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Nicolais: Jena Griswold is playing politics and undercutting a long history of excellence

The Secretary of State’s opportunistic stand on abortion represented a conscious choice to put political ambition above service to Coloradans

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold recently made it clear she prioritizes political posturing over sound public policy.

Less than six months into her term, Griswold has already destabilized the reputation her predecessors — both Republican and Democratic — worked to build around fair, nonpolitical excellence.

Mario Nicolais

For Coloradans fed up with partisan politics, Griswold’s actions represent a new low point.

Two days after Alabama passed legislation barring most abortions, Griswold barred her employees from business travel to Alabama. A week later, an open records request provided evidence that Griswold passed her news release on the boycott through Planned Parenthood for revision before release.

I have no problem with Griswold publicly lambasting the Alabama law and the legislature responsible for it. She is a pro-choice Democrat and Colorado’s only female statewide elected official. Furthermore, her position is in line with a clear majority of Coloradans.

But how she chose to go about making her point troubles me deeply.

Even from the outset, Griswold’s boycott seemed too opportunistic and too tangential to her official duties. She seemed to be searching for some way, any way, to use her official office as a vehicle to highlight her personal political position. How that affected the services her office provides to Coloradans became a secondary consideration.

The Secretary and her office interact with Coloradans more than almost any other department in the state. From business registration and filings to running elections to oversight for charitable organizations, almost every citizen relies on their services at some point. Those interactions need to be transactional, unencumbered by politics.

The Secretary of State does not in any way deal with abortion or reproductive policies.

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Consequently, when Griswold chose to bar her employees from traveling to Alabama for training and certification related to elections — a core duty of her office — she consciously chose to sacrifice the opportunity to improve her office’s work product in order to make a political statement. That’s a line past Secretaries have been unwilling to cross.

Even the most partisan Secretary from the past 20 years, Scott Gessler, didn’t step so far outside his duties for political purposes. While Gessler is both a friend and my former law partner, I always thought his campaign to uncover noncitizens illegally registered to vote was both quixotic and partisan. But ensuring the integrity of voter rolls falls comfortably within the charge of the Secretary of State.

Griswold is even more adrift of the standard set by other past Secretaries. Democrat Bernie Buescher and Republican Wayne Williams, whom Griswold beat in November, both made concerted efforts to check their politics at the door. And my personal favorite, Donnetta Davidson, had a no-nonsense demeanor that helped revolutionize the office, made her a national elections expert, and put her at odds with members of her own party on more than one occasion.

Griswold undercut that history when she sought to insert her office into the debate about abortion. She doubled down when she chose to go outside her office and let one of the most politically polarizing organizations in the state dictate her message. And unfortunately, she’s going all in defending that choice.

Furthermore, it’s evident that Griswold is playing politics and not taking a particularly principled stand. Otherwise, shouldn’t we expect her office to issue similar edicts against business with Missouri, Utah, Arkansas, Ohio and any other state that recently passed similar anti-abortion laws?

More likely, as Griswold’s name continues to circle around the 2020 U.S. Senate race, she realized cozying up to Planned Parenthood now could pay dividends down the road in a crowded Democratic primary.

Colorado has a proud history of Secretaries of State putting their official duties before partisan agendas. It’s history Griswold should spend a little more time studying and trying to emulate.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq

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