El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa says that unnamed Democrats in Colorado’s state Senate have threatened to withhold pay raises for the state’s sheriffs in retaliation for their opposition to a package of gun control measures that will get their final vote in the Senate on Monday.
Maketa, a Republican elected in 2002, made the allegation on a talk radio show Saturday. He told KVOR host Jeff Crank that he received an email from a member of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, a lobbying group, informing him that “the Senate Dem leadership is very upset with the sheriffs and their opposition to the gun control bills.”
Maketa did not say who sent him the email or who allegedly threatened to delay voting on a bill that would raise sheriffs’ salaries in Colorado. He also hasn’t released the email, and CSOC president Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee told the Denver Post he hadn’t heard about the allegation.
But Maketa discussed the alleged threat at length on the radio show and he was clear in his opinion that the pressure he said Democrats were applying amounted to “coercion” and “extortion.” He promised to ask Attorney General John Suthers to open an investigation.
“What they’re saying is ‘you have really upset us,'” he told KVOR host Jeff Crank, “and it’s almost a coercion, extortion, blackmail or influence of a public official through pay.”
Because sheriffs are elected in Colorado, their salaries are set by the state legislature, which follows the recommendations of a salary commission. Maketa said sheriffs haven’t seen a pay raise since 2006 and are due a 10 percent increase.
Maketa later expanded on his comments, taking to his Facebook page to clarify that he personally wasn’t “threatened or coerced,” but that the message was delivered verbally to a CSOC member by someone in the Democratic leadership in the Senate.
“This message insinuated that this could negatively affect the salary bill which has been delayed and put off by the Democrats with the excuse that they would expect bipartisan support,” he wrote. “I do believe the salary proposal is being held hostage and I believe that if they’re willing to send gun control measures without bipartisan support then they should be willing to take a stand as the majority leadership and follow a democrat-created [sic] commission’s recommendations.”
Senate president John Morse issued a statement Monday morning refuting the sheriff’s claims.
“These allegations are not only false, they are ridiculous,” he wrote. “Sheriff Maketa is referencing an email from a member of the sheriff’s trade association, CSOC — a lobbying and political organization. He has provided no evidence that anyone in leadership actually said or emailed they were withholding a pay increase to get support on the gun safety bills.”
County sheriffs have been among the most vocal and visible opponents of Democratic-sponsored gun control bills, with some vowing not to enforce legislation that they deem to be unconstitutional. During testimony on one of the bills last week, Maketa stood with a group of other sheriffs behind Weld County Sheriff John Cooke as he testified against it.
On the radio show, Maketa said sheriffs were particularly opposed to a bill that would require those accused of domestic violence to surrender their firearms and ammunition.
“Even prior to conviction for a crime, they are forcing citizens, before being proven guilty, to surrender their weapons,” he said.
Gun bills were debated throughout the day Friday, with the Senate advancing five of them for a final vote today. Three have already passed the House.
“I think it absolutely needs to be looked into,” Maketa said of the alleged threat. “A line needs to be drawn between right from wrong and a legal approach versus an unlawful act on behalf of the leadership.”
He said he hopes to hold accountable those “that are expressing in an indirect way, sheriffs obey or you will pay.”
In the Post, Morse said he declined a request by some county commissioners a month ago to introduce a bill to raise county officials’ salaries, but that it was because of the state of the economy and had nothing to do with gun legislation.
“For Democrats to carry a bill for pay raises while Colorado families are struggling isn’t something we’re committed to,” he said, adding that no Republican lawmakers are calling for pay raises either.
On the radio and on Facebook, Maketa emphasized that such a pay raise would not affect him personally since he is term-limited and would be out of office by the time it took effect.
He did not reply to a request for comment.
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