Williams hopes to succeed fellow Republican Gessler for Secretary of State

The Colorado Statesman

Republican candidate for secretary of state Wayne Williams says the current office, led by Republican Scott Gessler, could be doing a better job working with county clerks.

Williams might be walking into a tense situation next year if he defeats Democrat Joe Neguse this November. Both Williams and Neguse are running unopposed for their respective parties’ nominations. Gessler is seeking the GOP’s nomination for governor instead of running for re-election.

Gessler has faced some tensions between his office and several of the state’s county clerks after opposing their efforts to modernize elections. A measure supported by many of the clerks last year allowed all-mail ballots and same-day voter registration, but Gessler passionately opposed the bill.


Wayne Williams

Gessler has also faced off with clerks by attempting to prohibit mail ballots to inactive voters and criticizing some clerks for how they conduct elections. Most recently, Gessler blasted Broomfield election officials for alleged administration errors.

But Williams points out that he is a county clerk himself for El Paso County. While Williams, an attorney, assailed the elections reform bill last year as being legally flawed, he believes more can be done overall to work with county clerks.

“In some areas they have not worked as closely with county clerks as they could have, and that’s one of the areas that I think coming from a local government perspective that I will be able to do a better job working with local governments to make sure that what’s done in Denver makes sense elsewhere in the state of Colorado,” explained Williams.

But he believes Gessler did the best he could with what he had to work with, pointing to court challenges that exposed legal conflicts within the law, especially concerning recall elections.

The elections law backed by Democrats last year stated that ballots must be mailed no later than 18 days before the election, mandating all-mail voting. But the state constitution mandates that recall successor candidates have up to 15 days before the election to submit signatures.

The case revealed that there would be no way for clerks to mail ballots 18 days before the election if candidates have until 15 days before the election to submit signatures.

Democrats are attempting to remedy the problem through legislation this year, but the bill is being called unconstitutional by Republicans and activists because they believe it takes a vote of the people to make that change.

Still, Williams believes Gessler did a good job directing clerks given all the confusion.

“With respect to working with the clerks on the recall election where we went through so many permutations of judicial rulings and changes in the legislation, I think the secretary of state’s office did a very good job of providing a workable set of rules given, as the justice said, the ‘fatally flawed’ legislation passed by the legislature,” opined Williams.

Gessler has also been criticized for taking a partisan approach to governing, despite the nonpartisan nature of the secretary of state’s office. Democrats have even adopted the name “Honey Badger” for Gessler, pointing to his sometimes-brash way of criticizing the left.

But Williams says that he would avoid partisan politics if it doesn’t directly impact his office.

“I think it is fair to address issues as secretary of state that impact that office, and so if someone is advocating, or is pushing something that reduces the integrity of the office or the elections process, then I think it’s very fair for the secretary of state to point that out,” surmised Williams.

“I don’t anticipate as secretary of state being actively involved in areas in which that office doesn’t have an impact,” he added.

Gessler had also complained about the salary of the office when he took over in 2011, even seeking to moonlight at his former law firm in order to supplement the $68,500 annual compensation. His old firm specializes in election law, which caused controversy.

Williams said that as an attorney he would not handle any cases that involve government lawsuits if elected secretary of state. But he did not rule out the possibility of taking on other cases, pointing out that he has four children and could benefit from supplementing his income. Williams is married to Holly Williams, who served as the El Paso County public trustee under former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican.

“As a public official you need to effectively be doing that full-time job that you have, but everybody has hobbies or other things that they like to do. I’ve got kids in college right now, so a hobby I like to do is get additional money to help pay for the kids’ college,” explained Williams.

“I think a system in which the county clerk job pays almost $20,000 more than the secretary of state is not the most logical salary compensation system,” he added. “Having said that, I am running for the office and I am prepared to make it work with the salary that’s there, but I think it’s appropriate to look at salaries from time to time just as you do with private industry.”

Williams is no stranger to a humble lifestyle. He was raised on a zoo in the hills of Virginia. His father was the facilities manager and a civil engineer who oversaw the 3,000-acre facility in the Shenandoah Valley. But since moving to Colorado in 1992, Williams hasn’t looked back.

In addition to serving several public roles, including as an El Paso County commissioner for District 1 and chairman of the Colorado Springs Housing Authority, Williams also served as the former chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party.

He believes his experiences are serving him well on the campaign trail.

“I’ve been very pleased with the level of support from around the state,” said Williams. “I spend most evenings and weekends driving around the state visiting with folks and getting a lot of support… from both Republicans and folks with different or no affiliation.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com