Resign to run: Public deserves the undivided attention of officeholders

Authors: Steve Durham, Jim Kerr - September 29, 2017 - Updated: September 29, 2017

Steve Durham

Down in Texas, the state legislature is considering measures to require local governments to seek voter approval before raising taxes, along the lines of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Here in Colorado, we might want to return the favor by adopting a version of Texas’s “resign-to-run” law, a measure that requires some state and local officials to resign their present office before running for a different office.

This is a common-sense measure, already law in five states, that Colorado should have adopted long ago. Campaigning for another office takes a lot of time and almost certainly means that the candidate will neglect current responsibilities, shortchanging taxpayers. Ask yourself, “Why should taxpayers continue to pay an officeholder when he or she is spending considerable time on the campaign trail seeking a new office?”

Defenders of the Texas policy see it as necessary. As the organization We Texans has argued, “The ‘resign-to-run’ provision was added to the Texas Constitution in 1958 and was designed to insure officeholders gave their undivided attention to the duties of their office rather than campaigning while in the middle of their term.” What a refreshing concept: paid politicians giving their full and complete attention to the responsibilities they promised to carry out.

Jim Kerr

The current Texas law forces an automatic resignation when a candidate seeks a different office 13 months before his or her current term ends. Eighteen different types of officials are covered, including judges, clerks, district attorneys, and various county officeholders. We see no reason not to include any full-time elective state or elective office-holder. Part-time officials such as legislators and school board members could be exempted. But even legislators should be prohibited from campaigning during a session, just as they are now blocked from fundraising.

Let’s look at some current races to see the effect of this. George Brauchler, the Arapahoe District Attorney is campaigning nearly full time for the office of governor these days. If you don’t believe us, check out his Facebook page. Almost every day, sometimes twice or three times a day lately, he’s here or there in Colorado, making speeches and pressing the flesh, soliciting campaign contributions. Recent disclosures regarding his salary have shown that taxpayers are paying him $195,000 a year to be D.A. Is he devoting his “undivided attention” to being D.A. and earning his paycheck? No.

Hey, we don’t protest Brauchler running, but he should resign his well-paid current post to do so.

Running for one office while holding another also creates other problems. A candidate’s current office staff and resources can get diverted to serving campaign interests. A candidate may be tempted to give special treatment to those who can help them in their new campaign.

Opponents of resign-to-run say that such laws may discourage candidates from seeking lower-level “stepping-stone” positions. This supposedly would deprive “the system” of the experience candidates gain climbing the ladder from one office to the next. Some critics also say resign-to-run favors self-funded candidates over candidates of more limited means who have to keep a paying job in government in order to seek any other office.

These are cynical and unproven objections. Not everyone in elective positions is or should spend a lifetime “climbing the ladder” to ever-more power. Taking some time off to work in the private sector between elective positions and campaigns could actually make an officeholder more responsive to voters.

And evidently normal economics don’t always work in politics. George Brauchler wants to give up a D.A. job that pays $195,000 for the governor’s office that pays $90,000. Do the math. Something besides salary is motivating him.

Steve Durham

Steve Durham

Steve Durham represents the 5th Congressional District on the Colorado State Board of Education. He is a former member of the Colorado General Assembly.

Jim Kerr

Jim Kerr

Jim Kerr served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 2005 to 2013.