’s crazy. But this isn’t the time for a lecture on meteorology.]
CG: You know, it’s nice to have it, but in typical farm fashion I’ll complain about it. We just need to spread it out next time.
GH: Well, we can’t do anything about the weather. Well. Well, um uh. What’re we talkin’ about here today?
CG: Well, you know, it’s up to you. Whatever you’d like to talk about.
GH: Right. Well, let’s get down to a subject that doesn’t seem to matter to anybody in Yuma County: global warming.
GH: Climate change. I haven’t been able to find any definitive statement from you on that subject. I saw that you voted for an amendment that clarified that climate change is not a hoax. Which was nice to see.
GH: Um, but I haven’t been able to get a—seen any statements to whether or not you believe—or acknowledge—that it’s being caused by human activities.
CG: I certainly think that the climate is changing and that’s what that—
GH: I’ve heard you say that before. But here’s my question. Is it changing as a consequence of the human introduction of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds into our atmosphere?
CG: Well, I don’t think there’s any doubt the humans have an impact on the environment around us.
GH: Okay, so but, but, so let’s be clear. Because when I step outside and exhale, I’m having an impact on the environment. But are humans, essentially, causing climate change?
CG: Well, I think that humans do have an impact on the environment.
[Failure to Answer Yes/No Question is an irredeemable, contemptible sin in the Autistic Mind.]
GH: Okay. So that’s Cory the Politician. But Cory the Person. I know you have an opinion on this.
CG: But, Greg, I think, I think—
[My voice is rising.]
GH: It’s not even an opinion. I know you know what’s going on. But I just would like to hear you state it clearly.
CG: Yeah, I think it gets into a loaded political debate because you have…
GH: It’s not a loaded political debate. It’s a debate about whether–Well, go ahead, go ahead.
[I’m using the rhetorical technique of Interrupt The Subject With the Intention of Going Ballistic, but Realize That Going Ballistic Would Not Be a Good Look, and so Immediately Grant Permission for the Subject to Complete Their Thought.]
CG: Well, no. What I think you get into is a debate over what happens. Is this statistic right? Is this number right? Is this research right?
[Somehow I don’t think he struggles over numbers and statistics when he’s wondering about the existence of God.]
GH: Well, let me put it this way, Cory. If somebody had cancer and there was a 97% chance that a particular cure would save them, and there’s another cure, and there’s a 97% chance of killing them, which one do you think most people are gonna choose?
CG: Well, here, here, lemme–
GH: I’ll tell you the answer. It’s the one that’s gonna save ‘em.
CG: Well, uh, Greg.
GH: Do you agree with that?
CG: Here’s what I would say.
GH: You would not agree with that.
CG: No, no. Let me answer the question on climate change.
CG: People get back and forth in a fight over is climate change, is it human? What we ought to do is what’s better for the environment by reducing the emissions of all kinds—
GH: So are you at all concerned with climate change? It seems like simple question to answer.
CG: I’m absolutely concerned about anything that affects our climate.
GH: So, wait a second. Wait a second. This is a simple question to answer, Cory. And apparently it’s hard for you to say it, but are human beings causing climate change?
[You don’t want to be on the phone with me when I get like this.]
CG: I think that humans have an impact on the climate.
GH: Okay. You’re not answering the question. And it sounds like you’re not going to. So this is Cory the Politician and this is not the Cory I wanted to talk to. I wanted to talk to Cory the Person.
CG: (chuckles) Well, Greg. I’m sorry that I’m not giving you the answer that you want.
GH: Well, the answer that I want is the answer to the question that I’m asking. Anybody can say that human beings, uh—‘cause you’re evading the question. We both know this. We’re not dummies, you and I. And I know why you’re doing it, because it has political consequences, but…
CG: And I would like to address is the policy concerns that both people, both sides…
GH: There’s not two sides. Go ahead.
CG: (chuckles) There are people who wish to control the economy as a result of their position on climate change. Absolutely, there are.
GH: Wait. So. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You’re saying that. I think that. Well, go ahead and finish what you’re saying.
