The Colorado Statesman
No question seems too personal these days in the vetting of political appointees.
Those applying for a job in Barack Obama’s administration are required to fill out a seven-page, 63-question grilling. Among other revelations, they must disclose any traffic tickets over $50.
And the vetting questionnaire Dick Cheney composed when conducting George W. Bush’s vice-presidential search in 2000 was even more intrusive, featuring more than 200 questions. (Cheney, in the end, picked himself for the job without answering the questions — but not before collecting a whole lot of dirt on others.)
Given the Washington D.C. norm, the utter transparency of the process of picking a new secretary of state for Colorado is downright amazing.
If you’re looking for a job, you may have heard that literally anyone was entitled to apply to replace Secretary of State Mike Coffman, who recently won a seat in Congress.
Now that the Nov. 17 deadline to apply has passed, Gov. Bill Ritter will have a seven-member panel go through the 20 applications and select three finalists. Ritter will make a final selection in December.
The one-page questionnaire filled out by applicants featured only one moderately probing, highly unspecific question:
“Yes or No: Is there anything in your background that might be an embarrassment to the governor if it were to become public?”
All 20 applicants, of course, answered “no.”
Not only that, but, in contrast to the applications for jobs at the White House, the public can read these. An open records request seeking information about the Colorado secretary of state applications yielded 152 pages: the resumes, personal statements and references for all 20 job-seekers — and some very high-profile ones at that. (And some…not so much.)
Often, government personnel matters are exempt from open records requests. Although the governor’s office arguably could have tried to withhold the applications on those grounds, instead they decided to open up the initial process for filling this very high-profile position.
Many more personal questions — with publicly unavailable responses — will undoubtedly be raised when Ritter gets into a room with each of the three finalists.
While there are no real shockers in the job applications, some colorful tidbits can be found in the competition for the state’s most attractive, available political job. (Notwithstanding the $68,000 salary and the need to defend oneself constantly against accusations of conflict of interest and partisanship.)
Without further ado, the highlights of every application, categorized roughly by the likelihood of the applicant landing the job.
Note that Republicans are a little bit further down on this list than their experience would seem to dictate. Ritter says he won’t consider party affiliation as he makes his selection. We’ll believe it when we see it.
• Rosemary Rodriguez, D-Washington, D.C.
Relevant Experience: Chair of the federal Election Assistance Commission, which oversees implementation of the 2002 Help America Vote Act across the country. In other words, she holds arguably the most important election-related job in the country, but wants to move back to Denver. Also, Rodriguez served on the Denver City Council for four years, and was Denver County clerk and recorder before that.
References: Donetta Davidson, the former chair of the EAC and the former Colorado secretary of state; Tim Daly, government relations, Western Union; David Broadwell, Denver City Attorney’s Office.
Application Fact: According to Rodriguez’s application, she never completed her undergraduate political science degree at Metro State.
Key Quote: “Given the ever-changing voting patterns and technology, experience and expertise such as mine will be desperately needed over the next few years.”
Outlook: If elections experience is the deciding factor, Rodriguez is the clear favorite. It may have irked some county clerks, though, that the EAC still hasn’t released federal standards for testing electronic voting machines, despite years of work devoted to creating those standards.
• Rep. Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver
Relevant Experience: Colorado speaker of the House, term-limited in January; sponsored bills to strengthen campaign finance laws, restrict gifts to public officials and candidates, and to create an address confidentiality program for victims of domestic violence.
References: Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins; Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs; Rep. Rob Witwer, R-Golden.
Application Fact: Romanoff graduated cum laude from Yale, and obtained a master’s in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
Key Quote: “Above all, though, it is my commitment to bipartisanship — or, better yet, nonpartisanship — that makes me qualified for this post. Partisanship should play no role in fulfilling the secretary of state’s responsibilities.”
Outlook: Romanoff probably would be the most politically appealing choice, given his bipartisan appeal. He’d also undoubtedly be competent. One question is whether he’ll be offered another job — perhaps in the Obama administration — as the selection process for secretary of state is running its course.
• Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction
Relevant Experience: former chairman of the Joint Budget Committee; former executive director of the Colorado Department of
Health Care Policy and Financing; attorney.
