Amendment 71 protects our Constitution, which protects us

In an election season that will surely go down as one of the most uninspiring in our nation’s history, there is a glimmer of good news and important progress happening in Colorado.

Voters from around the state of Colorado are rallying behind Amendment 71, a truly, nonpartisan, bottom-up effort to give the entire state of Colorado greater voice in what amendments get put into our state’s constitution.

A handful of very vociferous and very well-funded interest groups on both the left and the right have come out against Amendment 71. Here is what you need to know about these organizations — they are the same organizations that have so frequently tried to put their own narrow policy preferences into the Colorado constitution.

When you hear their objections, I would encourage you to consider the source. Interest groups have used the amendment process to raise money and enlarge their partisan political footprint. I guess that is good work if you can get it, but that isn’t what a constitution is for.

I’m a strong supporter of Amendment 71, and so are all of Colorado’s living governors, the Mesa County commissioners, state Sen. Ray Scott, former Congressman John Salazar, former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher and literally scores and scores of the most respected leaders, local officials and civic groups across rural Colorado. I urge you to vote for it too.

Colorado has the easiest constitution in the United States to amend. And special interest groups on both the left and the right have been taking advantage of that. Every two years, it is another group with another big idea to gum-up our constitution.

Remember the Rhode Island casino last year that tried to carve a gambling monopoly in our constitution? These types of special interest proposals have become too common. Enough is enough.

A constitution exists as a foundational document, to protect our basic rights. It is not a special interest playground and it’s not a statute book.

Our founding fathers knew that. That’s why they made amending our federal constitution difficult. They wanted to protect our rights from hot topics of the day and shiny new policies.

If you haven’t made up your mind about Amendment 71, please consider these facts.

First, Amendment 71 requires interest groups trying to amend the constitution to collect signatures across the state. Many states already require something similar.  Why? Because the constitution belongs to the entire state, not just the population centers where it is easy to collect signatures. 

Colorado’s lack of a statewide signature requirement is, to be blunt, an embarrassment.  Interest groups can and frequently do put constitutional amendments on the ballot without leaving the Denver/Boulder area. This is an affront to the rest of Colorado. It is also a lousy way to run a state.

Second, contrary to the protestations of some, Amendment 71’s requirements are not extraordinary. If Amendment 71 passes, constitutional amendments would require half the number of signatures of proposed constitutional amendments in Ohio, Nevada, Nebraska, Michigan and Montana.

Even California and Florida — two states with very active initiative processes — require signatures equaling 8 percent of voters in the prior election, compared to the 5 percent requirement under Amendment 71. Anyone who has followed California through the years knows that these requirements have done little to slow down proposed constitutional amendments. As for Florida, in addition to requiring far more signatures than Amendment 71, that state also requires a 60 percent vote to change the constitution.

All of these states recognize a fundamental fact — a constitution exists to protect basic rights, and those rights should not be easily amended or stripped away.

A third and final point for voters to consider — Amendment 71 does nothing to change the citizens’ initiative process for amending or repealing statute. If a group of citizens are angry at the governor or the legislature, they can go to the ballot and pass statutes or repeal statutes under the exact same rules as today.

That’s the way it should be — relatively easy to change the laws through statutes, and tougher to amend the constitution.

Our founding fathers and virtually every other state knows this is the right balance.  So does the massive coalition supporting Amendment 71.

John Suthers, a Republican, is the mayor of Colorado Springs. He is the former attorney general of Colorado.


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