Morse Campaign Charges Bias in Gessler-Approved Recall Ballot Language

John Morse
John Morse

ON WEDNESDAY, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office signed off on ballot language for the state’s first-ever lawmaker recall election, where Democratic state Senate President John Morse will effectively face Republican City Council Member Bernie Herpin.

The Morse campaign doesn’t like the ballot language and believes the Republican secretary of state may have worked to tilt the scales in the race, stripping out language Morse submitted to be included.

But the Herpin campaign argues the Secretary didn’t go far enough. In a release the campaign charges that, in the language Morse submitted to the secretary, he “violated state law” by making false assertions about Herpin and about Basic Freedom Defense Fund — the group organized to promote recall of Morse mainly in response to his support for gun-control legislation last spring.

The recall campaigns, launched months ago, have been characterized by regularly erupting similar back-and-forths and there may be many more to come over the four weeks leading to Election Day on September 10.

In in its release Thursday, A Whole Lot of People For John Morse detailed its accusations against Gessler’s office:

The factual information that the SOS office refused to include on the ballot included:

Bernie Herpin opposed criminal background checks, a position so extreme it would allow felons and domestic abusers to buy guns.

When Bernie Herpin was on our City Council, he took part in a $25,000 special interest junket paid for from our utility bills – and then he tried to hide it from voters. Voting NO on the recall is also a NO to this kind of lavish special interest spending and elected official cover-up.”

Gessler’s office dismissed the complaint as after-the-fact politics.

“On the advice of the attorney general, we removed that language because it violates state law,” wrote Secretary of State Spokesman Rich Coolidge to The Colorado Independent. “Surprisingly, A Whole lot of People never contested that removal to us, so it’s unfortunate to see these attacks aired in a press release.”

Coolidge cited the law governing recall ballot language:

The officer sought to be recalled may submit to the designated election official a statement of three hundred words or fewer justifying the officer’s course of conduct. The officer shall not include any profane or false statements in the statement of justification.

“That statute doesn’t really fit,” responded Morse campaign manager Christy Le Lait, who explained that the campaign has the information to back up their statements about Herpin.

“Gessler basically decided what we could put in our statement,” said Le Lait, “It’s unfair, to say the least, to give voters the wrong information when they read the ballot.”

Le Lait adds that the language the Secretary included on the ballot written by the recall supporters falsely accuses Morse of limiting testimony during Senate committee testimony on the gun laws. She said that opponents and supporters of the gun bills received equal time to testify and that it was the same amount of time allotted for testimony during similarly high-profile debates.

The Morse assertions struck from the ballot concern Herpin’s participation last year in a spendy water tour of the state at the expense of the city’s strapped utility’s rate-payers.

Herpin’s campaign sent out a responding release stating, “The water conference John Morse references actually cost $192.26 for Bernie Herpin to participate in.” They further assert that the trip came as “… part of his official duties as a city council member to provide desperately needed water to the people of Colorado Springs.”

According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, Herpin received flack for his participation in the junket from Springs Treasurer Bob Balink at the time. This time, in the campaign’s recent release, Balink came to Herpin’s defense crediting him with overseeing the Southern Delivery System which brings water to Colorado Springs, on time and under budget.

Le Lait said the irony of Gessler deleting information about a Republican office holder’s alleged ethics lapse won’t be lost on state politics news watchers. From the release:

“The irony of making Sen. Morse delete the reference to Bernie Herpin’s taxpayer-funded junket is that Gessler’s the one person in all of state government who’s been determined to have violated state ethics laws by taking his own taxpayer-funded junket,” Le Lait said. “This is manipulation, plain and simple. The voters are being denied information that can help them make a decision.”

Gessler spent roughly $1,000 of public money on a trip to a Republican lawyers meeting and the Republican National Convention in Florida last year. The state’s Independent Ethics Commission found the spending violated ethics rules. Gessler battled the charges intensely, hiring three private-sector attorneys who charged roughly $122,000 to defend him, costs also paid by taxpayers.