County sheriffs in Colorado say they have received emails indicating state Senate Democrats are using extortion-style tactics to force the sheriffs to provide political cover as Democrats pass a series of gun control bills supported by the Obama administration.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the Democrats are desperate to avoid the appearance of partisanship.
“The Democrats do not want to go on record as being the only party that voted for these measures going into the 2014 election,” he said.
Maketa raised eyebrows last weekend when he said in an interview with Jeff Crank on KVOR in Colorado Springs that he and other sheriffs received a series of emails suggesting a pay-raise bill was being held up until the sheriffs changed their position and supported the gun-control bills.
In January, the County Sheriffs of Colorado issued a position paper on the slew of gun bills the Democrat-controlled legislature was being urged by Vice President Joe Biden to adopt.
The paper said the sheriffs believe in the Second Amendment and that the rights contained in it should not be infringed.
“As our state and country continue to discuss and debate gun control legislation, the position of our founders remains clear,” the paper said. “CSOC will not waiver on our defense of the Constitution and will stand to preserve every constituent’s right to possess a firearm. We believe the Second Amendment is no less important as the other nine Amendments contained in the Bill of Rights.”
But in Colorado, many county sheriffs’ salary guidelines are established by the legislature. And on Feb. 14, an email chain began when Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, a Democrat, pointed out that Senate Majority Leader John Morse, also a Democrat, said if a salary bill were introduced, it would not be until late in the session, after the gun-control bills had been voted on. The sheriffs have not had a pay raise in seven years.
According to the email, the chairman of the salary commission “was essentially informed that [Morse] was opposed to a salary bill and will not give it late bill status to allow it to be heard on the Senate side,” Pelle said. “There is speculation that we are being punished for the CSOC position on gun bills???”
On March 1, Pelle made it clear that Morse would only introduce a salary bill if a large number of Senate Republicans co-sponsored it.
“The president of the Senate, Morse, has stipulated that we have to get seven Republican co-sponsors before he will grant late bill status on the Senate side. That is not going to happen. After the sheriff’s finish testifying on the gun bills it won’t change, but will get worse.”
On March 6, two days after Cooke spoke on behalf of many sheriffs who opposed the universal-background-check bill, Chris Olson, executive director for CSOC said the sheriffs may want to reconsider their position on the gun bills.
“Based on information I received today, I would strongly advise that we review these amendments and potentially change our position on this bill from neutral to support,” he said.
The bill mentioned would require anyone charged with any type of domestic violence charge to dispose of his firearms within 24 hours or face arrest.
“I have been advised by a reliable source at the Capitol that the Dems are seriously not pleased with the CSOC positions on the gun bills, and given the potential for a real salary bill to be introduced as you shall see from a follow-up email from Sheriff Pelle, support of SB197 would put us in a more favorable light for salary bill support from the Dems. I do not believe we would be sacrificing our principles or positions on the other gun bills by supporting SB197,” Olson said.
“Please let us know what you think on this proposal ASAP as I need to get a letter from us to the Senate Dems before the close of business today.”
Weld County Sheriff John Cooke confirmed the contents of the email, saying while he was not willing to conclude the emails met the legal definition of extortion, it was apparent that was the intention.
“When you look at the email, I don’t see how you could look at it any other way,” Cooke said. “It definitely implied the reason a pay raise bill was being held up was to punish us for our stance against these gun bills. Then they had another email suggesting if we were to support this bill it would look better for us and maybe we can get a bill introduced for a raise.
“To me that didn’t sit well at all. I’m not willing to say its extortion yet, but it just looked bad. We were not willing to compromise on our principles. We felt the bill was bad and we were not going to support it.”
Maketa said he has asked state Attorney General John Suthers to investigate whether the emails crossed the line and constituted an extortion attempt against elected law-enforcement officers.
Some have suggested the sheriffs have an ulterior motive to use the event to pressure lawmakers into approving a pay increase. However, that is not the case for Maketa or Cooke. Maketa is term-limited and will not be able to run for reelection in 2014. Weld County is a home- rule county, which sets the sheriff's salary.
