Local officials aren’t holding back in expressing disappointment in the still-unnamed host of Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the Caribou Club on Monday.
The host has yet to step forward to pay the roughly $24,000 bill for increased security provided by local authorities — and the effect on taxpayers goes beyond Pitkin County, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo noted.
“We had a SWAT team from Garfield County here that I want to see get reimbursed. We had Carbondale officers here that I want to see get reimbursed. They don’t have this kind of money — I don’t have this kind of money,” DiSalvo said.
He estimated that Pence was in Aspen for less than 24 hours. During that time, the vice president headlined Monday’s $35,000-per-couple fundraiser at the Caribou Club and addressed the Republican Governors Association at its closed-door quarterly meeting at the St. Regis Aspen Resort on Tuesday morning. Pence did not speak to the general public.
“We had 64 total police officers on that assignment in the 20 or so hours that he was here, totaling 519 person hours,” DiSalvo said. “Out of those 64, 14 were state troopers, and we don’t have a responsibility to pay them. But the 50 other cops that were here are all on the county dime.
“I guess the whole thing is generally just somewhat disappointing to me,” DiSalvo continued. “You raise $700,000 in an hour, you should be able to pitch in to support the community that made you feel welcome.”
County Commissioner Greg Poschman shares DiSalvo’s sentiments — so much so that he brought the issue up to fellow commissioners during a Tuesday work session.
“I did mention in our [BOCC] open discussion that it was disturbing to me that candidates from both parties blow into town, collect a briefcase full of cash and then blow back out again without really ever doing any public outreach,” Poschman said. “Mike Pence was just here … and cost us a lot of time and effort when everyone was stuck waiting for his way-oversized motorcade to go through. He could have driven through in a Jeep with a hat and sunglasses and nobody would’ve noticed.”
Colorado Democrats took the opportunity to release a statement highlighting the privacy surrounding the recent Republican events.
“It’s pretty clear that the GOP knows how unpopular and vulnerable Donald Trump is, which is why they’re sending Vice President Pence and other members of Team Trump for closed-door fundraisers for Senator Cory Gardner and Republicans instead of [for] a public event,” said Morgan Carroll, who chairs the Colorado Democratic Party.
Poschman, however, pointed out that Democrats will be hosting private events for several presidential hopefuls.
“I hate to say it, but the Democratic candidates are very close to doing the same thing,” Poschman said. “I’m not invited; I do know that. And neither are you, unless you are a really strong volunteer in a small rank of … hardworking people who will be invited as a small consolation.
“And that’s great that the people who are knocking on doors may have an audience, but what about the rest of us? You say you’re for the people, well, come on out and represent,” he added.
DiSalvo said he will worry about recouping those costs in August. For now, he’s focused on what the taxpayers have already spent.
“It’s awfully tight-lipped in an unusual way, but I’ve never dealt with this administration before,” he said, adding that before Monday’s fundraiser, he’d been in contact with Marty Obst, senior political adviser to Pence.
“When I first talked to [Obst] before the visit, he was all smiles and grins, but I know how this works: They put you on hold until they leave and then they don’t talk to you again. He has not returned a single phone call in two days,” DiSalvo said.
Caribou Club owners Billy Stolz and Richard Edwards declined to comment for this story. DiSalvo made clear that he understood it was technically a club member who sponsored the event — not the entity itself.
DiSalvo said he hopes someone will “step up” to foot the security bill.
“We’re not done,” he said.
In the past, taxpayers have not been left on the hook for security costs of private campaign events, Poschman noted.
“The donors for Hillary [Clinton] paid. They understood; they paid it. When Trump’s people came in, it took a little more cajoling, but he paid it,” he said. “But does our sheriff really need to call up and make a strong suggestion that they pay their bill before they leave town? That doesn’t sit well with me, and I’m guessing it doesn’t sit well with the community, either.”
While Pence’s visit made local headlines, another notable Republican made an unexpected Aspen visit last Sunday, according to media outlet Politico. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s former press secretary, attended a private dinner hosted by the family of the late Fred Malek, former RGA finance chairman.
In fact, Malek’s connection with the Roaring Fork Valley is the reason the Republican governors’ group holds quarterly meetings here, RGA communications director Amelia Chassé Alcivar said.
“RGA has historically had their meeting at Aspen because Fred Malek made his summer home here,” she said. “This is always a successful event. Our governors and members enjoy the beautiful weather and the people here in Aspen, and it’s always a successful event every year.”
Sanders’ presence was particularly noteworthy, as she’s seen as a potential 2022 Arkansas gubernatorial candidate, though no formal announcements have been made.
Editor's note: This article originally stated that an arts nonprofit would be hosting a private event for Democratic presidential candidates on Aug. 7, but that was incorrect. The information was also incorrectly attributed to a county commissioner. The article has been updated.