Jerry Kopel

The secretary of state's race is between the inept and the obsessed. But one of them is going to win. So here are suggestions for each.

Part of the Colorado state auditor's job is to ferret out problems in government and offer solutions, and Vikki Buckley has been a godsend for auditor's reports on inefficiency and ineffectiveness. From bingo, to failure to record financial statements on time, to inability to count names on petitions correctly or by deadline, negative newspaper stories appear monthly about the secretary of state's office.

Fortunately for Buckley's election prospects, many Colorado voters don't read newspapers except for the sports section, and radio and television haven't really focused on problems of the Secretary of State. As long as the general public doesn't feel "injured" by failures at her office, they aren't going to "get even" in the November elections.

Buckley, either by design or by luck, has done exactly what she needs to do: The rope-a-dope, made famous by boxing champion Muhammad Ali in his heavyweight fights. Buckley has not engaged in any spirited defense or debate with her Democratic opponent Ric Bainter. She has been content to cover up and let Bainter's blows strike her elbows and shoulders. Repetitions of "outrage" lose their punch the more they are aired.

As a low level manager in the Secretary of State's office who began service under Mary Estill Buchanan, Buckley fit in. At least I can't remember any negative stories about her. She understood how to take orders and carry them out in a capable manner. But there is a difference between carrying out orders and thinking up orders. She is just not a CEO.

The secretary of state's office doesn't arouse high interest, especially if the general election draws few voters. I doubt if one of every twenty registered voters can name the secretary of state, or one out of fifty name her opponent. This election may be decided by who can raise the most money for TV and radio ads during the end of October and beginning of November.

The key to that may be lobbyist Freda Poundstone, a major player in Buckley's original victory in 1994. Poundstone can raise money and volunteers and while she has not always been successful, she wins a lot more than she loses. Financial support, via Poundstone, may come heavily from bingo interests, and from Republican business interests.

Republicans aren't going to let the secretary of state's office pass to Democrats by default for two important reasons: First, the Republicans are (at least by registration numbers) favored to win the statewide elections for governor, attorney general and state treasurer, plus the Colorado House and Senate. If Ric Bainter were to win the secretary of state's office, he would become the major Democratic player for other, higher offices.

Second, reapportionment occurs in 2002, and the secretary of state (elected in 1998) by constitutional requirement "implements" the reapportionment plan approved by the state Supreme Court.

The secretary of state's office has long been considered one to be occupied by a woman. The last male in that office was Byron "Andy" Anderson, who retired in 1974. Buckley's ads could, indirectly, play on that theme.

* * *

Ric Bainter is a refreshingly new face in state politics, but he is focused on and obsessed with campaign finance reform. Bainter is considered the drafter of Amendment 15, designed to "equalize" candidacies as much as possible. Actually, the law was a product of Common Cause, League of Women Voters, and Colorado Public Interest Research Group (COPIRG). Some bad stuff that infuriates legislators came from COPIRG. Example: $100 donation limits for legislators.

I understand obsession and focus. There are two ways for a member of the minority party to be effective in the state legislature: One, kiss the behinds of the majority party members, or two, be obsessed and focused on your bills.

If Bainter were running for and elected to the legislature, he would be a very productive and influential member. Other members might by hostile, but they would know he had studied a subject under discussion, and give them honest and complete information.

However, the secretary of state's office is not the legislature. To run the office requires the ability to hire productive people and delegate responsibilities. And the office is about much more than campaign finance reform. Bainter's obsession and focus has produced mild jokes in the capitol press corps about how Bainter would, if he could, march legislators out of the capitol in handcuffs for violating campaign reform laws.

Most legislators, will tell you privately they do not like Bainter for the hoops he has made them go though to raise campaign funds. If the Republicans win the governorship and the House and Senate, and Bainter the secretary of state's office, chances are the legislature would dismantle that office as much as they could constitutionally.

Bingo oversight could go to Dept. of Revenue (where it belongs). An independent Central Indexing System could handle the 100,000 financing statements presently filed with the Secretary of State. And most important, the office's budget could be damaged by less appropriations.

If Bainter is to succeed, he needs a solid Democratic base as a start and he needs lots of campaign money. He needs to effectively display knowledge about ALL the tasks in the secretary's office. He needs to persuade business groups he can handle the job and will not be overzealous in changing regulations. And he needs the backing of groups such as County Clerks and Recorders. Many of them are unhappy with Vikki Buckley. Ric should talk with their lobbyist if he hasn't already.

And Bainter should leave frontal attacks on Buckley to the state party or other groups. If he wants to know the result of a male non-incumbent running a negative campaign against an incumbent woman, I suggest he spend some time talking with former attorney general candidate Dick Freese.

Ric Bainter is a former legislative intern of mine while he was attending law school and he did an excellent job. It was the year I tried to get salary increases for future (four years down the road) legislators. Ric was focused and a very thorough researcher (It was my bill, so I was the one obsessed.)

And Ric was the effective Common Cause director during the two-plus years that I was a member of that board. But can he be CEO of a rather large organization? Will he be able to deal with a hostile state legislature?

There are others from minor parties running for the office, but I can tell you now that the last name of the next secretary of state will begin with B and have seven letters in it.

Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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