Scott Gessler is always right...right?
At 9:36 a.m. on August 28, Minerva Padron, an administrative assistant to Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, answered a call to the office's election number. On the other end of the line was an agitated male who said he wanted to talk to someone about letters that Gessler had sent to nearly 4,000 registered voters whom he suspected might not be American citizens, urging the suspected immigrants to offer proof that they were legal citizens — or otherwise remove themselves from the voter rolls.
"I let him vent," Padron told the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. "He said Republicans should be shot in the head, and that way maybe they would learn."
Eventually the man hung up, but not before he told Padron that he knew where Gessler lived.
At the time, Gessler was nearly 2,000 miles away, at the Republican National Convention in Florida — where he had been for about a week, first at an election-law conference of the Republican National Lawyers Association, and then at the RNC. This wasn't the first threat his office had fielded while he was out of town, either. Four days earlier, an individual from outside Colorado had sent an e-mail saying that the wife and daughter of "Shithead Gessler" should be raped.
"You're stunned. You're worried as hell," Gessler recalls. "You're worried about how violent this might be."
Gary Zimmerman, his chief of staff, adds, "I was pretty much just aghast.... It's just horrific."
After the e-mail threat, Gessler's wife and four-year-old daughter had temporarily left their home in Cheesman Park; patrols monitored the home of his mother, Barbara.
After the phone-call threat, and at the urging of Zimmerman, Gessler flew home early from Tampa.
Law enforcement agencies started investigating the two threats. But the actions of that week would soon inspire an even more high-profile criminal investigation: into Gessler's own actions.
Two months later, Colorado Ethics Watch, an advocacy group that has closely scrutinized the Republican secretary, accused Gessler of illegally using public dollars to travel to Florida for partisan events outside of his official duties.
And on the eve of Election Day, in one of the most important swing states in the country, news broke that Gessler would be facing both criminal and ethics investigations — by the Denver District Attorney's Office and the state's Independent Ethics Commission, respectively — for his alleged misuse of funds, giving the secretary, who is no stranger to controversy, the worst headlines he'd ever received on his most important day on the job. He'd already spent a lot of time arguing that he was not suppressing voters; now he had to prove that he hadn't broken the law.
The election is over; the investigations are not. But as they push forward, Gessler says he's not worried. He knows he'll be exonerated, and he has David Lane, one of the town's ace attorneys, making sure that he is.
As the narrator says in the viral YouTube video that inspired Gessler's nickname — one that originated with opponents, but one he embraces — Honey Badger don't give a shit.
When Scott Gessler arrived at Yale University in 1983, it was a bit of a culture shock. The institution was very liberal, he recalls, and so were most of the students.
"I didn't grow up in a family that was self-consciously political," he explains. "The thing that concerned [my parents] was earning a living.... I think in retrospect they were conservative, but it's not like we used those words."
Gessler, now 47, was born in Detroit and says he had a lower-middle-class upbringing in the suburbs of Chicago. He grew up with one younger sister and parents who divorced when he was seven years old. His father owned a construction company that built interiors for libraries, and his mother worked different jobs, most consistently as a hairdresser. In high school Gessler was a good student; he swam, founded a soccer club, was editor-in-chief of the newspaper, and was a member of the math and chess clubs.
After that, he was surprised by the Ivy League bubble he found in New Haven, Connecticut. "It was just a lot of people with far different values systems," he recalls.
He continued to play sports at Yale, where he studied political science and history, and became involved in a student group, the Political Union, and, specifically, its Party of the Right. Meanwhile, students around him were protesting apartheid in South Africa, talking about their love of the Soviet Union and hatred of Western capitalism, and blindly supporting environmentalism. "They are all preaching to the same hallelujah choir," says Gessler, who adds that he learned quite a lot about himself and how to defend his beliefs while at Yale. But he doesn't think that, as a whole, the Ivy League does much to help liberal thinkers grow.
His father had wanted him to be an engineer and hoped he might take over his construction business one day, but Gessler took a different path.
After Yale, Gessler went straight to law school at the University of Michigan. One summer, he worked at a law firm where he made more money than he does now as secretary of state — although he found the work quite boring. He spent another summer interning at the U.S. Army headquarters in Germany.
After graduating from law school, he took a ten-week, 5,300-mile bike trip around the country in the fall of 1990. That year, he was accepted into the Army Reserves and simultaneously moved to Washington, D.C., to work in the Department of Justice, where he spent a lot of time in the International Law Division.
