by Rick Langenberg
A somewhat controversial political figure and state official, who was responsible for spearheading efforts to overhaul the Teller County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, has entered the competitive showdown for Colorado governor. As expected, Secretary of State Scott Gessler made it official last week and announced his plans to challenge John Hickenlooper for the 2014 gubernatorial seat. However, Hickenlooper, a Democrat, still hasn’t announced whether he will seek re-election or not. Plus, Gessler may face some hefty competition to capture the Republican nomination for governor.
But at least for now, many mainstream Republican leaders in the Front Range are expected to rally behind Gessler, elected as the secretary of state in 2010. He previously worked as an elections law attorney from Denver.
His emergence as a Republican front-runner in the governor’s campaign could provide a stronger profile for Teller County, which typically has assumed a backseat position and rarely attracts gubernatorial candidates. Several key local elected leaders have established close ties with Gessler.
Gessler played a big role in forcing an overhaul of the Teller clerk office, actions that led to the resignation of Teller County Clerk and Recorder Judith “JJ” Jamison at the beginning of 2013. More specifically, last summer he made a special appearance before the county commissioners, when he announced sweeping reforms, such as having an outside elections consultant manage the November presidential election for Teller County. Gessler said he was taking a pro-active approach to correct growing election woes for Teller County. His appearance came in the wake of a heavily scrutinizing report he authored that strongly criticized the way the 2012 primary election was handled by the Teller clerk. His concerns were echoed by the county commissioners, who publicly blasted Jamison at several meetings and mentioned big financial consequences for the county. The reforms advocated by Gessler cost Teller County nearly an additional $100,000.
However, Jamison and her supporters have referred to this attack as an outright witch hunt and questioned the agenda of certain state and county leaders. Jamison and her proponets also say problems existed for some time in the clerk and recorder’s office, and cite the turnover problems the office had experienced. But with the threat of a recall campaign, Jamison stepped down in early January and Krystal Brown, the deputy clerk, became the interim and then full-fledged clerk and recorder
Besides the Teller County election controversy, Gessler found himself in the center of other state-wide election controversies, such as tougher measures aimed at forcing immigrants to prove they are eligible electors and opposing plans to allow more people to register to vote on the actual election day. These plans have come under heavy attack by state Democrats.
In his announcement, Gessler cited the need to take the state in a different direction. “I think we can make this a better place to live, to find a job, to go to school,” said Gessler, who has strongly opposed Hickenlooper’s support of billion-dollar tax increase and disagrees with his approach to economic development. He will face competition for the Republican nomination by Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray and former congressman and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo. But these latter candidates have been labeled as more extreme, a fact that may bode well for Gessler.
If Gessler does get the green light, the door may be open for El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams to seek the Secretary of State spot. Williams said he may make a decision in the next month regarding his future political aspirations.