Secretary of state candidate touts bipartisanship | AspenTimes.com

Secretary of state candidate touts bipartisanship

John Colson

Ken Gordon

Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon says he is a bipartisan politician by nature, a man who has “always tried to work in the middle to get things done.”

And that is why Gordon, a Democrat, believes he would make a better secretary of state for Colorado than his opponent from the Republican end of the political spectrum, Mike Coffman. Incumbent Gigi Dennis is not seeking re-election.

Gordon says he is “an advocate for clean campaigns,” and thus won’t be caught belittling his opponents during the next couple of months leading up to the general election in November.

Instead, he emphasizes what he believes are his strengths: wanting to decrease the importance of “special interest money” in the political process, to increase citizen participation in elections, and to decrease the amount of “negative campaigning.”

Among the programs he already has started to increase voter education and participation with the Student Legislative Education Day, in which a couple hundred students come to the capital to learn how the political system works.

The big issue that has developed in the campaign to replace Dennis, however, involves Dennis’ recent move to change certain election rules in the middle of the ongoing 2006 campaign season.

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According to reports, Dennis in August changed the election rules to forbid “membership organizations,” such as unions and “small-donor committees,” from using dues for political contributions or activities without first getting permission from each and every member of the organization.

The changes, according to reports, came at the urging of Republicans working for gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez. Democrats say the new rules hamper their party’s fundraising efforts, which traditionally receive greater support from the unions and small-donor committees most affected.

Both Gordon and Coffman have criticized Dennis for making the changes during the middle of a campaign season, although Dennis maintained she did nothing outside her authority and denied that there were partisan motives behind the changes.

A lawsuit over the rule change was to be the subject of a hearing on Friday, although the outcome of the hearing was not known by press time Friday.

Dennis also said that other election law changes she made, which have not drawn nearly the attention, were at the urging of Democrats.

If elected, Gordon plans to push for a redrawing of Colorado’s congressional district boundaries, to encourage greater balance and competitiveness within the districts and to eliminate what some say is a Republican bias in the current district boundaries and population distribution.

Gordon noted that five states turn redistricting matters over to special bipartisan commissions once a decade, while Iowa leaves the matter to the specifically nonpartisan legislative staff in the Statehouse. Colorado, too, has nonpartisan staff, and Gordon believes a similar system could work here.

“Safe seats are bad for democracy,” he said, arguing that a legislator who never has to worry about re-election is not accountable to his or her constituents [except in primary contests], and can concentrate on partisan politics at the expense of the good of the population in general.

He said he also would urge changes in the state’s regulations regarding voter initiatives to amend the state constitution.

“I’m a fan of direct government,” he said, “but it’s too easy to pass amendments to the Colorado Constitution” the way things now stand.

He said it should be more difficult to bring about such amendments, but perhaps a little easier than it now is to initiate statutory changes to the state’s laws. And such voter-approved changes to statutes, he said, should be protected from subsequent modification by the Legislature.

Gordon conceded that the position he seeks is not receiving as much attention as it might.

But, he added, “It’s actually more noticed this year” thanks to the national spotlight on Ohio’s Ken Blackwell in 2004, and Florida’s Katherine Harris in 2000, when electoral irregularities drew attention to the importance of the secretary of state in election years.

Gordon, 56, was born in Michigan, and studied political science and economics at the University of Michigan before earning a law degree from Boston University. He has been in Colorado since 1975 ” including a year as a ski bum in Aspen, working as a dishwasher at Jake’s Abbey ” and has served on the Legislature since 1992. He is a divorced father of two ” a daughter, 34, living in Boulder and a son, 22, who recently graduated from New York University. He lives in Denver.

John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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