Amendment 71 foes trot out Trojan horse
The campaign bucking a ballot measure to make it harder to amend the Colorado Constitution saddled up at Whitman Park on Tuesday with an oversized horse sign.
The sign, which the opposing group, No on 71, called a Trojan horse, was meant to demonstrate that the people backing it are trying to fool Colorado voters.
“The Trojan horse looked good to the people of Troy, but resulted in the destruction of their city,” said Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge, a national organization focused on protecting and expanding the initiative and referendum process, which funded the horse sign. “Amendment 71 sounds good but it will destroy Colorado’s initiative process by raising the bar far beyond what any citizens group can reach.”
The amendment is designed to make it harder to alter the state’s Constitution by increasing the requirements needed to quality a measure for the ballot.
Under current law, petition gatherers need only get enough signatures from registered voters from anywhere in the state equal to 5 percent of the number of people who voted in the last race for secretary of state. Currently, that’s 98,492.
The proposed amendment adds that at least 2 percent of those signatures must come from each of Colorado’s 35 state Senate districts. The idea is that the entire state, rather than its population centers on the Front Range, need to buy in to a proposal that alters the Constitution.
When future amendments do make the ballot, Amendment 71 requires that they would need at least 55 percent of the vote to be enacted, rather than a simple majority.
While the groups that are opposing the amendment claim that “powerful politicians and their cronies” are trying to block people’s access to the ballot, there are numerous influential groups and elected officials who have lined up to oppose it.
On the proponents’ side are such groups as several chambers of commerce — including ones in Grand Junction and Fruita — the Colorado Association of Home Builders, the Colorado Bar Association, the Colorado Rural Election Association and AARP.
On the opponents’ side are several right- and left-leaning groups that place measures on the ballot for their own purposes, including the Independence Institute, Colorado Fiscal Institute, Conservation Colorado, the Colorado Center on Law and Policy and the Colorado Tea Party Patriots.
“The groups opposing Amendment 71 are literally the one and the same groups that use the amendment process for their own narrow special interests,” said Katelyn Roberts, campaign manager for the main supporting group, Raise the Bar-Protect Our Constitution. “The No on 71’s near million-dollar campaign is funded almost entirely by big-box special interest groups.”
Raise the Bar, however, has raised about $13.5 million, most of which has come from oil and gas companies. One of its prime backers, Protect Colorado, which also gets much of its money from the extraction industry, has long fought efforts to prevent measures getting onto the ballot to ban or restrict drilling in the state, particularly the use of hydraulic fracturing.
An effort to do just that failed this year to gather enough signatures to get two measures onto this year’s ballot, despite more than two years of working on the idea.
While the many opposition groups may not be as monied as oil and gas companies, they certainly aren’t without means themselves. Some of them include multi-millionaire U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., the National Education Association, which donated $500,000 this week to fight the measure, and Greenpeace, which donated $20,000 to the cause and has been using its thermal airship to campaign against the amendment.
“We want voters to know that Amendment 71 will make it impossible for people without big money to successfully use the initiative process,” said Colorado Common Cause executive director Elena Nunez, who has placed several campaign finance measures on the ballot in past years. “The oil and gas industry and other special interests are spending millions of dollars on TV ads designed to trick voters. They know if 71 passes, only the rich will be able to propose initiatives in the future.”
Actually, that’s not true, supporters say. The measure only impacts constitutional amendments. The proposal makes no changes to getting measures onto the ballot for propositions, which create statutory laws.
Supporters also say that it is ridiculous to criticize them for accepting out-of-state support for the measure, when they’ve done the same thing.
“Even their ridiculous Trojan horse was paid for by an inside-the-beltway special interest group,” Roberts said.
Lost in the battle between the two sides is the history of efforts to make it harder to amend the state’s Constitution, which date back nearly two decades. Former state Sen. Ron Teck, R-Grand Junction, introduced referred measures into the Colorado Legislature to require all ballot measures to receive at least two-thirds of a vote before becoming law. Those attempts never made the ballot.
In 2008, the Legislature placed a referendum on the ballot to make it harder to amend the Constitution, but easier to get statutory initiatives passed. Voters, however, rejected it by 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent.
Those efforts were largely driven by attempts to make it harder to cement conflicting fiscal policies in the Constitution, which voters have done in approving some measures that cap state spending and others that mandate more spending.