DAs face voters’ verdict: Eight years
When he was first elected as the 9th District Attorney in 1996, Mac Myers figured he’d be subject to term limits. And he accepted it as one of the realities of taking such a job.
But during the last few years, some Colorado DAs questioned whether the limit of two four-year terms in office should apply to a job where the learning curve is so steep.
The DAs sought an advisory opinion from the state attorney general’s office.
While Myers wasn’t directly involved in the challenge, he agreed with it in principle.
“Generally, I’m really strongly opposed to the whole concept of term limits,” he said. “Americans vote, and I think term limits are an abdication of the vote. I think if a guy’s not doing his job, the voters can vote him out.”
The attorney general ruled that DAs are, indeed, governed by term limits.
“I think in the long-term, it’s going to be a mistake. It takes a certain amount of expertise,” Myers said. “The relationships between prosecutors and law enforcement are very important for public safety. Whenever there’s a change, it’s disruptive.”
Recognizing the perceived problem, the state Legislature asked voters to approve a constitutional amendment exempting DAs from term limits.
The referendum was shot down in the Nov. 5 election, 65-35 percent.
As a result, 17 of the state’s 22 district attorneys must step down at the end of their current terms. That includes Myers, whose term will end at the close of 2004. The 9th Judicial District includes Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.
Myers said when he first took office, he accepted term limits as a fact of life in his job. Then, after serving as DA for a while, he realized that it takes years to really get a handle on the job. He thought about possibly running for a third term.
Now that the votes are in, the decision is made for him.
“Actually, I was leaning on not running again,” the 55-year-old Myers said. “My inclination was that in all probability I’d leave after two terms.”
He felt comfortable with leaving because in all likelihood there will be talented, qualified people to take his place. But some rural districts might not be so lucky, because there isn’t always a large pool of qualified attorneys from which to choose.
“I think the rurals are going to suffer a lot,” he said.
As an example of how term limits could negatively affect a judicial district, Myers cited a murder case in Cortez where the district attorney didn’t have enough experience to handle such a challenging case. As a result, the state attorney general’s office was called in to try the case.
Unlike that district in southwestern Colorado, Myers feels the 9th District has some talented prosecutors.
“Homicide cases tend to take on a life of their own,” he said, referring to the recent case against Steven Michael Stagner, who killed four Mexicans in a shooting spree in Rifle in 2001.
“Now we have some people with homicide experience,” he added.
With two years left in his tenure as DA, Myers said nobody has yet announced their candidacy.
Whoever is elected, he vowed to make the transition period as smooth as possible.
“It’s critical to public safety to keep the politics out of the DA’s office,” he said.
Thoughts about who might serve as DA in the 9th Judicial District led Myers to point out another potentially serious problem with DA term limits.
“There’s not a lot of incentive for these young DAs,” he said. “They say, `Why would I want to run when I would be looking for a job at the peak of my career?'”
Myers was elected in 1996 at the age of 49, so he’ll be 57 when his second term runs out. But for a younger candidate, term limits could quash the urge to run.
Now that Myers knows for sure he’ll be out in two years, he’s been able to more clearly think about what he’ll do next.
One possibility is that he’ll move out of the district and settle down on some land he bought.
“But I might try to get a job in a DA’s office,” he said. Myers worked as a deputy district attorney early in his legal career.
There’s also the chance that the next DA could ask him to stay on, but that scenario is more unlikely, he said.
While his term is far from over, Myers said he’s most proud of the job he and his prosecution team did with the Stagner case.
“I think Stagner’s the most interesting case I’ve ever had,” he said.
“We have lawyers with big-case experience and great investigators. I’m really proud of everyone here.”
In the wake of the recent term limit vote, 5th District prosecutor Mike Goodbee left his post to take a high-level job in the attorney general’s office. Others, Myers said, might be considering similar career moves.
But Myers said he plans to finish his term.
“I will be here for the two years,” he said. “I feel like it’s my obligation and my desire – I love the work.”
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