But in 1993, he returned to Chicago to work full-time at his father's company and also attend business school. But he found construction boring, too. "It just wasn't my passion," Gessler says.
When he graduated from business school, his Army unit was mobilized and Gessler went to Bosnia, where he was deployed for around six months. Soon after his return, he decided to leave Chicago behind and head west. He'd spent time in California before, and the Pacific Northwest didn't seem to have the right vibe, he says. So he ended up in Boulder in 1997, jobless and at first staying with a cousin.
Denver seemed like a manageable city, he says, close to the mountains. And he appreciated the "social climate" of the state. "Colorado's a very open society," he explains. "People in Colorado don't ask what school you went to or what family you belong to. You can really sort of make your way in the state based on hard work and merit."
He eventually joined Hale, Hackstaff, Tymkovich and ErkenBrack as an associate in 2001. The law firm dealt with a range of issues, he says, but he'd always been interested in public service and policy, and knew that election law would be a big part of his practice. By 2004, election law had become his primary focus — and he had a particularly successful year, chairing six cases and winning all of them, he recalls. It was around that time that he started dating his now-wife, Kristi, who'd been a paralegal at the firm but left before they got involved. Gessler eventually went on to form his own firm with attorney James Hackstaff.
But working on election law as an attorney wasn't enough. "That's how you really begin to understand how election law affects people," Gessler says. "You see some of the things that work well and some of the things that drive you crazy.... An attorney pays for all the sins of his client."
Gessler wanted to tackle election challenges head-on instead of remaining tethered to issues specific to clients, so he decided to get into politics. He'd run for Boulder City Council in 2003 but lost — because he was outed as a Republican, he says, adding that he wasn't hiding his party affiliation. But that party affiliation made it impossible for him to consider a run for the Colorado Legislature from either Boulder or Denver, where he soon moved.
Secretary of state seemed like the best match.
Before he started practicing law in Colorado, Gessler admits, he had only vague notions of what the secretary of state actually does. As head of the State Department, the secretary of state is Colorado's chief election officer and thus responsible for working with county clerks across the state and administering all aspects of elections — including qualifying candidates, handling ballot issues, registering voters, overseeing campaign finance and tabulating votes. The office also handles the licensing of businesses in this state.
When he ran for the office in 2010, Gessler says, he wanted to make it easier for people to get measures on the ballot, reform campaign-finance regulation — which seemed headed toward unfair criminalization, he recalls — and proactively prevent voter fraud. He was up against Bernie Buescher, the Democratic incumbent who'd been appointed by then-governor Bill Ritter to the seat when Republican Mike Coffman had won his congressional seat and left the post. Gessler had made a lot of friends and earned supporters through his law practice, he says, and early on, his analysis of the polls made it clear to him that he would win. His only concern was that an American Constitution Party candidate might take votes away from him — running as governor on that ticket, Tom Tancredo was bringing out a lot of voters — but even with that threat, he was confident of victory.
Then on election day, at around 8 p.m., 9News called the race for Buescher. Reporters at the GOP watch party started asking Gessler for his reaction.
"We got on the phone with [9News] and yelled," he remembers. "Obviously, there were some problems with the election system that night."
And in fact, there had been problems. At 6:50 p.m., a handful of counties had been unable to connect to the statewide voter-registration system — so some counties were forced to turn to paper processing and extend voting past the 7 p.m. cutoff. In the meantime, they were not releasing results.
By 11 p.m., after more of the counties had reported their results, Gessler was confident enough to declare victory. 9News had been wrong: He won the race.
So obviously...we've got a big election coming up," Gessler said. It was June, and he was speaking to a meeting of the Broomfield 9.12 Group, a Tea Party organization.
"There's always a lot of uptightness about it, lots of accusations hurled about," he told the crowd. "So let me tell you a little about what we're looking at, at least from my perspective, in the election. I mean, how do you, how do you know if you have a good election?
"Well, Republicans win, of course."
As the group laughed, he quickly added, "No, no, no, I didn't say that! From the secretary of state's standpoint, how do you know if you have a good election?"
But his original answer had already been caught on camera and was soon reported on ColoradoPols.com, a political blog that has frequently gone after the secretary of state. The coverage of that gaffe highlighted the scrutiny that Gessler has faced from Democratic politicians and left-leaning advocacy organizations since the vocal conservative took office.
