Amendment 71: the corporately-financed initiative designed to eliminate the citizen’s right to initiative.
Probably the most important historical fact we should recognize when discussing Amendment 71, dubbed Raise the Bar by its corporate sponsors, is that the people’s right to the initiative, or citizen driven legislation, was added to our constitution by an overwhelming vote of the people in 1910, 76 percent voting in favor. This was the era of trusts and corporate monopoly.
Its purpose was to provide citizens with a powerful constitutional right to deal directly with an unresponsive or corrupt government. The courts have said it gave the people the first right to legislate, a right superior even to the legislatures. Understandably, it has never been popular with the ruling class, no matter the time frame.
Many think 2016 is 1910 revisited, with corporate control at every level of government an ugly reality. The people’s right to initiative is a troublesome impediment to corporate control.
Indeed, the millions of dollars in corporate money funding 71 suggest how important the 1 percent think elimination of our right to the initiative is. They know from experience they can buy the government, but the people are another matter. They can be unruly. They can demand reform. They can even initiate it, but only if they have the right of initiative.
- Half-truths and outright lies by the corporate interests funding Amendment 71
Assertion: The initiative process in Colorado is too easy.
Reply: This is the biggest of the many whoppers being circulated by the ruling elite who simply don’t like the people having a direct say in government and law making via the initiative process.
Fact: The state constitution has been amended 48 times by citizen initiative in the 116 years since the initiative was added to the constitution in 1910. On average, this comes to less than one amendment every two years. By comparison, the legislature has amended the constitution, following the approving vote of the people, 83 times.
In 2014, no constitutional initiatives were passed in Colorado. Indeed, though 145 initiatives were filed with the state, only 4 got the requisite signatures to get on the ballot, but none were approved by the people. Easy it is not.
By comparison, the legislature, drafts over 600 bills in each legislative session, with about half becoming law. Generally speaking, the initiative is available to the people as a remedy, only every other year, the even numbered election years.
More than one commentator has said that when a large number of initiatives are introduced in any election year, it is primarily an indication of discontent with the political system and its leaders. If there were a national initiative in this election season, their numbers would undoubtedly be in thousands.
- We’re wrecking the constitution
Assertion: The Colorado Constitution is being destroyed by the “mob’s” impulses to change it on a whim.
Reply: As demonstrated above, the legislature has asked for more changes in the constitution than have the people, almost 2 to1. But in neither case should this be a cause for alarm. We should treat our constitution as a living document, one that must be modified to reflect the needs of the people as those needs develop. We should not treat it as a religious relic that only the high priests of government have access too.
- We need to make it harder to keep the riff raff out
Assertion: We have the easiest initiative process of any state.
Reply: not true, another lie. Our signature requirements are somewhat lower than many states, but the length of time we are given to get those signatures is among the shortest. Statutorily, we are given 6 months to get the requisite signatures, presently about 120,000 registered voters. This number includes a 20 percent surplus as a fail safe against official challenges. Additionally, single-subject challenges, submitted by opponents to the state supreme court, can effectively become a pocket veto reducing the signature gathering time to as little as 90 days to collect 120,000 signatures.
By comparison, some states have greater signature requirements, but the length of time given to record those signatures can be up to two years. If we were to use the ratio of signatures required to the time allotted to gather those signatures, Colorado’s requirement would be among the most stringent, punitive even.
A 2% approval on Amendment 71–a requirement in each of the state’s 35 senatorial districts before an initiative could even get on the ballot–is a poison pill for citizens with limited resources. Frankly, 71 is nothing more than a corporately-financed initiative designed to eliminate the people’s right to initiative.
- Motive for making it harder
Assertion: the initiative process must be made harder.
Reply: This assertion is perhaps revelatory as to motive. Never have the people been asked by 71’s proponents how the initiative process might be made better, more efficacious, only how can it be made harder? By that they mean harder to use.
That it is already very hard is borne out by the fact that in 2014 no initiatives were passed in Colorado and only 2 nationally. The national corporate effort to undermine the initiative process by making it harder in each of the 24 states with the rights of initiative is bearing fruit for the 1 percent.
- The initiative process is overused
Assertion: the initiative process is ruining the constitution.
Reply: many of the most important reforms in state government have come by means of the initiative. Among them are the GOCO funds for protecting public lands; term limits; the sunshine laws that open up government meetings and documents to public oversight; home rule; the right of recall. (Admittedly, home rule and the sunshine laws have taken a beating from the legislature and the courts.)
Most of these could not have come from the legislature where faction and pettiness have become the rule. With the exception of two initiatives dealing with gay rights, which have been overturned by the courts, the following are all the constitutional initiatives approved in the past 30 years, 1986 to 2016, with the rate of approval by the voters.
