As Nov. 4 crawls ever closer it behooves us to remind ourselves that, like it or not, we are in election season. In this breathing space before we are buried in the avalanche of lies and slime that political ads have become, we should take time to study the changes that various well-heeled pressure groups are trying to make to our state constitution and laws. With rare exception, they are recurring proof that Nancy Reagan’s advice on another front was best: “Just say no.”
A few weeks ago, I introduced the Ugly: a constellation of proposals designed to drive hydraulic fracturing from the state, thus crippling a major contributor to Colorado’s recent economic growth. Mostly funded by our very own Jared Polis, these measures are a product of our representative’s personal pique that, when confronted by his petulance over its small wellhead across the street from his Weld County property, Sundance Energy didn’t tug its forelock properly while giving a fulsome three-bags-full apology. So: political action as temper tantrum. Grow up, Jared. Being represented by a 7-year-old is embarrassing.
Then there’s the bad: Amendment 67, yet another attempt by “Personhood Colorado” to slip its religiously-based definition of “person” into the Colorado Constitution. Undeterred by the massive failure of their effort to define a fertilized human egg as a “person” in 2008 and 2010, the “personhood” group has apparently taken a page from the “gay rights” playbook: keep at it until opponents simply give up. The latest iteration latches onto a loophole in Colorado law, brought into focus by the 2012 death of Heather Surovik’s unborn child, killed by a drunk driver in Ms. Surovik’s eighth month of pregnancy.
That death was a tragedy; any unlawful assault on a pregnant women resulting in damage to, or death of, her fetus is, and should be prosecutable. But much of what followed the Surovik case is a monstrous exploitation. It is particularly telling that Personhood Colorado opposed legislation to address the omission in the criminal code, preferring to introduce an amendment so vaguely written that it potentially criminalizes abortion, and threatens both pregnant women and caregivers with both civil and criminal penalties if any pregnancy doesn’t end in a live birth. The one effect Amendment 67 will certainly have is to keep lawyers busy for decades.
Here’s the conundrum: if one cheered the result in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, one cannot support Amendment 67 with any logical consistency. The issue in the former was the government forcing persons to adhere to the principles of the state regardless of their own beliefs. The purpose of the latter is similarly to empower government to define “person” in a way that may violate the beliefs of many — perhaps even a majority. If one use of government power to subvert conscience is inappropriate, both are.
Finally, the Good: Initiative 121 — Relating to the Fair Distribution of Oil and Gas Revenues, which amends Title 24, Article 116 of the Colorado Revised Statutes to read, in part, “A local government that bans or prohibits energy development should not be eligible to receive state tax revenues that come from those activities in other parts of the state where development is allowed.” Although it will undoubtedly be criticized as an “oil company measure” designed to “punish environmentally-conscious communities,” the reality is simpler.
Laws have costs. Directly costs of enforcement and sanction are relatively simple to calculate; indirect costs of job loss, environmental degradation, aesthetic damage or just plain bad feelings are not. What Initiative 121 proposes is that those who decide to benefit directly from the prohibition of oil company operations nearby should pay the costs thereof rather than freeriding, foisting the costs for their marginal increase in convenience or aesthetics off on the rest of us.
It’s a simple principle: those who benefit, pay the cost thereof. But Colorado’s Left reacts to the idea like Dracula to a bowl of garlic pesto. To the progressives among us, what they embrace is by definition “good,” and therefore free of any annoying cost. Instead, the rest of us troglodytes — dwellers in the outer darkness where reason and analysis, not gossamer dreams and airy assertions prevail — must pay the freight for the Left’s utopias, no matter how oppressive or damaging they are in practice. Since it short-circuits this foolishness and reasserts common sense, Initiative 121 is a fine exception to the “Nancy Reagan Rule.”
So when the deluge of mud begins, remember: the state’s constitution and laws should not be — to borrow from Jefferson — “changed for light and transient causes,” let alone for reasons of convenience, hidden agendas or personal pique. So keep it simple. Keep it serious. And keep Colorado moving in the right direction.
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County.