Former Colorado senator forms committee to recall Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A former state Republican senator has formed a committee aimed at removing Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton from office.
Laura Woods created the Save Routt County committee earlier in the month as a way of fundraising a recall effort to oust Melton, a Democrat, according to records from the Secretary of State’s Office. As of Thursday, the committee had not reported any monetary contributions or any expenses.
A news release from Melton’s campaign team, Routt County for Beth Melton, called the recall effort a “page straight out of the Colorado Republican’s Extremist playbook,” citing a Denver Post article from September 2019. At the time, Republican political leaders were encouraging recall efforts as a way to unseat Democratic lawmakers who had gained complete control of the state government after the 2018 election. An attempt to oust Gov. Jared Polis failed after not getting enough signatures to force a special election.
It is unclear exactly why Woods formed the recall committee. In a phone call, the former senator said she was not ready to make any announcements regarding the effort until she launches an official campaign.
“When we get ready to launch, we will talk about all of that,” Woods said.
Melton also could not think of any reasons behind the recall effort. Other than receiving some angry emails and other informal complaints from residents — criticism that comes with representing constituents with varying opinions and political views — she said she has not been involved in any egregious wrongdoing or ethics violation.
“I would hope that people who maybe disagree with some decisions I make would agree that I haven’t done anything that I would consider worthy of a recall effort,” Melton said.
On her website, Melton’s team urges residents to “decline to sign” any forthcoming recall petitions. They also encourage donations to cover any potential costs of fighting a recall effort. Any unused funds would be returned to donors, according to Stephany Traylor, co-chair of Routt County for Beth Melton.
Colorado’s recall process
Colorado is one of among 20 states with a process in place for removing some elected leaders that voters deem unfit for office. The process involves submitting a recall petition template to the county clerk’s office for approval. A recall campaign then has just 60 days to collect enough signatures to comprise 25% of the total number of ballots submitted in the last election for that office.
In Melton’s case, that means collecting at least 3,299 signatures, according to Routt County Clerk Kim Bonner. As of Thursday, Bonner had not yet received a petition template for her approval, so no formal recall process has begun.
A similar effort is underway to remove Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins from office, following his controversial remarks over recent police protests. Bonner also has not received a petition template to begin that recall process.
Unlike other states, such as Washington and Minnesota, people can start a recall petition for any reason, or for no reason at all, Bonner said. The only criteria she must use when approving a petition template, she said, is to ensure it does not contain any profanity.
Recall efforts can be costly, Bonner added, and no matter how they pan out, taxpayers end up footing the bill.
In La Plata County, where a county commissioner fought against a recall effort in 2018, officials estimated a special election would have cost $58,000. The petition ultimately failed to garner enough signatures to land on the ballot.
A committee supporting that commissioner, called United Against the Recall, spent more than $47,000 fighting the recall effort, according to records from the Secretary of State’s Office. According to Bonner, if the recall effort fails, the county is responsible for reimbursing any expenses incurred in battling the recall.
Calls for reform
These are among the reasons why lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have sought reforms to the recall process. Republican Sen. Jack Tate, one of the state congressman leading the cause, told The Colorado Sun in September that he does not want to see recalls become “frivolous distractions” that could become damaging for democracy. Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Democrat, said he wants Colorado’s process to reflect recall policies in other states with more stringent guidelines.
Virginia, for example, decides recalls through court rulings instead of elections.
Following the recall effort in La Plata County, Bonner, the county clerk, joined a statewide committee seeking reforms of Colorado’s recall process.
“There are just a lot of things that need to be cleaned up,” Bonner said.
Gaining enough buy-in to achieve those reforms could be difficult, Bonner acknowledged. Despite the costs to taxpayers and the potential for people to take advantage of the process, recalls are seen as a vital component in the democratic system, a form of checks and balances that holds elected officials accountable.
Many voters appreciate having the power to remove officials deemed unfit for their positions and would be reluctant to give up or complicate the option.
Sen. Woods did not say when she expects to file an official recall petition against Commissioner Melton. For now, the commissioner said she is focusing on leading the county through the COVID-19 pandemic and fulfilling her campaign promises, from improving early childhood education to combatting the effects of climate change.
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