‘Poor’ Scott’s moonlighting madness

The Colorado Statesman

Where do we begin when it comes to the subject of Scott Gessler, our already beleaguered new Secretary of State? By the time we readied this paper for press, just about every media outlet in the state had followed the Denver Business Journal’s lead and weighed in on “poor” Scott’s dilemma of having to moonlight at his old law firm in order to make ends meet with his meager $68,500 state salary.

What makes us cringe is not Gessler’s contention that our elected officials aren’t paid enough — they probably aren’t aptly compensated for their hard work on behalf of us constituents. Governor Hickenlooper as well as almost every other state official has taken a huge pay cut in order to serve the public. Same with cabinet heads, other appointees and even legislators themselves. That’s what happens when you go to work for the government. It’s usually a sacrifice.

Gessler has a point: maybe it is high time to review the salaries of our elected officials — like when the recession is over and the state budget isn’t oozing red ink. Not now.

But where Gessler has really swerved off the path of sensibility lies in the fact that as a candidate for this office, he knew all along what the salary was for the position he sought. Running for public office was a decision he made himself for whatever reasons. He wasn’t coerced into becoming a candidate. And it wasn’t as if he suddenly figured out that he’d be taking home fewer bucks in his paycheck after he took office.

Adding to the conundrum is the liklihood that Gessler sets himself up for potential conflicts of interest since his former (and soon-to-be current) law firm deals almost exclusively in election law — the very subject Gessler has been elected to address in his new position as secretary of state.

Although Gessler has promised to run any potential conflicts of interest with his additional job by Attorney General John Suthers, another Republican, we won’t be able to find out whether a conflict indeed exists. We can’t even ask the questions because Suthers is bound by the laws of confidentiality and attorney-client privilege.

Gessler has tried to smooth over the controversy by saying he would have told folks about his plans to freelance at his old law firm if only someone had asked. Who in their right mind would have ventured to ascertain the answer to such an odd question of a candidate running for public office.

In trying to figure out a new angle for this story, we reviewed the list of Gessler’s largest contributors to his 2010 election campaign. We thought we’d query some of them about their thoughts on the topic. We spoke to some of Gessler’s big buck supporters, including party leaders, conservative business execs, fellow lawyers and other friends of the secretary of state. We can report back that although no one would comment for the record, it was practically unanimous that Gessler has hurt his own credibility at this early stage. While no one individual would go on the record about their disgruntlement with the rookie Secretary of State, neither would anyone we talked to defend him in print.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com