Tuesday, September 21, 2004
One of the best parts of the Colorado Constitution is the Blue Book law, which requires that an information booklet about statewide issues be prepared and provided to the state's voters within 30 days of any election.
The law states, "The purpose of the booklet is to provide voters with the text, title and a fair and impartial analysis of each initiated or referred constitutional amendment, law or question that will be on the statewide ballot." This is a tremendous service that helps voters become educated about ballot issues that often are written in ways that only lawyers and lobbyists understand. But the Blue Book is only useful if it provides, as the law mandates, "a fair and impartial analysis" and if it is distributed to voters. Unfortunately, the success and intent of the Blue Book are being threatened this election cycle by legislative meddling.
By law, the Blue Book must be written by Legislative Council staff -- usually lawyers -- who spend the summer researching the issues and trying to craft fair and impartial language. Legislators, however, have final say on the Blue Book language.
The Legislative Council votes on the language in the Blue Book. Inevitably, this means partisan disputes about wording that have more to do with manipulating voters instead of educating them. Such behavior is a disservice to voters and an abuse of taxpayers, who pay for the Blue Book's publication and distribution.
A case in point is Amendment 35, an initiative to raise cigarette taxes to pay for health care for cancer patients and those who are indigent. Republican Mark Hillman inserted language -- taken from a study funded by cigarette maker Phillip Morris -- that indicates approval of the amendment could reduce funding to municipalities for essential services such as ambulance and fire protection. Analysts of the amendment say the threat is implausible at best and an outright scare tactic at worst. No matter, the Legislative Council approved the language change.
Citizens for a Healthier Colorado, which advocates for Amendment 35, said everyone who voted for the language change had accepted contributions from tobacco companies.
State Sen. Ken Gordon, a Democrat, has muddied the waters further by filing a lawsuit to try to stop the Blue Book's distribution.
Gordon's motives don't appear to be all that noble either. As state Sen. John Andrews charged, Gordon, a Legislative Council member, has participated in numerous language-changing votes in the past. His lawsuit seems less a matter of a newfound conscience than sour grapes over losing votes that fell along party lines.
Members of the Legislative Council are heavily influenced by lobbyists and have distinct partisan agendas -- they have no business crafting language in the Blue Book. As the law states, that task should be left to staff who can be fair and impartial.
When and if this year's Blue Book does get distributed, it will be hard not to look at it with skepticism, given the political shenanigans that went into producing it.
Fortunately, there is an alternative. The state's League of Women Voters produces its own "blue book." The league's Voters Guide includes ballot language on each issue along with pro and con statements written by advocates on both sides. Some 3,500 copies of the guide are being distributed this week in Routt County.
Perhaps the Legislative Council should follow the lead of the League of Women Voters. Then, maybe the council will produce a Blue Book that truly follows state law and provides voters with fair and impartial election information.