By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
The treasurer of the Colorado Republican Party has filed a lawsuit on behalf of two well established Republicans in an attempt to remove third-party conservative gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo’s name from the November ballot.
Richard Westfall, who is no stranger to elections law issues, filed the complaint in Denver District Court on behalf of Highlands Ranch resident Joseph Harrington and Golden resident Marian Olson. Both plaintiffs have contributed to Republican candidate Dan Maes’ campaign, and both have a strong affiliation to and history with the Republican Party.
Many Republicans are infuriated with Tancredo for leaving the Republican Party in July and running as a third-party American Constitution Party candidate, a move that has essentially split the Republican vote, likely handing victory to Democratic challenger John Hickenlooper.
The lawsuit alleges that Tancredo violated Colorado elections laws when he entered the gubernatorial race as a third-party American Constitution Party candidate. The lawsuit points to Colorado Revised Statute 1-4-1304, which states that minor political party candidates must be registered as affiliated with the minor party no later than the first business day of the January immediately preceding the general election. Tancredo would have needed to be registered with the American Constitution Party on Jan. 1, 2010; he did not switch his party affiliation until July.
The Colorado elections law also states that minor party candidates must not have been registered as a member of a major political party at any time following the first business day of the January immediately preceding the general election for which the candidate was nominated. Tancredo was registered with the Republican Party as late as July.
Olson, a member of the Jefferson County Citizens Budget Review Panel and organizer of the Golden Government Watch Meetup Group, told the Denver Daily News yesterday that the lawsuit is not about politics, but about the law.
“I’ve known Tom Tancredo for a long time, I don’t know Dan Maes. Individuals had nothing to do with it as far as I was concerned,” said Olson, who added that she has not yet decided who she is voting for in the gubernatorial race. “People have a passion, and my passion is the rule of law.”
The Colorado elections law, however, does make exceptions for the constitution or bylaws of the minor political party. But the lawsuit argues that the American Constitution Party’s bylaws defer to state elections laws “to the extent they apply to the external requirements and deadlines of the election process.” Westfall takes that to mean that there are no exceptions in the American Constitution Party’s bylaws for party affiliation deadlines.
“The law is very clear that Tom Tancredo was not eligible to be a candidate for office for a minor political party so long as he was affiliated with a major political party on the first business day of January of this year under state law,” said Westfall.
Westfall said his position as the treasurer of the Colorado Republican Party is not a conflict of interest because he is simply acting as an attorney with experience in elections law.
“I have no personal preference at this point,” said Westfall. “I have an ethical obligation to my clients to pursue their interests, and their interests are to have the American Constitution Party follow the rules.”
Plaintiffs first attempted to have the lawsuit filed on Friday in Jefferson County District Court, but a judge ruled that the case be moved to Denver District Court because the proper venue for the Secretary of State’s office is Denver District Court.
Bay Buchanan, Tancredo’s campaign manager, pointed out that the Secretary of State’s Office has already certified the general election ballot.
“Last Friday, after reviewing all the pertinent documentation, Colorado’s Secretary of State certified Tom Tancredo as a candidate for governor on the November ballot,” Buchanan said in a statement e-mailed to the Denver Daily News. “Our attorneys have reviewed the recent complaint by a disgruntled Maes voter related to this certification and are confident that the courts will find no grounds on which to overturn the decision by the one individual with authority to make such decisions.”
A spokesman for Secretary of State Bernie Buescher acknowledged the legal question being raised by the lawsuit and said attorneys have just begun to go over the case. Spokesman Richard Coolidge said the Secretary of State’s Office continues to print ballots with Tancredo’s name on it.
Meanwhile, Hickenlooper and Maes issued a surprising joint news release yesterday committing to only comment on issues.
Maes was forced to defend his character and credibility last week after reports surfaced that he may have been less than truthful when addressing his role with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation 25 years ago. Maes had originally suggested that he was dismissed from his position with the department because he got “too close” to the case. But law enforcement in Kansas disputed the claim.
Hickenlooper has also been asked recently to answer questions about possible charitable contributions to ultra-liberal organizations with ties to radical domestic protest groups.
The two candidates announced nine future debates, adding that any decision on involving Tancredo and other third-party candidates is up to the individual event sponsors.
Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, said yesterday that he does not believe Tancredo’s name will be removed from the ballot because of the lawsuit. He agreed that because Westfall is acting independently, his involvement does not pose as a conflict of interest for his party.
That being said, Wadhams said he will “watch with interest.”