Democrat Joe Neguse files for SoS

Former Dem candidate Gordon likely won’t run
The Colorado Statesman

University of Colorado Regent from CD 2 Joe Neguse, a Democrat, said he was compelled to enter the 2014 race for secretary of state after current Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler played partisan games with the office in an effort to disenfranchise voters.

“I could not stand by and watch as all the great progress that we made is undercut by our current secretary of state,” Neguse said on Tuesday as he launched his campaign at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in the Five Points neighborhood in Denver.

Neguse was flanked by a who’s who of Democrats, including Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff of Denver, Rep. Crisanta Duran of Denver and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.

Democratic Secretary of State candidate Joe Neguse, left, announces his campaign on June 25 at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in Denver. He is flanked, from left, by Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.
Photo courtesy of the Neguse campaign

The Democratic Party appeared united behind Neguse, despite the fact that former Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver, also filed paperwork for the race.

Several attendees of the announcement said Gordon will not actually run and that the party will have one candidate. But Gordon has been silent. He has not returned requests for comment left by The Colorado Statesman.

A spokesman, Mark Mehringer, said Gordon was traveling and that the campaign was not prepared to immediately comment on whether he would continue to pursue a run for secretary of state.

An indication that Gordon may not run came in the presence of Romanoff. Gordon has been one of Romanoff’s biggest supporters, helping to raise money for the Congressional District 6 candidate. But Romanoff has already declared his support for Neguse, seemingly passing Gordon over.

Romanoff quoted Mark Twain, stating, “Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.” Democrats believe Gessler is a conservative loyalist who has allowed partisan opinions interfere with the democratic process.

“Joe Neguse has no patience for petrified opinion and neither should we,” declared Romanoff.

The race is critical to Democrats who have made Gessler the centerpiece of their outrage with Republicans. The Democratic blogosphere has nicknamed Gessler the “honey badger,” referring to his fearless approach to policy.

The laundry list of complaints include Gessler’s push for voter identification in an effort to weed out undocumented immigrants from voting; his attack on an elections reform bill, which expands voting through Election Day; his fight to prohibit mailing ballots to inactive voters; and a recent ethics investigation that found Gessler had misused his office’s discretionary fund in a “breach of public trust for private gain.”

One after another, Democrats took to the podium outside the library to declare their distaste for the sitting secretary of state. Webb went as far as to say that Neguse could save the secretary of state’s office.

“Joe is a person of intense integrity. He has provided leadership in every place he’s been. He will serve our community and all Coloradans well as secretary of state. And he will bring to the secretary of state’s office not only integrity, but also a sense of dedication and purpose and the ability to govern in such a way that no one questions the decisions made and the rules made, as in the name of someone else that’s presently in that office, which will go unnamed,” Webb said to laughter.

Romanoff added that many Coloradans have lost their faith in the voting process over the last three years.

“We’ve met folks who have lost their faith in the electoral process. People who believe that the political system no longer works for them, people who feel that their votes don’t count, or their votes aren’t even counted at all. We need someone as secretary of state who will administer the laws of Colorado fully and fairly,” said Romanoff.

Duran offered a blistering account of her interactions with Gessler. She said part of her agenda in the last year has been to “expose Secretary Gessler for disenfranchising voters and not allowing registered voters to have access to the political process.”

Duran pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week that invalidated key parts of the Voting Rights Act. The High Court ruled by a 5-4 vote that nine states, mostly in the South, do not need federal approval to change their election laws. Colorado is not one of them.

The case came as a major blow to civil rights supporters. The court effectively said that racial minorities do not continue to face the same barriers to voting in states with a history of discrimination.

The decision had an immediate consequence. Texas announced just moments after that a voter identification law there would immediately go into effect, despite the law having previously been blocked.

“On this day when we know the new Supreme Court decision, it is even that much more important and symbolic to have a young man like Joe Neguse, the son of immigrants and someone that we can trust, to make sure that we protect the vote in the state of Colorado,” opined Duran.

Twenty-nine-year-old Neguse also pointed to his background as a first generation American. His parents fled a war-torn country in east Africa.