CG: Well, what I’m saying is that there are people who want to control the economy as a result of their belief about the environment.
GH: Okay, hold on here. So who are those people? And how do they want to control it?
CG: People who want to shut down fossil fuel production, people who want to ban hydro—
GH: Wait a second here. If, Cory, this question that you can’t seem to be able to answer, humans are causing climate change, if that’s the case, which it is, then that is a consequence of fossil fuels. And so we have fossil fuels causing climate change, which we can both acknowledge, whether or not you’ll admit it, is leading our world to a very, very dire place. And if fossil fuels are the cause of that, then perhaps it would behoove the people who recognize that climate change is happening to slow down the usage of fossil fuels. Do you follow that logic? Do you follow it?
[The logic, as it were, may have been lost in the increasingly desperate tone of my voice.]
CG: And if you follow what I’m saying, Greg, I am saying that we should advance renewable energy—
GH: So, but, but let me ask, did you follow my logic?
CG: I understood what you’re saying, which I think is the same thing I’m saying, except I think you want to take it a little further than I wanna take it. And you want to have a government solution for it when I want to have a market solution for it.
GH: Wait a second. You’re saying that a free market, whose primary purpose is to remove capital from people who don’t have money and bring it to people who do have money—
[Great. I’ve just turned this into a high-school debate.]
CG: Greg, you know. I don’t know what. I thought we were just gonna have a conver—
GH: I’m sorry. You thought you were gonna call down to Yuma County here and have a good time instead of being asked serious questions. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot like that.
CG: Greg, I’m not upset at all to answer any tough questions or anything like this—
GH: Okay. Well, I would like to hear an answer then. Is climate change caused by human activity?
CG: I think that humans impact the climate. And if science says that this is happening, science is saying that.
GH: Whoa, whoa. You know what, a um, what’d you just gave me? A tautology. ‘If Cory Gardner is saying nothing, then Cory Gardner is saying nothing.’
[That’s right pal, I just said “tautology”.]
(two seconds of silence)
CG: Greg, here’s what I think I heard you say.
GH: I just accused you of using poor logic, is what I said.
CG: Well, I’ve been accused of far worse than that.
GH: Well, let’s see if you can improve upon it.
CG: (Chuckles) Thanks, Greg.
GH: You’re welcome.
CG: Do you believe we ought to ban fossil fuels?
CG: Do you think we should ban fossil fuels?
GH: I think that we should phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible.
CG: So, why? Is there no technology that addresses your concerns?
GH: I’m sorry. That question doesn’t make any sense to me. Can you clarify that?
CG: What do you mean it doesn’t make any sense? Is there a technology solution that we can find, achieve, reach that takes care of your concerns when it comes to fossil fuels? Are you saying that the same way we use fossil fuels today is the same way we always have to, that there will be no change in emissions, there’s no way to address carbon dioxide outside of banning fossil fuels?
GH: Ultimately, we are going to have to drastically, and very quickly, reduce fossil fuels, and anybody who thinks otherwise is confused.
CG: Well, uh—
GH: And here’s the question I put to you, Cory. Why would you allow these myths about the fossil fuel industry and the, uh. By not speaking up about it, you’re allowing your constituents–and by your constituency I actually mean, your fans, because most of your constituency believes that climate change is a real thing–why do you allow these poor people to be propagandized and to believe in this nonsense?
CG: To believe in economic development in a free market—
GH: Hold on here. Here’s a core question. I think we can answer a lot here. Capitalism and our economic market, our “free market” is motivated by the understanding that people will do the right thing because the right thing is going to reward them with profit. Is that essentially, or at least a component of it?
CG: (cross-talk) I think capitalism is a free market where there’s an exchange of goods because I’m buying something from you because I believe what you’re selling to me is undervalued and that you’re giving it to me at a price that I’m willing to accept because I think you’ve underpriced it, and you’re willing to sell to me because I’m willing to pay more for it than you think it’s worth.
GH: Okay. So it’s sort of the pursuit of the deal. People will choose the thing that’s gonna economically benefit them the most.