References: Peg Ackerman, lobbyist for Colorado County Clerks Association; Janice Rich, Mesa County clerk and recorder; Cary Kennedy, state treasurer.
Application Fact: In his free time, Buescher enjoys golf and reading.
Key Quote: “I have demonstrated an ability to work with members on both sides of the aisle.”
Outlook: Buescher was supposed to replace Romanoff as speaker but suffered a shocking loss in his legislative race to Laura Bradford — so Buescher is now competing with Romanoff for a job. Buescher, who hails from the Western Slope, would give more geographic balance to the array of Democratic statewide office-holders. Also, he gets along with Rich, which
is something Coffman definitely couldn’t say.
• Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver
Relevant Experience: Colorado Senate Majority Leader, term-limited in January; sponsor of 37 bills related to election law; Democratic nominee for secretary of state’s office in 2006; heads the Colorado Election Reform Commission.
References: Federico Peña, former Denver mayor; Dick Lamm, former governor; Dottie Lamm, former U.S. Senate candidate; Bill Kaufman, former Republican state representative.
Application Fact: Named Westword’s “Best Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year” in 1988.
Key Quote: “I vow that, if selected, I will conduct myself in a fair and nonpartisan manner. I think even Republicans in the Legislature would agree that I have worked hard to be fair to all parties during my time in the House and Senate.”
Outlook: There’s no doubt Gordon knows more about voting than almost anyone on the list. But what chance would he have of being re-elected in 2010? On his resume, Gordon touts having won 49 percent of the vote during the 2006 election. Is that something to brag about? If Gordon couldn’t win during a near Democratic sweep, when could he win?
The Dark Horses
•Aaron Harber, D-Lafayette
Relevant Experience: Host of the well-respected “Aaron Harber Show;” background in technology, as president of the Silicon Valley computer-aided software engineering firm TeamOne Systems; undergraduate degree from Princeton, master’s degree from Kennedy School of Government at Harvard; ran for secretary of state in 1982, and again in 1990 as the Democratic nominee.
References: Joe Blake, president and CEO of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce; former Republican U.S. senator and University of Colorado president Hank Brown; former Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Hart; Willard Rowland, president and CEO of KBDI.
Application Fact: Harber had by far the longest application, coming in at a whopping 15 pages. It also included a headshot. And then there’s the human interest factoid: that a highlight of Harber’s life was his stint as bat boy for the Chicago White Sox at age 15. (He was selected because he won a Chicago newspaper’s essay-writing contest.)
Key Quote: “In observing some of the previous occupants of the office, it was obvious that their lack of background in any high technology arena contributed to poor decision-making. While any secretary of state needs to rely on the expertise of his or her staff, having a first-hand understanding of high technology allows the secretary of state to make far better decisions.”
Outlook: As crazy as it sounds, Harber makes some sense to us as secretary of state. He’s proven to have a bipartisan approach with both parties and has an IT background. But how “outside the box” is Ritter willing to think?
• Sherry Jackson, D-Denver
Relevant Experience: Executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party; former Denver County clerk and recorder.
References: Democratic U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar; Alan Salazar, chief of staff for Democratic Sen.-elect Mark Udall; Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper; former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb; and former state Sen. Penfield Tate, D-Denver.
Outlook: Positive: Amazing references within the Democratic Party. Negative: No references from the Republican Party.
Favorite if the governor wants to blow up voting machines
• Claudia Kuhns, Denver
Relevant Experience: Was the chief researcher and investigator for Conroy v. Dennis, the 2006 case in which voting activists successfully sued for the state’s electronic voting equipment to be retested; frequently quoted opponent of current Secretary of State Mike Coffman.
References: Paul Hultin, plaintiff’s attorney in Conroy; Karen Chapman, attorney; Shelley Cohen, M.D.
Application Fact: Kuhns also is a yoga instructor. Given her constant attacks on Coffman’s administration, this has sometimes been used to retaliate against her. For instance, after Kuhns wrote a letter to The Statesman last year bashing former Department of State IT Director Dan Kopelman, Kopelman responded in his own letter that Kuhns had perhaps become an expert on state personnel matters because she had “meditated on the subject and came to the conclusion from a chakra…”
Key Quote: “Part of the process of democracy is to create an atmosphere of inclusiveness. Citizen groups who work to increase the franchise should be more strongly included.”