The backlash began after Gessler, unhappy with his salary, unsuccessfully pushed to moonlight at his former law firm. He'd known the pay when he ran for the office, critics pointed out, and it would be a conflict of interest for the official in charge of elections to take on cases involving election law.
And he was soon creating plenty of election-law questions. Gessler fought with county clerks across the state when local election officials wanted to mail ballots to voters who'd missed the last election. While county clerks argued that registered voters deserved to get ballots if they'd skipped a single election, Gessler claimed that it would violate the law and create unnecessary opportunities for fraud. He sued, and the case is going to court this month.
In public, Gessler can be both very silly and very stubborn. At one recent speech on campaign finance, he joked about not needing Viagra. At a public hearing a week later, he slammed a commenter from the League of Women Voters, saying that the national leader of the group had intentionally misrepresented his office and refused to work with him. The stubbornness earned him the Honey Badger nickname, a label first hung on Gessler by ColoradoPols, which stuck to him after a Colorado Public Radio segment. But the silliness also made Gessler a fan of the nickname; his aides joke that they should put a honey badger in the lobby of his office.
During his time in that office, Gessler says he has made a lot of reforms on the business side, making it easier for companies and non-profit groups to do their filings. He has also reduced campaign-finance fines so that smaller groups are encouraged to participate in elections. And he insists that he has helped increase voter participation and made the voter rolls more accurate and less vulnerable to fraud.
"We've done more in this office in the last year and a half than any secretary of state for a long time," he boasts.
But under Gessler, that office has done all the wrong things, critics say, including waging an unnecessary war against legitimate voters. They charge that he's gone above and beyond in the so-called rule-making process, trying to rewrite laws to actually decrease transparency in campaign finance. And in their eyes, he has focused on party politics while allowing inexcusable voter registration errors on the secretary of state's website.
Who are Gessler's critics? Colorado Common Cause, Colorado Ethics Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and several other watchdog groups, along with liberal consultants and Democratic politicians, have all criticized Gessler and, from his perspective, inspired negative news stories — which the left-leaning media has happily embraced, he says. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow has done frequent stories on Gessler, painting him as one of the worst Republican officials in the country, one who's actively promoting a GOP voter-suppression agenda. There's a fake Twitter account devoted to Gessler, as well as a website called GesslerWatch.com dedicated to tracking his initiatives.
"I actually am surprised," he says. "I've never seen any political figure in Colorado ever, except for a sitting governor, get this kind of attention."
And just before the election, Gessler's critics were handed fresh ammunition for a new round of attacks when they learned of his $1,452.52 reimbursement tied to a Florida trip that involved two GOP-related events. The Denver District Attorney's Office is investigating whether that represents a criminal misuse of funds. But Gessler and his attorneys say that no public dollars were used for the RNC, and that the trip to the Republican National Lawyers Association conference was part of his official business.
Colorado Ethics Watch hasn't just complained about the Florida charges, however. It also argues that Gessler unlawfully repaid himself about $1,400 from his office's discretionary fund at the end of his first fiscal year, without offering up any receipts. The state's Independent Ethics Commission is investigating that charge and the Florida expenses. And in response, in a December 20 filing, Gessler provided a lengthy list of unreimbursed expenses well in excess of that amount related to official business, such as cell phone records. "This is necessary to rebut the sensationalized and politicized accusations that [Ethics Watch]...has advanced to injure the Secretary's reputation," his attorneys said.
Gessler has injured his reputation all on his own, his critics say.
"You don't just represent your clients anymore. You represent everyone," says Ellen Dumm, a liberal consultant who has worked with a wide range of voter groups. "It's just not in his DNA to be a good public servant."
"We often say that an official who bends the law in one area is likely to bend the law in another area. But rarely do you see it exposed so graphically," says Luis Toro, director of Ethics Watch. "At the same time, the secretary of state is pushing the envelope on all these campaign-finance rules that we were legally challenging. Then it turns out he was pushing the envelope, at best, on the spending of money."
That's not the only envelope Gessler has pushed.
In March 2011, two months after he was sworn in as Colorado Secretary of State, Scott Gessler announced that his office had compared the state's voter-registration database with driver's-license records at the Division of Motor Vehicles to determine whether it included immigrants who'd signed up to vote illegally. In Colorado, non-citizens who get driver's licenses or state IDs must prove lawful presence by showing valid immigration documents, such as a work permit or a permanent resident card. Gessler reported that there were 11,805 individuals who had used such credentials at the DMV and were also registered to vote. He was one of the first election officials across the country to conduct such a search — and that remains a source of pride for him.
