“I think the difference between what he wants and what we want is that we’re interested in elections and he’s just interested in getting elected.”
— Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert (Denver Post, 5/1/17)
The Colorado legislative session will come to a close on Wednesday, but things are getting nasty in the final days of the 2017 session.
A big television advertising blitz started this weekend as part of a last-ditch effort to convince lawmakers to go in a different direction on legislation implementing Proposition 108 — the shoddily-crafted 2016 ballot measure that would allow Unaffiliated voters to participate in partisan primaries. We wrote last week about this deep-in-the-weeds political battle, which revolves around DaVita CEO Kent Thiry’s gubernatorial aspirations and his misplaced belief that Unaffiliated voters are the magic carpet that will carry him through a crowded Republican primary next June.
Thiry spent millions of dollars bankrolling Prop. 108 (as well as Prop. 107, which creates a Presidential Primary in Colorado); both measures were approved by Colorado voters, but because they were so vaguely-worded, it is up to the legislature and the Secretary of State to figure out how to implement these changes. Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators Kevin Lundberg (R-Larimer County) and Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder) is attempting to bridge this gap, but Thiry doesn’t like a central idea that election officials would make note of which partisan primary ballots were chosen by Unaffiliated voters.
Thiry is concerned that tracking this information will scare off Unaffiliated voters from participating in primary elections, but as we wrote on Wednesday, the more important concerns here should be about transparency and accountability:
The choices on your ballot are yours, and yours alone, and that’s not going to change. But transparency and accountability should supersede all other interests when it comes to our elections. If we can’t track which ballots were cast in general, then there’s no way to know if your vote was even counted. If we don’t know how many people actually returned ballots in each particular primary, then we are living in a Banana Republic where we just have to assume that everything was on the level because some election official (or rich guy) told us it was cool.
From what we hear, Thiry bankrolled a $50,000 television ad campaign that began on Friday in an effort to get Lundberg and Fenberg to do what he wants instead of what they (and Secretary of State Wayne Williams) believes is in the best interest of Colorado voters. Thiry hired infamous right-wing rock-thrower Ben Howe — the RedState guy whose previous clients include Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. John Cornyn, and Citizens United — to produce the TV spot below (click on the image to watch the ad):
It is certainly not unprecedented to see TV ads targeting specific legislation under the State Capitol, but it doesn’t happen often…and definitely not in the final days of a legislative session. This is also an odd way to go about trying to get what you want in Thiry’s case — a millionaire businessman who sponsored ballot measures with a goal of trying to increase his chances of being elected governor is now hoping to convince voters that a bipartisan group of lawmakers is going rogue on a complicated issue that the average person isn’t likely to understand (or care about) one way or the other. If Thiry wanted Prop. 108 to be administered in a specific way, then he should have made sure that the ballot language was crystal clear on the implementation front.
Thiry just wants lawmakers to do what he says. He spent millions of dollars on this idea and he can threaten to throw around plenty more cash — which GOP consulting firms are more than happy to collect — but that doesn’t make him right. Lawmakers and the Secretary of State are trying to implement the wishes of voters in a manner that maintains the integrity of Colorado’s voting process and reduces the likelihood of ballot spoilage in the event that voters inadvertently check the wrong box on a ballot.
We’ll take transparency and accountability over the wishes of Thiry in this case. We don’t doubt that voters will agree.