Outlook: Kuhns is a long shot, of course. But if the new secretary of state decides to follow Florida and California in completely scrapping electronic voting machines, Kuhns would be a knowledgeable resource. When the California secretary of state won election on a platform of election reform in 2006, she appointed a voting integrity activist as her deputy.
Qualified, but Republican
• Scott Gessler, R-Denver
Relevant Experience: Leading Republican election lawyer in the firm of Hackstaff Gessler; currently serves on the Election Reform Commission; expertise in voting rights; undergrad at Yale, JD at Michigan, MBA at Northwestern.
References: former Republican Secretary of State Donetta Davidson; former Republican Secretary of State Gigi Dennis; Republican Secretary of State Mike Coffman. (We must note that Gessler’s listing of Coffman is surprising. The two had more than a little bad blood during the 6th Congressional District Republican primary, when Gessler served as legal counsel for Coffman’s opponent, Wil Armstrong.)
Application Fact: Gessler is a former trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice criminal division and a major in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Outlook: No one doubts that Gessler’s a great lawyer, but his record indicates he is about as partisan a Republican as they come. Check out any public filing for a 527 or a 501(c)4 group that’s running attacks against a Democrat, and you’re likely to find Gessler as the group’s registered agent. Gessler, however, could be a strong secretary of state candidate for the Republicans in 2010.
• Jessica Lovingier, R-Gilpin County
Relevant Experience: Gilpin County Clerk; in 1993, at the age of 29, became the youngest elected clerk in state history.
References: Roger Baker, Gilpin County manager; Tobias Tonelli, president of RkM Technologies; Michelle Nauer, Ouray County clerk.
Application Fact: Lovingier never attended college.
Key Quote: “I have much to learn, and I am very eager to begin. I know that I may not be the top candidate for this position yet. I believe as you learn more about me, begin to understand me, you too will start to see all that I have to offer and all that I can do, regardless of party or politics.”
Outlook: Surprisingly, Lovingier is the only county clerk to apply for the job. Excluding the fact that she’s a Republican, if she were a bit better established she might be higher up on the list.
Has worked in the secretary of state’s office
• Scott Primeau, Denver
Relevant Experience: Policy analyst for the Department of State’s Business Division since 2003.
References: (all of whom work in the Colorado Department State) Sarah Steinbeck, senior legislative and legal analyst; Keith Whitelaw, director of Business Division; Andrew Whitfield, assistant director, Licensing Division.
Application Fact: Primeau received a number of lacrosse-related awards for his play at Indiana University.
Key Quote: “I believe the people of this state embrace forward-thinking, opportunity, independence and efficiency. This way of life affects citizens’ needs and demands for their elections, business regulations and government officials.”
Outlook: Primeau sounds like a sharp guy who would bring a business perspective to the job. However, it appears he graduated from college only in 2003. Is there an age requirement to be secretary of state?
• Dan Willis, D-Denver
Relevant Experience: Secretary of the Denver Democratic Party; has held several temp positions in the secretary of state’s office and the Denver County Clerk and Recorder’s office. Ran for the Denver Election Commission in 1999, placing fifth in field of nine.
References: Jennifer Coken, chair of the Denver Democratic Party; Susan Rogers, former Denver election commissioner; Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.
Application Fact: On the political blog ColoradoPols.com, where he’s a frequent poster, Willis publicly fretted over whether to apply for secretary of state.
Key Quote: “At first blush, I may seem an unlikely candidate for such an office … unlike some of my fellow applicants, I do not wish to be in a legislative role. I only wish to make the processes governed by the Department of State work better for the people of Colorado.”
Outlook: Willis obviously has little chance of winning, but we have to admire his desire to be a public servant. Plus, he has by far the best beard of any applicant, hands down.
