Colorado won’t help broke county pay for recall of Democratic lawmaker

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Pueblo County hasn’t got the money to pay for a recall election against Democratic Sen. Angela Giron, the county clerk wrote in a letter to Colorado’s top election official, adding that the state should foot the bill instead.

In a hat-in-hand letter to Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, county clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz said the county was stretched too thin to afford the estimated $200,000 recall.

“Because of the last minute nature of the Recall Election, our Office does not have the money in our budget for these unexpected expenditures, nor does Pueblo County as a whole,” he wrote in a letter.

“Pueblo County has experienced recent emergency expenditures that have caused an unexpected financial burden to the County adding to our budgetary challenges and making additional funding from Pueblo County unlikely,” he said.

Then he not only asked the state to pay for it — citing a law that says a “political subdivision” is responsible for reimbursing for the cost of elections — but he also asked for the money up front.

“I propose that the amount advanced by the State be placed in an escrow account and that my office be permitted to draw from that account for actual expenses incurred in running the September 10, 2013 recall election,” Ortiz wrote, adding that he’d pay the state back if there was any money left over, or invoice for more if there wasn’t enough.

Gessler, an election law attorney who is considering a run for governor — and who once threatened to sue Ortiz for his plan to send mail-in ballots to inactive voters — blasted the request in a letter of his own, ripping Ortiz in the process for his understanding of what a “political subdivision” is.

“Because the state cannot logically be a subdivision of itself, it follows that the term ‘political subdivision’ … cannot mean the state,” he wrote. “As such, the state has no duty and lacks the authority to reimburse you for the expense of the recall election.”

Gessler also seemed to ping Ortiz for a lack of preparedness, at least as compared to the El Paso County clerk who is also gearing up for a simultaneous recall election of Senate President John Morse.

“[You] alerted your county commissioners in April that your recall costs would run $250,000,” he wrote. “By contrast, El Paso County has estimated its costs at $150,000. By following best practices in El Paso County, you should be able to reduce your costs by 25 to 40 percent. El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams has been preparing for the possibility of a recall election for several months, and you should be able to benefit from his preparation.”

He then took the opportunity to take shots at an election reform bill passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature earlier this year, which was supported by the Colorado County Clerks Association but which Gessler opposed. It increases voting by mail, which Democrats say is efficient and cost-effective. Gessler and other Republicans argue that it increases the chances of voter fraud and will actually cost more.

“Although this legislation will cost my office approximately $1.5 million, you and the Colorado County Clerk’s (sic) Association argued that the legislation would result in substantial county savings,” he wrote. “Surprisingly your 2013 elections budget includes $160,000 more than your 2011 costs, a 25 percent increase, and $130,000 more than your 2009 costs.”

Ortiz also copied his letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose office told the Pueblo Chieftain that they will “respond appropriately,” and to Sen. Pat Steadman, the chairman of the Joint Budget Committee.

“Even if it was legally possible to help Pueblo County, [a funding request] can’t start from the county,” Steadman told the paper. “But if you have a group of voters in their county that want to throw a temper tantrum and have an election, it will cost.”

Giron and Morse are being recalled because of their support for new gun control legislation that limits the size of ammunition magazines and requires universal background checks for all gun transfers.

The election will take place on Sept. 10.

Ortiz told the Denver Post that without help from the state, the Pueblo County Commissioners would have to trim $200,000 from other areas of the budget and that essential services may suffer as a result.

In the Chieftain’s article, he wasn’t sure how to react to Gessler’s letter.

“I think what I got back was a political stab at me,” he said, “and some cynical statements about the House bill and the county clerks association, which I don’t think were warranted in what I was requesting.”

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