DENVER — In his brief tenure as Colorado Secretary of State, Scott Gessler has quickly earned the title of the Democratic Party’s least favorite Republican, attracting scorn, lawsuits, calls for his ouster, and even a website dedicated to his defeat.
Now Gessler’s foes on the left have launched a new strategy aimed at upending his authority: taking the Secretary of State out of the elections business.
ProgressNow Colorado is pushing for a proposed constitutional amendment that would strip the Secretary of State’s office of its role in running elections. Instead, campaigns and elections would be handled by a non-partisan state elections administrator.
The change would affect not just Gessler but all future holders of the Secretary of State title. Nevertheless, a campaign email send out by ProgressNow Colorado makes it clear that Gessler was the inspiration for the effort.
“In the last year, the current Secretary of State Scott Gessler has taken controversial actions that many have interpreted as partisan manipulation of the election system,” said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Joanne Kron in the April 15 release.
The proposed amendment, filed April 6, still needs to gather 86,105 valid signatures by Aug. 6 to earn a spot on the November ballot. So far only Amendment 64, the marijuana-legalization measure, has qualified to go before the voters.
Under the proposal, the Secretary of State would not be eliminated as an elected constitutional office, and would still carry out functions such as registering business and licensing charities. The office’s elections and campaign duties, however, would be spun off to an administrator who would be appointed by the governor, not elected by the voters.
The governor would choose the elections administrator from a list of four candidates nominated by the Senate President, the Senate Minority Leader, the Speaker of the House and the House Minority Leader. The nominee would also have to be confirmed by a three-fifths vote of each chamber.
If the governor’s pick failed to win confirmation, the Supreme Court chief justice would choose between the four nominees.
Kron said the proposed system would ensure that state elections are overseen by “a neutral appointed referee,” adding that “taking partisanship out of election administration is the right thing to do today, so future generations can have trust in this most important of institutions.”
Republicans hollered baloney, arguing that the proposal’s main objective is not to eliminate partisanship but to create a method of choosing an elections chief that favors Democrats. Despite the Democratic Party’s recent success in legislative and gubernatorial contests, Republicans have owned the Secretary of State post, winning the last eight elections and compiling a consecutive victory streak that dates back to 1955.
The only interruption during that time was the two-year term of Democrat Bernie Buescher, who was appointed to fill the vacancy created after Mike Coffman was elected to Congress in 2008.
On the other hand, Democrats have elected four of the last five governors, meaning that historical precedent gives them a much better chance of gaining a friendly elections administrator via gubernatorial fiat than by popular vote.
What’s more, the Colorado Supreme Court is dominated by Democratic picks, which increases the chances of having in place a chief justice who will choose the party’s favorite nominee.
“For 100 years, progressives have pursued the utopian dream of rule by supposedly impartial experts instead of elected officials accountable to the people,” said former state Senate President John Andrews, now director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University. “This is one more in a long series of misconceived efforts to short-circuit representative self-government.”
The elections administrator would be required to have at least five years’ experience in “election administration,” but could not have represented or been employed by a “major” political party for at least three years prior to the nomination, according to the proposed amendment.
Gessler and Democrats have tangled repeatedly over his efforts to remove inactive voters from the rolls. Gessler was sued April 6 by Colorado Ethics Watch and Colorado Common Cause after he rewrote campaign finance reporting rules in an attempt to update and streamline the process. The lawsuit accuses him of exceeding his authority.
Colorado Democratic Party chair Rick Palacio hinted in March that he would consider launching a repeal effort against Gessler, but so far the Secretary of State’s office has received no such filing, said spokesman Andrew Cole.