The stakes have been raised in a battle over a ballot initiative that asks voters to extend the term limits of the Douglas County sheriff.
Motorists in Douglas County have no doubt seen campaign signs along the side of the road both supporting and opposing ballot question 1A. The messages in favor of passing the measure say “Our Sheriff, Our Right,” while opponents have taken a humorous approach to the public fight. One sign from issue committee No Way 1A uses a quote from Mark Twain, which reads “Career politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed often and for the same reason.”
Ballot initiative 1A, which would increase the maximum number of consecutive terms for the county sheriff from two to three, has received backing from top politicians and organizations throughout Douglas County, including U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, state Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce.
Jeff Wasden, the chairman of DCProLaw, a citizen committee that supports 1A, argues that approval of the measure will enhance public safety and save taxpayer dollars. Rigorous training for sheriffs, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, would not be required as often, and a more frequent rotation of sheriffs would require them to learn the intricacies of the community and its issues.
“If someone is battle-tested, tried and true and proven, and works well under pressure, when you have times of crisis, you want this guy, not the next guy,” Wasden said.
Dave Watts, who is leading the No Way 1A opposition campaign, says longtime community officials are attempting to use a likeable public figure, Sheriff David Weaver, to open the door for extending their own term limits.
“They want their special interests and good old boy network to stay together,” Watts said. “Their backing is all politicians, government agencies and quasi-governmental officials. The man on the street, the citizens I have talked to, think they should only get one term.”
Several signs opposing 1A were torn down or defaced in early- to mid-September, leading Watts to camp out in a tent near a sign off a frontage road south of Castle Rock Sept. 20. He says he awoke to loud sounds and spotted a man tearing down his campaign sign. The man fled the scene in his car, but Watts reported his license plate number to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. The following day, he was caught by a deputy in the Bell Mountain area and now faces a $750 fine for destroying political campaign material. The man’s name was not immediately available.
Wasden acknowledges that No Way 1A has the right to put up campaign ads, but he says the “signs with diapers are kind of childish.” He said the message targets the feelings of those who are frustrated with career politicians in Washington, D.C., and unfairly lumps Weaver in with them. Wasden pointed out that Weaver has spent 30 years with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and is a far cry from a career politician.
The majority of counties in Colorado, including Arapahoe and El Paso counties, have asked voters to extend sheriff term limits, enabling the county to circumvent a state law passed in 1994 that limits county sheriffs to two four-year terms.
DCProLaw includes members of a public safety advisory committee started by Weaver five years ago, and is supported by former county commissioner Jim Sullivan and some employees of the sheriff’s office. Wasden was not shy about tying the ballot measure to Weaver, who has been elected twice and would be eligible to run for one more term if voters approve it. Weaver has declined to comment on the ballot issue, citing a conflict of interest because he still holds the office. Wasden agreed that if Weaver took a position officially supporting the measure, it could appear “self-serving.”
Steve Boand, a current Douglas County commissioner who voted in March to place the question on the November ballot, sent a letter to his colleagues in July asking for a revision to the ballot language, which he says “lacks clarity.”
The approved language says “Shall the voters of Douglas County, Colorado, have the right to elect the sheriff of Douglas County to a third consecutive term, beyond the current limitation of two consecutive terms…?” Boand proposed changing it to “Shall the maximum number of terms of the Douglas County Sheriff be increased by one additional term to no more than three consecutive terms….?”
Watts, who served as Boand’s campaign manager, said the issue was not put on the ballot through signed petitions, but rather at the request of a special interest group.
Watts said he has lost friends during the process of campaigning. He presented his arguments to the Douglas County Republicans, but said few people spoke out about the issue because “people like the sheriff.” Watts, who says he is a Republican, said the party is using 1A to maintain their stronghold on key leadership positions.
Wasden argues that the extension of term limits does not compromise the election process or hand Weaver a “free pass.”
“If this is the right guy you want to have preserve your community, we should have the right [to extend term limits],” he said. “What is does for the office is more important than the person.”