For the moment, it does not appear that Republican El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams will face a primary in his bid for secretary of state. Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Doty told The Colorado Statesman on Monday that she would not pursue the race, despite having said earlier that she was considering it.
Doty said she is already preoccupied with her work as a county commissioner, and also has several personal matters to attend to that make it difficult for her to engage in a statewide race.
“I’ve decided not to do it,” she said. “I’m a county commissioner… and for personal reasons also, I’d be away from home way too much, and I want to focus on Arapahoe County.”
No other Republicans have signaled that they are considering challenging Williams in a primary. Williams announced his campaign in early October after it became clear that Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler would be pursuing a bid for governor, rather than re-election.
Williams has already drummed up high-profile endorsements, including former Gov. Bill Owens, former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong, Attorney General John Suthers, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, and a long list of state and local officials, among others.
He is relieved that for the moment it does not appear that he is facing a primary.
“A primary election costs more money than the absence of one, so I am hopeful that as I visit with others, as they take a look at my record and my support, that others will choose not to get into the race,” said Williams.
“But it certainly is an open process for folks to do,” he added. “But I’ve been working hard and I’ve been all around the state, and I will continue to be in many places for the next 11 months, and so I’m going to run hard, and hopefully, as other people look at the race, they will see that I have a lot to offer as a candidate. Ultimately they will support me, that’s what I hope.”
Williams said one of his challenges is developing name recognition. Though the secretary of state race is a statewide election, it doesn’t have the top-of-the-ticket appeal that other races have, thereby making it difficult to get voters to pay attention.
Williams earned some recognition this summer by administering a successful recall election to oust then-Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. The recall election was the first in state history, making the unknowns a frightening factor. But the election went off without debacle.
Williams was even thrown several curveballs during the process, including court cases that essentially eliminated mail balloting.
A new election law passed this year by Democrats also complicated matters for both the special election and the general election in November. Ongoing court cases are seeking to clarify aspects of House Bill 1303, including confusion over residency requirements and how to count inactive voters.
Issues relating to HB 1303 are likely to pop up on the campaign trail in statewide races, especially in the secretary of state’s race, as whoever takes over that office will be responsible for continuing to implement the new election law, while working on any possible tweaks to it.
But despite the confusion, Williams was able to administer two elections in El Paso County that raised few complaints.
For his work, Williams was awarded the Regional Leader of the Year award by the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.
“Both my office and I did a very good job in that process, and I think that is the type of thing that illustrates why I would be a good secretary of state for Colorado,” surmised Williams.
Williams, an attorney, acknowledges that he has his work cut out for him outside of the Front Range. But he points out that his 20 years of experience in public policy makes it less of a challenge.
He previously served as special legal counsel for the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office and as a member of the El Paso County Election Canvass Board.
He also served as an El Paso County commissioner for District 1, and he served three times as chairman of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. In addition to those posts, Williams served as the chairman of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority and president of the Baptist Road Rural Transportation Authority. He has served as the region’s representative to Colorado’s Statewide Transportation Advisory Committee.
He has also served as the chairman of the Colorado Springs Housing Authority, Boy Scout Troop Committee, and as a member of the Pikes Peak Community Action Agency board.
His political roles have also been notable, serving as the former chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party.
“Having served in the state’s most populace county for 12 years helps, and having been one of the regional leaders here helps with that process,” explained Williams. “But there is another seven-eighths of the state that I still need to get my name known in.
“But as I’ve gone to the events around the state, one of the things that I’ve found in most of these is that there is at least someone there who knows me, and usually someone who is supporting me…” he added.
Another issue that Williams will grapple with is distinguishing himself from Gessler, an outspoken conservative who has raised several eyebrows over his tenure as secretary of state.
Liberals have nicknamed Gessler the “honey badger” because of his fearless, and sometimes unilateral, approach to governance. Gessler has faced ethics charges and countless court cases as a result of his actions.
Before he was even settled into his position as secretary of state, Gessler was criticized for attempting to moonlight at his old law firm, Hackstaff and Gessler LLC, now the Hackstaff Law Group. The move was particularly controversial because the law firm deals with election law.
Often, Gessler has ended up on the negative end of his decisions, including a determination by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission that he violated ethics standards when he used state funds to pay for airfare and hotel expenses to and from Florida for the Republican National Lawyers Association and Republican National Convention in August 2012.
Democrats are sure to attempt to connect any Republican candidate to Gessler during the election.
Williams said he agrees with Gessler on many issues, but he was careful to paint a distinction between himself and the current secretary of state.
“Scott and I agree on many things, but I think my campaign, my candidacy, is going to be different, and I think my record in office is different,” said Williams.
“That record is one that I’m going to highlight; the fact that I have support from across the political spectrum,” he continued. “I think that’s critical when you run statewide. I have a reputation of working with people whatever their political beliefs may be.”
Could Democrats scorch the earth?
Only one Democrat has officially announced a run for secretary of state, University of Colorado Regent Joe Neguse.
Former Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon was considering a run — having filed paperwork — though he never formally announced. Gordon unexpectedly died on Dec. 22, leaving Neguse as the only Democrat who has filed for the election.
But the Colorado political world is anxiously awaiting word on whether ousted state Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo will join in a Democratic primary.
Giron was recalled from office this summer after her support for gun control. But she has been conducting polling and speaking with Democratic leaders about a potential run for secretary of state.
The move could be damaging to Democrats, as Neguse has already secured endorsements and has mounted a campaign. A messy primary could scorch the earth and leave Williams with the upper hand, especially if he is spared a costly primary.
Giron did not return repeated calls to her cell phone by The Statesman seeking comment.
Neguse declined to comment on the politics, instead focusing on the unexpected death of Gordon.
“Ken Gordon was a statesman and a friend, and I am deeply saddened by the terrible news of his passing,” said Neguse. “Ken embodied the phrase public service — he touched countless lives, including my own, and he will be deeply missed.
“My thoughts and prayers are with his family and many friends, and I hope they take comfort in knowing that his many great contributions to our state and our democracy will live on,” Neguse continued.
Neguse is an ambitious young up-and-comer in the Colorado Democratic political world. At 29 years old, he is already a CU regent for CD 2.
He has earned many high-profile endorsements, including from Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter, former Secretary of the Interior and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, and a long list of state and local officials, among others.
Neguse has raised at least $102,000 as of the Oct. 15 filings. Williams’ first filing is due on Jan. 15.
Neguse also has an inspirational story to tell while he is on the campaign trail. He is a first generation American whose parents fled a war-torn country in east Africa.
But Williams is not overly concerned about his potential Democratic challenger. He believes he has experience over Neguse that makes him the better candidate.
“The main issue on the campaign trail is who can run elections and has experience to ensure that Colorado elections are run cleanly and fairly,” said Williams.