Colorado’s Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler arrived late to testify at the Senate committee hearing, but he came prepared. A practiced courtroom lawyer, he began slowly. He threw in folksy asides. He answered his own rhetorical questions. And he smiled at the majority-Democratic committee members as he railed against the election-reform bill they all support and that he wants desperately to derail. It was a dramatic moment in Colorado politics that had been building since Gessler took office two years ago.
“This isn’t the way to make good law,” he fumed at the April 24 Senate State Affairs Committee hearing. Gessler gave testimony on the bill the week before in the House and was now delivering large stretches of his testimony extemporaneously. He said his office had been “entirely excluded” from the deliberations that shaped the bill. He called the bill a “polluted” “rush to failure” and the product of “incompetent government.”
House Bill 1303 (pdf) seeks to expand voter participation mainly by establishing a system that includes same-day registration up to Election Day and that mails ballots to all eligible voters in the state. Under the proposed law, voters would choose whether to mail their ballots back to the clerks, drop them off at early voting centers or fill them out at the polls on Election Day.
“There’s a way to do this. This isn’t the way,” Gessler said, urging the majority Democratic lawmakers to work harder at collaboration in order to more effectively do the people’s business.
Gessler was one of the highest-profile conservative-politics attorneys in the state before taking office, and his brief tenure as secretary of state has been marked by partisan controversy. He has issued election and campaign-finance rules that critics say undercut lawmaker intent. He has waged legal battles against Democratic county clerks. And he has delivered speeches decrying Democrats and “the left” as being anti-rule-of-law and opposed to fair elections. His call for collaboration was one of the many head-spinning turns that came during the five-hour hearing.