Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson announced Thursday after 25 years of public service she’s retiring in 2019 and not seeking a third term in office.
Johnson was elected in 2011 and served a key role in ushering in marriage equality in Colorado ahead of the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling in 2015. Her departure leaves Denver in search of a new official to oversee the city’s elections, marriages and records.
“I thought I’d give everyone a good head start and let them drop their hats into the race if they’re interested,” Johnson said. “I’m going to stick with retirement at this point in time, but who knows what opportunities will present themselves. I know I’m retiring from the city and county of Denver.”
Johnson still has two more years in office and she wants to “clean up and make more transparent” policies and procedures around foreclosures for banks and homeowners.
Johnson is only the second person elected to serve as Denver clerk and recorder, after Stephanie O’Malley, and the first to serve a second term. Before O’Malley, the position was filled through an appointment.
Johnson is also one of the first openly gay officials to serve an elected role in the city and county.
“I do see myself making sure that at least the LBGTQ community is educated and aware of opportunities in the public and the difference that they could or should make with their involvement,” she said. “I’m definitely going to make sure there’s a pipeline be it city, county or state offices.”
Johnson said she’s strived to provide “pleasant, efficient” customer service across her office whether they’re coming into get a marriage license or fill out a ballot.
She takes particular pride in her fight to improve access to ballots and for marriage equality in Colorado. In 2014, she was issuing same sex marriage licenses before the state officially recognized their legal validity.
She strategically refused to issue licenses in February 2014 so she and her office could be sued by advocates and take the case to higher courts who could make a determination for all clerks in Colorado.
By July, she and her office were issuing same-sex marriage licenses before the Colorado Supreme Court later ordered her to stop. By the end of 2014, federal and state judges declared Colorado’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional and the Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear appeals on same-sex marriage leading the Colorado Attorney General to tell clerks to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses statewide.
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