Protecting our Constitution by raising the bar
By Kathleen Curry and Dan Rubinstein
Each election year, Coloradans from all walks of life and parts of the state, with varying views of the world, will pick sides on candidates and ballot issues. All too common in today’s world we will hold our noses and decide if we can live with them rather than having a feeling of comfort and support. This gut check of acceptability on candidates comes with the realization that one must be chosen. These potential leaders could impact our lives and families; our businesses and employees. Ballot initiatives are different in that none are required, and we have now seen how drastically they can affect our day to day.
On the personal side, we wait each year to hear whether we will vote on marijuana-related issues, personhood, or other hot-button topics that elevate the pulse when we consider their impact on what we value most.
On the business side, trade discussions at the top of the ticket, statewide universal healthcare, and local mill levy increases all cause our existing businesses to weigh how these policies will affect our employees, our finances and future business growth plans. While some local established businesses see the ballot proposals as the cost of doing business in Colorado, potential businesses looking to relocate jobs and opportunity here might be dissuaded by the economic uncertainty posed by an uncertain ballot.
Colorado’s open access to our Constitution by way of the ballot is not only unique to our region, it is unique to our nation. Our low-petition signature requirement coupled with the permanency of a constitutional amendment makes our state appealing to in-state and out-of-state interests alike. Colorado properly placed high value on allowing citizen initiatives to be presented to the voters to change our laws and Constitution, however in doing so, some simple safeguards were overlooked. Unlike a change proposed by the Legislature, which necessarily requires votes from elected leaders from a variety of regions, a citizen measure can pass with very little variance in its geographic support.
As well, our intention to offer our citizens this easy access to participate unfortunately allowed special interests to have the same ability to offer changes, not only to state statutes, but regrettably, to our Constitution. As we’ve seen over the years, seven times out of 10, these interests choose the power of a constitutional change versus a statutory one, which explains how Colorado has amassed more than 150 constitutional amendments.
While Coloradans should continue to embrace our citizen-initiated process, we need to differentiate between amending state statutes and amending our Constitution by raising the bar for changes to our founding document.
This year, voters and business leaders can safeguard our constitution by voting for Amendment 71. The measure seeks to make it harder to amend Colorado’s Constitution by requiring future constitutional ballot initiatives to gather signatures from 2 percent of all registered voters in each of Colorado’s 35 state senate districts. This will ensure that those attempting to amend the Constitution will need to engage voters in Mesa County’s Senate district, helping to encourage a statewide conversation.
Once qualified for the ballot, constitutional amendments will need 55 percent to pass and be added to our founding document.
This is a reasonable approach that preserves our opportunities for direct democracy, while also folding our local residents into the conversation for any proposed changes to our constitution.
Business leaders and voters will still have their gut checks this November, but Amendment 71 should be an easy sell. Let’s join the conversation for constitutional changes by voting yes to raise the bar.
Dan Rubinstein (Republican) is the district attorney for the 21st Judicial District, Mesa County. Kathleen Curry (unaffiliated) is a Colorado rancher and a former speaker pro tempore of the Colorado House of Representatives.