Bill Grant Column October 14, 2008
Vote 'Yes’ on Referendum O and Referred Measure 1A for better government
The November ballot includes two “good government” issues, one at the state level and one for Mesa County, that should be approved by local voters.
Proposition O will change the way we amend the Colorado Constitution, while Referred Measure 1A expands the Mesa County Board of Commissioners from three to five members.
Since its adoption in 1876, the Colorado Constitution has been amended over 150 times — 52 times since 1980. By contrast, the United States Constitution has been amended only 27 times in its more than 200 years of existence. The supreme law of Colorado should be less subject to the winds of change.
Proposition O will tighten the rules for amending the state Constitution, while making it easier to pass a statutory law by referendum. Because constitutional amendments are not subject to change by the Legislature, they not only clutter the Constitution long beyond their useful legal life, they can, as in the case of Amendment 23 and TABOR, create conflicts within the constitution that the Legislature is powerless to fix. Statutory laws can be changed by the Legislature.
On the other hand, voters like constitutional amendments precisely because they cannot be undone by the Legislature, as has happened in the past with some statutory measures. Proposition O deals with this problem by prohibiting legislative change to citizen-approved statutory laws for five years after passage.
Proposition O, initiated by the state Legislature, proposes to increase the number and geographic distribution of signatures required to initiate and pass a constitutional amendment, while simplifying the process for adding statutory issues to the ballot. It is supported by a large bipartisan majority of elected state officials from both parties, and also has wide support from other civic entities and good government groups.
This proposition is a good trade-off for voters. It preserves a simple procedure for citizen-driven initiatives for new Colorado statutes, while elevating the requirements for a constitutional amendment sufficiently to discourage use of that option as a first choice.
Mesa County voters also should approve Referred Measure 1A to increase the Board of County Commissioners from the present three members to five. To ensure that the expanded board adequately represents the diverse constituencies of the county, Election Method 1 should also be approved.
Election Method 1 designates that three commissioners be elected from districts by voters living within those districts. The remaining two will be elected at large by all county voters. This is a change from the present requirement that the three commissioners each must reside in the district they represent, but be elected at large by all county voters.
The two compelling arguments driving this revision of the Board of County Commissioners are the need for a wider geographical distribution of commissioners, and the need for a wider variety of voices to deliberate important issues affecting the community.
Measure 1A and Election Method 1 are the most effective ways to make commissioners more accountable to those who elect them and to increase diversity among commissioners.
Though the state designates three commissioners as the minimum requirement for county boards of commissioners, a number of Colorado counties have expanded to five commissioners, often as a consequence of growth.
Significantly, no counties have reversed course to return to three commissioners after the change to five. More government can be better government.
Measure 1A and Method 1 are supported by five local municipal governments in Mesa County, civic organizations ranging from the Chamber of Commerce to Western Colorado Congress, and a virtual who’s who of current and former elected officials and leading citizens of all political persuasions.
Good government is as important at the county as at the state level. It is in the hands of the voters to determine how effective they want their government to be. Positive votes on Proposition O and Referred Measure 1A are steps in the right direction.