State legislators opposing Hatch Act in small communities
April 5, 2010
Two state representatives want to push a federal law out of small communities.
In March, Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, began investigating a solution to problems caused by the Hatch Act in Craig, Steamboat Springs and other communities after hearing concerns from residents.
Baumgardner and Tipton are in the process of drafting a resolution to present first to the Colorado House and Senate. If approved, the resolution will be sent to Congress to encourage a re-examination of the act and how it applies to smaller counties and cities.
The Hatch Act was enacted in 1939 to cover federal employees and was then amended in 1940, adding state and local employees.
It restricts the political activity of people principally 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.
Tipton said the act plays heavily on small community elections.
"We have so few people to work with in our local staffs (that) they're going to come into contact with some federal dollars," Tipton said. "We just need to bring some common sense into the process."
In Moffat County, the act affected two local candidates seeking office in November.
K.C. Hume, a Moffat County Sheriff's Office investigator, dropped out of the race for county coroner, and Lila Herod resigned from her job as the county's chief deputy clerk and elections supervisor so she could remain eligible to run for county clerk and recorder.
Baumgardner said when the Hatch Act was drafted decades ago, lawmakers "were looking at more of the federal elections, and didn't look down the road to see what the impacts would be on the smaller pieces of government."
At first, Tipton and Baumgardner looked into the possibility of drafting a state bill to address the Hatch Act's reach into small communities.
However, the two found that such a bill would not make it through the legislature because of the Hatch Act being federal legislation.
Instead, the two are drafting the resolution in hopes of presenting it to Congress.
"We could probably draft a bill, but it wouldn't go anywhere, it would die," Baumgardner said. "That's why we think it is better to do this resolution and at least get people to look at it at the federal level."
Hopefully, Baumgardner said, the resolution will pass in the state House and Senate and become a joint resolution, making its impact on the federal level greater.
The resolution will "urge our federal legislatures to take a look and see if there is any way we can tweak it to where it is less restrictive on the local elections," Baumgardner said.
He said they expect to see a draft of the resolution in the next week, but there is no timetable for when it could make its way to Washington, D.C.
A proposed federal bill exists, however, that seeks similar results as what Tipton and Baumgardner are working on. But the bill, H.R. 2154, has been stuck in committee since being introduced in April 2009.
The bill seeks to amend the Hatch Act to read it "does not prohibit any state or local officer or employee from being a candidate for any office of any local unit of general purpose government which has a population of less than 100,000."
Baumgardner said the main reason for investigating the potential revising of the Hatch Act was to stand up for small communities.
"We're just trying to represent the people that put us in here," he said.
Tipton said relaying the voice of residents in the state legislature is his primary concern.
"A lot of people are expressing their concern, and to the best of your ability, you try to be responsive to what is happening in the local community," Tipton said. "That's your job. You are supposed to be a voice of the people you represent.”