It remains a source of irritation for his critics. At best, they said, the search was a wild goose chase that ran counter to the office's duty to encourage voter participation. And at worst, they charged, it was a thinly veiled witch hunt tied to a national agenda to marginalize minorities and Democratic voters.
And although the number of potentially fraudulent voters has continued to shrink over the past 21 months, Gessler says he has continued to expose serious loopholes and save immigrant voters from accidental crimes. "We are actually helping people who are non-citizens, because if they vote, they are in deep trouble," he explains. "The evidence that we've seen so far shows that a lot of people are in this position through ignorance of the law." As evidence of this, his office has presented several letters and requests from immigrants who mistakenly registered to vote, asking to be removed. In some cases, immigrants checked "no" under the citizenship box but registered anyway.
Gessler insists that he has simply been going where the data takes him, without expectations and with absolutely no intention of targeting any groups.
On the basis of that data, in 2011 Gessler pushed a bill that would have given him the authority to contact those nearly 12,000 alleged non-citizens and remove the ones that his office determined were not supposed to be on the voter rolls. The bill failed. That session, Gessler also supported a voter-ID bill, similar to controversial ones making headlines in other states, but that measure failed, too.
Next, Gessler turned to the Department of Homeland Security for immigration records — another opportunity to identify illegal voters, he said. But by August 2012, over a year later, he still didn't have access to the federal data he wanted. So he sent letters to those he believed were illegally registered anyway. By then, the 12,000 or so potential non-citizens originally identified through the DMV had shrunk to 3,903; his staff says this was due to duplication errors in the first round of checks.
On August 15, Gessler asked these nearly 4,000 registered voters to prove they were citizens.
The ACLU, Colorado Common Cause, Ethics Watch and a number of other groups immediately went on the offensive. It was very plausible that someone who had showed a non-citizen record to the DMV at some point could now be a legal citizen, they said, adding that the letters would scare rightful voters.
"They are intimidating people to not bother voting," says Samantha Meiring, who was born in South Africa, moved to the U.S. in 2000 and received the letter. "I do think there is a bit of a partisan bias to it. Immigrants largely tend to vote Democratic or not Republican. Why are they targeting this particular group?"
Gessler insists that the letters were in no way intimidating, adding that those who received them merely had to offer proof if they'd since become citizens. And his staff has repeatedly said that there was no partisan motive behind the effort.
But that doesn't mean there weren't trends along party lines. Of the 3,903 voters ultimately flagged, 1,794 were unaffiliated, 1,566 were Democrats and only 486 were Republicans. That statistic fueled the fire of his opponents.
"It has nothing to do with voter fraud," says Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union. "It has more to do with politics and how to control who votes and who doesn't for partisan gain."
At the end of the summer, Gessler finally got access to the Department of Homeland Security's immigration records that fall under what's called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or SAVE, program. His team found a total of 141 voters who were registered to vote but were actually immigrants, based on those federal records. Of these, Gessler said, 35 had voted in past elections and thus likely had committed fraud. Gessler's critics pointed out that 35 people amounted to about .001 percent of voters in this state — and in any case, federal officials confirm that when someone becomes a citizen, there can be a lag time in the records.
Alan Kaplan, 35 and an immigration advocate, got a letter from Gessler's office just a few weeks before election day.
Kaplan is a legal citizen and has been since 2001. Originally from Belarus, a part of the former Soviet Union, he became a citizen in 2001 through "derived citizenship," which means he was underage when his parents became citizens and was able to change his status when they got their papers. "When I got this letter, it got me thinking...not about me, per se, but about people like my grandmother, who I have to drag to vote every year," Kaplan says. "If she got a letter like this, it would not only stop her from voting this year, it would stop her from voting forever."
By mid-October, a measly total of fourteen voters had actually been removed from the rolls as a result of Gessler's letters. None of those fourteen had voted in past elections.
But the effort to stop fraud wasn't over yet.
Just two weeks before November 6, Gessler announced that he had done yet another check on thousands of potential non-citizens who might be voting. It was the final countdown until election day; many of his critics were appalled that he was still pursuing an anti-fraud crusade that had already come up close to empty.
"The agenda has always been clear, but the path has not been transparent," says Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, an advocacy group that works on voter rights.
