To be clear, we have no interest in defending Secretary Gessler’s decision to “moonlight” for his old firm, which is in turn connected to some of the most toxic characters in Colorado politics (see: Shires, Scott)–and we don’t see a way for him to carry out his duties as Secretary of State with such a large, unaccountable soft spot raising questions about everything he does. Moreover, Gessler’s complaints that he can’t survive on a $68,500 a year salary look absolutely horrible to the average Colorado citizen, who will be happy to notify Gessler that he/she makes a lot less.
This certainly is a public relations disaster for Gessler at least; and on the heels of awful press over cutting school breakfast money for poor kids, it tells the story once again of a hypocritical, out-of-touch GOP in Colorado–who has been losing more elections than they win in recent years.
We feel it’s necessary to enter all of the above into the record before we address the point made by Colorado College’s astute Prof. Bob Loevy in the KRDO story at top:
“I’m embarrassed for the people of Colorado,” said Bob Loevy, Colorado College Political Professor, “because the root cause of this story is we pay our public officials woeful salaries compared to what they could make in the private sector.”
Loevy said pay for Colorado state leaders is on the low-end compared to other states.
“When you pay all your state officials, other than your governor, under $70,000 a year, that’s just not realistic in today’s market for personnel,” he said…Loevy agreed, however, that a job at Hackstaff Law Group would be a conflict of interest with Gessler’s state post.
This is, it must be said, a valid point: professionals like lawyers, meaning like Gessler, would normally have a private-sector income substantially higher than $70,000 per year. And as Loevy says, the relatively low pay for top positions in Colorado government relative to what a person with the same skills could get in the private sector does create a disincentive for some very qualified people to seek office. We submit to you that this is a problem affecting not just statewide elected posts, but also state legislators; who are asked to take on de facto full time workloads, during and outside the session, for less than a McDonald’s manager earns.
Does this excuse Gessler’s actions? Of course not–he knew what the job he was running for would pay, and he’s not so foolish as to have no comprehension why his election-specialty law firm is a much bigger potential conflict of interest than, say, Ken Salazar’s Dairy Queen or John Suthers’ class at DU. Gessler has demonstrated a level of brashness with this move that looks like cluelessness, but is really much more straightforward arrogance. It validates some of the worst criticisms made by his opponents, and raises very serious questions about his judgment.
But it seems to us that if spectacles like this one can be avoided, along with votes to take breakfast away from poor kids that you have to admit make pay raises for politicians a, um, harder sell, perhaps someday this is a conversation we ought to have. We, like Prof. Loevy, are a little embarrassed to have to mention it in these circumstances, even though it’s true. It’s like finding defective brakes in a crash obviously the fault of a careless driver–you still have to note it.