Groups turn focus to opposing Initiative 71

Backers of two Colorado oil and gas initiatives won’t appeal a Secretary of State Office decision to keep the measures off the ballot and instead are turning their immediate focus to working to defeat another measure that would make future initiative efforts more difficult.

Activists had until Wednesday to challenge Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ ruling on the initiatives. They would have allowed for hydraulic fracturing bans and other local regulation of oil and gas development and imposed 2,500-foot setbacks between drilling operations and homes, waterways and other sensitive areas. Williams’ office found that the two measures, initiatives 75 and 78, didn’t have enough valid signatures to be on the ballot.

Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking and other groups that worked on behalf of the two initiatives decided it would take too much time and money to appeal the matter. Micah Parkin with the group 350 Colorado said that they instead will “almost certainly” undertake a new initiative effort, targeting the fall 2018 election rather than 2017. Colorado law limits odd-year state initiatives to tax and other fiscal measures pertaining to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Parkin said the groups haven’t discussed whether they’ll be back with the exact same two initiatives or something different.

For now, they’re turning their attentions to opposing Initiative 71, known as Raise the Bar, which is on this fall’s ballot. It would require backers of any initiative that would amend the state Constitution to obtain signatures from at least 2 percent of registered voters in each state Senate district in order to get the initiative on the ballot. Constitutional amendment initiatives also would need to get the approval of at least 55 percent of voters to pass.

Initiative 71 has received funding from groups supporting the oil and gas industry. Backers of initiatives 75 and 78 fear the Raise the Bar proposal will make grassroots initiatives prohibitively expensive to get onto the ballot and passed.

“We’re just going to have to do our best” to oppose Initiative 71, Parkin said. “We don’t have the multimillion dollars that industry has to buy commercials.”

A $15 million “Decline to Sign” campaign funded by the oil and gas industry helped hinder the signature-gathering efforts for initiatives 75 and 78, the initiatives’ supporters have said.

“Make no mistake about it, Raise the Bar is an effort to prevent future initiatives designed to protect communities from fracking,” Razz Gormley of Frack Free Colorado said in a news release Wednesday. “This is corporate money, primarily from the oil and gas industry, being spent to take direct democracy away from citizens.”

Protect Colorado, which opposed initiatives 75 and 78, recently donated $1 million in support of Raise the Bar. In a news release last week, it said its analysis shows more than 70 percent of all signatures for 78, the setback initiative, came from residents of Boulder and Larimer counties and the Denver metro area.

“The analysis shows that the vast majority of Coloradans — including those in areas where responsible oil and gas development is produced — were shut out of the signature-gathering process, underscoring the need for a more fair and balanced procedure to amend Colorado’s constitution,” the group said in the release.

The group’s spokesperson, Karen Crummy, said in the release, “Amending the state constitution should not be left solely in the hands of a few counties. The entire state should have a say on what does or does not make the ballot. Under Amendment 71, all Colorado voters would have a voice.”

Greg Brophy, a former state lawmaker and a leader of the Raise the Bar campaign, takes issue with the contention by the backers of 75 and 78 that their initiatives were grassroots.

“They were paid for primarily by out-of-state entities,” he said.

“Our efforts to protect the Colorado Constitution against being a petri dish for special interests primarily from outside the state predates the battle over fracking,” Brophy said.

He said the measure is the third of its kind, dating back to the 1990s. It’s about making sure the constitution is used for big issues like the functioning of government and the protection of individual rights, and isn’t used for proscriptive policy, Brophy said.

The current drilling setback is set in state statute, and Initiative 71 would have no bearing on the ability of proponents to change the setback through a statutory rather than constitutional initiative, he said.

Brophy said he welcomed the Protect Colorado donation and would have happily accepted an even larger contribution to the Initiative 71 effort from that group, but the initiative goes far beyond oil and gas concerns. The effort has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from disparate industries, from agriculture, to casinos, to community banks, that have had to spend money fending off constitutional ballot measures, and it also has the backing of groups ranging from AARP to Club 20, he said.

On Wednesday, public interest groups including the Bell Policy Center, Conservation Colorado and the Colorado Fiscal Institute announced their opposition to Initiative 71, voicing a number of concerns about the restrictions it proposes.


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