Measures weigh down November ballot

Coloradans face 18 questions

By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

In addition to the presidential race and Colorado’s open U.S. Senate seat, in this election Coloradans also will face 18 separate statewide ballot questions on issues ranging from a ban on affirmative action to a series of pro- and anti- organized labor measures.

Some of the measures were certified for the ballot only within the last two weeks. That’s because half a dozen campaigns submitted signatures for verification to the Department of State on Aug. 4, the final deadline. Certification workers crammed extra hours for most of August, working night and day to verify the petitions and either certify or toss out ballot measures by Colorado’s Sept. 3 deadline.

In the end, only one of 19 measures didn’t make the cut — Initiative 82, which was designed as a rebuttal for Amendment 46, the affirmative action ban.

The fall ballot will ask voters to weigh in on 14 citizen-initiated petitions, dubbed Amendments 46 through 59, and four measures referred by the Colorado Legislature, dubbed Referenda L through O.

Negotiations crumble, right-to-work and four labor measures will stay on ballot

Despite a series of ongoing negotiations that reportedly involved the governor’s office, members of Congress and powerful business interests from throughout Colorado, talks aimed at removing five contentious ballot measures broke down early this week, and it looks like business groups and organized labor are headed into a costly political battle.

In a press release issued Monday, the campaign for Amendment 47, A Better Colorado, declared “in no uncertain terms” that its right-to-work measure would remain on the fall ballot. If it succeeds, the new constitutional amendment would outlaw mandatory union contributions by workers in unionized shops.

In response, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union revealed that it had pulled the trigger on $3 million worth of media buys for television and radio ads aimed at defeating Amendment 47.

“We waited to pay for our media until we saw (A Better Colorado’s press release). Once we saw that, boom, we paid for everything,” said Manolo Gonzalez-Estay, spokesman for Coloradans for Middle Class Relief, the UFCW’s campaign.

Attorney John Berry, who acted as the registered agent for the two original proponents of Amendment 47, Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier and Golden resident Julian Jay Cole, said the press release was issued in part because neither of the original proponents were included in any of the talks.

“It’s just been real curious to watch this unfold from their perspective. They weren’t involved, and they didn’t agree with the deal that was trying to be brokered out there,” Berry said, referring to Frazier and Cole.

Cole and Frazier said in Monday’s press release that, as the original proponents, they are the only two who have the power to remove the measure from the ballot, and that they have absolutely no intention of doing so.

“Amendment 47 is a freedom issue for every worker in Colorado,” Cole said. “To pull the measure before the November election would be insulting to every person who is relying on Amendment 47 to end the corruptive practice of forced unionism.”

Berry also is the spokesman for Defend Our Economy, just one of the campaigns that has emerged to promote Amendment 47 and oppose the countermeasures offered by organized labor.

The UFCW campaign is responsible for two of those measures, Amendments 56 and 57, both of which the campaign had been willing to pull off the ballot in the spirit of negotiation. The first measure would require any employer with more than 20 workers to provide health care benefits. The second would require employers to provide a safe workplace.

In addition, another union-backed group, Protect Colorado’s Future, is pushing two ballot questions of its own: Amendments 53 and 55. The former would ramp up criminal penalties for executives who commit fraud (read: former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio), and the latter would require an employer to show just cause before firing an employee.

Jess Knox, executive director of Protect Colorado’s Future, said his group also had pursued negotiations in good faith and had been willing to pull the initiatives, but stayed the course when backers of the anti-labor measures refused to back down.

Meanwhile, members of the business community also have taken positions. A few favor Amendment 47, but all oppose the labor measures. The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, which voted to oppose the right-to-work measure, has mobilized its political campaign, Coloradans for Responsible Reform, with the mission of defeating the four union measures. Spokesman Todd Vitale said the union measures would be “devastating to Colorado’s economy.”

CFRR isn’t officially opposing Amendment 47, however, since its membership is split on the right-to-work question.

Also, there was some campaign shuffling late last month when Bill Artist, the former campaign manager and spokesman for Defend Our Economy, left that group with several of his supporters and joined the CFRR effort to defeat the four union initiatives.