Maketa said his reason for going public is he feels people need to know what their elected officials are doing, and he is not willing to be silent over action he feels is oppressive.
"One of my reasons for my doing this is it's time to stop remaining silent," he said. "If people are unwilling to stand up and point out when something is wrong, it amounts to a tacit approval of what is happening. Then that tacit approval becomes the fuel for them to oppress us even more."
WND's calls requesting comment from Senate President John Morse were not returned, however Morse told the Denver Post any allegation he would use threats to force law enforcement to support gun control was "blatantly false" and "reprehensible."
Morse told the Post the reason a pay-raise bill hasn't been brought up yet was he needed to have seven Republican co-sponsors, which is half of the Senate Republicans. However, this has not been the case for any of the gun-control bills which include universal background checks, large capacity magazine bans, an "assault weapons" ban and making college campuses gun-free zones.
Maketa told WND he is not backing down from his allegations, and after Morse's comments to the media, he is even more convinced Democrats are playing games with the pay-raise bill.
Maketa noted that in an interview Sunday with KRDO-TV in Colorado Springs, he said that no Senate Democrat or Republican has ever introduced a salary bill for county officials.
"The very next day he told the (Colorado Springs) Gazette that two senators in his own party talked to him about introducing a bill and he denied it," Maketa said. "How can you say no one is talking about it one day and then the next day say two members of his party did? There is something a little smelly there, and he has yet to address it."
Maketa said part of what makes the charge credible is that Democrats have demonstrated a pattern of showing disdain for the concerns not just of law enforcement but private citizens while they are pushing through their gun-control agenda.
"The way they treated Colorado residents during testimony on the bill was uncalled for. My passion was stirred after what I observed and what citizens shared with me regarding how they were treated when they attempted to testify," he explained. "They truly felt helpless and the lies they were told about their being able to testify is why so many citizens lack confidence in government officials at the local, state and congressional level."
He explained that during the single day of hearings on all of the gun bills March 4, while there were more than 25 sheriffs present, only one was allowed to testify per bill. Additionally, in an attempt to muffle opposition, the hearings were scheduled so that bills heard simultaneously were on different floors, making it difficult for people to attend all of the hearings.
"From Thursday afternoon until the start of the hearings, they changed the rules three times," Maketa said. "Historically, any citizen would be allowed to speak if they arrived at the Capitol early and signed up on testimony records. Although sign-up sheets were in place and citizens including myself signed up, we were completely disregarded.
"Minutes after I signed up to testify, I learned a different process would be utilized and testimony was based on three categories: experts, preferred witnesses and public witnesses. No explanation was provided to define expert or preferred witness. I was told this decision was made by the Senate president and the chairperson of the hearing committee. Additionally, experts would have no time constraints and all others would be restricted to three minutes."
He explained that many of the so-called experts, some of whom were from out of state, had never read the bill and could not speak about any specific provisions in the legislation, while many taxpaying citizens were prevented from testifying.
"As I left the capital, I made a couple of phone calls to legislators from my area asking them who set the rules regarding the testimony. Both of them responded that they have never seen these types of restrictions before, but they said this is how it's been under the current Democratic leadership."
Cooke agreed with Maketa saying it was apparent that Senate Democrats were determined to pass the bills and they had no real interest in hearing the concerns of their constituents.
"If you opposed their gun-control bills, your testimony was irrelevant. It didn't matter if the opposition came from law-enforcement or private citizens. I think they purposely avoided hearing from the majority of Coloradans opposed to these bills by limiting the time to testify to 90 minutes for each side of the issue. This meant a great deal of people didn't get heard."
Maketa said he believes the reason for excluding citizens from testifying was to avoid having to explain why they were pressing the bills when they would do nothing to prevent violent crime.
"I don't think the Democrats in the Senate want public input. They don't want to answer tough questions about these bills, such as why they are pushing legislation that only represents 1.6 percent of all domestic violence offenses," he said. "Based on Colorado statistics, their first step should be to remove all blunt objects from a person's home. Then they should remove all knives or edged weapons, because all of these are responsible for more violent injuries than firearms."