August 2, 2015

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner represents Colorado in the U.S. Senate

(Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been edited and paraphrased for clarity and brevity.)


Senator Cory Gardner grew up in “the other” Yuma, a small town on the Eastern Plains of Colorado.  He began serving in the Colorado House of Representatives in 2005.  He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, and became Colorado’s junior U.S. senator in 2014.


Tell us a little bit about your Colorado roots.

I am a fifth generation Coloradan.  My mother’s family came here in the 1880s and my dad’s family arrived in the early 1900s.  In fact, on my dad’s side of the family, my ancestors started a farm implement business in 1915 that we still operate today.  We are celebrating our 100th anniversary this year.  I grew up in agriculture with farming in my roots.  I still live in the same town as my great grandparents and I understand the fundamental values that are the backbone of the agricultural industry.


From the very beginning it appears as if you were preparing for a career in politics.  Is that true?

I didn’t think I was, but looking back everything I did does tend to point in that direction.  As a kid I was a bit of a geek, writing letters to Ronald Reagan and others in elective office.  I was very interested in my dad’s service on the city council in our small town and was always asking him questions.

I did go to Colorado State University and majored in political science and then on to the University of Colorado where I got my law degree.  But in between those two degrees I came home to Yuma and helped my dad relocate our business.  From the time the farm implement store began in 1915 until 1997, we were located in the same building in town.  But in 1997, we moved to a new building out by the highway and I helped manage that move.


Did graduation from law school start you on your current political path?

It did but that was not the plan.  When I was in law school, there was a television show called “Ed” that featured a lawyer running a bowling alley and practicing law in a small town.  That’s what I wanted to do: I wanted to be a lawyer in a small town and run a farm implement business.  But that isn’t what happened.

After law school, my student loan payments hadn’t kicked in and the bar results were not in yet so I had about six months before I had to start my career.  I went to Washington D.C. and got a job with the National Corn Growers Association.  That led to a position with Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard as a legislative assistant and eventually I became his legislative director.

While I was working for the senator I did get involved in a lot of campaigns and that did lead to my appointment to the Colorado State Legislature in 2005, and then I won my first election the following year.


I noticed in your biography that you changed party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in college.  Did you have a change of heart?

My grandfather was a Democrat and so was my dad…in fact, he still is.  So when I was 18 to be different in Yuma was to be a Democrat and so that is how I registered.  However a Democrat in Yuma is a Republican anywhere else.  As I got older it was obvious that the values and the beliefs I held were more aligned with the Republican Party, so I switched registration.


What were your key issues when you first ran for office?

My issues then and the ones I am still passionate about today have not changed.  I am passionate about rural life issues that allow agriculture to not only survive, but to thrive.  In fact, later this week I am holding an economic round table in rural Colorado to discuss some of the things that can be done to help rural America thrive.  I have no pre-conceived agenda but would like to discuss some options such as changes in the tax structure that might allow for greater development in rural communities.  And perhaps looking for a way to give rural communities greater access to capital.


Water, of course, is the lifeblood of agriculture.  What can be done at the federal level to help agriculture get the water it needs to prosper?

Number one, the federal government has to keep its nose out of private water rights.  Part of the problem with California’s drought is that it is a federally-created drought in that the government started allocating water to environmental causes rather than letting the farmers keep their rights to that water.  The government needs to find solutions, not get in the way.  I supported Devin Nunes’ bill last year which was the best solution on the table to get more water to California farmers.

Number two, the government has to do more to increase water storage.  We need to construct more water storage facilities.  In Colorado, we have the Northern Integrated Supply Project which has spent $20 million in its lifetime and has yet to create storage for even one drop of water.  This year alone, Colorado could have saved an additional 1.3 million acre-feet of water if we had the storage.


What is your take on immigration reform?

We need it.  I support a plan that secures our border and I believe a big part of that solution is a meaningful guest worker program.  We have to figure out a way to get it done.  I was on a plane back to Washington D.C. this week with a couple of other legislators — one Democrat and one Republican.  We were talking about immigration reform and how we can balance the ideas of people on all sides of the issue and come up with a workable solution.  Surely, there is a way.  We need more sound thought on the issue.


Are you a supporter of free trade efforts?

I was a big supporter of the fast track trade legislation.  Trade is very important to agriculture and I believe we should be active participants in trying to increase our foreign trade.  Here in Colorado, we do very well in trading some of our items into Mexico and elsewhere.  Olathe sweet corn is among the items that has a very good export record.


What’s in your future?

As I look back on these times from the future I want to have played an active role in my kids’ childhood and I want to have helped society prosper and be a better place.  If I am lucky enough to have done that from my current position for a good part of the time that would be great.


Have you picked a horse to bet on yet in the Republican primaries for president?

I can tell you I won’t be voting for Hillary Clinton.


Our members and many of your constituents produce the finest fruits, vegetables and nuts in the world.  Are you a consumer of our products and do you have a favorite?

Every day!  In northeastern Colorado, we don’t have a lot of fresh produce, but we do grow a lot of onions and potatoes.  I can tell you what my perfect meal would be: a Rocky Ford cantaloupe with some Palisade peaches, Olathe sweet corn, some beef from Yuma topped off with a Sakata onion and some Two Rivers wine.