Artist said in a statement, “CFRR and our coalition found ourselves in total agreement about the mission at hand — to do everything we can to defeat these dangerous ballot measures. The best way to accomplish that mission is to get behind CFRR.”

Defend Our Economy, meanwhile, continued under Berry, and in a statement issued just days after Artist announced his departure, demonstrated the rift between the groups by reiterating its support for Amendment 47.

The Denver Chamber isn’t the only business organization opposing Amendment 47, however. Also standing against it are the Golden Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Bankers Association.

But a host of other business groups have endorsed Amendment 47, effectively dividing the business community. Supporters include seven other chambers of commerce from around the state, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, the Colorado chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, the Mountain States Employers Council and others.

Gov. Bill Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said the governor is still trying to reach an accommodation between Amendment 47 supporters and union officials.

“Never say never. Keep hope alive,” Dreyer quipped optimistically.

He added, “(The governor’s) first priority is for a mutual disarmament, for both sides to stand down, and he’s still actively pursuing that avenue. In the unfortunate circumstance that that fails, his message will be, ‘Vote no on all five.’”

Kelley Harp, spokesman for A Better Colorado, commented, “I think the governor needs to remain hopeful, because he’s one of the main reasons that the ballot looks like it does, with the actions of his office and the Legislature.”

Harp said he was alluding to two Ritter actions: his executive order last fall that allowed unions to negotiate on behalf of state workers and House Bill 1072, a pro-labor measure that Democrats championed in 2007. Ritter vetoed the bill in Feb. 2007.

At this point, an expensive campaign season looks probable. As of Sept. 2, the UFCW had raised $1.6 million (the report was filed before the $3 million media buy this week) and had $31,000 cash on hand. CFRR has raised $1.6 million and had $1.5 million cash on hand. Defend Our Economy has raised $59,000 so far and has $18,000 cash on hand.

Severance tax fight draws millions from oil and gas

Organized labor has millions of dollars to draw on for their fight, and Colorado’s energy companies aren’t shy about throwing money at their cause, either. So far, they’ve contributed almost $10 million to a campaign to defeat Amendment 58, which would cost the oil and gas industry an estimated $300 million a year in taxes if voters give it a thumbs up.

If the measure passes, it would devote 60 percent of the new state income toward scholarships for Colorado college students attending in-state universities. The rest of the money would be split to fund wildlife protection, communities affected by energy development and clean energy projects.

Coloradans for a Stable Economy, the campaign to combat Amendment 58, is being bankrolled by Chevron, Encana USA, Exxon Mobil, Conocophilips, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, British Petroleum and Noble Energy, Inc., to name a few. Each of those companies has contributed $1 million to the campaign.

Spokesman Dan Hopkins said that although the campaign is being financially driven by the industry, “We have a broad coalition of groups that are opposing this.”

He said a big part of the effort doesn’t require money — CSE has been mobilizing supportive groups to spread the word about the measure. Those groups include the Denver Metro Chamber, the Colorado Competitiveness Council, Club 20 and Colorado Consumers for Affordable Energy.

By contrast, A Smarter Colorado, the campaign pushing the ballot measure, has raised $1.6 million and has $275,000 cash on hand.

“We knew this was going to be a David and Goliath struggle going in,” said George Merritt, spokesman for A Smarter Colorado.

It’s not like Merritt and Ritter don’t have any organizations to call on for help. Backers of Amendment 58 include the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Environmental Coalition, the Sierra Club, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, and others. Ironically, one of its biggest supporters is former oilman Bruce Benson, now president of the University of Colorado.

And both sides have been flexing their bank accounts. The airwaves already are flooded with ads supporting and opposing the measure.

Also this past week, Coloradans for a Stable Economy organized an official letter from nine lawmakers who were in office in 1977, the year the severance tax was established. They called upon A Smarter Colorado to stop claiming in campaign ads that the ad valorem tax credit (a property tax credit that Amendment 58 would eliminate) was installed as an incentive for energy companies to come to Colorado.

