County election bill dies in House

Southwestern Republicans wanted district elections

DENVER – Democrats killed a bill from Southwest Colorado Republicans on Wednesday to allow counties to elect their commissioners by district.

County commissioners opposed the idea, which would have allowed voters in counties of 70,000 people or less to elect their commissioners by local districts, instead of at-large.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, passed the bill through the Senate on a unanimous vote earlier this month. But it died on a 3-7 party-line vote Wednesday in the House State Affairs Committee.

Several people from Norwood testified that they feel overlooked by San Miguel County commissioners, who can be elected on the strength of votes in Telluride alone.

“It’s a matter of fairness,” said the sponsor, Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose.

Colorado Counties Inc., an organization of county commissioners, voted unanimously to oppose the bill, said the group’s lobbyist, Pat Ratliff.

“It is very important that we not have fractured and split boards and people not have a parochial approach to their own districts,” Ratliff said.

But Coram said commissioners he talked to had a different reason for opposing his bill.

“The plain, honest answer was, it’s a matter of personal preservation,” Coram said.

Legislators have been all over the map on the bill in the past three years. In 2012, when former Rep, J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, sponsored a similar bill, it passed out of the House 61-4 but died in the Senate State Affairs Committee. Brown had a Democratic sponsor in the Senate, but she pulled her name off the bill.

The same thing happened Wednesday to Coram. His fellow sponsor, Rep. Jeanne Labuda, D-Denver, said she had changed her mind after reading a Durango Herald editorial in opposition to Coram’s bill.

This year, the bill passed unanimously in the Senate but died in its first House hearing. Three Democrats voted against it after supporting the 2012 bill – Labuda, Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora.

The bill would not have changed county elections unless voters opted for the switch.

But Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, said he voted no because the Legislature should not be involved, and the issue should be left up to the voters.

Salazar’s explanation puzzled Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton.

“That’s exactly what this bill does. It doesn’t leave the state Legislature dictating,” Conti said.