It’s a sure sign that politicians are on the wrong side of history when they try and thwart the will of the voters.
Amendment 71 in Colorado is a pretty transparent example of just such gamesmanship.
But let’s not reduce this to a matter of political process – a sort of decision-making abstraction. This attempt to gut a vital part of the ballot initiative process has real-world implications.
Think steel-jawed leghold traps and their body-gripping animal traps. Think of an animal chewing off a leg to escape the trapper’s skinning knife.
You won’t see anything on the ballot that speaks directly of these suffering animals. But make no mistake, Amendment 71 seeks to throw a pair of roadblocks in the path of Colorado citizens, including the majority who voted to protect fur-bearing animals from the trappers’ cruel devices. More generally, Amendment 71 aims to frustrate the desire of all Coloradans who might otherwise want better treatment for animals and the environment.
In fact, this shameless power grab by politicians and the special interests who back them threatens to derail — across the board — the direct democracy process that has served this state so very well for more than a century. They’re spending millions to pull a fast one on voters.
By demanding a supermajority to pass an amendment to the state constitution, Amendment 71 rips up and throws in the trash can the time-honored view of majority rule.
Since when does minority rule make sense?
Answer: Only when special interests are outnumbered and outpaced in the marketplace of values.
One might wonder how many legislators would support the idea that only those who earn a supermajority of citizen support in each election could take office?
Amendment 71 also would make the process of direct citizen democracy prohibitively expensive and open the door for lawyers to have a field day snarling things up.
Instead of just gathering signatures representing five percent of the vote total in the proceeding election to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, Amendment 71 would require citizens to fan out and collect large numbers of signatures in each state Senate district, no matter how thinly populated.
Imagine traveling an hour on the road to pass the homes of just 100 or so voters? In rural Colorado, that could easily happen.
And because there are 35 such Senate districts, opponents would have that many more jurisdictions in which special-interest lawyers could file challenges, and hopelessly tie up the process. A concerted effort to block signature-gathering in a single Senate district could result in a de facto veto of any proposed constitutional amendment, preventing voters from taking up the idea.
In the end, it would become practically impossible for citizen groups to qualify a ballot measure by volunteer petitioners. The only entities that could qualify an initiative would be the wealthiest interest groups, with money to pay petitioners to stalk voters in the most remote reaches of the state.
Why would politicians want to do such a thing, really?
Obviously, they don’t trust voters. Obviously they don’t want to share the responsibility of governance. Obviously, they are disproportionately beholden to special interests.
They have proved this by trying to undermine voter-approved statutory initiatives. We worked to pass a measure to ban black bear hunting in the spring, when mothers nurse their young and shooting the mom dooms the cubs. More than two-thirds of the voters supported the ballot measure, yet there was an immediate effort to overturn it. And now, after voters have moved to protect their desires by gaining approval of a constitutional amendment – specifically the one outlawing steel-jaw and body-gripping animal traps – lawmakers have responded with Amendment 71.
This is the most important ballot measure in the state this election. So say the special interests and the politicians doing their bidding. We agree.
As it now states, the Colorado Constitution is plain as day: The people of this state have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves…
This November, they should protect that right and not relinquish one iota of it to politicians and special interest lobbyists who ply the halls of the Capitol.