DENVER — Republicans continue to turn their guns on one another, this time over a controversial Democratic election reform proposal being debated at the Capitol.
While the Colorado Republican Party has continued a steady barrage of attacks against Democrats, a new group that is registered to the address of GOP Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s old law firm is attacking a couple of Republican county clerks, Mesa County’s Sheila Reiner and La Plata County’s Tiffany Lee Parker.
In a mailer sent out last week by a group calling itself Citizens for Free and Fair Elections, both clerks are pictured and attacked along with President Barack Obama for “trying to undermine elections and allow rampant voter fraud.”
The Grand Junction Sentinel’s Charles Ashby was first to report the mailers.
The clerks support the legislation, as does a majority of clerks through the Colorado County Clerks Association; they do not, of course, have a vote on the legislation, which passed the House last week and is now up for debate in the Senate.
House Bill 1303 would send mail ballots to all Coloradans, transition all 64 county clerks to a new statewide electronic system to track registration forms and ballots in real time and would allow same-day registration.
Gessler, the most vocal opponent of the bill, has argued that the new data system is expensive, untested and likely to lead to voter fraud; he and Republicans generally have also expressed disgust that they weren’t involved in writing the legislation.
After passing landmark gun control measures, bills instituting in-state tuition for undocumented students and recognizing same-sex civil unions already this session, Colorado Democrats are being criticized, at least by Republicans, for advancing such a liberal agenda in a relatively moderate state.
“We on the Republican side are very surprised at the number of bills we’ve seen come through from Democrats in this one session,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, who, incidentally, was one of just two House Republicans to vote in favor of the civil unions bill.
“These are major changes in every aspect of life, and it seems like an awfully lot to digest in a very short time.”
But the sweeping elections bill, introduced in the fourth quarter of the legislative session that will end May 8, is actually allowing Democrats a chance to close things out with a major legislative accomplishment — and a huge political win.
If you’re wondering why some Republicans are so incensed.
For several successive election cycles now, Colorado Republicans have watched Democrats take them to the woodshed with far more effective get-out-the-vote operations; combine that superior ground game with the state’s increasingly liberal and Hispanic electorate and the GOP is possibly watching nothing less than the final acts of a complete and lasting Democratic takeover a decade in the making.
Legislation allowing those who most often forget to register prior to the deadline 30 days before Election day — young voters, the poor: both Democratic constituencies — to do so as late as Election Day itself amounts to Democrats running up the score to the point that most statewide races are all the more out of reach for Republican candidates.
Elections, as they say, have consequences.
Perhaps, there will be a dramatic voter backlash next November over the Democratic accomplishments passed this year; Gov. John Hickenlooper’s disapproval rating is up 20 points since the session began, mostly due, one would assume, to the controversial gun control bills he obligingly signed into law last month.
But it’s unclear that any singular policy decision, from gun control measures to civil unions to potentially modernizing how citizens vote, are unpopular with voters, save the most conservative elements of the GOP base.
On the flip side, the Democrats’ elections reform bill is already exposing and highlighting anew many of the existing issues already stymieing the Colorado GOP.
The flier from that new group, which isn’t even registered with the state but lists its address as that of the Hackstaff Law Group, Gessler’s old firm, is a revealing microcosm, just the latest display of a ham-handed political operation on the right.
Beyond the half-shade of separation between the group and the polarizing Secretary of State, the flier itself is almost ridiculous in its hyperbole, stating: “Felons, illegal aliens — even the deceased –could cast ballots!”
If that were the case, H.B. 1303 likely wouldn’t have the support of the Colorado County Clerks Associations, which represents roughly 75 percent of the state’s clerks, more than half of whom are Republicans.
Oh, and on the back side of the flier, a photo of people waiting in line to vote appears to have been Photoshopped so that the face of an African-American woman standing in line was replaced with a white face.
The left-leaning political blog, Colorado Pols, first reported the Photoshopping.
Within hours, Progress Now, the liberal activism arm of Colorado Democrats, issued its own statement blasting the mailer and Gessler.
“Not only did Gessler’s old firm conjure up nonsensical charges against the election reform bill for this false attack mailing, but they even altered photos used in the mailing to remove African-American faces from a crowd of voters,” said Alan Franklin, the group’s political director.
“How can anyone say with confidence that Gessler was not directly involved in these attack mailings against fellow Republican clerks originating from his former law office, when Gessler is the foremost opponent of the bill in question?”
UPDATE: Gessler denies involvement in mailer
Sunday evening, a spokesperson for Gessler told FOX31 Denver that the Secretary of State had nothing to do with the mailer, even if it did come from his former law firm.
According to the spokesman, Gessler didn’t know about the mailer, didn’t approve it and didn’t offer his campaign mailing list to the Citizens for Free and Fair Elections.