Political elites ride herd on the initiative process
Among the bad ideas filling Colorado’s November ballot is Amendment 71, the Imposition of a Distribution Requirement for Citizen-Initiated Constitutional Amendments. Colorado is one of a number of states that allow the citizens to vote on laws or amendments to the state constitution by collecting signatures on petitions. In Colorado’s case, it is currently 5% of the total number of votes cast for the office of Colorado secretary of state in the preceding general election—general between 75,000 and 100,000.
Apparently, that’s too low a requirement for an organization called Raise the Bar Colorado – Protect our Constitution.
Raise the Bar is a PAC spawned by an effort known as A Better Colorado, which held “hearings”—actually focus groups—throughout Colorado last year to test the best way to frame their issues. The PAC has raised $1.5 million, of which they’ve spent $1.3 million advertising their amendment to save the Constitution.
But who are they saving it from?
From the people of Colorado, meddlesome upstarts that we are. There are two major provisions in the law: the first is that, instead of a 5% level of signatures, 2% would need to be collected from each of the state’s 35 senatorial districts.
That raises the bar so that only the rich may pass over. Of course, this initiative got on the ballot the old way: Sponsors of the measure hired 3.0, TPM LLC, Lincoln Strategy Group, and Blitz Canvassing LLC to collect signatures. They spent a total of $383,518.81 to collect the 98,492 valid signatures.
Grassroots citizen organizations with little money and only volunteers find it hard enough to collect signatures. Under the new rules, they would have to organize in all 35 districts. People with money could hire 3.0, TPM LLC, Lincoln Strategy Group, Blitz Canvassing LLC, and others much more easily. Sure, it would cost more, but what’s another couple of hundred thousand to Tom Steyer or Michael Bloomberg?
Let’s say you want to repeal the marijuana law: good luck getting your signatures in Boulder or Denver. If you’re anti-fracking, try getting your signatures in El Paso or Elbert Counties.
Two anti-fracking initiatives failed to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot this year even under the current rules. The current system is not all that easy.
The second part of the initiative also limits the power of the initiative: a 50% vote to pass isn’t enough; you would need 55%.
But here’s the rub: 55% to add, but only 50% to repeal existing provisions. So the power elite could still collect enough signatures and try to repeal those pesky citizen initiatives like TABOR, such a thorn in the side of the big spenders.
Who’s for this?
Raise the Bar has been the front group collecting all the money. Political elites from both parties were behind A Better Colorado. A couple of citizen’s groups are opposed but they haven’t raised any of money, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
The libertarian Independence Institute opposes as does the liberal Denver Post. A very telling article by Paul Jacob in Townhall tells the long and sordid history of political elites trying to eliminate the voice of the people in the Colorado initiative process.
Colorado’s initiative, referendum and recall measures were added to the constitution during the progressive era of the early 20th century. They were meant to bring more power to the people—more democracy at the state level. There were progressives in both parties then and there are now.
It’s just that, having experienced the effects of giving the people a greater voice in government, they’re not so keen on the idea any more.
Vote No on Amendment 71.