DENVER – Forget “The Odd Couple,” opponents of Amendment 71 in Colorado could have their own sitcom, “Odd Bedfellows.”
The coalition opposed to making it more difficult to amend the state constitution represents the most diverse group of Colorado interests and individuals in recent memory.
There’s former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, one of the nation’s most outspoken critics of illegal immigration, joining with Padres & Jóvenes Unidos and other Latino advocacy groups.
Normally on opposite sides of the political spectrum, these groups and others have one thing in common this election – to convince voters that Amendment 71 would quell democracy.
“In my nearly three decades in Colorado politics, I have never seen, I mean NEVER, seen such a diverse coalition of organizations that are usually at war with one another come together like this,” said Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute. “What binds this coalition is a fear of unchecked power by the political establishment.”
Proponents, however, say the opposition is making the case for them.
“The groups opposing Amendment 71 are literally the one and same groups that use the amendment process for their own narrow special-interest purposes,” said Katelyn Roberts, a consultant for the Raise the Bar campaign.
It is true that many of the groups in the opposition coalition have used the constitutional initiative process to push agenda items and issues. But they say that is grass-roots democracy in action.
Greenpeace, an international environmental group that assisted with fracking initiatives in Colorado, is one of the groups opposing Amendment 71.
The organization, which in America is based in Washington, D.C., flew a “thermal airship” blimp over Denver and Boulder urging, “Vote no 71 ... Don’t let BIG $$$ rig our democracy.” It cost $20,000, according to filings.
Those opposed to Amendment 71 argue that only wealthy special interests would make the ballot under the initiative, as they would have the money to pay signature collectors.
Amendment 71 would require signatures from all 35 state Senate districts for a question that would amend the state constitution to make the ballot. Of the total required signatures – currently 98,492 – the number collected from each district would need to equal at least 2 percent of the registered voters in those districts.
Issues would then need 55 percent of the vote to pass.
Raise the Bar has seen significant funding from one of the nation’s wealthiest industries, oil and gas.
Of the nearly $4.2 million that proponents have raised, Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, an advocacy group for the oil and gas industry, has contributed nearly $2.6 million to campaign efforts, according to filings.
The opposition coalition also is assisted by out-of-state special interests.
A campaign effort by opponents included a 10-foot-tall “Trojan horse” wooden statue, which the coalition paraded around Colorado in an effort to convince voters that Amendment 71 is nothing more than an attempt to secretly undermine the democratic process.
The $10,000 for use of the statue came from Virginia-based Citizens in Charge, a group dedicated to “protecting and expanding the initiative and referendum process.” Opponents listed in its explanation for the contribution that Citizens in Charge paid Liberty Petition Projects for use of the “Trojan horse float.”
Issue committees formed to fight Amendment 71 have raised about $645,000 in total monetary and nonmonetary contributions, according to filings. Major contributions have come from unions, such as the National Education Association and Colorado AFL-CIO.
“The no on 71 campaign is funded almost entirely by out-of-state, big box special interest groups,” Roberts said. “Even their ridiculous Trojan horse was paid for by an inside-the-Beltway special-interest group.”
But Tim Hoover, spokesman for Colorado Fiscal Institute, said it’s an unfair comparison.
“If this were a ‘Star Wars’ movie, we wouldn’t even be the rebels, we are the Ewoks. We’re fighting with rocks and bamboo sticks and some vine. It’s nowhere equal,” Hoover said.
Both sides have been boosted by big names.
On Monday, actor Mark Ruffalo – who played the Marvel Comics character the Hulk in “The Avengers” movies – posted a tweet opposing the initiative that read, “Don’t let wealthy special interests rig our democracy and silence your voice. Vote #NoOn71.”
It was part of a Thunderclap effort, which uses crowd social media messaging to pump out a message at a selected time in an attempt to reach masses quickly. Thunderclap said the coordinated effort reached more than 2.9 million people.
Another superhero to many Coloradans, former Denver Broncos quarterback and current team executive John Elway asked to be part of a pair of television ads supporting the initiative, in which he says, “I love this state, and I’m worried about the games being played with our constitution.”
Amendment 71 also has the support of every living Colorado governor, and proponents have built a bipartisan coalition, which includes some odd bedfellows of its own, such as Republican and Democratic politicians who have clashed in the past.
The elected officials who have come together in support of the initiative argue that conflicting constitutional amendments – such as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which curbs government spending, and other constitutional requirements to spend on education – make it difficult for government to operate.
They point out that existing provisions in the constitution could be repealed by the same simple majority under the Raise the Bar proposal.
The ballot question also would not alter the statutory proposition process. Statutory ballot questions are easier to amend because language is not locked into the constitution.
“All the other side does is offer misinformation,” said former state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, a lead proponent. “If representative government doesn’t work, you still have the initiative process to do an end run around the Legislature.”