CG: Well, it’s a free market. They’re going to choose what they want in a free market.
GH: But their choice is gonna be motivated by the economic realities of it. You know, I’ll buy a better car for less money before I’ll pay more for a worse car.
CG: Yeah, I think I understand what you’re saying. I’m not willing to buy something that’s overpriced. Yeah. I believe it’s right.
GH: All right. And a lot of people, I’ve heard say, “If climate change is a big deal, then it’ll address itself. It’s gonna self-correct.” Right?
CG: Well, uh—
GH: Via, via the invisible hand of the free market.
CG: Well, I think that there are ways, that if you look at the technologies. Renewable energy, batteries, solar power, the efficiencies of wind, I think there is a free market solution, yes.
GH: Now, but we both know that a free market untethered turns into a basically a shark fest to prey on the poor.
[Perhaps I’m overstating my case.]
CG: I think capitalism has done more to lift people out of poverty than any other economic system in the world.
GH: Okay. Cite one.
[I’m angry, I can’t think, and I’m in the midst of a debate about capitalism.]
CG: I think capitalism has done more to help people of free will to create businesses and opportunities—
GH: What’s capitalism doing to solve our problem with climate change?
CG: Why do we have wind power? Why do we have solar power? Why do we have—
GH: Why do we have a head of the EPA [Scott Pruitt, resigned less than a year later] who’s doing everything he can to destroy all that? And why did you vote to confirm him, Cory? That seems bizarre.
CG: Well, Greg, because—
GH: Why do we have a man whose stated goal was to destroy the EPA—
CG: I hate to say this, but our time is up, I apologize—
GH: Well, we’re not gettin’ anywhere anyway. Hey, before you go, would you be willing to meet me for a beer at the Main Event in Yuma?
[Apologies to the Main Event. I mis-spoke here. I meant to say “the Tavern”, a bar that, last I heard, had a pig skull hanging from its wall. The pig skull has a turban on it.]
CG: Well, I’ll let my team know. I’m not sure when we’re gonna be back. We’re gonna be on the Front Range and Western Slope, but we can figure it out.
GH: Well, maybe I’ll see you at a town hall, then.
CG: Yeah. Nope. We’ll, we’ll figure it out, all right?
GH: Oh, so I won’t see you at a town hall?
CG: If you’re gonna come to a town hall, I’m sure we’re gonna have some, so I don’t know…
GH: Oh, you are? When?
CG: (Chuckles) Greg, hang on, buddy. This—
GH: These are just questions. These are questions that people wanna know the answers to.
CG: We are gonna have a tele-townhall this week.
GH: Oh, those aren’t town halls. Those are AM call-in shows that you can screen the callers and, and you can’t get anywhere. Well, you have a good day, sir. I hope you have a good time saving the world. Bye.
CG: Okay. Wow.
Immediately after the call, Cory’s staff contacted the Yuma Pioneer to confirm that I was actually affiliated with the paper, and to tell the editor, Tony Rayl, that I’d yelled at the senator.
I felt like a complete fuck-up, as I always do after I get super angry. I sent Tony the transcript and the recording of the interview. We both agreed that:
1) Although the interview may have some news value, I’d not been–strictly speaking–professional in my conduct.
2) If it ran in the Pioneer, we could expect blowback from the paper’s readership and advertisers.
3) Because the interview had been conducted for the Pioneer, we agreed that I would not share it with any other outlets.
For three years, the piece sat unpublished. If I knew someone who might get a laugh out of it, I’d send them a link to the transcription as well as the audio recording.
And so, when Alexander Kaufman of the Huffpost expressed interest in writing about my ridiculous conversation with Colorado’s junior senator, I immediately agreed. The threat of climate catastrophe ought to trump my personal insecurities, don’t you think?
So that’s that.
Goodbye, Cory. You’ve earned this. May you never again squat in front of a wind turbine and pretend that you give a damn.
Listen to Gregory Hill’s phone interview with Cory Gardner, as recorded on Aug. 1, 2017: