Mark Cloer's sudden resignation as state representative from House District 17 left a small group of Republican insiders to select his replacement and outraged El Paso County's top Democrat.
"He sort of betrayed all those people who supported him," says John Morris, the county's Democratic Party chairman, who wonders if his party's local gains in the Nov. 7 election would have been bettered if Cloer had stepped aside earlier.
Cloer, a 39-year-old former schoolteacher, says "family issues" led him to resign his seat on Dec. 26 about two weeks before the Legislature's new session convenes in Denver.
"My youngest son has some issues that he needs me there for, and I'm going to be there for him," says Cloer, who's married with two boys, ages 8 and 13.
He elaborated only by saying his $30,000-a-year legislator job often kept him working late at night and on weekends, even at times when the Legislature, which meets four months a year, wasn't in session.
District 17, in southeast Colorado Springs and southern El Paso County, is split almost evenly among Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated voters.
That left Morris to wonder how Cloer's Democratic opponent in the election, Christine Varney, might have fared had the announcement come earlier. Morris said the resignation smacked of conspiracy an allegation strongly denied by Cloer and county Republicans.
"I understand family pressures, but it's just too convenient," Morris says. "I think a public trust has been violated. Why did he have no inkling earlier that this was the thing that he would do?"
Though Cloer received 57 percent of the vote, his total of 4,705 votes was the lowest number of any victorious state legislator, as more than two-thirds of the district's registered voters failed to cast ballots.
Stella Hicks, an aide to Cloer, was chosen Wednesday night as Cloer's replacement by a group of leading Republicans in House District 17 at a special meeting.
Hicks, who had been head of the vacancy committee tasked with replacing Cloer, was the only name that came up before Wednesday as a possible replacement, said Terry Kunkel, El Paso County Republican Chairwoman, on Tuesday.
"She's helped out at the Capitol before," Cloer said of Hicks before the Wednesday night meeting. "She can hit the ground running."
Hicks, a newcomer to public office, could not be reached for comment.
Cloer defends the process.
"It's a policy that we've had for years," Cloer says. "If [Democrats] don't like it, they can join the Republican Party or change the law."
Morris notes that Cloer would have been forced to retire in 2008, at the end of the upcoming term, because of term limits. He adds that even a relatively unknown Republican now will have two years to serve as incumbent before the next election.
"I'm just pulling a very cynical view of this," Morris said, "but it seems it will create a tremendous advantage for the Republicans in the next election that they otherwise would not have if they were running for an open seat."
Cloer, who says he is looking for a job, resigned just prior to implementation of a new, voter-approved ethics law that prevents exiting lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for two years.
He says he's not considering becoming a lobbyist at least not right now.
"I'm not saying I won't ever," he says.
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