DENVER—In what could be a preview of the 2014 gubernatorial race, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Secretary of State Scott Gessler are squaring off in a dispute over the legislative recall drives.
Gessler has gone to court in an effort to force Hickenlooper to set a recall election date, but the governor is resisting, filing a response Tuesday in which he argues that all legal appeals must first be exhausted.
Given that Gessler is seen as a likely candidate for the 2014 GOP gubernatorial nomination, the winner of which would face Hickenlooper, the spat is being viewed as more political than procedural. But Gessler insists that’s not the case.
He points to the constitutional requirement for the governor to set a recall election date 60 days after the petitions are certified, which was July 5 in the case of the Morse recall. That means the election should fall no later than Sept. 3.
“Not political, it’s the law,” said Gessler in a Twitter message Tuesday in response to a Colorado Public Radio report saying that Hickenlooper has called the motion “political.”
Attorney General John Suthers, representing Hickenlooper, argues in the response that the governor may wait until the appeals process has run its course.
“The Governor’s obligation under statute does not arise until ‘the petition has been deemed sufficient and the time for protest has passed’,” says the motion. “The statute provides that any party who is not satisfied with the hearing officer’s determination can appeal to any court having jurisdiction.”
Earlier this month, Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert rejected protests filed by constituents on behalf of the recall targets, state Sens. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) and John Morse (D-Colorado Springs).
A hearing on the appeal is scheduled for Wednesday in Denver District Court.
“I’m not sure why he [Gessler] would file a lawsuit for something that’s going to get decided in two days, but I’m not a lawyer,” Hickenlooper told the Denver Post. “It seems sometimes elected officials have an itchy trigger finger.”
El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams has also filed a motion seeking an election date, explaining that his office needs sufficient notice to prepare for the balloting. Williams would be in charge of overseeing the Morse recall.
“Because of the delay in setting the election date, each additional day that passes thus further reduces the time a voter will have to vote their ballot,” said a Tuesday press release issued by the El Paso County Clerk’s office. “This is especially problematic for members of the armed forces deployed overseas, who already will have less than the normal 45 days in which to vote due to the constitutionally imposed recall timetable.”
Analysts say the Democratic legislators would benefit from a recall election held on the same date as the November general election, which would draw more voters than a special election. An August or September election would presumably favor recall supporters.
“[T]he Clerk and Recorder’s Office is not advocating for or against the recall, nor are we weighing in on the sufficiency of the petitions,” said Williams. “However, we are in the unique position of not being able to proceed further with preparations for the Recall Election until a date is set. We look for a decision on the date from the court tomorrow to ensure that the voting rights of El Paso County citizens are protected.”