Strange Bedfellows Tackle Measure Limiting Citizen Initiatives

DENVER – Colorado ballot Initiative 71, a move to make it harder to change the state’s constitution, has borne out the old adage that ‘politics makes for strange bedfellows.’

Jon Caldara, president of the Libertarian Independence Institute, says he’s never seen before a coalition like the one opposing the measure. It includes conservative and liberal economic, social justice and conservation groups.

Caldara says the groups share concerns about good governance and hope to block what he calls a “power grab” by politicians and industry groups.

“And it’s obvious that they want the power structure to be through them, not through the people,” Caldara states. “If 71 passes, only very, very wealthy interests will ever be able to get something on the ballot again.”

Proponents of 71 say they want to “raise the bar” for citizen-led amendments, which they say frequently conflict with existing law, by requiring signatures totaling at least 2 percent of residents in each of the state’s 35 Senate districts.

Opponents say that would make costs for future initiatives prohibitive, and argue a single district or even a couple of neighborhoods in dense urban districts could effectively veto policies supported by the rest of the state.

The new rules also would raise the voting threshold, if an initiative makes the ballot, from a simple majority to 55 percent of the vote.

Caldara says he’s concerned if Initiative 71 passes, it could be the last time Coloradans get to vote on amendments to the state constitution.

He explains laws or statutes passed by policymakers are examples of how government tells “we the people” what to do, and says ballot initiatives are a critical tool for standing up to special interests.

“But the Colorado Constitution is where ‘we the people’ tell the government what to do,” he states. “And sometimes, those people in power don’t like what ‘we the people’ tell them they have to live by.”

Without the state’s current initiative process, Colorado would not have implemented campaign finance rules, term limits, transparency or ethics laws, or legalized marijuana.

Groups opposing the measure include the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, the Colorado State Shooting Association, the Colorado Fiscal Institute and Common Cause.

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