Knopf: While America watched Trump, big money bought Colorado election (column)
January 15, 2017
Everyone is so preoccupied with President-elect Trump's tweets, and whether his cabinet will make it through congressional review, you may have missed the fact that Coloradans gave our state away to corporate America on Election Day. Big Tobacco, Big Oil and Big Pharma are among the big winners.
Big Tobacco spent more than $18.2 million to defeat the proposed tobacco tax increase, according to the Campaign Finance Division of the Colorado Secretary of State. Our current tobacco tax rate makes us 38th in the U.S., one of the lowest rates in the country. The proposed tax hike would have made us 12th, more than a buck lower than other states. Sin taxes have been demonstrated to reduce use, particularly among young people. Memos from Phillip Morris and RJ Reynolds reveal they know it too. Tobacco usage recently went up in Colorado, about 0.7 percent, even though the number of users went down, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). Big Tobacco was not taking any chances on losing market share.
Ever wonder how Big Tobacco can afford to spend more than $18 million to defeat a tobacco tax in just one state? Turns out tobacco is one of the most profitable industries with net profits in the range of 18 percent, and some estimates put it higher. That's almost $80 million dollars in 2015 in Colorado alone. So the tobacco industry has a vested interest in killing you. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention smokers die at least 10 years sooner than non-smokers. Tobacco remains the leading cause of death and disease in Colorado according to the CDPHE.
"While we have made progress in protecting Coloradans from the toxic effects of tobacco, the truth is too many Coloradans still smoke and we have more work to do," says the head of the Tobacco Team of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Natalia Verscheure. The lower the price of a pack of cigarettes, the greater the likelihood new smokers will start smoking and older smokers will continue their deadly habits.
Then there's Big Oil and Amendment 71 – the constitutional amendment to make it harder to pass citizen-initiated constitutional amendments. Amendment 71, known as "Raise the Bar," was the pet project of Big Oil. Lafayette, Boulder, Fort Collins, Broomfield, El Paso County and Longmont passed ordinances to ban fracking in their communities. On May 2, 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled state fracking laws preempt local laws, thus invalidating fracking bans in all those communities. The laws were declared unconstitutional. So our citizens tried to amend our constitution to give themselves the right to decide if they want fracking in their own backyards. Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED) failed to gather enough signatures to get two anti-fracking measures on the ballot. Whew, that was close. Big Oil said it was too close … let's "raise the bar."
Big Oil spent more than $24 million to pass Amendment 71, "Raise the Bar." "Raise the Bar" is such an appealing slogan. Should've been called "Restrict Access." Amendment 71 requires signatures of 2 percent of the registered voters in each of Colorado's 35 state senate districts to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. Then the measure needs to pass by 55 percent.
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"Fifty-five percent will make it very hard to amend the Constitution," says Professor Richard Collins, University of Colorado Law School. He continued, saying, "The 2 percent will make it difficult for certain measures to make it on the ballot."
As many as seven in 10 people living in rural areas may be late adopters of new ideas, according to studies by the Agricultural Extension Service of several farming states. Some rural voters may not be willing to sign any petitions, particularly after the well-funded campaign dissuading our citizens to sign petitions. Collins said this was the first time he can remember a campaign was launched to persuade voters not to sign a petition for a ballot measure.
But Collins believes most the measures that failed, like ColoradoCare and the tobacco tax, should have sought voter approval as statutory proposals rather than constitutional amendments. He said, "I heard a lot of people say, 'I'm worried about putting something like that in the Constitution.'" Of course he readily admits proponents of the measures were trying to keep legislators from tinkering with the new laws. Then he stated, all they had to do was add language, like they do in Washington state, the statute can not be amended in the first three years except by a two thirds majority vote of both houses of the legislature. He said such language allows you to fix glaring mistakes like the one made in Florida where "the decimal was in the wrong place."
So we gave our constitutional rights away to Big Oil. Now the opportunity to change our constitution is likely out of reach for most citizens' groups. Speaking of citizens' groups…
After the Governor's Blue Ribbon panel came up with ideas to reduce the cost of health care in Colorado, the legislature refused to implement any of the ideas. So a citizens' group worked on it, and delivered ColoradoCare to the people… an opportunity to exempt Colorado from the runaway expenses of the Affordable Care Act. Instead of taking control of our health care expenses, we said "Yes" to Big Insurance, Hospital Corporation of America and Big Pharma that spent millions to hijack healthcare in our state.
Wake up people! If you see a political ad the first thing to do is ask, "Who is paying for the ad, and what's their agenda?" There's a good chance the ad is paid for by Big Money business executives who want to control you to pad their own pockets. Let's stop giving away our power to the Big Money and start defending our own rights. Let's be more thoughtful next time and do what's best for the people of Colorado, not some fat cat executive sitting in some high rise corporate office.
Jonathan and Susan Knopf live in Silverthorne. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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