But Gessler, frustrated that the federal government had only given him access to the desired information in August, said he wished he had more time — and that he feared more fraudulent voters would slip through the cracks.
In a packed room inside the South Metro Chamber of Commerce in December, residents took turns venting as Scott Gessler, flanked by deputy Suzanne Staiert, jotted notes on a white legal pad.
The most common concern? Voter fraud.
"If you're not American, you shouldn't vote," shouted Steven Haworth, who lives in Aurora and was offering public comment as part of Gessler's "election integrity listening tour," during which he and staffers traveled around the state to collect public feedback about the election. "I think you need to purge those voters."
Haworth said that he was a precinct leader who made calls in support of Mitt Romney, and several times encountered registered voters who told him they weren't citizens.
Kaarl Hoopes, an election judge in Commerce City, offered his comments at a meeting in Denver a week later. "I definitely had some concerns about efforts to increase the voter participation of people who had no business voting, who had no right to vote at all," he said. "I really applaud his efforts to clean up the voter rolls to make sure that...people who do not have the right to vote have their name taken off the list."
While Gessler and his aides had spent months responding to criticisms about the secretary of state's alleged intimidation tactics, at these post-election events, he largely fielded complaints that he and county election officials across the state hadn't done enough to prevent and prosecute fraud.
So how much fraud was there?
Jessica Zender, a policy analyst with the Colorado Judicial Branch's Division of Planning and Analysis, says that from 2002 through December 7, 2012, 39 cases were filed tied to the state statute that covers voter fraud, with a total of 48 charges. Of those, sixteen actually led to convictions, with fourteen found guilty and two deferred sentences. The remaining charges were likely dismissed, although, in theory, the cases could still be ongoing. But that's unlikely, as most of the charges were filed before 2011. In fact, all but ten of the 48 charges were filed before 2010 — when Gessler took office.
Gessler notes that in 2010, six people who voted in Colorado and in Kansas were charged with fraud, and he laments that they didn't face serious prosecution. Of his critics, he says, "They say, 'No voter fraud, no voter fraud, no voter fraud!'.... So we point out six instances where people purposely voted in two states at once...and they say, 'It's just six!'"
For critics of Gessler's anti-fraud focus, the numbers show that this is a tiny problem that doesn't deserve the attention it's been given. But Gessler responds that the numbers simply show that our legal and judicial systems aren't set up to effectively detect and punish fraud. "There's a hesitance to prosecute this kind of stuff," he says. "They say there aren't that many prosecutions — [but] that's not the way you measure the issue. You have to do it through a preventative and administrative approach."
As early voting got under way in October, Gessler announced that he had done checks on more voters, leading him to raise the number of suspected non-citizens on the voter rolls to 441. He mailed them letters and sent their names to county clerks.
All told, since he took office, Gessler's non-citizen initiatives have resulted in a total of 518 voters being "canceled" in the voter-registration system for not being citizens. About ninety of those came in the final months of his pre-election cross-checks and letters.
Of the 3,903 potential non-citizens identified last summer, 63 said they were non-citizens and withdrew their names from the roles; twelve of them had voted in previous elections, which meant that twelve people had committed fraud in Colorado and gotten away with it, Gessler staffers said. Still, 3,283 managed to prove that they were citizens or had their citizenship status verified through federal checks. Based on federal records, there are 374 who did not respond and are not citizens, Gessler's staff says.
As a result of his office's work, the voter rolls are cleaner than they have ever been, Gessler insists.
Gessler's critics are waiting for his next move. Will he try to prosecute those he believes committed fraud? Will he push a new rule or legislation that makes it possible for his office to directly purge voters? (Gessler and his staff are quick to point out that the secretary of state's office has never directly removed any voters.)
"I don't know for sure right now," Gessler says. "Everyone agrees that non-citizens shouldn't be voting. We're looking at options.... I don't want to commit myself. But this is a problem that still cries out for a solution — for a better solution than we've had in the past."
Denise Maes, who has been watching Gessler closely from her post as public-policy director of the ACLU of Colorado, says that the secretary of state should not have squandered so many resources on this project. "I obviously question his motives, but I also question his priorities in office," she notes.
If there are administrative flaws in the way that people sign up to vote in Colorado that result in non-citizens being on the rolls, then those flaws should be fixed, she says, but not with the fear tactics Gessler has used. "Is 'fraud' an appropriate word to use?" she asks.
