Election 2018FeaturedLegislatureNews

Amid residency questions, S. Colorado lawmaker gets a last-minute challenger

Author: Marianne Goodland - July 16, 2018 - Updated: August 7, 2018

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Questions over whether a southern Colorado state representative — a Democrat — actually lives in the district he represents has prompted Republicans to make a last-ditch effort to get their candidate onto the November general election ballot.

Last week, a Denver District Court judge ordered Secretary of State Wayne Williams to put Republican Scott Honeycutt’s name on the general election ballot for House District 62.

Judge Ross Buchanan was ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by the Colorado Republican Party and Honeycutt.

The district encompasses the San Luis Valley and includes seven rural counties and part of Pueblo County.

Valdez
Rep. Donald Valdez (D-La Jara) Photo courtesy Colorado General Assembly

Currently held by Democratic state Rep. Donald Valdez, it’s a solidly “D” district, with nearly 20,000 active Democratic voters, about 13,000 unaffiliated and just over 12,000 Republican active voters.

You’d have to go back 18 years to find its last Republican representative (Jim Snook), who eked out a narrow win (91 votes) over his Democratic opponent, and that’s when it was known as House District 60. Democratic candidates have handily won more than 50 percent of the vote in every election since then.

As first reported by the left-wing blog Colorado Times Recorder, on July 12, Judge Ross Buchanan gave the go-ahead for Honeycutt’s name to appear on the November ballot. Honeycutt was one of two Republicans who put his name forward at the HD62 assembly, held the night before the state GOP assembly.

Honeycutt filed his candidate affidavit with the Secretary of State on April 19, five days after the assembly. The second candidate withdrew his name on May 8.

But a series of paperwork snafus kept him off the primary ballot last month. The blame is being placed primarily on a brand-new district committee chair who failed to file the required certification until a week after the deadline.

However, a court filing stipulating to facts in the lawsuit also points the finger at the state Republican Party for failing to notice that Honeycutt’s name was missing from a list of GOP candidates listed for the primary and provided to the GOP on April 27.

The deadline for ensuring all candidates’ names appeared on the June 26 primary ballot was May 2; the HD62 assembly finally submitted Honeycutt’s paperwork to the Secretary of State a week later.

No matter, Buchanan ruled, relying on a state law — CRS 1-604(5) — that says the late filing “of the certificate of designation shall not deprive candidates of their candidacy.”

For now, Honeycutt’s name will be on the ballot unless a court orders a stay, according to the Secretary of State’s office. The lawsuit and an appeal filed by Tierney Lawrence, which does legal work for the state Democratic Party, is now in the hands of the Colorado Supreme Court.

Lawrence’s client in the case is a Democratic resident of HD62, Kristen Lucero of Alamosa. Her attempt to keep Honeycutt off the ballot is based on the premise that, under state law, candidates for the general election must also be elected in the primary, even if there is no other primary candidate.

So why do Republicans all of a sudden think they have a shot in this district? One word: Residency.

Last April, Democrats in the district raised questions about whether incumbent Valdez actually lives in the district. He got married in 2017 and listed his wife’s million-dollar home in Pueblo West as his residence on the marriage license. Pueblo West isn’t in the district.

He later said he and his wife — a vice president of a Pueblo construction company and a bank director for Pueblo Bank and Trust — were searching for a new home in the San Luis Valley.

Valdez has for the last several years listed his parents’ home in La Jara, in Conejos County, as his home in voter registration records, which is the standard required by the Secretary of State for proof of residency.

Valdez’ residency problem makes this seat competitive in a way that it might not have been before, according to Daniel Cole, the spokesman for the state Republican party.

Honeycutt, of Alamosa, told Colorado Politics he was born and raised in the valley and has lived there his entire life. His family has owned a rodeo company in the area since 1949. He is a farmer and rancher who supplies livestock to the rodeo company and he also owns a trucking company.

The 2018 election will be his first-ever run for an elected office. “I’m not a politician and not hung up” on party labels, Honeycutt said. “I want to do what’s right for the valley. It’s time someone stood up and did what’s right instead of what’s easy.”

As to his opponent, Honeycutt said a lot of people are unhappy with Valdez, although he acknowledged that Democrats have held the district for a long time.

So far, Honeycutt is way behind Valdez on the money side of the race. He hasn’t reported a single contribution in four campaign finance filings; his only funds so far have been his own.

Valdez, however, isn’t doing much better. While he has more than $8,000 in his campaign coffers, he’s raised only $375 since mid-January.

Valdez did not return an email request for comment.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.