In Wisconsin, New Jersey, Indiana and Ohio — and even Washington, DC — Republicans prove themselves by standing up to powerful special interests and proposing (and even enacting) daring reforms. But there’s one spot on the map intent on keeping the old idea of an Insider Knows Best GOP alive and kicking.
In Colorado, leading Rocky Mountain Republicans have determined that their fight is really not with Democrats at all; it’s with Colorado voters. Republicans and Democrats in the Colorado General Assembly are on the same side — against citizens having too much of a voice.
Hence the GOP approach of helping pass Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer’s most pressing concern, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, a constitutional amendment designed to give big business and big labor very undemocratic power to defeat citizen initiatives.
The whole point of SCR-1, which the Democratically-controlled Senate may pass and send over to the Republican-controlled House as early as tomorrow, is to make it more difficult for average Coloradans to petition their government and pass amendments to the state constitution that a majority of Coloradans support. It’s a stiff arm, an elbow thrown at voters by politicians (cheered on by a laundry list of special interest groups, both right and left) who frankly like running government for their own ends all by themselves, thank you very much.
SCR-1 is a constitutional amendment specifically requiring that any new amendments gain a supermajority of 60 percent to prevail. This places the Colorado Constitution in the hands of a minority of voters.
The raised percentage empowers the same big money special interests endorsing SCR-1 (and preparing to spend considerable sums of money urging its passage) by providing a new electoral terrain where their financial advantage can defeat any future reform proposal. By purchasing enough 30-second TV attack ads, big business or big labor can almost always hold down majority support to even one vote under 60 percent. Under this new supermajority requirement, the people would lose — even a whopping 59.9 percent majority of them.
Of course, passage of SCR-1, if put on the ballot by legislators, will require only a simple majority of voters — not the 60 percent it would mandate for future amendments.
There’s a further political rub here. An 800-pound gorilla in the room. Not all future constitutional amendments will be treated equally if SCR-1 passes. Repealing initiatives passed prior to 2013 will still require only a simple majority.
Huh? Why the double standard?
Well, sure, legislators and powerful lobbies want to block any further input from pesky Rocky Mountain State voters on taxes, spending, term limits, abortion, you-name-it. But they also want to repeal previously enacted checks on their power — especially Colorado’s famous Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, remains the most effective control voters have yet discovered on runaway government spending. It caps government spending growth at the rate of population growth and inflation and only the voters can approve higher levels of spending. This is anathema to the government employee unions wanting ever-more goodies and to politicians who like to give away taxpayer-funded trinkets to various constituencies.
But Democrats can’t kill the citizen initiative process and TABOR all by themselves. They need the help of Republican legislators.
And they’re getting it.
SCR-1 is co-sponsored by six of 15 Republicans in the state senate and by 16 of 33 GOP reps in the House, including House Speaker Frank McNulty.
Two years ago, legislators enacted a major re-write of the state’s initiative petition laws. Much of that legislation has already been blocked by a federal judge as it was deemed likely to violate the First Amendment rights of Colorado citizens. But the provisions remaining in effect still permit the sponsors of voter initiatives to be sued by opponents using new rules and definitions twisted to favor the opponents. A case now in state court against Independence Institute President Jon Caldara and Linda Gorman, who together sponsored last November’s anti-Obamacare Amendment 63, threatens to bankrupt the pair. Such a possibility can’t help but have a chilling effect on others who may consider and reject pursuing an initiative to reform government.
One newspaper headline recently declared: “Citizen initiative rights dead.”
Now comes GOP Speaker McNulty, who in addition to co-sponsoring the anti-democratic SCR-1, is sponsoring his own legislation, HB-1072, which a Colorado expert in petition law says “would provide initiative opponents with additional opportunity to sue, while increasing the already high costs and bureaucratic hurdles for putting a measure on the ballot.”
Last November, after being shut out of power and wandering lost in the political wilderness, Republicans finally gained back the House, winning a slim 33-32 majority. But if Republicans demonstrate disdain for voters, for the democratic check on power known as initiative and referendum — if they are willing to rig the system to make it easier to repeal the Taxpayer Bill of Rights — who needs them?