As if this November election needed another intriguing subplot, we've got one percolating in our midst. Suddenly, local voters might be deciding the political future of Terry Maketa.
That might sound like an exaggeration, but it's not. Maketa, at 47, already has served 10 years as El Paso County sheriff, with two years remaining before term limits force him to pursue his next challenge.
But now, this election very well might help determine what that challenge is. Maketa brought this on himself, asking the voters to give him what amounts to a $128 million present.
That's right, $128 million, the estimated total of his proposed sales-tax increase to add about $16 million to $17 million annually in funding for his office — not just to cover his final years, but onward through 2020.
Obviously, it's a lot to ask. But hey, we're talking about Terry Maketa here. He's apparently feeling invincible these days.
He could be on the threshold of cementing himself as the region's most influential person. For that matter, as much as Colorado's Republicans are searching for their next rising star, Maketa could be a viable candidate for Congress, or state office. What fresh GOP face might have a better chance against Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014? Or, if U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn is still around, who else from inside the party could bring him home?
Can't think of others, right? See the point? Yet amid all that promise, and after enhancing his reputation as a confident, assertive leader during the Waldo Canyon Fire, Sheriff Maketa finds himself in a self-created quagmire. Hoping to capitalize on his personal status, Maketa instead has acted like a political neophyte in how he's handled the tax-increase proposal.
He could/should have used his position and momentum to be proactive, and to control the message with tactics such as these:
1. Meet with, and pull together the front-end support of, prominent leaders, not just his three friendly county commissioners — Sallie Clark, Amy Lathen and Dennis Hisey — but people with power from the city and business community.
2. Call a news conference to lay out his proposal and make his case, with many of those civic backers in the audience to back him up.
3. Explain the lack of notice, perhaps identifying the fire or something else as a catalyst, and suggest that voters consider this a direct referendum on his performance over the past decade.
4. Make sure nobody might view his ballot measure as competing against the complex, critical Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority tax renewal that would pay for 10 more years of much-needed improvements to roads and bridges throughout the area.
But Maketa did none of that, allowing others to set the agenda and put him on the defensive, with Mayor Steve Bach an offended antagonist.
Now the sheriff has fewer apparent allies, and the persistent term-limits issue has fired up many voters. Skeptics still are chafing at how the commissioners didn't ask voters before pushing through that $50 million deal for the Citizens Service Center, plus spiffy improvements at Centennial Hall and the county administration building (about to become Maketa's new kingdom). And lest we forget, the county's last attempt at a tax increase to fund the sheriff's wish list and other services failed resoundingly (147,118 to 97,968, or 60 percent to 40 percent) in 2008.
Yet, Maketa still wants more money, and he's lashing out at opponents (see Chet Hardin's news story, "Comes out shooting," in this issue). By doing so, he could be posing a bigger question:
Who's the most powerful person in El Paso County, Bach or Maketa?
At this point, most would give that title to Bach, as he's used his mayoral clout to build an imposing presence. In this case, Bach might even try to join forces with some or all of City Council against Maketa's request, standing together instead for the PPRTA renewal.
But if Maketa prevails, he might add an option to his list of post-sheriff alternatives, another step en route to much higher political ambitions.
That's right. He might first want to become Mayor Maketa.