by Jack Minor –
The question of whether Weld County’s clerk and recorder, and sheriff can seek another two terms may not be decided until next year, the county attorney said.
“This concept of saying have a judge review it isn’t the type of thing that can happen now,” county attorney Bruce Barker said.
At a Republican breakfast earlier this month, Cooke and Moreno announced their candidacy for a fourth term.
However, the problem is under a change to the Weld County Home Rule Charter by voters in 2007 persons in both offices are limited to “three consecutive terms.”
The eligibility issue revolves around a state constitutional amendment as well as the 2007 initiative.
In 1994 voters passed an amendment to the Colorado constitution that limited officials to two terms unless voters in a home rule county or city voted to extend the limit.
Following passage of the amendment, the question subsequently arose as to how the two term limit affected those who were currently holding elected positions at the time of the amendment’s passage. Did their previous terms count towards the two term limit?
In 2000, former Attorney General Ken Salazar issued an opinion saying the two term limit would only apply to elections from 1994 going forward.
Two years later, both Moreno and Cooke were elected to their current offices as clerk and recorder and sheriff, respectively. At the time both men were subject to the 1994 amendment limiting them to two terms.
Five years later in 2007, Weld County voters approved a change to the county’s home rule charter that extended the term limit for those two offices to three terms.
Moreno and Cooke have said they believe there is a strong possibility the principles espoused in the Salazar opinion applies to them since the charter change occurred during their second term. This would enable them to run for up to five terms if the three term limit did not begin until the end of their second term.
However, Barker said Salazar’s opinion does not apply in this case.
“The idea of them having three terms beginning from the date of the amendment ignores the fact that at the time they were elected they were subject to the 1997 constitutional amendment specifying they were limited to two terms,” Barker said. “The description of the 2007 amendment said no person shall ‘serve more than three full consecutive terms.’ On its face that is pretty clear that a person who is in the current office, even though they were part way through a term, is still limited to three full consecutive terms.”
Both Moreno and Cooke have said they are wanting a judge to rule on the merits of their arguments. Last weekend at the Weld County Republican Party’s biannual organizational committee meeting officials said the issue will probably need to be decided by a district judge.
Cooke has said he and Moreno look forward to having a judge rule on the issue in order to clear up the issue and reassure voters nothing untoward is taking place.
“I have no doubt it’ll be given to the court and a judge to decide the issue. That’s what Steve and I want. That way there will be no doubt,” he said.
In an opinion piece on Monday, The Greeley Tribune has likewise called for a judge to quickly rule on the issue.
“This needs to be placed in the hands of a district court judge as quickly as possible. For the benefit of Cooke and Moreno, as well as for the benefit of their potential campaign opponents and Weld County voters, we’ll be hoping we hear an opinion from a higher legal power sooner rather than later.”
Barker said while that may sound nice, those calling for a quick judicial decision have a lack of understanding of how the legal process works.
“While it’s nice to be able to say that, the reality is there are certain things that need to happen first before a judge can even take up the case.”
“One of the things is who has standing to raise the issue. The second issue is the case ripe yet for a court decision,” Barker explained. The third is, is there an actual case or controversy while the fourth, which may be the most important is does a state statute exist that provides a procedures for the purpose of doing exactly what has been suggested the court do in this matter.”
Barker explained that current statutes states that before a person with standing can challenge a candidate’s qualifications, the candidate has to actually be certified to be on a ballot.
“You need to have all of these things in place and if you have a state statute that provides a procedure for dealing with it, you have to go by the authority in the statute and that doesn’t happen for another year and a few months yet. This concept of saying have a judge review it isn’t the type of thing that can happen now.”
Based on Barker’s assessment, the earliest the issue could possibly be addressed would be the caucuses in June of next year.
Ultimately, voters may end up having to make up their own minds over how they fell about the two serving a fourth term and act accordingly at the ballot box.