Instead, the letter argued, the credit was created to offset high local and state taxes that industry members would pay under the then-new severance tax.

“For the credibility of your own campaign, please amend your campaign Web site and correct the factual inaccuracies in your cornerstone argument,” the letter reads. “To continue to subscribe to a storyline that runs counter to historical fact dishonors the men and women who served in the 1977 General Assembly.”

Among those who signed are two Democrats, former state Sen. Paul Sandoval and former Attorney General Duane Woodard, along with several Republicans. The signers also include at least one lobbyist, former Rep. Steve Durham, who is on the payroll of Coloradans for a Stable Economy as a political consultant.

Merritt called the letter “The (energy companies’) latest attempt to distract people from the fact that they get a $300 million tax credit.”

He also said the letter actually makes their case for Amendment 58, because the former lawmakers argue that no incentive was needed to draw energy companies to the state.

Confused yet? If not, consider this.

If both Amendment 58 and another ballot measure, Amendment 52, are approved by voters, then the new income to the state won’t go to scholarships anyway, said state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita. Amendment 52, a transportation funding measure that reapportions the state severance tax, would override Ritter’s measure because it’s statutory, while Penry’s Amendment 52 is constitutional.

Romanoff’s budget fix drawing GOP fire

Colorado’s Speaker of the House, Andrew Romanoff, is working on his swan song — a budget fix that would simultaneously remove some of TABOR’s teeth while creating a rainy-day fund for education.

Romanoff, who is term-limited, first tried running the measure as a referred bill in the Legislature, but couldn’t muster the necessary two-thirds majority support to get it onto the ballot that way. So he took the long way around and gathered enough signatures to get the Savings Account for Education measure ¬— which he has dubbed “SAFE” — on the fall ballot.

As soon as the measure, titled Amendment 59, was certified for the ballot by the secretary of state’s office, at least two organizations dedicated to defeating it sprang to life.

One, called Strike a Better Balance, is organized by leaders from the conservative Independence Institute, including that organization’s president, Jon Caldara, and the director of its fiscal policy center, Penn Pfiffner.

The other, Colorado at Its Best, is run by Dennis Polhill, who also serves on the steering committee for Strike a Better Balance.

Although Romanoff is marketing the constitutional amendment as a way to protect future funding for education, Pfiffner and other conservatives have lambasted the measure as an under-the-radar attack on TABOR.

“It’s a blank check with no accountability,” said Piffner. “We’re losing all the controls that have been very necessary, and we’re not being treated like adults. Instead, they put a sock puppet over here, and say, ‘Look over here! It’s really about education!’”

Pfiffner says the measure would exempt education funding from the 6 percent growth limit in the state Constitution, and would protect education only by repealing a portion of TABOR that requires the state to refund excess tax money.

State Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, also criticized Amendment 59 as an “Assault on taxpayers disguised as an education measure (which) just continues the liberal pattern of chipping away at the TABOR amendment.”

The idea, explained Romanoff, is to begin a rainy day savings account for K-12 education so that when there is ultimately another economic downturn, education’s budget won’t have to be slashed, as it almost was a few years ago before Referendum C passed in 2005. The measure also would repeal the mandates of Amendment 23, which Romanoff said put the state budget “on autopilot” by forcing it to increase education spending and taking the authority to address problems as they arise away from the Legislature.

“It would do something that a lot of Republicans and Democrats have been arguing in favor of for years, which is build up a surplus so we don’t have to slash services when times are bad,” said Romanoff.

He added, “Amendment 59 preserves the right to vote on taxes, which is the heart of TABOR, and allows the state to create a savings account for education, which is the heart of Colorado’s economy. I fear that Senator Mitchell may be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

SAFE campaign manager Ken Sanguin added that even if the measure passes, it won’t start collecting money for several years, because no TABOR refunds are projected to be available for the next four to five years.

Romanoff charged that mailers designed to raise money to oppose Amendment 59 have been sent to voters from Colorado at Its Best, but that the group has not yet registered with the Department of State, as it is required to do.

