Our View: Let’s let servants serve
March 17, 2010
A piece of legislation that's more than 70 years old has been stirring the dust in Northwest Colorado lately.
When the Hatch Act was passed in 1939, its main intent was to keep federal employees from using their positions to unfairly influence elections. The act states, among other provisions, that federal employees cannot run for partisan office. It was expanded in 1940 to include state and local employees.
According to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, "The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state or local executive agencies and who work in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants."
There are valid reasons for the protections ensured by the Hatch Act, and misuse of federal money and clout certainly is possible amid the political maelstrom of an election. But we don't think that federal lawmakers, when enacting this legislation, intended to micromanage to the point where they keep rural public servants from running for local office.
That's what's happening in Northwest Colorado.
The Hatch Act came up last month in Moffat County, when K.C. Hume, a lieutenant with the Moffat County Sheriff's Office and battalion chief with Craig Fire/Rescue, left the race for Moffat County coroner because he thought he was violating the act. Then Moffat County Chief Deputy Clerk Lila Herod announced last week that she would resign from her position with the county to run for county clerk and recorder.
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Herod applied for a grant for $18,450 from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission through the Help America Vote Act to fund improvements at the Hamilton Community Center, which serves as a polling place. The Office of Special Counsel told her to resign from her position as deputy clerk and Moffat County election supervisor or withdraw from the race. It's ironic and disappointing that Herod is being penalized for getting a grant to improve the democratic process in her community.
In Routt County, questions have arisen about whether sheriff candidate Garrett Wiggins can run for office because of funding for the All Crimes Enforcement Team drug task force, which he commands. Wiggins said a couple of weeks ago that he was trying to determine whether federal funding, passed through the Craig Police Department to ACET, would put him in violation of the act.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Wiggins said he couldn't discuss the issue while at work but that he planned to issue a news release as soon as today.
John Ponikvar, Moffat County Republican Central Committee chairman, told the Craig Daily Press that he was pushing for legislation to be passed in Colorado that mirrors House Resolution 2154, which was introduced into the U.S House of Representatives on April 28 and is in the House committee on oversight and government reform.
The bill proposes to amend the Hatch Act to read that it "does not prohibit any state or local officer or employee from being a candidate for any office of any local unit of general purpose government which has a population of less than 100,000."
We agree with Ponikvar, who called the act "archaic." It's hard enough to rustle up candidates for office in rural areas, and the Hatch Act further hinders such candidacies. Lawmakers should act quickly — if not for this election cycle then for the next — to make it easier for those who want to serve in rural areas to do so.
Let's pull the outdated Hatch Act into the 21st century.