Republican Gessler ousts incumbent SoS

By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Republican Scott Gessler will be the next Secretary of State, after defeating incumbent Democrat Bernie Buescher.

Unofficial results from a number of media outlets, with 3,119 out of 3,387 precincts reporting, show Gessler winning with 50.1 percent, or 804,953 votes; Buescher had 43.3 percent, or 696,515 votes. American Constitution Party candidate Amanda Campbell got 105,056 votes, or 6.5 percent.

Denver attorney Scott Gessler delivers his victory speech at the Republican Party celebration after winning his race against incumbent Secretary of State Bernie Buescher.
Photo by Pete Heacox/The Colorado Statesman
Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, left, and his wife, Mary Beth, peruse election returns on his-and-her iPads at a celebration for Democrats at Marriott City Center. Buescher, appointed to the seat 22 months ago, lost to Republican Scott Gessler.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Scott Gessler, who successfully challenged incumbent Bernie Buescher for the statewide job, smiles as he views results with supporter Mary Smith, a former chair of the Denver Republicans.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Gessler told supporters Tuesday night that in winning the seat Republicans had “won the battle of ideas.” Voters across the country have rejected “big and intrusive government. You see what happens when government controls large chunks of our society — it’s not a pretty thing.” Second, Gessler said, Republicans have won an opportunity to get the state back on track. In the past, he said, Republicans have squandered that opportunity and voters have reacted accordingly. “Tonight, we got that opportunity. We’ve seen the disaster of liberal policies and we need to do better. We can’t return to the policies of the past. We need bold and innovative ideas, and we have those ideas, in abundance… tonight is the first step — tomorrow, we start turning things around.”

Gessler said he would be wrapping up his law practice in the coming weeks and working on th
e transition. He called Buescher “gracious” in working on that process.

“Voters agreed with me on the issues,” Gessler told The Colorado Statesman this week. One of the issues that Gessler intends to tackle is requiring photo identification for voter registration, which will require legislation. He admits it may be an uphill battle with a Democratic-controlled state senate but said this was a promise he made on the campaign trail, and that he will make his case for it with the Legislature. Gessler said there is a lot of public support for the idea, and “we’ll see if the Democrats are willing to heed that support.”

Gessler also said he will work on things that he can do right away after taking office and that won’t take legislative approval, such as cleaning up the voter registration database and putting in security protections for businesses in the state’s business database.Gessler is an election law attorney who is tied to a number of 527 and 501(c)(4) committees that have funded attack ads against Democratic candidates in Colorado and Montana. His law firm, Hackstaff Gessler, is the registered agent for Western Tradition Partnership, which ran TV ads in October targeting Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village and Sen. Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. Last month, the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices ruled that WTP failed to register as a political committee, failed to disclose its donors, and funneled money into the Coalition for Energy and the Environment (CEE) in order to influence legislative races in that state. The Commissioner, Dennis Unsworth, wrote in his Oct. 21st ruling that “the evidence is overwhelming that CEE was established by WTP as a sham organization to create the illusion that WTP was not directly involved in campaign activities directly opposing candidates for public office.” WTP’s failure to follow Montana campaign finance law “raises the specter of corruption of the electoral process,” Unsworth wrote.

Buescher, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Bill Ritter in January 2009, outspent Gessler in the 2010 campaign. Gessler raised $274,629 in his winning race, and Buescher brought in $337,257 for his campaign. But some political blogs said he did not take Gessler’s challenge seriously or that Buescher had waited too long to seriously campaign for the seat. It is Buescher’s second straight electoral loss; in 2008, he lost the HD 55 seat to Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Grand Junction. Bradford won the seat again on Tuesday; she ran unopposed.

Buescher was criticized for trying to delay sending ballots out on time to military voters, and for failing to password-protect the state’s business registration system, which could make it vulnerable to identity theft. According to a 9KUSA report last month, more than 60 Colorado businesses have become victims of identity theft because thieves use the business information to fraudulently open credit accounts.

Buescher was philosophical about the election loss this week, saying that he’s insisted in every political job that he’s held that he not be defined by the job. Buescher told The Colorado Statesman that he has discussed future opportunities with his wife, Mary Beth, and he is “excited about the possibility of working on things I care about” that fall outside the confines of the Secretary of State’s office.

Buescher said that includes campaign finance reform, a system he said is “as messed up as anything could possibly be.” He is looking for opportunities to do research, advocacy and perhaps teaching, and to “really explore how things have gone so badly wrong. I see this as an enormous opportunity and to be more aggressive than I was as secretary of state.”

Buescher blamed low Democratic voter turnout and the possibility that voters chose down-ticket races as a place for protest votes. But he also said he may have spent too much time dealing with the important issues of the Secretary of State’s office and not enough time out on the campaign tail. “We rolled out a new campaign finance and voter registration system this spring and dealt with overpayments that have been neglected for six years,” he said. “Maybe I should have concentrated more on the race” than the office, he quipped.

Gessler and Buescher have already met to begin working on the transition. Buescher said he has invited Gessler to attend briefing meetings on issues of organization and policy. Buescher noted that the department’s legislative agenda has already been decided and sponsors for legislation chosen. However, he said he plans to go through that agenda with Gessler and “let him pick sponsors for legislation that he agrees should go forward…[but] it will be an awkward conversation.”

Buescher makes no excuses for the way he ran the 2010 campaign. “I wouldn’t do it any differently,” he said.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com