#41 and Denver

The official editorial positions handed down by Denver’s two daily newspapers – the voices of record that enjoy statewide influence – have taken dramatically different approaches to Amendment 41, beginning with their official stances on the ballot question last fall.

From the get-go the Rocky Mountain News opposed 41, as “sweeping,” “complex,” “draconian.” After voters approved it, the newspaper’s official position went something like this: Now that voters have made the bed, they, along with the politicians, must all lie in it.

By contrast, the Denver Post gave 41 its full endorsement, describing the amendment as a “blueprint for ethics” in government. As for all those “theatrics” coming from opponents, including warnings that childrens’ scholarships were at risk – well, the Post assured readers, “state lawmakers will polish it with implementing language.” And sure enough, after the election the Post indeed urged the legislature to buff that puppy

Read below for a few nuggets from the Post and Rocky‘s endorsements last fall, as well as their follow up editorials just after the new year, as the legislature was kicking into gear.Before the election, the Rocky Mountain News published several editorials in strong opposition. Among their arguments:

Yes, here we go again. Another well-intended group wants to insert a sweeping, complex law into the Colorado Constitution, this time in the name of ethics in government.

Now, we’re all for ethics in government. We bet you’re for ethics in government, too. No doubt proponents of Amendment 41 are counting on this universal attitude to put their draconian measure over the top.

But just because ethics in government are a good thing doesn’t mean that a detailed description of what kind of gifts and favors can and can’t be given to tens of thousands of public employees ought to be written into the state constitution.

As a coalition of opponents has pointed out, Amendment 41, if taken literally, could curtail such innocent and laudable activities as providing scholarships to the children of public safety officials injured in the line of duty; treating the children of government workers to a trip to Elitch’s; babysitting the kids of a government worker for free; and perhaps even having the family of a government worker over for dinner.

We are simply baffled as to why proponents wrote such a sweeping amendment. What problem were they trying to solve?

By contrast, the Denver Post gave 41 its full endorsement:

Opponents have raised some theatrical concerns – that the ban could prohibit school scholarships for children of janitors and other non-policymaking employees, for one example, or criminalize an auto dealer’s recreation league sponsorships, for another. We’re confident no one will interpret the amendment in that way, and even if they did, 41 creates an ethics commission that would surely reject such frivolous claims.

We know there’s a likelihood lobbyists will find loopholes in Amendment 41, but it still would create an obstacle to abuse and temptation and bring clarity to proper behavior.

If approved, state lawmakers will polish it with implementing language. Their best efforts will reduce the prospect of frivolous or over-reaching claims.

Here now is the Rocky Mountain News, on Jan. 8, chiding lawmakers to Leave it be! The voters have spoken!:

The authors of Amendment 41 have consistently claimed that the measure need not mean what it clearly says… They say the legislature can write an enabling law protecting the ability of government workers, their spouses and dependents from the immense problems created by banning their accepting any “gift or thing of value” worth more than $50 a year.

But such a ban is unfortunately what Amendment 41 imposes… Now that Coloradans have passed this monstrosity, it’s up to the state to somehow live with it.

And the Denver Post, on Jan. 10, urging the legislature to sparkle it up:

It would have been preferable for lawmakers to write an ethics statute themselves – it could have been much more precise and easier to amend. However, that didn’t happen, and legislative leaders have made it clear that when they return to session today, they don’t intend to aid the new law with implementing language. That’s an arrogant approach. Ignoring this chore would be a tremendous disservice to the voters who approved Amendment 41 and government employees to whom it might apply…

Citizen ballot initiatives are often burdened by vague or poor wording, and the provisions of 41 are a case in point. That has prompted some theatrical concerns – that the ban could prohibit school scholarships for children of clerks and janitors and other non-policymaking employees, for one example, or criminalize an auto dealer’s recreation-league sponsorships.

That’s clearly not the intent of Amendment 41.

This is part of an ongoing series on Amendment 41.

Click here to read the first installment: Colorado’s Hottest Political Football.
And click here see see what GOP leaders have said.

Cara DeGette is a longtime Colorado journalist and a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential. E-mail her at cdegette@coloradoconfidential.com.