Just say no to all the Colorado ballot measures | VailDaily.com

Just say no to all the Colorado ballot measures

Nick Fickling
Vail, CO, Colorado

In a pure democracy the voters decide every law change and initiative in a referendum. That requires voters to understand the issues involved in each and every measure. It works best with small, well educated communities, voting on measures that are easy to explain and understand. In Colorado a representative democracy was selected in 1876 as being the better way.

So, in our representative democracy, why are so many initiatives on the ballot? Do referenda improve decision making in Colorado, or are they a stealth way of getting changes made that would otherwise be rejected out of hand? Are they a way for our leaders to enjoy the authority of elected office while avoiding responsibility when things do not work out?

How many of you read the 133 page 2008 Colorado state Ballot booklet you were sent? Will you skip voting all those ballot measures described in the booklet or, more dangerously, vote for an initiative just because a Colorado furniture chain owner tells you it is a good idea?

Ballot initiatives were first used in Colorado in 1912 when 22 initiatives and 6 popular referenda were on the ballot. Over the years more Colorado ballot initiatives have been struck down by Federal Courts for being “unreasonable” than in any other state.

What an incredible waste money that has been.

In 1992, Colorado Amendment 2 was a measure on the November ballot asking voters to decide if they wanted “to repeal local laws passed to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and to prevent similar new laws”?. The measure passed.

In 1996 in the US Supreme Court struck down the 1992 decision of Colorado voters as unconstitutional. That ended a period in which Colorado gained notoriety for being a focus of discrimination. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it also involved considerable expenditure of time and effort by the Colorado executive, legislative and judicial branches. All that occurred because of (deliberately?) confusing wording in the initiative and voters who did not have the time or nous to research and understand the issue. Colorado voters were paying the salaries of a governor, 35 state senators and 100 state representatives, and their staff. These officials were elected for their brains, education, experience and judgment. They were paid to understand the issues of the day, and the subtleties and implications of draft laws and amendments. They were not asked to do any work, that would undoubtedly have saved taxpayer money, in deciding Amendment 2

The wording used to get Amendment 2 passed: “to repeal local laws passed to ban discrimination”? was confusing. At first sight it appeared that the measure would ban discrimination, while actually through a double negative was doing the opposite. Many voters ended up approving a measure that they disagreed with.

Also in 1992, Colorado voters amended Article X of the Colorado Constitution, bringing in TABOR which demands a referendum should tax increases be proposed that allow government revenues to grow faster than is in line with population increase and the rate of inflation.

TABOR is a great idea, as it restrains government excess. Unfortunately it makes for extremely clumsy, inflexible and inefficient government. It reduces overall tax revenues, increases costs associated with administering TABOR, and has led to a succession of costly referenda that are usually defeated purely because of low poll turnout.

TABOR was another one of those wonderful Republican ideas which has become a nightmare. TABOR has given us referenda and ballot initiatives that have enlarged government, restrained improvements in government practices, limited the ability of Colorado to react in a timely fashion, and undermined our representative democracy by clumsily limiting the freedom of action of the Governor and Congress.

In 1976 voters were encouraged to vote no to all ballot initiatives. If history is anything to go by the cost of Tuesday’s four referenda and fourteen amendments will far exceed the benefit. So vote no to all of them and then all lobby your state representatives and senators to reform such a flawed, inefficient system of government.

Nick Fickling is retired from the British military and lives in the Vail Valley. You can reach him at fickling@vail.net

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