Giving Colorado’s Constitution the care it deserves
You’ve seen your ballot by now. They arrived last week.
Is there a better reason to vote “Yes” on Amendment 71, making it harder to amend Colorado’s constitution? Six proposed constitutional amendments and three more statutory changes to work through after voting for presidential, congressional, state and local candidates for office, retention of judges few of us know anything about.
Six and one-half pages of the full text of each issue in one of the newspapers I looked through last week. And that was before the Spanish language version that followed.
Friends, including former state and local elected officials, for years have voted “No” on any proposed constitutional amendment as a matter of principle. I haven’t gone there, have in fact voted for changes like Amendment 23 on K-12 school funding knowing it would cause future budget problems but wanting to make a statement on the importance of adequate education funding.
So I’ve been part of the problem. I’ve used the reality that our state constitution is among the easiest to fiddle with via the initiative process to give almost impossible-to-change meaning to one of my personal peeves. I’m not alone.
Coloradans have amended our state constitution more than 150 times since statehood. The U.S. Constitution has been amended only 27 times since 1789. That’s because there’s a high bar to clear if you want to amend the U.S. Constitution — approval by two-thirds of both the House and Senate and by three-fourths of the states.
It’s far simpler than that here in Colorado. The Sentinel explained the process (and what’s wrong with it) succinctly in a recent editorial.
“…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.”
That, folks, is how you end up ballot proposals that proponents and opponents sometimes spend upwards of $17 million to advance or defeat. How wildlife management ends up being proscribed in the state constitution, how you end up with people upset that education has not been a budget priority replacing the legislative process with initiatives that enshrine well-meaning but problematic solutions in the constitution.
It’s how over-reach in reaction to any of a number of issues we can all name prompts obscene levels of spending to place questionable amendments out of reach of future attempts to resolve problems those constitutional changes cause.
Politics does make strange bedfellows. Opposition to Amendment 71comes from a diverse range of groups from the “drill baby drill” crowd to environmental organizations, from conservatives worrying they won’t be able to get things like the Taxpayer Bill of Rights into the constitution to liberals worried about things like fracking.
All claim the ability of citizens to initiate action will be made too difficult with passage of 71. They’re wrong. Constitutional amendments will rightly be made slightly more difficult and more truly representative of all of Colorado by requiring 10 percent more signatures gathered in each of 35 state senate districts. Initiating statutory changes via the ballot will not be changed at all, will be remain just as ridiculously easy as the Sentinel editorial described.
Later this week I’ll sit down with my ballot.
After I vote for Hillary Clinton, Michael Bennet and Gail Schwartz, for Dan Thurlow, Mel Mulder and Dave Edwards, I’ll get to the constitutional amendments and have to decide whether to vote “yes” on Colorado Care, on increasing the minimum wage, on increasing the tobacco tax and thereby place those changes in the constitution.
I’m hoping, by voting “yes” on Amendment 71, it’ll be the last time I have to decide between approving proposals too easily placed on the ballot, on enshrining personal wishes into the Colorado Constitution, or to instead follow my friends in just saying “no” to proposals advanced in a process dominated by paid signature gatherers in the state’s most populous areas.