HUDSON | Longtime Colorado politico rises to the challenge in a face-off in Trinidad

Author: Miller Hudson - September 17, 2018 - Updated: September 17, 2018

Miller Hudson

Despite all the public chest thumping that takes place on both the right and the left regarding policy preferences, it’s wise to remain alert to the possibility these displays are often masquerades behind which lurk personal animosities. As a freshman legislator I quit the House Democratic caucus following an accusation by Minority Leader Bob Kirscht that I had traded my vote with Republican Frank DeFilippo. I announced I would not return to the caucus until it elected new leadership and then dedicated the ensuing year to the insurrection that replaced Kirscht with Federico Peña as Democratic leader in 1981. Bob switched his party affiliation the following morning in exchange for an appointment to the Joint Budget Committee, a plum assignment from which he would ladle dollars over his House District in Pueblo.

As you would suspect, my rebellion did not set well among many rank and file Democrats. It was only after Kirscht’s party switch that I found some modest redemption. Asking one of the more apologetic party leaders, who had noisily excoriated my departure from the caucus, what he thought had been taking place, he replied, “I figured it was just two peacock politicians wetting each other’s shoes.” All of which brings me to the current tug of war in Las Animas County between District Attorney Henry Solano and the county commissioners over the distribution of sales tax revenues approved by voters in 2017.

I should acknowledge that Henry and I have been friends, including softball buddies, for more than 30 years. I’ve admired his successful career as a member of Gov. Roy Romer’s Cabinet, U. S. attorney for Colorado, RTD Board member, solicitor at the Department of Labor in Washington and his years as a faculty member at Harvard’s Kennedy School. I was surprised when Henry told me he was ready to quit his commuting life with a well-connected New York law firm and run for District Attorney in the 3rdColorado Judicial District, encompassing Las Animas and Huerfano counties. Even more surprising was his request that I run his campaign.

Henry’s interest in the position was primarily rooted in his enjoyment of his public service turns. The departing 3rdDistrict Attorney was under disciplinary supervision by the Colorado Supreme Court, a circumstance that had caught Henry’s attention as a county resident. The only other potential candidate for the job was Jon Barclay, a former D.A. during the early ‘90s, who swiftly withdrew on the grounds the Las Animas County Commissioners were unlikely to adequately fund the office. Perhaps we should have paid more attention to his claim.

Las Animas County is not only one of the poorest counties in the state, but it has failed to adequately manage its revenues or persuade voters to increase taxes, even losing a simple de-Brucing, for more than 20 years. Voters have turned down tax proposals more than a half dozen times. Nonetheless, Henry prevailed on me to serve as his office administrator in order to identify efficiencies we could introduce. On the day he was sworn in to office, the county commissioners slashed the D. A.’s budget by 30 percent, reduced county office hours to three days a week and employee salaries by a similar 30 percent. The city of Trinidad helped bail us out, awash in cash from marijuana revenues, but it was evident we would need a further infusion if the D. A.’s office were to function properly.

A job I thought would require three or four months began to stretch to a year as we ran a late bill at the legislature that would authorize a public safety sales tax election in 2017. The commissioners dragged their feet approving our proposed half-cent levy for the D. A’s office. Only after we made it clear we would circulate petitions and force the question to the ballot did they grudgingly approve it, all the time telling us we were going to lose. This did not prevent them, however, from jumping on our horse during a daylong executive session where they added their own one-cent sales tax question.

I took a leave of absence to run the election campaign. Both taxes passed. Rather than organizing a parade to carry Henry down Main Street in appreciation for restoring their salaries, the commissioners are choosing to nickel and dime his office, withholding moneys specifically approved for the D. A. by county voters, under the guise of “budget oversight.” This will teach those “smart boys” from Denver who’s really in charge! Nothing personal about that, is there?

At a meeting earlier this week, Commissioner Lopez suggested Henry should quit if he wasn’t happy with the way his budget was being handled. Copying the patter of our president, Lopez claimed, “I’ve had a lot of people ask me about you resigning.” Jon Barclay spoke during public comments in support of the D. A., pointing out that he had been forced to sue the commissioners for funding 25 years ago. Lopez’s father, also a former D. A., resigned during a similar financial dispute with the county. For the time being, Henry seems willing to continue working towards a compromise. If he eventually goes to court for his dollars, my money will be on D. A. Solano.

Miller Hudson

Miller Hudson

Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant and a former state legislator. He can be reached at mnhwriter@msn.com.