Photo by Matt Stensland
Community members, from left, David Nagel, Susan Krall, Diann Ritschard, Jo Stanko and Cynthia Rozell discuss constitutional amendment reform during a Colorado’s Future seminar Wednesday at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. The group is hosting meetings with civic leaders across the state to talk about possible changes to how initiatives are placed on Colorado ballots.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
■ Learn more about the “Build a Better Colorado Through Civic Engagement” project, and download results from meetings in Grand Junction, Lakewood and Pueblo online at www.coloradosfuture.org.
■ Learn more about Club 20, a conservative-leaning Western Slope advocacy group, at www.club20.org.
Steamboat Springs If a ballroom at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort were the U.S. Senate floor, America would have health care reform by now.
Local Democrats and Republicans found widespread agreement on numerous ideas Wednesday evening during a three-hour event about ballot reform and public policy hosted by Colorado’s Future. The statewide group is working to change how Colorado amends its laws and constitution and — coincidentally — hopes to place an initiative to tighten the ballot process on the Colorado ballot next fall. Reeves Brown, executive director of the conservative-leaning Western Slope advocacy group Club 20, was the primary speaker at Wednesday’s event at the Sheraton. About 150 people attended.
Brown is on Colorado Future’s executive committee. His interactive presentation allowed participants to vote on questions with electronic keypads at each table and then see the results from the whole room within seconds on a large screen.
An early vote revealed that 36 percent of participants identified themselves as Democrats and 36 percent as Republicans, with 24 percent unaffiliated and a smattering of “other.” But about 90 percent of the entire ballroom agreed that more protection is needed for Colorado’s constitution, which Brown and Colorado’s Future Associate Director Brenda Morrison said is one of the most vulnerable to change in the nation.
A constitutional change can occur only with a successful statewide vote. Putting an initiative on the ballot requires signatures from 5 percent of voters who filled out ballots in the most recent election for secretary of state — in 2009-10, Colorado’s 5 percent threshold is 76,047.
“We have one of the lowest signature thresholds in the country,” Brown said.
That makes Colorado attractive to out-of-state interest groups seeking to push an agenda, Morrison said.
She said Colorado’s Future’s “Build a Better Colorado Through Civic Engagement” project is intended to “inject a new direction to the conversation in and around public policy, and particularly the state constitution.”
“Colorado’s Future would like the people to consider making the (state) constitution more of a sacred document,” Morrison continued.
To that end, Brown’s presentation polled participants on various ideas for reforming the citizen initiative process. About 76 percent of participants Wednesday supported a higher signature threshold, for example, and 98 percent supported a requirement for petitioners to acquire signatures from across the state.
That figure drew laughter across a ballroom filled with people far from the Denver metro area.
“I think that’s (because of) our location,” said Brian Kelly, elected last month to the Steamboat Springs School Board.
Participants also gave majority support to requirements for clearer ballot language and increased financial disclosure from initiative campaigns, and for the formation of a constitutional review commission that would address Colorado’s governing document.
Kelly added that in his mind, constitutional reform is needed.
“I think our constitution is getting too long — there’s a lot of things stuffed in there now,” he said.
North Routt County rancher Jay Fetcher, an active Democrat, agreed with that sentiment and cited Amendment 14, which voters approved in 1996 and prohibits the use of leghold and kill traps. The amendment makes it hard for Fetcher to manage the beaver population on his family’s property, he said.
“We have to make it harder to amend the constitution,” Fetcher said.
Brown said groups are agreeing on that idea at Colorado’s Future events across the state. The group has held events similar to Wednesday’s at locations including Grand Junction, Pueblo, Lakewood, Greeley and Granby. Brown said the goal is to collect consensus from those meetings and form policy changes that could be placed on the 2010 ballot.
Brown said Club 20 “wholeheartedly supports” the Colorado’s Future project. He acknowledged that political perceptions about Club 20 have led some to form “conspiracy theories” about a hidden agenda behind the effort. But Brown cited the broad spectrum of participants and noted that Colorado’s Future will host events in the politically polar communities of Boulder and Colorado Springs in 2010.
“I think we’ll see the same level of agreement,” Brown said.