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Publish Date: 8/30/2005

Dennis named secretary of state

DENVER — Making his third high-level appointment in nine months, Gov. Bill Owens named former Pueblo West lawmaker Gigi Dennis as secretary of state Monday.

She replaces Donetta Davidson, who resigned to join a federal election panel.

Dennis, a Republican like Owens, represented Pueblo in the state Senate from 1995 to 2001. She spent the past five years as Colorado director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“She brings valuable management experience as well as a proven record of public service to the citizens of Colorado,” Owens said. He cited her good relationship with the Legislature and praised her understanding of both urban and rural areas.

In December, Owens named former U.S. Attorney John Suthers as state attorney general, replacing Democrat Ken Salazar, who was elected to the U.S. Senate. In June, Owens named Sen. Mark Hillman as acting treasurer after Mike Coffman took a leave of absence to go to Iraq as a Marine. Both Suthers and Hillman are Republicans.

Dennis, 43, will be sworn in Sept. 26 and faces a confirmation vote in the Senate when the Legislature convenes in January.

Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver, said he believes she will be confirmed.

“I like her. I think she’ll do a good job. I wish her the best,” Gordon said.

Coffman, also a Republican, is expected to run for secretary of state next year. Asked if she planned to seek election, Dennis said it was too early to decide.

“I have to take this one day at a time. We have a big election in November,” Dennis said.

Owens was asked during a meeting with the Times-Call editorial board Monday whether Dennis intended to seek election to the secretary of state’s office next year.

“I didn’t have that discussion with her,” he responded.

Coffman is expected to end his tour of military duty next March, whereupon he plans to resume his chores as state treasurer and would be able to pursue a campaign for the secretary of state’s job.

Measures on this year’s Nov. 1 ballot include the hotly debated Referenda C and D, which would ease tax and revenue limits in a state constitutional amendment. Dennis said she supports the proposals, which would allow the state to keep $3.1 billion normally refunded to taxpayers.

The election process itself is a big issue for the secretary of state’s office. The presidential election last November spurred a flurry of new voter registrations and spawned allegations of voter fraud and felons casting votes.

A 14-member panel formed by Davidson recommended a series of election reforms last spring.

Dennis said her top priority will be ensuring fraud-free elections.

“We definitely need to make sure that those who are registered to vote get to vote,” she said.

Dennis added she will also look at revamping the secretary of state’s Web site.

“I’m awe-struck and just truly excited about this appointment,” she said.

She planned to meet soon with staffers, county clerks and representatives of the businesses and nonprofit groups the office deals with.

Dennis, considered a moderate Republican in the Legislature, headed the Senate Local Government Committee and served on the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

She and her husband, Dean, who was by her side when Owens announced her appointment, live in the south Denver suburb of Littleton.

Davidson, a Republican, was appointed to the federal Election Assistance Commission, which sets guidelines and standards for states trying to implement the federal Help America Vote Act.

She was first appointed to the job by Owens in 1999 after the death of her predecessor, Vikki Buckley. She won elections in 2000 and 2002 but could not have run in 2006 because of term limits.

Times-Call staff writer John Fryar contributed to this report.

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