It was a bad amendment back then, and still remains so to this day.
Amendment 71 — the amendment that placed sizeable burdens in front of citizen efforts to amend the Colorado Constitution — was voted into law by Coloradans last November. The amendment requires that petitioners must gather signatures from 2 percent of all of Colorado’s 35 Senate districts. On top of that, the amendment imposed a 55 percent super-majority for any newly proposed amendments.
There was no shortage of irony in the creation of this legal monstrosity. The creators of Amendment 71, also known as “Raise the Bar,” didn’t even bother to meet the minimal requirements of their own proposed restrictions. Did anybody take time to check and see if Raise the Bar gathered verifiable signatures from all Colorado’s Senate districts? Spoiler alert: They didn’t.
Also, fear-mongering about special interest boogeymen was a common narrative pushed by 71 proponents. Out-of-state carpetbaggers with deep pockets were targeting the “easily amendable” Colorado Constitution as a means to foist their corporate interests upon our state’s voters — or so the 71 proponents claimed.
This, of course, neglects to mention that the biggest supporters of this amendment were the oil and gas industry, who helped raise nearly $6 million dollars in support of 71. Now, only those with deep coffers — the very same special interests proponents warned us about — can invest the resources necessary to mount a statewide petition to amend the Constitution.
It should be noted that 71 was a solution to a problem that didn’t actually exist. Of the 155 amendments to the Colorado Constitution, only 42 of them came from the citizen petition process — not even a third of the total. The majority of the amendments came from the Colorado General Assembly. Amendment 71 set zero restrictions on state legislators’ ability to amend.
For those keeping score, only well-funded lobbyists and politicians get to say what goes into the Colorado Constitution now thanks to 71. Chalk up another point for unintended consequences.
Fortunately, the natives remained restless. A renewed opposition to this poorly designed and deeply flawed amendment has picked up steam. A lawsuit filed by attorney Ralph Ogden will question the constitutionality of the amendment in federal courts.
Details of the legal challenge were presented at a recent press conference that took place at Civic Center Park in Denver. Also speaking at the conference was a diverse selection of presenters: Dennis Polhill, senior fellow with the Independence Institute, and Micah Parkin, executive director of 350Colorado.org. As demonstrated by the speakers — one from a libertarian think tank, the other an anti-fracking activist — opposition to this amendment crosses traditional partisan and ideological lines.
Adding to the diversity of voices opposing 71 are groups like the Libertarian Party of Colorado, Coalition for Colorado Universal Health Care, and other organizations that originally opposed the amendment prior to November 2016. These groups enthusiastically iterate their continued opposition to any legal effort that removes political power out of the hands of citizens and places it directly into those of political elites. Furthermore, they seek to support the legal challenge presented by Ogden, and enthusiastically encourage others to do the same.
Jay Stooksberry is a member of the Libertarian Party of Colorado and chair of the Libertarian Party of Delta County.