Attorney general: Make it hard to alter state Constitution

Recently re-elected Attorney General John Suthers wants Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper and state lawmakers to consider putting a measure on the 2012 ballot making it harder for citizens to place initiatives before voters that alter the state’s Constitution.

Suthers, a Republican, said numerous citizens groups have had to spend millions of dollars in recent years supporting or fighting ballot measures that he believes have little chance of passing, such as the so-called Bad Three, Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 that failed Nov. 2 by 70 percent or more of the vote.

They’re not the first nor likely the last such measures that Coloradans will face, Suthers said.

“What the voters think they’re voting on is always different from what they actually are,” he said. “The first order of business is: Let’s stop the bleeding, and then let’s start talking about the big picture.”

Jon Caldara, president of The Independence Institute, a free-market think tank, said Suthers is out to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.

Caldara said business groups such as the Denver Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce didn’t need to spend millions of dollars defeating this year’s ballot measures, saying it was akin to using a bazooka when a fly swatter would have worked just as well.

“It failed by such wide margins because idiots spent $7 million to kill it when all they needed to do was spend $700,000,” Caldara said. “It makes no sense to say there is a threat to easily change the Constitution of Colorado when this year not a single initiated question passed. So one would have to ask, ‘Where’s the threat?’”

The threat, Suthers said, is in having to waste time and money battling draconian measures that could further convolute an already convoluted state Constitution.

He said another reason to support the idea is the amount of money the state has had to spend defending what he calls indefensible ballot measures, citizens initiatives that pass only to be declared unconstitutional later. Such measures include Amendment 54, approved by voters in 2008, but later declared unconstitutional. That measure would have barred anyone who received a no-bid contract from any local government or state agency in Colorado from making a campaign donation to any candidate anywhere.

Getting a contract from Grand Junction and being barred from donating to a Limon City Council candidate makes no sense, Suthers said, adding the measure also extended to family members of those who received a no-bid contract.

“I will be able to show the Legislature how much money has been spent to defend initiatives against constitutional challenges, and how many have been lost,” Suthers said. “We’ve had more amendments to our state Constitution found unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution than any other state.”

Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown said the governor-elect hasn’t discussed the idea with Suthers. He isn’t committing to it, but he isn’t closing the door to the idea either, Brown said.

The measure Suthers wants to run past voters could be similar to Referendum O, which was narrowly defeated in 2008. The measure, placed on the ballot by the Colorado Legislature, was designed to make it harder to offer ballot questions that change the Constitution, but easier to enact new statutes, and did so mostly by altering the number of signatures needed to get something on the ballot.

It was designed to preserve voters’ access to the ballot, but encouraged them not to alter the Constitution, said state Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, one of six legislators who served on a bipartisan panel that drafted the referendum.

While White said he supports Suthers’ idea of trying again, he isn’t confident voters will go along.

“The citizens are just skeptical of doing anything that smells faintly of taking away their access to the ballot,” White said. “I’ve been rolling this rock up hill for a number of years now with little success and almost less recognition of the importance of the issue. So, I’m a little jaded that the electorate is going to be there to support it.”


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