Neguse hopes to bridge political divide in the Secretary of State’s office

The Colorado Statesman

One thing Democrat Joe Neguse will not be doing if he is elected secretary of state in November is moonlighting.

The University of Colorado Regent from CD 2 points to the kerfuffle current Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, caused shortly after taking office in 2011 when Gessler planned to work part-time at his old law firm, which deals almost exclusively with election law.

The perceived conflict of interest caused a stir, and Gessler backed out, despite maintaining that he didn’t view the dual employment situation as a problem. Gessler said at the time that he simply wanted to supplement his $68,500 annual salary.

Neguse laughed at the thought of doing likewise, suggesting that the job of secretary of state would be plenty to keep him busy and financially afloat.

Joe Neguse

“Colorado families on average make less than most of the constitutional officers, so I think the notion that he wanted to moonlight doing an election law practice, while serving as secretary of state, is beyond the pale,” said Neguse.

“I share the same criticisms. I thought it was ridiculous that he would attempt to moonlight… given the important constitutional office,” he continued. “So, no. I will not be moonlighting.”

Moonlighting isn’t the only one of Gessler’s actions that Neguse finds fault with. He also believes that the secretary of state has been a partisan official, using the powerful bully pulpit to advocate for the Republican Party rather than nonpartisan elections and business practices.

“You should be putting it aside for the sake of the office…” said Neguse.

“At the end of the day, elections really are the foundation of a representative government and they’re too important to be the victim of partisan games,” he added. “We’ve had a secretary who over the course of the last several years has played partisan games with the office, and I intend to change that.

“He’s done a very poor job,” Neguse continued. “Time and time again he has used the office for partisan gain… The folks I speak to across the state… are ready for a change.”

If Neguse hopes to bring that change, then he will need to defeat Republican Wayne Williams in November. Like Neguse, Williams is running unopposed for his party’s nomination. Gessler is running for governor instead of seeking re-election.

One of the hardest challenges for the next secretary of state may be patching up relations with county clerks. The secretary of state’s office has clashed with clerks in recent years over election reforms, with the majority of clerks calling for legislation last year that required all-mail ballots and same-day voter registration, among other things. Gessler opposed the bill.

“I’ve spent a lot of time over the past nine months reaching out to county clerks in different parts of the state,” said Neguse. “They want; they deserve a partner in the secretary of state’s office.

“It’s about bridging the political divide and being able to work with people irrespective of party,” he continued.

Neguse pointed to his support of an elections bill this year that standardized many residency requirements for municipal, special district and school board elections. Several county clerks called for the legislation amid lawsuits and confusion.

Neguse also said he supports a measure that would correct some of the legal conflicts revealed last summer during recall elections of two Senate Democrats.

“Fundamentally they are both about ensuring that every eligible voter can cast their ballot,” he opined.

Neguse acknowledged that bringing all sides together on elections issues can be an overwhelming task, given the many stakeholders, including citizen activists, county clerks and special interests. He said he believes he is up to the task, pointing to his family as inspiration.

Neguse is a first generation American whose parents fled a war-torn country in east Africa.

“Very, very hardworking parents who worked very hard to provide my sister and I with the type of opportunities that they could never dream of,” is how Neguse described his parents.

Somehow in the middle of running a campaign and serving as a CU regent, the young candidate is also finding time to plan a wedding with his fiancé, Andrea Rael. At 29 years old, Neguse said he could handle the pressure.

“Andrea is the love of my life and a wonderful woman and she has been traveling with me as we go to the different places across the state as part of the campaign,” explained Neguse. “So, we are planning a wedding and doing a lot and keeping busy, but we’re both young and we like to be busy.”