But Gessler points out that his critics' arguments have evolved to match his research. "The argument against me is, 'There's no problem, no problem at all.' Then I identify a problem. Then the argument is, 'Well, there's not enough of a problem,' which becomes very, very difficult for people to sustain," he says.
In September, as the controversy over his anti-fraud work continued to simmer, Gessler launched a $1.1 million registration campaign with television, radio, print and online ads in English and Spanish. And by October 9, the deadline to register to vote, more than 3.6 million voters had signed up in this state — a more than 10 percent jump in registrations from 2008, a rate that outpaced the state's population growth. Gessler says this increase can be traced to his ad campaign and to targeted mailers sent to eligible, but not registered, voters. Colorado was also a national leader with its web-optimized, online voter-registration platform, he adds; no other state had this kind of system in place.
And Colorado had a notable jump in turnout on November 6 — about 172,000 more voters than in 2008. Gessler also points to an 11 percent surge in participation from military and overseas voters — an increase he attributes to his new electronic ballot delivery system. While detractors say that much of this success can be traced to the presidential campaigns in swing states, Gessler insists that Colorado's improvements in registration and turnout exceeded those of some other battleground states with comparable campaign activity, such as Florida and Ohio.
Despite these gains, the election was not without pitfalls — minor blips from Gessler's perspective, but major snafus in the eyes of voter-rights groups. From September 14 to 24, for example, the registrations of Coloradans who used the mobile-optimized version of GoVoteColorado.com were not recorded due to a technical glitch. About 800 people may have mistakenly thought they'd registered successfully; Gessler's office had no way of identifying or contacting them.
About two weeks later, on the final day to register to vote, the secretary of state's website crashed. Gessler's tech team brought in more servers, but on election day, the website again had problems because of high traffic.
"There was not adequate attention to that," says Colorado Common Cause's Nunez.
But Gessler says he is proud of his successes — so much so that he can't believe how much his opponents harp on the glitches.
"This is where you get the partisanship and the hypocrisy of the people who criticize me," Gessler says. "They say, 'You should be focused on getting people to register to vote,' and so I do it, and I do it in a way that no one has ever done in the history of Colorado and...what do they say? Nothing! Nothing! They pretend it didn't happen."
Scott Gessler is running for re-election in 2014. At least that's his plan for now. A reporter once tricked him into saying he might launch a campaign to try to unseat Democratic governor John Hickenlooper, he says, but he insists that he wants to keep his secretary of state seat for another term. "I've got a great record to run on," he says.
While Democrats look for someone to run against him, Colorado Ethics Watch is taking another approach altogether. A report the group published in September argues that the secretary of state's office should be non-partisan, and that would require a major reorganization of how elections are run. According to Ethics Watch's Toro, some states do this well — with either a nonpartisan director of elections who is appointed, or an independent, bipartisan commission. The secretary of state could just become a cabinet post charged with watching Colorado's business operations, he suggests.
"The secretary of state position has become a political football and a prize to be won, with the reward being your side gets to set the rules for the next election," Toro says. "To me, that's not how democracy should work."
But according to Gessler, the current system is clearly working in Colorado — and the investigations are just proof of the checks and balances.
Gessler fully expects to be exonerated in both cases. If the state's Independent Ethics Commission finds him guilty, though, the punishment would be a censure and a fine — neither one a huge obstacle to his re-election. But Toro says that if the Denver district attorney finds evidence of wrongdoing in his spending records, Gessler could face criminal charges ranging from a Class One misdemeanor to a Class Five felony of embezzlement of public funds, an offense that would bar him from holding public office.
Gessler is the real victim here, his attorneys say. In their response to the Independent Ethics Commission, they said the complaints should be dismissed because Ethics Watch "seeks to manipulate the commission's proceedings as part of a partisan, political campaign against the secretary."
Gessler says he has a theory for why he has gotten so much attention — beyond the obvious one of being a Republican slammed in the left-leaning media.
"I'm doing stuff," he pronounces. "They're just shocked someone's doing stuff and is not apologetic for it."
That's why he likes his nickname so much, he says. He even has a pile of pins in his office printed with this: "Sometimes I ask myself, what would the honey badger do?"
When he first heard that he'd been compared to a honey badger, he watched the YouTube video that shows the animal going after its prey. "Yeah, I am willing to fight for what's right," he says.
And if he's the honey badger, he says, his liberal enemies are "the poisonous pit viper."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.