A bill that would allow small counties in Colorado to decide how to elect county commissioners was shot down by a 5-to-4 party-line vote Wednesday in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
The bill would have allowed small counties to decide whether to hold at-large elections or by-district elections for county commissioners. Currently, Colorado counties with fewer than 70,000 residents elect three county commissioners from three separate districts, but voters can cast ballots in all three districts.
The Senate’s Local Government Committee approved the bill unanimously 5-0 on April 10, and it was approved by the full Senate on April 17 by a 24-to-11 margin before being defeated in the House committee.
Former state Rep. J. Paul Brown, who tried to pass a similar bill in 2012, was frustrated by the result.
“We’re real disappointed that the House does not want counties like La Plata County and the people of the county to have true representation in government,” he said Wednesday.
Brown brought a similar bill to the Republican-controlled House in 2012, where it passed with bipartisan support on a 61-4 vote. It was ultimately killed on a party-line vote in a Senate committee with a Democratic majority.
“To have true representation, counties should be allowed at least to go to the people and decide for themselves how they want to elect their county commissioners,” he said.
La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt has been opposed to the legislation every time it’s brought up. She said the change would create division among county commissioners.
“If I were elected only to represent my district, the three commissioners would be forever embattled,” Lachelt said. “When your task is to sit there with your fellow commissioners and make the best decision on behalf of the entire county, that means you’re working really closely with your commissioners, you’re compromising. You’re discussing what the best outcome is for the entire county and not just your district.”
Brown was encouraged by the testimony during the bill’s run and hopes it gets brought up again in the future.
“I was very hopeful that the state affairs committee would listen and have a different result,” he said. “We’re disappointed, but that’s the way it is.”