Aaron's Real Opinions:

Ballot Issues Rundown
Much Ado About Nothing? by Aaron Harber
October 30, 2006 - Print Article

Part 1: Are The Ballot Issues Less Meaningful Than We Think?

In the midst of any heated campaign, as this one is, it seems impossible to examine ballot issues objectively but, if one were to do that with one of the lengthiest ballots in Colorado history, it would be reasonable to conclude many of the proposals are marginal, at best, as far as the vast majority of Colorado’s population is concerned. Certainly, specific groups of citizens will be significantly impacted by the passage of specific measures but, for the most part, life won’t change for most Coloradans no matter what happens. Let’s look at what the passage of the ballot measures likely does or doesn’t mean.

Amendment 38 is an effort to streamline the citizen petition process. Proponents argue officials have thrown roadblocks to frustrate the process while opponents fear a flood of ballot issues will dominate all future ballots. The truth is the measure probably won’t make a big difference either way simply because the cost of placing issues on the ballot has grown so expensive. While the proposal does clean up some minor inconsistencies in the initiative process, it still will be difficult to get measures on the ballot. That is exactly why only 14 of almost 150 proposals made it on the 2006 ballot.

Amendment 39 and Referendum J both require schools to spend 65 cents of every dollar “in the classroom.” If either passes, there is no guarantee that the quality of K through 12 education in Colorado will improve. These are “feel good” measures which are unlikely to have any noticeable impacts. Referendum J is so watered down that it is meaningless. It is likely Amendment 39 will not have much greater effect.

Amendment 40 imposes term limits on Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges after 10 years of service but their average stay already is lower than 10 years. Proponents argue the measure will counter “activist judges” but the Amendment has nothing to do with judicial activism. Opponents suggest the legal system will implode because so many new judges will have to be appointed due to the measure’s requirement that 5 of 9 Supreme Court justices and 7 of 19 Court of Appeals retire in two years - with the State losing the knowledge possessed by these judges - but there is no evidence good replacement judges can’t be found.

The odds are the proponents will achieve none of their goals and the opponents will not see the sky fall. The irony is the proposition was created by conservative Republican and former State Senate President John Andrews at a time when he thought the next Governor would be a Republican (Bob Beauprez) and Beauprez would be making the new appointments. Now it appears Democrat Bill Ritter will be making these appointments if the measure passes. It may be one of those “Don’t ask for what you want because you might get it” moments if Andrews is responsible for a shift in the composition of the judiciary.

Part 2: Ethics, Wages, and Marriage

Amendment 41 proposes a new set of ethics rules and an Ethics Commission for the State. Proponents want to tighten up gift-giving and revolving door rules (i.e., prevent lawmakers from getting jobs with the firms that lobby them right after leaving the General Assembly) while opponents argue the rules will create a mess because they apply to every State employee and should have been targeted only for lawmakers and top elected and appointed officials.

If 41 passes, a new ethic bureaucracy will be put in place but it also likely will serve to blunt the criticisms of the opponents as it sets rules which everyone likely will agree are reasonable. The reality is ethical conduct already is the norm in Colorado and there likely won’t be much for the Ethics Commission to do… hopefully.

Amendment 42 proposes to raise the Minimum Wage from $5.15 to $6.85. Because only 9,000 people make the Minimum Wage (and 25,000 officially make less than that although these hourly numbers exclude tips these mostly service employees receive), and even if 75,000 to 125,000 more people are affected, passage of this proposal likely will not have a significant economic effect. Out of a labor force of more than two million people, these numbers are just too small to affect Colorado’s Economy in a significant way (although certain individual businesses and their employees may feel quite differently).

Amendment 43 defines marriage as solely being between one man and one woman but is unlikely to affect marriage rates or the quality of marriages in Colorado. Referendum I creates Domestic Partnerships and is “Marriage Lite” for gay people. It will allow them to have the same state rights as married people but will not give them the same +1,100 federal rights married people have. If both pass, the first will exclude gay people from marriage - which already is State law anyway, so there is not a big change. The second will grant rights - most of which are available now anyway but often are difficult to enjoy in practice - so it will help gay people but not quite in the same way as if they had the right to marry.

Opponents of Referendum I argue it will somehow negatively impact marriage but the idea of promoting long-term relationships for gay people would seem to accomplish the opposite. It’s likely Referendum I is the only issue on the ballot which will have a noticeable impact in Colorado, at least for gay people. The majority of Coloradans won’t notice a thing.

Part 3: Pot, Vets, Recalls, and Immigration.

Amendment 44 allows adults to possess one ounce of marijuana (enough to make about 40 joints) but likely will have little impact on what Coloradans do today. Those who want to smoke pot generally do and law enforcement isn’t obsessed with arresting individual users. The measure is unlikely to pass simply because most citizens fear it would promote wider drug use and serve as a gateway to the use of higher level illegal drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin, among others. Proponents opine that marijuana is better than alcohol (which is probably is) but opponents counter this is a false argument because they don’t foresee people who drink switching to pot.

Referendum E is a property tax reduction for disabled veterans which will affect only 2,200 people in Colorado. Similar to previous tax relief measures, it fails to distinguish between poor veterans who need the help and wealthy veterans who do not need such assistance. Referendum F changes the recall deadlines for elected officials and won’t be noticed whether it passes or not. It actually may create more problems than it solves but it is unlikely voters have any idea what the impact of its passage will be. Referendum G eliminates some allegedly obsolete provisions of the Colorado Constitution but, for historical preservation reasons, some people don’t want to see changes made in the document. It’s already a mess - it’s four times longer than the U.S. Constitution - so the historical perspective is difficult to appreciate these days.

Referendum H penalizes employers who hire illegal aliens by requiring that they forfeit the deduction for the wages paid to such people but requires each company to self-report their failures. There also are enough exceptions to the proposed law to render it ineffectual. It is another relatively meaningless, token political gesture by the General Assembly to address the issue of illegal immigration but doesn’t accomplish much except provide some political cover to supporters.

The partner of Referendum H is Referendum K - a measure requiring the Attorney General to sue the Federal Government for the latter’s failure to enforce its own immigration laws. This measure also is only symbolic in that the Federal Government already has demonstrated it is immune to such lawsuits and the annual cost of almost $200,000 will be wasted Colorado taxpayer dollars.

So, in a nutshell, the ballot is a full and complex one but, with just a few exceptions, the issues hold little meaning for the vast majority of Coloradans. In many cases (such as Referenda H, J, and K) the compromises made by the General Assembly in order to get the measures on the ballot ended up diluting the measures’ potential impact to the point they became only symbolic in nature. In most instances, citizens won’t notice anything different if all the measures were to pass or if they all were to fail. We’ll soon see if this prediction is accurate.

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