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Criticizing Coffman Tough To Approach

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Peter Blake of the Rocky Mountain News discussed on Saturday the soon-to-be open job of the Secretary of State (SOS), now that Republican Donetta Davidson appears to be moving to Washington D.C. for an appointment with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (insert your own joke).

The interesting part of this whole affair revolves around who Governor Bill Owens will appoint as an interim SOS when Davidson leaves.

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But what does Owens do now? Under normal circumstances he would appoint an ambitious and capable Republican to the post, one who would have the advantage of incumbency when running for a full four-year term next year.

Normally, as Blake points out, Owens would just appoint someone who was going to run for the job in 2006, which he did when he appointed Senator Mark Hillman to the interim State Treasurer job when Mike Coffman took a leave of absence to do a tour of duty in Iraq. But Coffman has already announced his intentions to run for SOS, so Owens either has to pick someone who won’t get in his way…or Coffman is going to run for something else, such as Lieutenant Governor.

Either way, Coffman gets to play a major role while completely skating around the fact that he left his job — to a term which voters expected him to fulfill — in order to serve a voluntary term of duty in Iraq.

There was some speculation that when Coffman returns, he might be appointed to the secretary of state’s job, so he could get a head start there, while Hillman would be allowed to stay on as treasurer.

But that may well be illegal as well as politically cynical. It might even inspire the moribund Democrats to get more serious about finding competent candidates for both jobs.

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A move like Coffman’s isn’t likely to happen again for a while, but if in the future some elected official wants to leave his job to do nobler work temporarily, he should also be noble enough to cut all ties and take his chances when he comes back.

That last sentence was a rare barb thrown at Coffman for something that Democrats have been wise to avoid; going after Coffman is a no-win situation from a public relations perspective. It’s hard to criticize someone who volunteers for a term of duty in Iraq, but it should still be said that Coffman isn’t necessarily right to hold two statewide offices hostage in the meantime.

The conundrum is an interesting one for Democrats, especially if Coffman decides to run for something other than SOS and lets that job open up to an interim appointee who will run for re-election. It’s a noble thing to volunteer for your country, but it’s not so noble to use it as a reason to play politics and give Republicans an advantage in statewide races. Nobody is accusing Coffman of volunteering for duty in Iraq just to help Republicans in Colorado, but if he had asked for a leave of absence to take a temporary private job then the arrows would come quickly. Coffman gets out of this because nobody wants to take on someone who volunteers for military duty, but at what point do Democrats get to say, “Hey, wait a minute…”

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