The architects of four controversial proposed ballot initiatives that aimed to do everything from protect gun rights to eliminate property taxes in Colorado have abandoned their petition drives after lackluster fundraising and an inability to draw volunteers.
Samuel Babcock and his sister, Elise Van Grinsven — both from the Colorado Springs area — had proposed the conservative-leaning initiatives after having discussions around the “kitchen table,” according to Babcock. The initiatives would have:
• Permitted Colorado citizens to carry a concealed or open handgun on their person without a permit;
• Created an “open general primary” to determine the top candidates for the general election, regardless of party affiliation, meaning candidates from the same party could be selected;
• Re-shaped state senatorial districts based on the geography of county boundaries and not on population; and
• Eliminated property taxes.
The brother-and-sister duo had received initial attention for the initiatives in April after the title board approved three of the proposals. The board rejected the property tax proposal on the basis that the measure did not constitute a single subject.
The liberty and anti-tax themes of each of the initiatives led to speculation that the proponents were working with deeply-rooted conservatives such as Douglas Bruce, the Colorado Springs author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), who was released early from a Denver jail last week for good behavior after serving 103 days of a 180-day sentence for tax evasion.
But Babcock shrugged off accusations that he and his sister were work-ing with fixed anti-tax crusaders such as Bruce, rejecting assertions that the duo was a pair of “political neophytes,” as some observers had painted them.
“We’re neighbors; we’re working people trying to find work to stay alive and stay afloat,” said Babcock, a 34-year-old unaffiliated voter who is currently finishing his master’s degree in mental health counseling and looking for work.
Babcock said that when he first proposed the initiatives, several politicos and lobbyists, who he would not name, came forward to say, ‘You don’t want to run these initiatives, it’s like the little brother on the playground picking a fight that big brother will have to step into,’” according to a paraphrased account from Babcock.
Still, Babcock and his sister plugged along, arguing, “All of this comes down to the basic three rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Right to bear arms
Within those three basic rights fell the issue of carrying a firearm without a concealed-carry permit, an issue of “life,” according to Babcock.
“This was about our right to protect our individual lives,” he said. “It’s great to have law enforcement, but their response time is not always going to save you, so you might require a firearm.”
Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, attempted to pass House Bill 1092 this year, which would have also permitted the carrying of a concealed handgun without a permit, but that measure died on May 7 in the House Judiciary Committee. A similar measure carried in the Senate, Senate Bill 25, sponsored by Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, and Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Cowdrey, also died this year, in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
Seeing no progress on the legislative level, Babcock decided to try his hand at the initiative process with Initiative 74. He believed people would support his contention that when and if a violent situation arises, “If you’re still alive, then it’s great to go to the courts and the police. But during that urgent time, a firearm is something that the courts can’t replace.”
The issue of “liberty” was covered under the open primaries proposal, according to Babcock. Initiative 75 would have created an “open general primary” to determine the top two candidates for the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Candidates from the same party or unaffiliated candidates could have been selected for the general election under the proposal.
“Open primaries has to do with liberty, that voice,” said Babcock. “Looking at the caucus processes, I’ve been a delegate going up to the state level, and it’s a mess. It very much favors the establishment… The way the laws are set up, it’s really not set up to allow much of a voice, either for unaffiliated or minor political parties.”
“Liberty” was also addressed in the proposal calling for senatorial districts in Colorado to be divided based on geography and not population, according to Babcock. The same issue of offering a “voice” to people was his motivating factor for proposing the initiative.
Under Initiative 76, senatorial districts would have maintained the current 35 legislative district seats by making the seven most populous counties their own Senate districts, but then neighboring pairs of counties would have comprised the remaining seats based on geography, including borders. The initiative would have run afoul of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting geography-based districting.
Babcock readily acknowledges that the initiative would have resulted in lawsuits and court challenges, but he says offering a “voice” to local communities is more important than worrying about the implications of a court ruling.
“This is about local control and trying to give more of a voice to different areas of the state,” he said.
Babcock had hoped that if his initiative made it to the ballot and was backed by voters, it could have forced a discussion on the issue.
Elimination of property taxes
On the issue of eliminating property taxes, the title board deemed the title for Initiative 77 invalid on April 19, saying that it did not comply with the single subject restriction.
The ruling came as a blow to Babcock, who argued that the initiative was necessary because property taxes are like an “infinite mortgage” that prohibits some individuals from the happiness of owning and maintaining a home.
“There’s no such thing as property ownership in the United States right now…” said Babcock. “That’s part of this thing, it’s about our independence; our personal self-sufficiency.”
“As long as we’re able to tax property, as long as we have that, then property can be taken from you — you don’t have a buffer, you don’t have anything to give to your family,” he continued.
Questions had swirled over where revenues would come from for the government to provide necessary and basic services. Babcock says he addressed those concerns by calling for the property tax to be replaced by another source of revenue, such as an additional sales tax.
“You have to open up the ability for some of those districts to tax in a different way,” he said.
Not this year
Babcock soon realized that his ability to run any initiative this year was hampered by his inability to raise funds and find volunteers. “We got off to a pretty late start,” he acknowledged. “It was kind of a shot in the dark that we could get them on anyway,” he said. “We didn’t have a huge organization, or a lot of money, or anything like that. We’re just private citizens…”
Part of the problem could have also stemmed from the fact that neither Babcock nor his sister were readily available by phone to discuss the initiatives. Instead, the siblings only offered an e-mail address.
“My phone number is private, it’s my personal phone number, we’re not a big organization, and I just didn’t want a bunch of lunatics giving me a call,” he said.