Vail Daily column: Election impacts business community | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Election impacts business community

Chris Romer
Vail Valley Partnership

As business leaders dedicated to economic vitality of the Vail Valley, Vail Valley Partnership focuses on issues that impact our trade region, our communities, our businesses and our citizens. As such, Vail Valley Partnership's board of governors has taken official policy positions in support of Amendment 71 and Initiatives 98 and 140 on the state ballot this fall.

Amendment 71, known as "Raise the Bar Colorado", would greatly improve Colorado's governance by tightening the requirements for constitutional ballot measures.

Colorado law requires gathering nearly 100,000 signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Amendment 71 would require that those signatures be collected from each state senate district across the state. Specifically, proponents of a constitutional amendment would need to collect signatures from 2 percent of registered voters in each of the state's 35 senate districts to place the initiative on the ballot. We believe this is a common sense requirement as initiatives to change Colorado's constitution should require support from across the state.

Once on the ballot, the bar would be set higher to pass a constitutional amendment compared to a law change. In order to amend the state constitution, ballot issues would need 55 percent of the voters to pass instead of a simple majority. However, a proposed constitutional amendment that "only repeals, in whole or in part, any provision of the constitution" would still need a only a majority vote to be enacted by the voters.

Vail Valley Partnership's board supports these higher thresholds as a minimum standard to change the state constitution, believing that good governance still allows citizen initiatives and helps remove statutory legislative changes to our constitution.

Amendment 71 matters because the business community has to fight a number of anti-business ballot measures at virtually every general election, with a price tag running into the many millions of dollars. Colorado sees more citizen initiatives than any other states other than Oregon and California, resulting in an abuse of the process by out-of-state special interest groups. 

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Once an amendment has been placed in the constitution, experience through the past 30 years to 40 years shows that it is virtually impossible to change it, and many of the issues concerning proposed constitutional amendments should properly be addressed by the Colorado Legislature in statutory form.

Amendment 71 will safeguard our constitution and give a greater voice to all Coloradans about potential changes to our founding document. 

Initiatives 98 and 140, known as "Let Colorado Vote," would increase voter access, engagement and participation in Colorado. Specifically, Initiative 98 would open primary elections to Colorado's 1.3 million unaffiliated voters. Initiative 140 would restore Colorado's presidential primary election, moving away from the party-insider based caucus system, which discourages participation. These are important in a swing state such as Colorado.

The fact is, a majority of states open their primaries to unaffiliated voters, yet Colorado clings to an antiquated system. Colorado leads the nation in the growth of unaffiliated voters since 2008, and they now make up a plurality (37 percent) of active voters. (Sources: nonpartisan group "Third Way;" Colorado Secretary of State) and almost 50 percent of registered voters age 25 and younger are unaffiliated, and nearly 47 percent of voters age 40 and younger are unaffiliated (Secretary of State data).

Colorado has some of the highest general-election turnouts in the nation, but primary turnout has declined from 31 percent of active voters in 2010 to 21 percent in 2016. This is because the current caucus system limits voter participation. There are more than 3.6 million registered voters in Colorado, and just 180,000 (5 percent) participated in 2016 caucuses.

There is bipartisan support for Initiatives 98 and 140, with support from Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Govs. Ritter, Romer, and Lamm (D) as well as Owens (R). Similarly, former Sens. Mark Udall (D) and Hank Brown (R) and former state party chairs from both the Republican Party (Don Bain) and Democratic Party (Howard Gelt) are supportive.

The Partnership's board of governors believes good governance requires the participation of the greatest number of citizens, and that Colorado's economy will be better served by working to increase engagement of citizens throughout the process. As Colorado's unaffiliated population continues to grow and our state is increasingly important in election cycles, it is important to ensure everyone's voice can be heard.

We are going to have a long ballot this year in Eagle County, filled with national, state and local elections and ballot questions of importance to our community. We encourage you to make a point to search out and vote in support of Amendment 71, Initiative 98 and Initiative 140.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.