Legislative session drove home need for real change in Secretary of State's office - Colorado Politics

Legislative session drove home need for real change in Secretary of State’s office

Author: - May 15, 2009 - Updated: May 15, 2009

Dear Editor,

Back in early January I announced my bid for Colorado Secretary of State. I have entered the race in order to make positive changes, based on my experience drawn from years of practicing election law, running small businesses, serving as an Army officer, and working as a federal prosecutor. My goal is to bring meaningful leadership to that office, so we have election systems that are fair and trustworthy.

But this last legislative session really drove home the need for real changes at the Secretary of State’s office. For example, the Democrat-dominated General Assembly just passed legislation — House Bill 1326 — that greatly damages our right to initiative.

Overall, HB 1326 is a lawyer’s dream come true — if you are trying to stop initiatives, that is. First, it allows someone to challenge qualifying signatures on any basis, welcoming any clever attorney to dream up a reason why a citizen’s signature should not count.

HB 1326 also includes a “bounty-hunter provision” — lawyers can collect their attorney fees from circulators for certain violations. It might sound reasonable on its face, but there are three big problems. First, it scares away circulators — even if they do nothing wrong, they have to hire an attorney to defend themselves. Second, it gives challengers a huge incentive to throw a lot of mud at the wall, hoping that something will stick and they’ll win attorney fees. Third, it will attract litigation like flies — and we should give Colorado voters a chance to vote on initiatives, not tie initiatives up in court.

HB 1326 also games the system in favor of challengers by changing normal court rules. If a signature collector doesn’t show up in court every person who signed the petition would have his or her name involuntarily struck. We’ve had the initiative process for about 100 years now, and this is the most unfair, draconian rule designed to prevent Coloradans’ voices from being heard.

The list of injustices in this legislation goes on and on. For the first time, signatures can be struck for even the most harmless error.

HB 1326 is almost entirely form over substance. It was penned by those angry at the initiative process, those who seem to feel that we should not have as many chances to vote on initiatives. But the fact is, this bill creates open season for protestors — and their actions are not tempered by a sense of justice. Rather, they want more legal tools to defeat their political opponents in court, rather than facing open debate in front of the voters.

My opponent for Secretary of State, Governor Ritter’s appointee Bernie Beuscher, strongly supported this damaging and unfair legislation. Perhaps he just didn’t know enough about the initiative process to understand how bad this is.

But Colorado voters deserve someone who will stand up for voters, and make sure we in Colorado keep the freedom to propose legislation, without legal harassment. Secretary Beuscher has been in office for four months, and one of his most significant acts is to support this assault on our right to initiative.

Scott Gessler
Candidate for Colorado Secretary of State

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