Next three years may not count against Beeson under term limit law
The next three years of Martin Beeson’s life may count for a lot for the new district attorney and residents of the 9th Judicial District.But it turns out they could count for nothing when it comes to the term limits law applying to DAs.The three years Beeson will spend serving out the term of recalled DA Colleen Truden won’t be counted in applying that law to Beeson, a spokesperson for the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office says.That means Beeson could seek re-election to two full, four-year terms. And if voters repeatedly returned him to office, Colorado’s newest DA could end his tenure as perhaps the state’s most veteran DA, with 11 years on the job.But that’s assuming Beeson decided to try to stay in office that long – he says he doubts he would – and no one legally challenged the term limits question. Dennis Polhill, chairman of the Colorado Term Limits Coalition, said he disagrees with the state’s interpretation of Colorado’s Constitution.”The Constitution clearly says half a term counts as a term,” he said.Dana Williams, of the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, said the office’s opinion is that anything less than a full term of office isn’t considered a full term under Amendment 17, the 1994 measure passed by Colorado voters. The office bases its view on a February 2000 opinion by Ken Salazar, then Colorado’s attorney general and now a U.S. senator, regarding several questions surrounding the applicability of Amendment 17 to district attorneys.Salazar noted that the measure failed to address partial term limits. That’s in contrast to a 1990 term limits measure passed by Colorado voters, and applying to state and federal lawmakers. It spelled out that anyone who serves at least half a term due to election or appointment to a vacancy “shall be considered to have served a term in that office” for purposes of the term limits measure.Salazar noted that the 1994 measure largely replicated the 1990 one, with the exception of partial terms.”The fact that such language was included in a prior initiative, but was not included by the proponents as part of Amendment 17, is evidence of an intent not to have Amendment 17 term limitations apply to partial terms,” he concluded.But Polhill, one of the authors of Amendment 17, said their only intent was brevity when they left out the language. They felt it already had been addressed in the prior measure.”We thought it would be redundant and it would add unnecessary words to the Constitution,” he said.He said that while he would be willing to testify in court about the measure’s intent, his group wouldn’t be the one to legally challenge the question if it ever came up in Beeson’s case.”It would be whoever his opponents are, and of course if it’s somebody on his staff (considering a run for office) they’re going to be reluctant to do that,” he said.He said there’s no telling how a court would rule on the question.”Everybody complains about us putting too much stuff in the Constitution. You try to be concise and then they misinterpret the meaning. I guess that would fall in the disingenuous category,” he said.The state’s interpretation of the matter could change by the time the issue had to be decided in 2012, depending on who is holding the offices of secretary of state and attorney general then.Williams said she’s had no inquiries except from the Post Independent about how the term limits law applies to Beeson. But Beeson, who has had his hands full transitioning into power as the new DA, has been made aware of the possibility he would be eligible to serve for 11 years.”Some of my friends have mentioned that to me and I’ve heard that same thing too. But that’s so far in the future,” he said.”I can’t envision myself being there for 11 years. I think sometimes people just need to get out and let a fresh face take over.”I’ve got no intention at this point in planning on running for election in 2008, much less 2012. I’ve got a job to do. It’s a big job. … I’m going to take it one day at a time. Whatever happens in the future happens in the future.”Speaking more generally about term limits, Beeson said, “My view is that it’s another regulation of the free market, so I don’t really agree with the concept of term limits.”During a debate between DA candidates prior to the recall election, Beeson said he understands the argument that power can corrupt if people remain in office too long. But he said it also would be a shame to lose a good DA due to term limits.Write-in candidate Chip McCrory said during the debate that term limits might be a good idea in smaller jurisdictions because their DAs encounter increasing public hostility after eight years or so.In her comments at the debate, Truden said time will tell if term limits are worthwhile. She called them “an opportunity to replace stagnant, dead and dying administrations,” and to try new things.Truden repeatedly had talked about a need for change in the office that had been held for eight years by Mac Myers, who was forced out of office by term limits. But voters who didn’t like the changes she brought cut Truden’s own tenure short on Dec. 13, in the first recall of a DA in Colorado.The issue of term limits and district attorneys has been contentious over the years. Colorado district attorneys had claimed the 1990 and 1994 measures didn’t apply to them because they are neither state nor local officeholders, and weren’t mentioned in the 1994 measure, Polhill said. But he believes they are local officeholders and said the 1994 amendment indicated that it applied to other local officeholders not specifically singled out.He said the measure’s supporters also testified in ballot language review hearings that DAs were intended to be covered under the measure.In 2002, the state legislature put a measure on the ballot that would have exempted DAs from term limits, but voters defeated it.
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