Opinion

BIDLACK | Law barring Lamborn from the ballot is just plain silly

Author: Hal Bidlack - April 27, 2018 - Updated: April 27, 2018

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Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

You have no idea how hard it is for me to write these words: Doug Lamborn should appear on the June primary ballot for the GOP nomination for Colorado’s 5th Congressional District. There, I said it. Yuck.

You see, I ran against Mr. Lamborn back in 2008. He and I agree on, well, nothing. I feel he has been one of the most ineffective and highly partisan members of the U.S. House of Representatives. He is wrong on nearly every issue (I guess we both like the Broncos) and he has not represented his district very well. But he should be on the ballot.

The recent Colorado Supreme Court decision that kicked Mr. Lamborn off the primary ballot is, I have no doubt, correct legally. It seems Colorado law requires that those collecting signature for a candidate to “petition” onto the ballot must themselves be Colorado residents. The law is clear. But it’s a dumb law…

In my own case in 2008, I didn’t go the signature route. Rather, I won the party’s nomination at the CD-5 Assembly, so it’s easy for me to complain about petitioning on. And of course, as a former candidate and former county chair of the local Democratic Party, I would really like a Dem to win down here in the Colorado Springs area. In this heavily GOP area, the only chance a Democrat might have in the general election, frankly, would be for there to be a Republican “official” candidate, from the GOP primary, and for Mr. Lamborn to also mount a write-in campaign, hopefully splitting the Republican vote. It’s a long shot, but it may be the only shot the Dems have in CD-5. And I could go on at length about the hypocrisy of Mr. Lamborn now turning to the federal court system in an attempt to overturn a state court’s ruling about a state law. Small government? Right… Unless you need the feds to undo something. State’s rights? Not so much…

So, I should be happy about the court’s decision, shouldn’t I? But the problem is that I believe there are fundamental and larger issues beyond immediate political gain. The law requiring those collecting signatures to be Colorado residents is, well, I said it above, dumb. I can see the motivation for this law – you want local folks working to get local candidates on the ballot. But there are larger issues of what is right and what is wrong. The Colorado legislature should, in a non-partisan manner – change the law to void the requirement that signature collectors be state residents.

Why? Well, there is a rather basic and overriding principle at work here. We should lower, rather than raise, the bar that prevents Colorado residents from being involved in the electoral process, from being candidates on down to the voters. The non-Coloradan who collected some of Mr. Lamborn’s signatures approached residents of CD-5 and asked them to support Mr. Lamborn. Those individuals signed their names in good faith that they were committing an act of civic responsibility. They were taking part in the political process and were expressing their political opinion. Those legitimate voices were stilled by the state Supreme Court when they ruled that the signatures were invalid – not because of the act of the signatories, but rather because the person collecting the names had the wrong home state.

Under this law, if you, gentle reader, decided to run for Congress, and your mom and dad lived in Kansas, it would be illegal for them to swing by on the weekends to help you collect signatures. Your college friend who strongly believes in you and is willing to fly out for a week to help also becomes a quasi-criminal if he or she signs anyone up on a petition. It is entirely reasonable and proper that those signing the petitions must live in the District, but it is silly to say that those otherwise-valid signatures are tainted by the collector’s residency.

Look, I’m a pretty partisan fellow, and I want to win the seat. But I’m also a retired career military officer and American, and some things are more important than party (hint: Mr. Trump, that’s true for you too!). And while it almost certainly condemns any Democratic candidate to lose, as I did, the law should be changed, and Mr. Lamborn’s signatures should count.

I can feel the irritation radiating from my liberal friends, as well as the confusion exuding from my conservative ones. But right is right, and silly is silly. Doug Lamborn is a terrible congressman, but that doesn’t mean that his supporters should have their otherwise valid voices stilled.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.