Editing and approving ‘Blue Book’ a legit function of lawmakers
By Sen. Kevin Lundberg and Rep. Polly Lawrence
Legendary humorist Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel halfway round the world before the truth puts its shoes on.” In the Internet Age, a lie can “go viral” before truth can hit the “reply” button. So, it’s doubly important to set the record straight when major media outlets like The Denver Post and the Boulder Daily Camera put out grossly misleading information about two important November ballot measures.
On Sept. 7 the newspapers’ editors wrongly took state lawmakers to task for amending the state Blue Book pro-and-con arguments on two of the nine statewide questions on the Nov. 8 ballot. The editors suggested the members of the Legislative Council Committee were motivated by partisanship, not the public interest, in making changes to the language drafted by the nonpartisan staff.
Those accusations do a disservice to millions of Colorado voters who rely on the Blue Book for accurate and balanced descriptions of ballot proposals.
The two ballot questions at issue are Proposition 107 dealing with a presidential primary and Proposition 108, which will allow more than 1 million unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in Colorado’s Democrat and Republican primaries. The allegation is that the legislative committee’s changes constituted an unprecedented and unwarranted intervention in the Blue Book process: “The rare, last-minute tinkering suggests partisan meddling,” The Denver Post complained. Such accusations are totally unfounded and highly misleading.
A simple look at history tells us that amending the draft Blue Book language at the Legislative Council review is hardly “rare.” On the contrary, it is routine. Over the five general election cycles since 2005, 37 different amendments were adopted by the Legislative Council Committee to the language developed by the nonpartisan staff. For example, in 2012 the nonpartisan staff’s draft Blue Book language on Amendment 64, the marijuana initiative, was amended five times — including two extensive changes.
Neither was the committee’s review of the draft language “last-minute.” The committee’s meeting date was tied to the calendar for the Secretary of State’s certification of proposed ballot initiatives.
Finally, the four amendments adopted by the bipartisan Legislative Council committee were neither “partisan” nor “meddling.” Labeling unanimous and near-unanimous votes both Republicans and Democrats as “partisan” is turning the dictionary on its head. Moreover, calling the amendment process for Blue Book approval “meddling” is contrary to both history and the statute governing the Blue Book process. The bipartisan amendments adopted by vote of the committee are well within both the statutory authority and the historical tradition of the Legislative Council.
It is vitally important that voters reading the Blue Book summaries of ballot measures have both sides of the issue presented adequately. Proposition 108, previously known as Initiative 98, will permit unaffiliated voters to vote in Democrat and Republican state primaries. That idea has much superficial appeal, but there are serious constitutional issues and long-term ramifications all the way down to local county commissioner elections. For example, saying the proposal has an “opt-out” provision for political parties sounds great until you read the fine print: requiring a 75-percent vote for that opt-out is unprecedented and hypocritical by guaranteeing a minority veto, not majority rule.
One of the amendments adopted by the Legislative Council to the Blue Book’s Proposition 108 language cited a figure of 9 percent as the spoilage rate for ballots cast in the state of Washington, which uses a version of the combined ballot proposed by Proposition 108. Additional research conducted by the Legislative Council staff resulted in the adjustment of that number to 7 percent, a number supported by the secretary of state. That Washington State combined ballot spoilage rate is more than 20 times higher than Colorado’s present statewide spoilage rate of three-tenths of one percent.
Without the Legislative Council’s amendment, that important issue would not have been brought to the attention of voters via the Blue Book. The Legislative Council’s obligation to review and approve the Blue Book language is spelled out in statute at 1-40-124.5(1.7) (a) C.R.S. Making those determinations after hearing from witnesses and a full discussion of the issues is the exact opposite of “meddling” — it is fulfilling the general assembly’s constitutional responsibilities.
The only real partisanship in this story has been in reckless criticism of the Legislature for doing its job.
Kevin Lundberg is assistant majority leader in the state Senate, and Polly Lawrence is assistant minority leader in the state House of Representatives.