Personnel reform ballot measure passes; campaign finance addressed by electorate

The Colorado Statesman

Voters on Tuesday backed a statewide ballot initiative directing the Colorado congressional delegation to support efforts to overturn the controversial campaign finance Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and another that takes aim at state personnel reform.

The two constitutional amendments were overshadowed by the smoke created from a third ballot question approved by voters that legalized marijuana in Colorado. But proponents behind Amendment 65 and Amendment S say their efforts to bring reforms to campaign finance laws and an outdated state personnel system resonated just as much with voters.

Amendment 65 directs the Colorado congressional delegation to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting campaign contributions and spending. Voters backed the measure by a whopping 73.7 percent to 26.2 percent.

Proponents have acknowledged all along that the drive is uphill, noting that there is nothing they can do to require Congress to begin the process to amend the constitution. It has not been amended since 1992, and since 1789, it has been amended only 27 times. It takes two-thirds of the country’s state legislatures to approve ratification.

Supporters say it is the least they can do to get the conversation moving. Colorado Common Cause, an advocacy organization for open government, the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, or CoPIRG, and Colorado Fair Share, spearheaded the initiative.

“The fact that 74 percent of voters across the state said they want to see meaningful campaign finance reform sends a strong message to our congressional delegation and state leaders that this is something they should work on,” said Elena Nuñez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause.

The initiative took aim at the landmark 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in which the Supreme Court decided that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting independent political contributions by corporations and unions. The ruling opened the floodgate for massive campaign spending, which totaled in the billions of dollars this year.

“Voters sitting at home watching the political ads realized that money is pushing their voice out of the political process,” declared Nuñez. “If you can’t write a significant check, your voice is drowned out.”
No issue committees registered to oppose Amendment 65.

Amendment S: State Personnel System

A bit more controversial was Amendment S, which took the first step in 40 years to reform the way the state manages personnel. It was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Colorado Legislature.

The initiative worked as a companion measure to House Bill 1321, which established a merit-based pay system to replace the pay-for-performance system. Because much of the rest of the state’s personnel system is written into the state constitution, lawmakers needed to ask voters to back the full modernization.

Voters approved the question 56.1 percent to 43.8 percent.

The amendment makes several changes to personnel rules and hiring, including:

• Allowing the state to assess candidates’ skills in addition to current testing;
• Allowing candidates to be selected from a pool of six, rather than the current three;
• Making a veterans’ preference permanent in state hiring and allowing any veteran that places among the top 10 candidates to be interviewed;
• Changing the terms of the Personnel Board from five years to three years and limiting terms; and
• Allowing temporary employees to serve nine months rather than the current six.

The measure also gives governors the right to exempt up to 325 positions that are now merit positions, allowing the positions to be politically appointed.

The amendment had the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, who participated in advertising for the campaign.

Following passage, Hickenlooper said in a statement: “We owe a big thank you to Colorado. We are grateful voters saw the benefits in overhauling the state’s outdated personnel system. The changes approved today will improve delivery of services and give our veterans more opportunities to compete for state jobs.”

But not everyone agreed with the governor. Two opposition issue committees were established, including Responsible Colorado State Employment and Colorado Citizens for Good Government. Colorado Statesman columnist Miller Hudson and Nora Kelly, an attorney who represents many state employees, led Colorado Citizens for Good Government.

“There was really no basis for the politicization of the state personnel board; making it term limited and more appointments by the governor, I just don’t get that one at all, and I suspect it’s to dilute the rights of state employees,” surmised Kelly. “I think state employees have really delivered here in Colorado, that’s why it’s such a great place to live.”

Betsy Whitney, a Lakewood resident who led the Responsible Colorado State Employment committee, added that she is concerned the measure will lead to nepotism.

“There will be no objective standard for hiring anymore, and that makes it less accountable to anybody,” she said. “It makes it a whole lot easier to hire whoever the heck you want to hire.”

Peter@coloradostatesmn.com