Cleve Preece walks away from a computerized polling booth during Tuesday’s Election Day at the Centennial Mall voting center. Digitalized voting systems are becoming more prevalent than paper ballots in many parts of Moffat County.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Cleve Preece walks away from a computerized polling booth during Tuesday’s Election Day at the Centennial Mall voting center. Digitalized voting systems are becoming more prevalent than paper ballots in many parts of Moffat County.

City, ACLU reflect on campaign spending limit provision

Advertisement

The Craig City Council was an even split on a ballot question in Tuesday’s election that asked voters whether they wanted to delete a city charter provision on campaign spending.

The rule stated that municipal candidates could not spend more than $500 of their own money on their campaigns.

Mayor Don Jones and councilors Jennifer Riley and Joe Herod voted to keep the provision, while councilors Ray Beck, Gene Bilodeau and Terry Carwile voted to delete it.

Councilor Byron Willems said he did not vote.

“The whole election was a waste of everybody’s money,” Willems said.

Craig officials already voided the spending limit this summer after resident Francisco Reina filed a civil suit against the city for charging him with spending more than was allowed in his April campaign for council.

The city dismissed its citation against Reina and settled with his attorneys — who were led by the American Civil Liberties Union — to never again enforce the spending cap, unless the U.S. Supreme Court reverses a 1976 ruling that states such limits violate the right to free speech.

However, the city cannot change its charter without a popular vote, one city officials said cost about $8,000.

In effect, Willems said, the city paid for an election that doesn’t matter.

“That’s kind of dumb, but that’s what government is good for,” he said.

It seems most of Craig agreed.

The majority of council members said they received no calls or comments from residents in the run-up to the election, with the exception of Carwile’s sister who he said wanted to make sure she understood what the ballot question meant.

The election ended up with an 11.5 percent voter turnout, one of the lowest in Moffat County history.

“Before the election, people were upset we even had to put it on the ballot,” Herod said.

Despite the city’s agreement to not enforce the spending limit, Herod said he voted to keep it because he believes in its principle.

“I feel like the people in the community should be equal in running for office,” he said.

Money seems to wield too much influence in politics, Herod added.

“If you look at other communities, people actually do go in and spend to win elections,” he said. “My thing is the reason President (Barack) Obama got elected was because he had more money than anyone else.

“Votes aren’t bought with cash, they’re bought with advertising.”

Herod, who also owns a gun store, said he is a strong supporter of the U.S. Constitution and understands the free speech issues surrounding the city’s spending limit.

But he also thinks there are some things Craig can decide for itself.

“I’m all for the Second Amendment, gun rights. I’m all for freedom of speech,” Herod said. “But I think there should be local control of some things.”

Although the election would seem to show that a majority of residents agree with the councilor, the majority is not always right, said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado.

The U.S. government, he said, is designed to protect the rights of everyone.

“People have a constitutional right under the First Amendment and also under the Colorado Constitution to express their views on their candidacy,” Silverstein said. “If that requires more than $500, that is their right.

“You can’t subject constitutional rights to a majority vote. That’s why they’re in the Constitution. These are the highest laws we have.”

The three councilors who voted to delete the provision did not cite freedom of speech as their reason.

For Beck and Bilodeau, the chief concern was leaving the limit in the charter could open the city up to more legal challenges in the future that will cost taxpayers money.

“If it stays on the books, I believe that it still leaves the city of Craig vulnerable to something down the road,” Bilodeau said.

Carwile said that he believes the legal experts who have said the city’s spending limit is unconstitutional.

“There’s no point in having it in there if it’s unconstitutional,” he said.

However, all three also said they think that money can degrade the democratic process, and they would not be opposed to controlling its influence.

“I respect the freedom of speech,” Carwile said. “But, I also wonder where the line is. I think there really needs to be some sort of a constriction on what influences the elections.”

Comments

lonelyone 5 years, 1 month ago

boy you guys have taken something that most of us thought was an easy issue and really confused me!

0

Vermillion 5 years, 1 month ago

I find the comments of Councilman Joe Herod to be a little frightening. He says he supports the Constitution, but he believes that the citizens of Craig can pick and choose on which ones to enforce or ignore. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution to protect all citizens for any government action. Under Mr. Herod's theory of government, the City Council and the voters of Craig can decide to do away with the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to confront witness in a trial and the right to a jury trial and the police decided to raid Mr. Herod's business. If these rights were done away with and the police decided to raid Mr. Herod's business and confiscate all of his rfecords, I would imagine that Mr. Herod might argue that the council and the citizens of Craig can't take away his rights under the Constitution. Since Mr. Herod comments leads one to believe that the citizens of Craig can limit free speech, will we next have an ordinance making it unlawful to criticize City Council or the police department? I think it would be a wise use of time to to have the City Attorney again advise the City Council on the Bill of Rights. He tried that once but the Council didn't pay attention. Led by the ex-Mayor, the Council believed that the Supreme Court cases interpreting Freedom of Speech didn't apply to citizens of Craig and directed the City Attorney to prosecute Mr. Reina. This is a very dangerous precedent. Who will City Council decide to prosecute next? I would hope that the Council would do a little studying the Constution and court cases interpreting the Constitution and thinking about these matters before they open their mouths.

0

westslopeguy 5 years, 1 month ago

And you can't figure out why I'm incensed? There are too many frustrating or simply inane quotes from our elected officials - PEOPLE WE ELECT to regulate our daily lives- to form a cohesive response. I will try to limit my shock to just 2 or 3.

Councilor Herod claims to be "...a strong supporter of the U.S. Constitution..." yet cast his vote in a public election in violation of the Constitution he claims to be a strong supporter of???

Councilor Willems, on the other hand just continues to baffle me. The most basic civil right we as Americans are given is the vote. The public vote is what elected Councilor Willems to the seat he holds on Craig's City Council, (you know.... the one that doesn't have to conform to State or Federal legislations or Constitutional Rights.)-But I digress. He chose NOT to exercise his Constitutional Rights and DID NOT VOTE!!! because according to him, "The whole election was a waste of everybody's money." If this weren't the MOST absurd statement I've ever heard from an ELECTED official, I'd have to come close to agreeing. The only exception: I would choose the election when Councilor Willems was elected to sit on Craig's City Council.

But wait, it gets better... Councilor Willems went on to say: "That's kind of dumb, but that's what government is good for." Whaaaattttt??? Did I understand this correctly? Councilor Willems, being an elected member of Craig's city GOVERNMENT, is conceding that being dumb is what he is good for? That answers a lot of my questions about the other issues he has brought to the press in recent weeks.

In part, I want to think I understand what Councilor Willems was referring to regarding a previous ordinance chartered by our City Council that states the City cannot change its charter without a popular vote. This just supports my bewilderment at the arrogance of our City Fathers that they made a rule, (created an ordinance), once again , even when we find that we are in violation of rights guaranteed by our constitution, we won't allow ourselves to do anything about it. One other example of how Craigers believe Constitutional law, state or federal, doesn't apply to them.

I said I would try to keep this one brief. Sorry! I also said there were too many items in this one article to allow brevity. See our City Council is not the only one to contradict itself. I just don't arrest people, fine people, make them buy lawyers, or otherwise harrass law abiding taxpaying citizens when I contradict myself.

I am not incensed this time, I am just baffled, Paul

0

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.