Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert comes across as you would expect of the second in command to an elected state official: she knows the nuts and bolts; instills confidence; has the answers — and remains low-key. She’s sort of an alter ego and go-to person at large for high-profile Republican Secretary of State Williams. (She also is something of a foil for the office’s high-profile communications chief, blogger and former political reporter Lynn Bartels.) An attorney, Staiert was born in Pennsylvania and grew up mostly in Wyoming after having spent some of her early childhood in her father’s native Iran. She graduated the University of Wyoming and attended law school in Colorado. She has served as a Littleton city attorney and was hired to her current post by Williams’s predecessor, former Secretary of State Scott Gessler. She lives in Littleton with her husband and three daughters.
You so far have served two elected secretaries of state, by definition, a political position. Are you the secretary of state’s non-political counterpart? You frequently appear in public — on TV, in legislative hearings — explaining your office’s position on the issues. Does that make you the policy point person?
Most of what I do for the office is legal and policy. Whether I’m non-political depends on the topic. For ballot title setting or other hearings I conduct for the office, politics doesn’t impact the process, and I think the decisions I’ve made support that. In the legislative and legal process, there are times when ideology enters in. Not so much on administrative issues or when we are defending a law, but certainly for some of our policy issues.
You are an attorney and former city attorney and associate municipal judge. Why did you pursue that career path in the first place, and how did you arrive at your current post?
I started my career in prosecution and after a few years moved to representing cities and counties on land use, public works, elections and taxation. In local government I represented Debra Johnson (the current Denver city and county clerk) and really enjoyed the work we did on elections and campaign finance. I arrived at my current post in a tie-dyed hoodie and jeans. Actually, that was my final interview and it was spur-of-the-moment. I hadn’t met Secretary Gessler before I interviewed with the office, so I guess he looked beyond the attire.
You are a Republican, like your current and previous bosses. But is your position a partisan appointment? How do you reassure the public the Office is a neutral arbiter of elections?
It is a partisan appointment and indeed I am a Republican. But, I believe in good policy regardless of who is behind it. We work a lot with both political parties and election activists on either or neither side of the aisle. I think we have good relationships with those groups and even though we don’t always agree, we can usually find some common ground.
You ended your tenure in local government at odds with the political leadership there. What did your experience with local government in Littleton teach you about public life? What advice would you give someone seeking local political office?
My experience wasn’t really unique to local government. Ultimately, I learned that when you go through adversity there a lot of great people out there to pick you up. I do have one piece of advice: don’t go back to a local Rotary meeting of your former employer with your new boss. He might just introduce you and then thank anyone in the room responsible for your departure. That actually happened.
What’s the best part of your job?
What’s not great about my job? I work on interesting issues with amazing people.
You deal with the legislature fairly often. Do you have a favorite lawmaker to work with? Anyone come to mind who deserves praise in general over on the second floor of the Capitol?
I appreciate lawmakers who challenge me, but don’t dismiss me. Our office has gone some rounds with Sen. Bob Gardner. He’s reasonable, thoughtful and sincere. I also really like working with the State Affairs committee chairs in both chambers. (Former Senate State Affairs Committee Chair) Sen. (Ray) Scott has the best exasperated looks he throws my way, and his committee hearings have been a lot of fun. Behind all that, he actually pays attention and he’s fair. (House State Affairs Chair) Rep. (Mike) Foote is just smart. I can’t get anything past him because he’s always listening and questioning. He’s also patient and kind to everyone who appears in his committee.
What is it like working between Wayne Williams and Lynn Bartels?
Geographically, Wayne works between me and Lynn. Seriously, they are both great. Wayne is a terrific boss. He cares a lot about making good policy and getting things done. He’s also fun to work with and takes the time to know people. We have worked out a good travel policy. I drive and pick the music. He doesn’t complain about either and he gets to pick when and where we stop. I’ve traveled with both him and Lynn a couple of times. I love watching them when they bicker like family. I have to be careful around Lynn because she is still a reporter at heart. Once, she came into my office to tell me Disney was going to dispute an opinion I had on campaign finance. I told her Disney should stick to princesses and finding lost fish. It ended up in the paper.