Amendment 71 gives all Coloradans a voice

Amending the Colorado Constitution is too easy. In fact, it’s been amended more than 150 times in 140 years. Compare that to 27 amendments for the U.S. Constitution since 1789.

The bar is this low: Proponents of an amendment must collect signatures from registered voters equaling 5 percent of those who participated in the previous secretary of state vote ­— or about 98,000 signatures — from folks from anywhere in the state.

But here is the dirty secret if you have some money and want to amend the Colorado Constitution today:

(1) Round up 200 signature collectors.

(2) Deploy them to downtown Denver and Boulder.

(3) Pay them $2 for each valid Colorado voter signature.

Once each of your signature-gathering contractors has obtained 500 signatures, you have just cleared the bar to get whatever hare-brained change to the state Constitution you want on the ballot. And it cost you $200,000. Most importantly, you didn’t hear from anyone outside of the Denver-Boulder area.

This may look like a gross oversimplification, but it’s not. Maybe in hot election years, the cost is more like $500,000, but that number is budget dust for some special interest supporters.

This is why we were appalled at The Denver Post’s editorial opposing Amendment 71, which would raise the requirements for getting proposed amendments on the ballot. We are not in the business of criticizing other newspapers and fully understand an honest disagreement on an issue like this, but the basis for the Post’s position is just offensive. More on that below.

Amendment 71 would involve the entire state in the amendment process. To get on the ballot, a proposed amendment would require signatures from 2 percent of registered voters from each of the state’s 35 Senate districts.

As a practical matter, only measures with genuine grassroots support will have a chance to get on the ballot if Amendment 71 passes. Proponents of a measure will have to come to Mesa County, hold town hall meetings and make a convincing case for the change, and then do the same across the state.

Proposed changes to the Constitution would require buy-in, not just from one demographic, but from the entire state. Significantly, the process to change a statute remains unchanged by Amendment 71. Interest groups can go to the ballot and change statutes under the same rules as today.

But Amendment 71’s requirements for amending the Constitution will be too expensive, says the Post editorial board. Requiring signatures from all 35 Senate districts sets the bar too high. The effect of the Post’s position is that rural opinions don’t matter. The Post agrees amending the Constitution should be harder, but doesn’t think all areas of Colorado should help determine a proposed amendment’s ballot-worthiness.

The prosperity gap between urban and rural Colorado has perhaps never been wider. The Post’s cynical position opposing Amendment 71 underscores one of the reasons for that chasm.


COMMENTS

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While there are pro and con arguments against the ease with which the Colorado Constitution can be amended, what individuals all too frequently do not understand is what is the purpose and scope of a Constitution.  Unlike what many have come to believe, it is not, nor should it be used in place of, or to replace the legislative process.

The Colorado Constitution, just as is true of the United States Constitution, should be restricted to only two things.  The first is to define the structure of government and the second, to lay out basic principles to which all must adhere.  Using that document as a legislative tool, actually undermines the very purpose of such a document.

Ease of amending that document, usually because they are passionate about one cause or other, makes such a document little else than subject to the immediate passions of the electorate.  That is something which our founders sought to avoid, which is why the United States Constitution was made difficult to alter.  The same standard should be applied to the Colorado Constitution.

In this editorial the author pointed to the cities of Boulder and Denver as examples or centers of individuals who are responsible for these changes.  He/she also stated that people in those population centers do not listen, and don’t really care about the concerns of the Western Slope, rural areas, and don’t listen to them.  If the author were more astute in his/her observation, he/she would have noted that this has worked both ways.  Neither side wants to listen to the other, and that includes people on the Western Slope and in rural areas.  Therefore, there is little if any communications.  Both sides do a great deal of “talking” but there is very little listening.  All one has to do is read the local publications to see that such is the case.

One politician once stated that elections are won at the local level, and that may be true. But, that does not (or should not) mean that one’s vote, one dealing with State or national issues should be determined by personal and/or parochial interests as that is nothing, if not divisive, in its consequences and is constantly used by unscrupulous politicians either to gain or retain office.

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