Denver Green Party comes out against drive to elect Denver Sheriff

Co-chair: Concerns about prison industry influence
Posted at 1:41 PM, May 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-02 20:56:30-04

DENVER -- The Denver Green Party is opposing a proposal to make the Denver sheriff an elected position.

Party co-chair Andrea Merida said the Party has issues with a "lack of transparency in funding," by the group behind the effort.

Lisa Calderon, of the Colorado Latino Forum, takes issue with that.

"We haven't launched a campaign, we haven't opened a bank account and we haven't asked for donations," Calderon said.

Merida said, "When money is hidden away from campaign finance, the public has no way to scrutinize who the donors are, what the expenditures are."

She said her party's main concern is that the prison industry might spend money trying to influence such an election.

"We normally support more grassroots democracy and increased voter participation and choice," she said. "The Denver Green Party believes this ballot initiative trades an illusion of democracy for the further empowerment of harmful institutions to gain increased control of Denver's already violent and oppressive criminal justice system."

"This initiative potentially opens the door for the prison industry -- one of the most powerful lobbying forces in the country -- to greatly influence the type of candidate that rises out of an elected sheriff process," she added.

It’s not just the prison industry that she’s worried about.

"That opens the door for an entity like the NRA to come in and push a candidate that would be easier on whether or not a concealed carry permit would be granted," Merida said. "So, we have to be very, very careful."

"Why have an election for any position at all," Calderon countered. "Money can always come into politics and the best safeguard against buying an election is an informed citizenry, so we need to have voters who understand what the options are."

Vinnie Cervantes, a member of the Denver Green Party said, "When we think 'elected sheriff,' we can't help but think of Joe Arpaio, who focused his office's efforts toward discrimination against the Black and brown communities in Arizona."

"Denver is a progressive city," Calderon said. "We would not elect a 'Sheriff Arpaio,' and the scare tactics are not helpful."

“The people should have a voice as to who is running the largest jail system in the region,” Calderon said.

Right now, the Sheriff answers to the Mayor and his new Safety Manager.

“Essentially, our taxpayer dollars are going into a very expensive system in which we have no voice,” Calderon said. “If you are elected, you are accountable to the voters. That means you need to come out and talk to them. You need to explain your positions and if you are not doing your job, the voters have a right to vote you out of office. Now, we don’t have that option.”

Merida said the Denver Green Party supports a full suite of reforms including community control and oversight of law enforcement."

She said those reforms are more important than making the sheriff an elected position.

The City and County of Denver is unique in that there is no “unincorporated” area of the city/county. The Police Department is in charge of law enforcement and the Sheriff Department is responsible for security in the courts and for operating the Downtown Detention Center and the Denver County Jail, on Smith Road.  

Denver7 reached out to Sheriff Patrick Firman, whose office directed us to his boss, the Mayor.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Michael Hancock said the Mayor won’t take a position on the issue until there is a formal proposal.

She reminded us that the panel of experts that looked into reforms, a few years back, recommended that the position not be elected.