Gibbs, Brophy spearhead effort to make state constitution less amendable
Many words have been used to describe Colorado’s constitution — complex, contradictory and even difficult — but a proposed ballot initiative is focused on making the document less mutable. Colorado’s constitution is one of the easiest to amend in the U.S., topping all states but California and Oregon in the number of citizen initiatives.
“If it were a book, it would have 1,000 authors and no editor,” said Reeves Brown, project coordinator for Building a Better Colorado, a nonprofit coalition that brought forth the issue in discussions statewide.
The idea of making the state’s constitution less easy to amend was one of many points that sprung from multiple discussions spanning the state, from the Front Range to the Western Slope, engaging more than 2,000 civic leaders. The issue was then molded into a ballot initiative after it received strong support of those surveyed.
Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs and former state Senator Greg Brophy, a Republic from Wray, will help put forward a campaign for the initiative as two signatories. The proposal would create a higher standard for collecting signatures, requiring proponents to obtain signatures from two percent of registered voters in the state’s 35 Senate Districts in addition to the five percent of the general electorate. It would also create a higher threshold for voting in constitutional amendments, requiring 55 percent of voters’ support, rather than a simple majority.
“Any longtime local would tell you that they’ve never seen anyone try to collect signatures in Summit County to try to amend the state constitution. They normally hang out by the 16th Street Mall or Pearl Street in Boulder,” Gibbs said. “If you’re going to amend the constitution, it needs to be done statewide.”
Of course, as he and Brophy work to collect signatures for the initiative, they will seek signatures from all parts of the state in accordance with the proposal.
“If your question you’re putting forward is so important that you’re going to amend the state constitution, all people of all angles of the state need a say. And right now, they just don’t,” Gibbs said.
During the Building a Better Colorado forums, Brown said the ideas were developed between a total of 10,000 Coloradans, 6,000 online and 3,000 surveyed in person.
“Coloradans are going to see in this measure, they’re gonna see their fingerprints on it,” he said.
He added that he was “cautiously optimistic” for the measure, which received support from 85 percent of leaders statewide in an informal survey. Among the Summit County focus group, the vast majority — 95 percent — supported requiring more signatures for constitutional initiatives, and that those signatures be gathered from across the state. 83 percent supported requiring a supermajority to adopt new constitutional amendments.
“You’d have to collect some signatures in Durango, Grand Junction, here in Frisco and Gunnison. That idea’s got very strong support across the state,” Brown said. “In Colorado, the way the landscape lays, you don’t have to leave I-25 to cover all nine congressional districts. You never get to this side of the rock pile.”
[iframe src=”//e.infogr.am/qbKxLu6ogJIa3qF8?src=embed” title=”Margin of victory for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments in CO” width=”550” height=”995” scrolling=”no” frameborder=”0” style=”border:none;”></iframe><div style=”padding:8px 0;font-family:Arial!important;font-size:13px!important;line-height:15px!important;text-align:center;border-top:1px solid #dadada;margin:0 30px”><a target=”_blank” href=”https://infogr.am/qbKxLu6ogJIa3qF8” style=”color:#989898!important;text-decoration:none!important;”>Margin of victory for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments in CO</a><br><a style=”color:#989898!important;text-decoration:none!important;” href=”http://charts.infogr.am/bar-chart?utm_source=embed_bottom&utm_medium=seo&utm_campaign=bar_chart” target=”_blank”>Create bar charts</a></div]
LIMITING OUTSIDE INTERESTS
Between Colorado’s low signature threshold and simple majority to approve constitutional amendments, he said the state is left vulnerable to outside interest groups.
“If you’re pursuing a national policy agenda, and you want to get a foothold in a state constitution, you want to go where it’s cheapest,” said. “We have one of the lowest requirements for the number of signatures of any state, and one of four most easily amended constitutions in the nation. We’re a ripe target for out-of-state political groups wanting to use Colorado as petri dish to test policies.”
He added with the requirement to collect signatures statewide, local grassroots measures would be given a leg-up against well-funded outside interests. Raising the required vote above a simple majority would also be enough to make Colorado a less favorable testing ground, he added.
“We don’t want to make it impossible or ridiculously hard. We just don’t want to be the easiest one in the nation,” he said. “Next time a national special interest group wants to test their ideas, they could just as well go somewhere else.”
Interestingly, if the Colorado’s minimum threshold was set at a 55 percent vote, the legalization of recreational marijuana would have still passed in 2012, but medical marijuana would not have in 2000. TABOR also would not have passed.
“To me, constitution is a foundational document that you don’t legislate from,” Gibbs said. “Since 1990, we’ve attempted to amend our constitution 68 times. That’s absurd, I think.”
In total, the state constitution has been amended more than 150 times, with conflicting measures between TABOR revenue caps and minimum spending requirements.
“We’ve made a mess out of our constitution with all good intention, and now we have to live with it,” Brown said, adding that repealing a constitutional amendment would take another ballot measure with another statewide vote and few groups interested in funding such a measure.
“We don’t know all of the answers,” he added. “We just are looking down the barrel at the future of our state, and it’s not sustainable.”