Republican candidate for secretary of state touts his experience in Iraq |

Republican candidate for secretary of state touts his experience in Iraq

John Colson
Republican Mike Coffman

Republican Mike Coffman says it is his policy ideas and his experience in running elections in the nascent democracy of Iraq – and not his party affiliation – that should convince voters to elect him as Colorado’s next secretary of state in November.In fact, he said in a recent interview, the only reason he is running as a Republican is because party affiliation is part of the deal in seeking state office. And in his capacity as a Colorado legislator and then state treasurer, he claims he became known for political impartiality and “actually was more critical of Republicans than Democrats” in policy disputes.Coffman is running against Ken Gordon, who has been a state legislator for 14 years. Elected to the state House of Representatives in 1992, Gordon served for eight years, including time as minority leader. He was elected to the Senate in 2000 and has served as majority leader for the past two years.Coffman, 51, proudly talks about the fact that he is “from a military family” and is a two-time veteran of military campaigns in Iraq. He served in the first Iraq war, Desert Storm, in 1990, and again last year in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war. It was in 2005 that he worked as a “civil affairs officer” and helped put together the national election as well as “assisting Iraqis with the development of local governments in Al Anbar province,” according to his website.His website also quotes his wife, Cindy, as saying, “If my husband could be counted on to help the Iraqis run their elections in some of the most dangerous places in Iraq, then he can most certainly be trusted to run them back home in Colorado.”

Coffman sees three main issues for the secretary of state to deal with – ensuring that “every ballot cast is accurately counted,” being “more proactive in preventing voter fraud” and cutting the department’s filing fees charged to businesses.And, he emphasized, “The most important thing for a secretary of state … is to be nonpartisan.” The officeholder, he said, “really has to stay out of issues beyond what I consider germane to the office.”Toward that end, he said, “I will not engage in other debates,” despite the fact that he clearly has some firmly held opinions on a variety of state issues.Regarding a political debate now raging in Denver, about current Secretary of State Gigi Dennis’ issuance of new campaign financing rules in the midst of the ongoing 2006 political season, Coffman said simply, “She was wrong in that” because of the timing of the move.Dennis recently issued new rules on campaign contributions that, among other things, require “membership organizations” such as unions to get permission from individual members before using dues in political campaigns. Democrats have complained the new rule unfairly restricts their fundraising activities, but Dennis has refused to delay implementation of the new rules.

Coffman said he “philosophically” agrees with the rules changes, but questioned Dennis’ claim that they had to happen immediately because of loopholes in existing campaign finance laws.When asked for details about his role in overseeing the 2005 parliamentary elections in Iraq, Coffman said that working with the U.S. Marines he mainly identified polling places and arranged for poll workers to be brought in from other parts of Iraq. That was because the locals generally were too afraid to set up the polling places and staff them. But Iraqis themselves, he said, handled all the ballots and were in charge of the counting of ballots.Coffman said that his first act, if he wins the election, would be to set up a study of election policies and procedures around the state, with an eye toward changing anything he finds that gets in the way of “fair and honest elections.”Election laws in Colorado are an abysmal mess,” he said, arguing that it has been too long since they were updated, and that the resulting electoral confusion too often is handed over to the courts for decisions.He said he believes the necessary changes would mostly be a matter of amending or rewriting statutes and would not involve changes to the state’s Constitution.

Coffman was born in Missouri, the son of a Colorado-born master sergeant in the U.S. Army, and the family moved around a lot before returning to Colorado in 1964.Coffman grew up in Aurora, served two years in the U.S. Army as a teenager and has been in and out of the military ever since. His education includes a degree from the University of Colorado, and completion of “the Senior Executive Program for State and Local Government at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1995,” his website’s biography states.He served in the Colorado Legislature as a state representative starting in 1988, and was elected to the state Senate in 1994. In 1988 he was elected to the job of state treasurer and re-elected in 2002. He lives in Aurora with his wife, Cynthia.John Colson’s e-mail address

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