Tea Party sentiment fails to stop initiative changes

Though the power of the Tea Party weighed on the minds of some Republican legislators today, it was not strong enough to stop the passage of a resolution that would make it more difficult for people to amend the constitution through the ballot amendment process.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 01 passed second reading today with bipartisan support in the Senate. The vote, though, appeared to open a rift in the Republican caucus.

“The uprisings of the last year where citizens are beginning to wake up and push back on their government create a different context. The question arises, will government continue to do as it pleases and go where it wants or will citizens create effective checks on the political class.” Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, explained, after noting he had voted for a similar bill in the past. “In that high moment, I know what side I have to support, I know what side I have to cheer for, I know what side I believe in. We can work on creating a different standard for constitutional amendments at another time, but right now there is a near existential battle between citizens and their government. I know which side I am on in that battle and I ask you to vote ‘no’ on this measure.”

Republicans including Sen. Mitchell, Bill Cadman, Colorado Springs, Scott Renfroe, Greeley, and Ted Harvey, Highlands Ranch, voiced their opposition to the referendum, which if it makes its way to the ballot and is passed by voters, would increase the number of votes needed to change the state constitution through a ballot amendment from 50 percent plus one to 60 percent.

The concurrent resolution includes a provision that in order to get on the ballot the initiative must have gathered enough petition signatures in general and have gotten a certain amount from each congressional district. According to the Legislative Council using the 2010 figure, the total number of votes needed to get an initiative on the ballot is 85,854 while if SCR 001 passes at least 8,585 signatures will be needed from each of the state’s seven congressional districts.

Due to that restriction, some Republicans argued that only the very wealthy would be able to get their initiatives on the ballot. And they further argued The Taxpayer Bill of Rights was being targeted because of a grandfather clause in the referendum requiring only a 50 percent plus one vote to repeal constitutional amendments that were approved before 2013.

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, however, joined with supporters in making his appeal for the change. He said the resolution was a way to protect Eastern Colorado and the whole of Colorado’s agricultural community. He said it would limit special interests’ ability to level constitutional changes such as one in California he said would likely eliminate hog farming and egg production in the state. He said that in speaking to agricultural companies who are interested in moving to Colorado, they have told him that the ease of the initiative process Colorado uses is one of the main reasons they remain apprehensive.

The Wall Street Journal noted that the California initiative prohibits confinement of hogs, veal calves and poultry “in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.”

Sen. Harvey said the provision in SCR 001 forcing signature gatherers to go to eastern Colorado would stop initiatives that did not have a broad-based appeal.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, D-Durango, agreed with Brophy. She said she was in support of the bill because it protected rural Colorado from Denver and its shopping malls. “When you live in rural Colorado and you know that signatures for a constitutional amendment can all be found right here in the metro area, that makes us feel like we are not part of the state.”

Roberts said Referendum O failed because it was lost in the shuffle of other amendments and because supporters couldn’t raise money. She said this year, the business community is behind the bill and will be providing resources for its passage.

The legislation, Sponsored by Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, and Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, must pass the Senate and House with a 2/3 majority. In addition to other provisions, it contains measures that would make it more difficult for legislators to eliminate statutory laws put in place by voters.

“Freedom and our form of government are a two edged sword.” Cadman said as he stood in opposition. “It is a tough vote, it is a tough concept because we all want to protect our liberty, our freedom from those who we think would do something deceitful and dishonest, destructive.” Cadman said his vote was about protecting the people.

Spence, however, told the Senate the legislation was simply about taking it to the people and not allowing special interests to use the state as a testing ground for ballot measures.

“Let me just remind you that we are taking this to the people. This is not about special interest groups,” Spence said. “This is about taking the question to the people of Colorado, to the voters. Let them decide if this is exactly what we are going to do.”

Whether the rift on this issue will create a greater divide among Senate Republicans is yet to be seen.