Politically known, but hard to visualize as secretary of state
• Josh Hanfling, Denver
Relevant Experience: Founded various businesses, including most recently the AMMA Group, and also is a partner at Campo de Fiori, an Italian restaurant; candidate in House District 6 Democratic primary, in 2008; involved in myriad philanthropic causes; one of the Colorado Statesman’s “50 for the Future.”
References: Walt Isenberg, chair of Colorado Concern; Steve Farber, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck; Mitch Morrissey, Denver District Attorney.
Application Fact: Hanfling included literature from his HD 6 campaign in his application.
Key Quote: “I’ve spent my entire life in an environment where there is ‘no partisanship at the board table,’ and where it is only the effective, efficient delivery of tangible results that is measured.”
Outlook: Hanfling is a moderate, pro-business Democrat, so that’s a plus. It’s just that he’s up against a lot of other bigger, more experienced names.
• Jay Fawcett, Colorado Springs
Relevant Experience: Democratic nominee in the 5th Congressional District, 2006; Founder of Western Strategies and Associates; retired Lt. Colonel, U.S. Air Force.
References: Former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Georgia; Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mike Miles, 2004; Republican CU Regent Kyle Hybl.
Application Fact: Fawcett has written numerous research papers on military strategy.
Key Quote: “I will ensure that the people of Colorado will have faith in this system.”
Outlook: Fawcett, who preaches a political philosophy of “pioneer pragmatism,” is about as nonpartisan as they come. However, there’s not much on
his resume that would seem to qualify him specifically for the secretary of state job.
• Anthony Martinez, D-Conejos
Relevant Experience: Democratic nominee for secretary of state in 2000 and 2002; a long-time member of the Air Force, Martinez has served on a team responsible for setting up elections in Afghanistan.
References: Democratic Sen. Ken Gordon (who also applied for the secretary of state job); House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (he applied, too); Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo.
Application Fact: Martinez uses exclamation points to end five of the eight paragraphs in his cover letter.
Key Quote: “I will look forward to working with your office as you seek to find and select the right person to be Colorado’s next secretary of state!”
Outlook: We like his enthusiasm; on the other hand, voters didn’t like him that much in his two previous runs for the office.
• John Works, Denver
Relevant Experience: Founder of Rancher Energy Corp., an oil and gas company; former investment banker; lawyer.
Application Fact: His grandfather, Charles “Chizzie” Works, served in the Colorado Legislature in 1927.
Key Quote: “The secretary of state’s position is a demanding one, but these are demanding times.”
Outlook: The best choice if Ritter wants to mend relations with the oil and gas industry.
• Theresa Smith, Littleton
Relevant Experience: Financial analyst for Kaiser Permanente; longtime nurse.
Application Fact: President of the Colorado Balloon Club.
Outlook: Difficult to find too many relevant qualifications here…does nursing help you treat viruses in electronic voting machines? But perhaps the application is just a trial balloon.
• Cary McMinnra, Fort Morgan
Relevant Experience: Adjunct professor at Art Institute of Colorado; also an architect and farmer.
Application Fact: Has five adopted children that help do the work at their “self-sustaining family farm.”
Outlook: Is there a “Bring your children to work day” at the secretary of state’s office?
• James Tindall, Denver
Relevant Experience: Works for the U.S. Department of Interior.
Application Fact: Helps develop online education programs for underprivileged youth in Israel, El Salvador and Spain.
Key Quote: “A business associate and I have devised a fail-safe method, with triple redundancy, for ensuring electronic voting that would provide a huge budget savings to the city, county or state.”
Outlook: No shot, but somebody should ask him about this “fail-safe” method.
Entire application handwritten; claims to know Ross Perot
• Joseph Poche, Cherry Hills Village
Relevant Experience: Vice president of operations, Physicians Management Information Services, Inc.
References: Former Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot. (Apparently, Perot was Poche’s boss at Electronic Data Systems in the 1990s); U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. (The explanation of how they know each other is unclear; something to do with their daughters having the same birthday.)
Application fact: The entire application is written in largely illegible handwriting on graph paper.
Key Quote: Illegible
Outlook: Did we mention that the entire application is written in largely illegible handwriting on graph paper?
Not very much information provided in application
• John Clough, Littleton
The rest of the application was supposed to be e-mailed to the governor’s office, but never arrived.