Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett asked the Boulder County Commissioners to put a measure on the 2009 ballot that would extend the DA’s term limits from two terms to three, but he says he’s not pushing for that extension because he has anything to gain personally.
He acknowledges that one argument he has heard against Issue 1D, which would allow the DA to serve for up to 12 years instead of eight, is that he is doing it to further his own political career.
Garnett, who is 53 and was just elected last November, points out that if he were to run for another political office, “I’d need to do that a whole lot sooner, because three terms from now, I’d be 65. … Not many people in their mid-60s are starting a statewide political career.”
He says he is enjoying being DA and doesn’t have higher political ambitions. “I wouldn’t rule it out,” Garnett says of running for another office, “but term limits have nothing to do with it. If I were going to run for something, I’d do it a whole lot sooner.”
Colorado voters approved term limits for elected officials in 1994, but since then, 53 Colorado counties have removed or extended those limits, according to equaltermsforda.com.
Garnett argues that the DA was not on the list of elected county officials that saw limits extended from two terms to three in a successful 2005 ballot measure. That measure applied only to assessor, clerk, coroner, surveyor, sheriff and treasurer. Some say the district attorney was excluded in part because the political baggage surrounding the DA position at the time from the JonBenet Ramsey case to the CU football recruiting scandal could have sunk the initiative.
Garnett says having the possibility of 12 years instead of eight would provide stability for a DA’s 75-member staff, which includes 27 attorneys and often sees turnover every time a new DA is elected. He also points out that it can take a couple of years for a case to get through the system, and that it takes time for a DA to shape the organization and to focus his or her priorities after being elected. Garnett says having a DA for up to three terms is also good for the county because it gives that person typically a Democrat more time and credibility at the state level when making arguments about issues such as sentencing reform or marijuana use.
“If I have the possibility of three terms, it gives me more opportunity to be a progressive force statewide,” he says. “You need to have a voice that people know is going to be at the table for awhile it gives you more clout.”
Two other districts have a similar measure on their ballots this fall, and the DAs in those districts are Republicans, which Garnett says makes it important for Boulder County to approve 1D and stay on a level playing field with conservative districts.
Ted Tow, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, said Colorado is the only state in the country that imposes term limits on district attorneys. He added that the judicial districts of Weld and Denver counties have extended term limits to three terms, while in Pueblo the limits were lifted entirely.
However, Scott Starin, chair of the Boulder County Republicans, opposes 1D. “I’m not a fan of increasing term limits for any position,” he says, adding that having regular turnover among elected officials results in fresh ideas.
Starin says politicians who spend decades in an elected post tend to get embedded with special interests and particular agendas. “People tend to establish relationships that may not be in the best interest of their constituents.”
We at Boulder Weekly think voters passed the 2005 measure intending to give elected officials with rare and special skills, such as the coroner, more time at their posts. Although we hear what Garnett says about the issue, the position of district attorney is much more political than that of coroner. Were not persuaded that any DA needs to serve more than two terms.