- The decriminalization of recreational marijuana use (2012) 55%
- Colorado delegation to support U.S. constitutional amendment to limit campaign spending and contributions (2012) 74%
- Increased gaming allowed, with most new tax revenues going to local junior colleges (2008) 58%
- Prohibition against sole source contractors making political party contributions (2008) 51%
- Limits on gifts to elected officials, Standards of Conduct (2006) 62%
- Increased minimum wage (2006) 53%
- Tobacco tax increase, revenues to support health care (2004) 61%
- Campaign finance reform (2002) 66%
- Medical use of marijuana (2000) 53%
- Increase school funding, tied to the rate of inflation (2000)52%
- Voluntary Congressional term limits (1998) 50%
- Strengthen trust responsibilities on state land (1996) 51%
- Banning certain methods of trapping and poisoning for the recreational taking of wildlife (1996) 52%
- Tax limitations-voting (TABOR 1992) 53%
- Lottery revenues for parks, open space (GOCO 1992) 58%
- Term Limits (1990) 70%
- English as the official language (1988) 64%
There is a clunker on this list, the people are not always right, they can be flat out ugly and spiteful, but still there are none on the list as dreadful and damning as the federal Dred Scott decision. Not even close.
Generally, what we see are citizen attempts to foster good government, recognize and deal with existing realities (marijuana use), and find public funds to support public schools and the environment. Some might even assert most would not have been necessary had the legislature done its job.
You will notice also that roughly half of the initiatives passed in the past 30 years would not meet the super majority requirement of 55 percent approval rate contained in 71 and therefore would not be the law of the state.
It is probably also worth mentioning that the corporate proponents of 71 will not have to meet the 55 percent requirement they want to set for the rest of us either.
- Outside money is taking over the state
Assertion: the constitution is becoming the dumping ground for outside interest legislation.
Reply: Amendment 71 is supported and funded by the political elite. This includes the governor. He has openly condemned outside money being used to advance special interest legislation via the initiative. This is hypocrisy at its most blatant, for 71 is being financed largely by outside corporations, oil and gas primarily, who do not like the people trying to protect their health and property interests, to say nothing of their rights as sovereigns, for as set out in our state constitution:
“All political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government, of right, originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole. from whom all government of right derives its powers.”
The governor is apparently unfamiliar with the Preamble, and the corporate interests behind 71 would obviously like to muzzle forever the Preamble’s lofty language.
The extent outside corporate money is propping up Raise the Bar is illustrated in the latest reporting to the Secretary of State. It shows that on 9/08/2016, Raise the Bar received $1 million dollars from Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence. PCEEEI is the creation of the oil industry. Its biggest contributors are Anadarko and Noble energy. They have each given $5 million and both are headquartered in Texas. The $1 million received from PCEEEI in early September is roughly equal to all other contributions up to that time. Expect more, much more.
PCEEEI reportedly spent about $13 million in outside corporate money to help defeat two citizen led anti-fracking initiatives this past year, but, despite the boat loads of money thrown at defeating them, it was only by the skin of their teeth. Preliminary polling shows that they would have passed had they made the ballot.
Now you start to see the urgency of the corporate actions to get 71 passed.
So as it turns out, the political elite we see doing paid TV adds bemoaning the takeover of the state initiative process by outside interests are right. Their friends and benefactors are taking over the state, and with their help.
- The Initiative Process Unfair to Rural Colorado
Assertion: Rural folks aren’t being treated equally
Reply: one person, one vote is a time honored and foundational principle of democracy. Weighing votes by geographic location has never been considered in a statewide election and shouldn’t be now. Try and apply 71’s requirement of geographic approval in each of the state’s 35 senatorial districts to a state wide election, say governor. The governor would first have to get 2 percent approval of the registered voters in each district before he could even get on the ballot; thus creating a double election requirement, a real gotcha. Rural preference for the initiative tally has been tried in Nebraska and ruled unconstitutional for obvious reasons.
Oh, and should we mention that the proponents could not even assure anyone that they got approval of 2 percent of the voters in each of the districts as they would require of the rest of us?. This requirement would however make it much easier to target an initiative that wealthy interests did not like. All they need do is throw money at a couple of districts to make sure there wasn’t 2 percent approval. And perhaps that’s its real purpose.
- Statutory Initiative should be used instead of Constitutional
Assertion: the statutory initiative needs to be used more.
Reply, this may be the only statement from the corporate backers of 71 with any factual basis. It should and would be used more often by the people if they did not face the threat of the statute being overturned the next year by the legislature. If the legislature were to guarantee a statutory initiative a life of at least 5 years without repeal or meddling then it might be used more. If the signature requirements were simultaneously lowered this too might encourage statutory initiatives. But as long as the requirements are what they are today, the people will take the constitutional route. The effort and costs are just too great to do otherwise.
Twice in the past the state legislature has attempted to meddle with the people’s right to the initiative. Twice the U.S. Supreme Court has told them, in the strongest terms, hands off; for the initiative is a fundamental constitutional right that only the people can change.
How ironic it is that a consortium of corporates with politicians from both parties in tow, are trying to use the right of initiative to take that right away from the people. A sincere public conversation is needed on how to make the initiative process more useful for everyone, for it has become extremely difficult to use, with bureaucratic roadblocks numerous and punitive by design. Only the wealthy can negotiate its shoals with any certainty.
Vote no on 71 and demand a public conversation on how to make the initiative more useful and still provide the public with a needed control on unresponsive or corrupt government.
If 71 passes the public will be locked out, with the corporations and their stooges in government holding the only key