Craig residents testify at Capitol to limit Hatch Act's reach

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Lila Herod

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K.C. Hume

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John Ponikvar

Sitting and waiting for more than three hours at the state Capitol and listening to heated committee debates between Colorado lawmakers, Craig resident Lila Herod was admittedly nervous.

“You could see some tempers flaring,” she said. “When we got done with ours, they were all unanimous. All of them supported this totally, 100 percent.”

On Tuesday, Herod and K.C. Hume, two residents impacted by the federal Hatch Act, and John Ponikvar, Moffat County Republican Central Committee chairman, traveled to Denver to testify before a Colorado House committee on state, veterans and military affairs.

Herod, Hume and Ponikvar spoke in favor of a proposed House joint resolution aimed at limiting the Hatch Act’s scope.

They testified alongside state Rep. Randy Baum­gardner, R-Hot Sulphur Spri­­ngs, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and Secretary of State Bernie Buescher.

The Hatch Act was enacted in 1939 to cover federal employees and was amended in 1940, adding state and local employees.

It restricts the political activity of people employed by state or local executive agencies and who work in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants.

Hume, a Moffat County Sheriff’s Office investigator, dropped out of the race for Moffat County coroner Feb. 27 because of a possible Hatch Act violation.

Herod resigned April 2 from her job as the county’s chief deputy clerk and elections supervisor so she could remain eligible to run for clerk and recorder after the Office of Special Counsel determined she was in violation of the Hatch Act.

The House committee appr­oved the resolution, 11-0,

which was drafted by Baum­gardner and Tipton and introduced to the House on April 15.

It urges Congress to amend the Hatch Act “to allow the United States Office of Special Counsel to grant limited exceptions for those individuals interested in running for partisan political office in rural areas whose positions preclude them … solely because of their arm’s-length involvement with federal monies.”

The resolution will be sent to the House for a first reading in the next few days. It must pass in the state House and Senate before it can be sent to Congress.

The resolution also outlines problems caused by the Hatch Act in small communities such as Craig.

It states that “Rural areas of Colorado currently face a shortage of candidates qualified for public office,” and “the pool of candidates … is further diminished by the provisions of the Hatch Act.”

Baumgardner said some co­­mmittee members were at first skeptical of the resolution.

After hearing Hume, Herod and Ponikvar’s testimonies, however, Baumgardner said the committee agreed it was a worthwhile pursuit.

In her testimony, Herod talked about her position in the clerk and recorder’s office, a grant she wrote to fund improvements at the Hamilton Community Center and the decision to quit her job.

Herod said she was happy to see she could make a difference.

“It made us all feel really good that we did something that was not partisan, and we all came together on that,” she said.

Hume addressed how the Hatch Act affected his candidacy for county coroner, the effect the act has on the political landscape and its impact on this year’s election in Moffat County.

Hume said he got a sense of accomplishment from testifying and seeing the resolution proceed further in the process.

“My hopes are that, as this moves forward and makes it way to Washington, D.C., that it may be a piece of the solution or a catalyst for the government to re-evaluate the Hatch Act and how it applies in today’s political environment,” he said.

Ponikvar said his testimony focused on how the Hatch Act is affecting communities of all sizes.

He also told the committee that he is in favor of the resolution to change the Hatch Act because of the amount of federal grant money that is becoming more readily available for communities.

Baumgardner said he hopes the resolution will change some minds on the federal level and get previous federal bills that have addressed the Hatch Act, like HR 2154, out of committee and back into discussion.

HR 2154 was introduced in April 2009 and is in the committee on oversight and government reform. It seeks to amend the Hatch Act to not affect communities smaller than 100,000 people.

A representative from the office of Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said the senator is looking into Baumgardner’s resolution, HR 2154 and the Hatch Act in general.

“We are hoping with this resolution … that we are going to get some action on this,” Baumgardner said. “We are also going to continue to call our members of Congress and see if we can’t get some more involvement to put some more pressure on Congress.”

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