Colorado senator, sheriff escalate war of words on Facebook

Greg Campbell | Contributor

While the first of Colorado’s several contentious gun bills may be ready for Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature as soon as today, the dust has far from settled in the war of words between Senate President John Morse and El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.

The two are now duking it out on Facebook over whether Senate Democrats threatened to withhold pay raises for county sheriffs who opposed the gun bills.

On Saturday, Maketa told a Colorado Springs radio station that a member of the County Sheriffs of Colorado had emailed him that unnamed Senate Democrats were angry at CSOC because of its members’ opposition to gun bills, and that they may withhold a vote on a bill to raise sheriffs’ pay.

On his Facebook page Tuesday, Maketa, a Republican, went into more detail. He wrote that the email implied that Senate Democrats wanted the lobbying organization’s support of Senate Bill 197, which would prevent those accused of domestic violence from possessing firearms, in exchange for a favorable view of the pay raise issue.

Maketa has not said who sent the email or where the information in it came from, but he quoted it, in part, as saying, “I have been advised by a reliable source at the Capitol that the Dems are seriously not pleased with the CSOC positions on the gun bills, and given the potential for a real salary bill to be introduced as you shall see from a follow-up email from (an unnamed sheriff), support of SB197 would put us in a more favorable light for salary bill support from the Dems.”

Maketa called this “extortion” and said he would call for an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office.

His Facebook post also complained that not all those who showed up in opposition to the bills were given a chance to testify when they were heard by Senate committees last week.

“Historically, any citizen would be allowed to speak if they arrived at the Capitol early and signed up on testimony records,” he wrote. “Although sign up sheets were in place and citizens including myself signed up, we were completely disregarded.”

“It’s estimated the number of people in attendance reached 1,000,” he continued. “I spoke to several and was told they just wanted their voice to be heard. Many of them had never been to the Capitol, let alone testified on any bill. Some brought their children as a lesson in civics and sacrificed a day at work to participate in the law making process. Unfortunately, what they hoped for never happened.”

Morse fired back on Tuesday, using his own Facebook page to call out Maketa for “lying to the public.”

“In no way did I, nor my office, threaten the sheriffs that if they did not support these bills, they would not get a pay increase,” he wrote.

Morse said that he would support a bill to raise county officials’ salaries only if half the Republicans in the Democratic-controlled state legislature also agreed to support such a measure.

“My point was that a salary increase for elected county officials would only occur if there was broad bi-partisan support,” he wrote. “So far, they have been unable to do obtain these co-sponsors.”

He added that discussions about such a bill occurred long before CSOC opposed the gun bills.

Morse also pushed back on Maketa’s complaint that opponents didn’t have enough time to testify against the gun bills. He said for expediency’s sake, testimony was limited to three hours for each bill, with each side getting 90 minutes to present witnesses. Republicans were in charge of coordinating who would testify against the bills.

“If there are issues with the testimony opposing these bills it is best to direct those concerns to the Minority Leader Sen. [Bill] Cadman,” Morse wrote.

“Last, I would be remiss to not call Sheriff Maketa out on launching false claims,” he concluded. “He is in law enforcement and as such should use the highest degree of care in his accusations. In this case, what he alleged flat did not occur.”

“Furthermore,” he continued, “he didn’t have a shred of evidence even suggesting that it might have occurred. CSOC admits they were not threatened by Democratic Senate leadership, but rather were stating their own internal opinions to their own internal members. This debate has stooped pretty low, but I am shocked that a senior law enforcement official would go this low.”

This exchange of blows isn’t likely to be the end of the story. Since his original post on Tuesday, Maketa has taken his argument to YouTube.

And a group called Basic Freedom Defense Fund announced Wednesday that they are initiating a recall election against Morse.

Meanwhile, two guns bills are scheduled for their final vote in the state House Wednesday, one requiring universal background checks for all gun transfers and one limiting ammunition magazines to no more than 15 rounds.

Hickenlooper has said he would sign both measures into law once they reach his desk.

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