28 September 2016: A look at governance and primary ballot issues

In any game, the game’s rules are more critical than the game itself. For if the rules are stacked against one team or player or flagrantly flaunted, the outcome will be guaranteed. That holds true for our governance. Ultimately only the power of the people to vote stands between a republic and an oligarchy or dictatorship.

In last week’s Courant, fellow columnist Greg Romberg made a case for Amendment 71 that would make it more difficult to amend our state constitution. Romberg raises an essential point: Amending a constitution should have a higher bar than passing a law. Since the addition of the Bill of Rights, the US Constitution has been amended only 17 times while Colorado’s has been over 150 times.

That might seem crazy, and perhaps is, but then Colorado’s history can be traced to the Progressive Era and the culture of the pioneers who have settled here.

The problem with Amendment 71 lies not with its intent, but with its over-the-top solution. It would virtually cement the current constitution in stone and provide for only amendments funded by big-money special interests, thus making it fatally flawed.

First, short of repealing existing amendments in their entirety, Amendment 71, which itself needs only 50 percent plus one vote to be enacted, would make amending current language almost impossible. While repealing current measures would still only require a simple majority, adding language to modify a pre-existing amendment would require 55 percent.

Second, initiators of future amendments would be required to garner two percent of the necessary signatures from every senatorial district. While high-minded in its goal, that provision would bestow veto power on a small portion of the population over an amendment that might be supported overwhelmingly by the rest of the voters.

Third, amending the constitution isn’t like it was back in the day. It now takes big bucks—millions of dollars—to get measures onto the ballot, and raising the bar would dramatically raise the ante. It would sequester the process squarely in the realm of the uber-rich such as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Addison. Then, we’d truly experience a bought-and-paid-for rigged system.

Two propositions address the way we select candidates. Proposition 107 proposes establishing a presidential primary, though it would allow for caucuses to determine other offices.

My take is one thumb up. I’d give it two thumbs if it would replace the caucus system entirely with primaries. While quaint and a wonderful opportunity for party members to meet others in their ranks, caucuses are very undemocratic. They are restrictive in that they meet at very limited and specific times in locations that are often not accessible. If one is unable to work that into his/her schedule and get there and even in the door, so be it. You lose.

Statistics show only around 10 percent of registered Democrats and Republicans actually participate in caucuses on a good—presidential—year, and they, of course, are the most passionate voters. We have seen how the Republican Party has gone off the rails over the past years being hijacked by its fervid rightwing. Not good for democracy.

Proposition 108 would allow unaffiliated voters to participate in the primary process by opting for one party’s candidates after they receive their ballots. That option would not be available for registered members of a party, which would be more unfair than the current system. I write more unfair because unaffiliated registered voters already can participate in a party’s primary. They simply need to make the effort to align themselves with it at least for the day. After all, political parties are not public entities like public schools and local fire and library districts.

So, yes on 107, but no on 108.

Next week, I will focus on the so-called Death with Dignity proposition and the minimum wage amendment.

In the meantime, please keep educating yourself. It matters.

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