Polhill, whose name is listed as a contact on the group’s Web site, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Colorado at Its Best, however, has been registered as a nonprofit with the Department of State since 2001.

Rich Coolidge, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said no complaint has been received about Colorado at Its Best, but said that a political committee must register once it spends or receives $200. If it does not register, the group could face a fine of two to five times the illegal contribution or expenditure, or $50 per day for each day it fails to register as an issues committee.

Either way, the opposition may have waited too long to organize. Romanoff already has raised $789,000 this year, and still has $384,000 cash on hand. He has also lined up a lengthy list of donors and supporters, including the Bell Policy Center, AARP Colorado, the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Education Association and others.

Strike a Better Balance, meanwhile, “has not raised any funds or put out any mailers,” Pfiffner said.

“I don’t even think we have a bank account yet. Right now it’s an ad hoc group of people who are going out and speaking against this,” Pfiffner said.

Affirmative action supporters fail in bid for parallel ballot measure

The only group to turn in signatures for a ballot measure and be rejected this year was Coloradans for Equal Opportunity, which was trying to run a countermeasure to Amendment 46, dubbed the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative.

Arguably contrary to its informal title, Amendment 46 would effectively ban affirmative action in the state constitution by prohibiting preferential treatment based on gender or race. Proponents say it is designed to level the playing field by eliminating special programs for women and minorities because they are fundamentally unfair.

The measure is only the latest effort of millionaire Ward Connerly, a former University of California regent, in a state-by-state nationwide campaign to end affirmative action. Connerly already has succeeded in his home state of California, as well as in Michigan and Washington. Similar attempts also were made to promote ballot measures in Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma, but the measure will be on the ballot only in Colorado and Nebraska. In Arizona, the initiative was disqualified for lack of signatures, Missouri proponents missed their deadline, and, in Oklahoma, the measure was withdrawn after a legal challenge.

Opponents of Amendment 46 were trying to place a measure on the ballot that would have protected affirmative action programs already vetted by the U.S. Supreme Court, such as education programs aimed at raising literacy rates.

They failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, however. In the end, after a rare line-by-line verification by the secretary of state’s office, the petition was found to have only 68,195 valid signatures. The number required for a spot on the ballot was 76,047.

“Obviously, we were disappointed. It was a setback in our efforts to give Coloradans a reasonable alternative to Connerly’s craziness,” said Melissa Hart, spokeswoman for Coloradans for Equal Opportunity.

Jessica Peck Corry, a spokeswoman for the Civil Rights Initiative campaign, said Amendment 46 supporters were “elated” that the opposition’s initiative didn’t make it onto the ballot.

Corry and Hart accused each other of intentionally trying to deceive voters with their initiatives, but it seems that neither of them will have much money with which to campaign. Coloradans for Equal Opportunity has raised $280,000 so far this year, and most of that was spent on signature gathering. Only $1,651 remains in their war chest.

The Civil Rights Initiative camp is in basically the same boat, having raised $216,000 but retaining only $2,089 cash on hand.

That means that the Civil Rights Initiative supporters probably have the upper hand, Hart admitted.

“A big Connerly supporter, who I won’t name, said to me, ‘The genius of this initiative is that we don’t have to spend any money. We just rely on the opposition to spend and spend, and people still wind up voting for it,’” Hart said. “So what are we supposed to do, not spend? How do you counter that, if that’s their plan?”

Corry said the Civil Rights Initiative camp will deal with its lack of funding by drawing as much media attention as it can.

Hart added that a basic problem in opposing the Civil Rights Initiative is that it comes across to voters supporting — rather than abolishing — affirmative action programs.

She says that even friends and colleagues have read the issue that way.

“I have been shocked by how many people I know who are educated, knowledgeable voters who would have supported the language of (Amendment) 46 until I sat down with them and talked about it,” Hart said. “Connerly likes to say that a 3-year-old could understand this language, and this is demonstrably not true.”

Corry retorted, “Their argument is based on an arrogance that voters are too stupid to know what they’re supporting, and nothing could be further from the truth.”

She added as an afterthought, “We know that the people are with us, and we’re looking forward to Election Day.”