“The journey of our families shape each of us and they help determine the paths that we take in our professional lives… Their journey and their experience as immigrants to our great country has shaped me and my sister in ways that are hard to describe…” Neguse said of his parents.

“I learned early on about how important it is to not take for granted the sacred freedoms we have in our country…” he continued. “The right to vote; the right to participate in our democracy, the right to make our voices heard, which empower each of us to shape the futures of our communities, of our state and of our country. That right has been under attack for far too long.”

Garcia, who works with Neguse in his second capacity as executive director of the state’s Department of Higher Education, agreed that Neguse’s background has made him an appropriate candidate for the job.

“The ability to work constructively with people from all backgrounds — whatever their party, whatever their age, whatever their race or nationality — Joe has demonstrated that he can work with people in a positive and constructive way to make this state better,” said Garcia.

Hancock also praised the CU regent, saying he would return the secretary of state’s office to a nonpartisan, objective department.

“Throughout the last year, I know you were just like me, bewildered by some of the things that were coming out of the secretary of state’s office,” attested Hancock. “At a time when we should be trying to do everything we can to open the doors to political participation in this great democracy of ours, there were efforts to shut those doors…

“Under no uncertain terms should anyone’s right to vote in this country and this state be abridged. We need to send a man to the secretary of state’s office who will protect that right,” concluded Hancock.

Secretary of State’s Office responds

One question that remains, however, is whether Gessler will even run for re-election. In addition to filing paperwork for secretary of state, he has also filed paperwork to explore a run for governor in 2014.

Gessler has not officially said yet what he plans on doing, but sources close to his office say he is more seriously exploring his options for governor. He has also suspended his campaign for secretary of state. And just recently, Gessler told activists at his Arapahoe County pig roast that polls show him just a few points behind the popular Democratic incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The secretary was unavailable this week to comment, but a spokesman, Andrew Cole, laughed when he heard the political beating his boss took on Monday by the gang of Democrats assembled to support Neguse.

“It’s pretty ironic,” Cole said when he heard that Democrats attacked Gessler for being a partisan. Cole pointed out that the only people to speak at the news conference were Democrats.

In February, Gessler declared the 2012 election cycle to be the most successful in Colorado history. He pointed to a jump in voter participation and a higher level of integrity than ever before.

Colorado’s voter turnout increased nearly 2 percent compared to 2008, while turnout nationwide plummeted almost 7 percent, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Gessler’s office points to a voter registration effort, which included sending postcards to nearly 750,000 unregistered voters, as well as television, radio, newspaper and Internet advertising encouraging registration. Much of the campaign included Spanish language media. Gessler believes the campaign helped increase registration numbers by more than 440,000 people, a 13.7 percent increase.

He also pointed to increased military and overseas turnout, which jumped by 65 percent compared to 2008. Gessler attributes that to improved online ballot access.

The secretary of state’s office also boasted shorter lines at the polls and very few debacles throughout the election.

Gesser is also proud that integrity increased, noting that nearly 250,000 Coloradans corrected their registration information, and that in the past three years nearly 1,000 non-citizens either voluntarily removed their names from the voting rolls or were flagged as ineligible.

“I want to make it easy to vote, but tough to cheat,” Gessler said in his February e-mail opinion criticizing same-day voter registration. “The 2012 numbers show we’re achieving great results in both areas. But by opening our system to illegal ballots, election day registration will end any hope of maintaining a balance in both areas.”

Cole acknowledged that Gessler has strong opinions. But he said the secretary has never been shy about that.

“There’s no doubt that the secretary has strong opinions, and quite frankly, all the policies that he’s worked on are things he’s campaigned on, and people elected him. He’s always been open and honest about his priorities,” said Cole.

“If that’s what Colorado Democrats are claiming, then it just shows that they’re out of touch,” added Cole. “The facts are the opposite. They can trot out whatever tired partisan cliché they want, but the truth is we had a great 2012 election, we saw great turnout in Colorado, we saw an election with very few issues, and in a very hotly contested battleground state.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com