Buescher named Colorado secretary of state | VailDaily.com

Buescher named Colorado secretary of state

DENVER, Colorado ” Democrat Bernie Buescher of Grand Junction will be Colorado’s next secretary of state.

Buescher, a state House member who was defeated by a Republican challenger last month, becomes the first Democratic secretary of state in nearly five decades. He’ll serve the remaining two years of the term of Republican Mike Coffman, who was elected to Congress last month.

Buescher, 59, said he got the call Thursday afternoon and delayed a family holiday flight to New York to accept the job. He was chosen by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and will take office early next year pending confirmation by the state Senate.

Ritter’s choice puts another statewide office in Democratic hands. The last Democratic secretary of state was George Baker, who left office in 1963.

The Buescher pick also gives Ritter a chance to curry favor on the Western Slope, where Republicans outnumber Democrats. Ritter talked up Buescher’s Grand Junction roots and called him a “statewide candidate.”

The pick leaves available some candidates to replace Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar, who has been tapped to be President-elect Barack Obama’s Interior Secretary. Buescher told reporters the shuffle for Salazar’s seat may have improved his chances to become secretary of state.

“I’d not been 100 percent, but I’d been very cautiously optimistic” about the secretary of state job, Buescher told reporters. The Democrat was considered a lock to become House Speaker, but he was upset by Republican challenger Laura Bradford last month.

Buescher was one of three finalists named by a panel Ritter set up to review secretary of state candidates. One of the others ” term-limited Democratic House Speaker Andrew Romanoff of Denver ” has said he wants to be senator.

Romanoff “made it known he was interested in the Senate, but he did not pull his name out” of consideration for secretary of state, Ritter said.

Ritter would not elaborate on that bigger appointment looming. The governor has said he will not appoint a review panel to screen candidates for that seat, though Ritter has asked the public to e-mail suggestions to ussenate.comments(at)state.co.us.

The secretary of state oversees elections and is charged with making sure they run smoothly. The office also issues business charters, trademarks and Bingo licenses.

Buescher said his first job as secretary of state would be tackling voting machines. Colorado lawmakers have debated whether to return to paper ballots, and the current law on voting machines expires this summer. Buescher said a permanent voting decision will top his agenda, especially because he expects federal funding for voting machines to be cut.

“We have to come up with a way to fund elections in this state that is sustainable,” Buescher said.

Buescher will also be tasked with helping decide whether Colorado elections should be held entirely by mail. This year, a majority of ballots were cast by mail for the first time in a presidential election.

Coffman did not attend the announcement, though he issued a statement congratulating Buescher. Buescher made vague references to improving morale in the office, where he said he intends to stay at least six years, seeking re-election in 2010. Buescher criticized Coffman for trying to run an election while seeking federal office himself in a congressional district south of Denver.

“It’s hard to be in an office when your CEO is looking for another job,” Buescher said.

Coffman’s resignation is effective Dec. 31, a couple weeks before he takes office in Congress. In the few weeks between Coffman’s resignation and Buescher’s confirmation, the job of secretary of state will be held by Bill Hobbs, who is deputy secretary of state and head of the elections division.

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