Summit Daily editorial: ‘Raise the Bar’ goes too far in effort to fix unwieldy amendment process
October 24, 2016
Summit County's own Dan Gibbs, a county commissioner and a tireless advocate for mountain resort communities, makes a persuasive case for Amendment 71 — the so-called Raise the Bar amendment — mostly memorable when he holds up the Colorado constitution alongside the slender, pamphlet-like US Constitution. Our state's governing document is indeed a Russian-novel-sized doorstop. And, indeed, Colorado's Wild West version of direct democracy is at times unwieldy, when it isn't innovative.
Setting a higher standard for changing the state constitution is a worthy goal, but Amendment 71 overcorrects and overreaches, making it nearly impossible for grassroots campaigns to get an amendment on the ballot.
The current system requires about 100,000 signatures from anywhere in the state. Raise the Bar would mandate that signatures be collected at a rate of 2 percent from each of the state's 35 Senate districts.
The idea is that petitioners would be forced to go into all areas of the state, instead of just Hoovering up the requisite signatures on the 16th Street mall in Denver or Pearl Street in Boulder. This has been a major selling point for Amendment 71 proponents — it gives rural parts of the state a voice in the process.
"Having constitutional policies be dictated by people in Denver, in my opinion, is not right. It requires a statewide discussion," said Gibbs.
Sparking those statewide discussions, however, would require deep pockets, potentially limiting future constitutional changes to powerful interests groups, such as the oil and gas industry, which, coincidentally, has bankrolled the majority of the Amendment 71 campaign.
"It is difficult to go out and gather signatures," Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, said in a recent forum. "What this is about is making it so expensive and so onerous that voters don't even get the opportunity to decide. To set standards that may not be possible to meet. I think that deserves a closer look."
Petition drives are already pricey. Some estimate that a signature-gathering campaign can top $1 million. That cost would only grow if organizers were required to run statewide campaigns that demanded far more volunteers and more resources. It isn't even clear if it can be done.
In one forum, Raise the Bar advocates were asked if they were able to collect 2 percent of signatures from each of the state's 35 Senate districts. It appears this likely didn't happen, though it would have been a fun and convincing stunt.
To be sure, bringing rural voices into the state's political dialogue is something to strive for. However, voters throughout the state, in rural and in urban areas, already get a chance to have their say — when they vote. Colorado voters have batted down many wrongheaded amendments, and will continue to do so.
Amendment 71 also sets up the very-real possibility where a single Senate district could block a worthwhile proposal.
The other piece of Raise the Bar is the requirement of a supermajority of 55 percent for an amendment to pass. Currently, 50 percent of the vote will do the trick. That provision seems reasonable. Unfortunately, the totality of the amendment doesn't serve the best interests of our state. Vote no on Amendment 71.
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