Dissecting the issues
Elected officials explain ballot questions
October 16, 2008
When Sharon Lausin showed up at American Legion Post No. 62 Wednesday, she had a pretty good idea of the election outcome she wanted. She just didn’t know if a yes or no vote on ballot issues would make it happen.
Lausin was among about 60 people who attended a Wednesday Wellness event at the Legion to hear Craig Mayor Don Jones and Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray discuss and explain the 16 ballot issues in the 2008 general election.
When the event was over, Lausin said she had it figured out what no and yes meant on each one.
“That’s was so good,” she said. “That’s what I needed. I don’t understand any of this. It’s Greek to me.
“They helped me understand what a yes meant.”
And that seemed to be the case for many in attendance, as one of the first and most frequent questions was, “If I vote for this, what am I voting for?”
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Jones and Gray also established with the audience several times that “no” votes would be in favor of leaving things the way they are, whereas “yes” votes would change things.
Jones and Gray started with proposed Amendment 46 and moved through the amendments and then through the proposed referendums, just getting through Referendum O as the clock was hitting 1 p.m., which was when the program was scheduled to end.
While there were moments when the audience got fired up, especially over abortion during the talk about Amendment 48, there also were plenty of quick issues that required less discussion, such as whether or not to vote in favor of removing obsolete provisions from the constitution with referenda M and N.
Jones and Gray started the event off trying to stay completely nonpartisan and unbiased, delivering explanations of the ballot issues with pros and cons that were out of the state’s Blue Book. However, in a few places, they also added their opinions about an issue’s affect – or lack thereof – on Northwest Colorado.
“It’s hard to answer questions and not be biased,” Jones said afterward. “Hopefully, we gave them enough answers to make an informed choice.”
Going down the list
About Amendment 46, Gray and Jones listed the pros, such as that discrimination of any kind is wrong, and cons, such as how women and minorities might still need a “leg up” against discrimination, in the Blue Book. Jones also mentioned that the amendment does not describe what “preferential treatment” means.
“That’s a gray area,” he said.
An attendee asked, “Don’t we have these protections already? Why put it in the constitution?”
Gray said that it was not a matter of whether people wanted to allow programs, such as affirmative action, that give preference to one group over another.
Amendment 47, also know as the “right to work” amendment, was one that people showed a great deal of interest in finding out more about.
Gray explained to his audience the difference between current rules governing union membership in private and public sectors, saying that in private businesses, membership in a union is voluntary, but members can vote make all employees pay union dues but in public entities, it’s left entirely up to employees whether to join a union.
“47 would change that,” Gray said. “No employee, public or private, could be required to pay union dues.”
Audience members asked Gray and Jones about whether people not paying dues then still reap the benefits of the union.
Gray said such employees still benefited from collective bargaining agreements but not always from other union benefits.
Jones said the pros and cons on this amendment were contradictory, with one listed pro that it “makes the state of Colorado more friendly for workers,” but “it makes it less friendly for workers
When talking about Amendment 48, the discussion grew heated as people expressed their views about abortion. The ballot issue would define a personhood as beginning at conception.
Jones and Gray tried to give both sides of the issue, then closed this discussion by saying that it was a “value judgment.”
“This is an emotional issue,” Gray said. “We all have convictions. We’re just here to talk about facts.”
Amendment 49 stirred up some confusion, even among the people trying to explain it. After some discussion, Gray and Jones had imparted with their audience that the issue would remove the option to have employers deduct union dues via payroll and a no vote would keep that option in place.
The discussion about Amendment 50 brought one of the more humorous moments of the lunchtime event, as the mayor described how the mountain towns that allow gambling would be given the option to vote on increasing betting limits and adding games, such as roulette and craps to casinos with a large portion of profits going to Colorado community colleges. When an audience member asked which community colleges would get the money, Jones said it wasn’t specifically defined.
Then, audience member Nancy Muldoon spoke up.
“It’s a crap shoot,” she said, motioning through the air as if throwing a pair of dice and drawing laughs.
On Amendment 51, the discussion was steered toward how many developmentally disabled people are on a waiting list for services. The audience asked questions about if people served by Horizons in Craig face waiting lists, too, and Jones said yes. People also wanted to know how Colorado’s state sales tax compares to other states and what the increase would do to it. Jones said it would move Colorado from one of the lowest to 17th highest of the 50 states.
The first of the severance taxes amendments, Amendment 52, was one of the places where Jones and Gray couldn’t help putting in a little opinion with the information. Jones wanted to make sure that people knew that a preference in new money for roads would be on Interstate 70 and not necessarily highways near Craig.
Jones and Gray then reminded everyone that amendments 53, 55, 56 and 57 still appear on the ballot but will not be counted.
The pair then moved on to Amendment 58, before the audience pointed out they had skipped Amendment 54, which is about unions and campaign finance reform, leaving the two elected officials blushing.
Next, they tackled Amendment 58, the other ballot issue about severance taxes.
Jones flat out stated that he had “a little prejudice on this one,” which would stop allowing oil and gas companies to deduct their local property taxes from state severance taxes.
“Whatever we generate, we’re not going to be able to keep our percentage of it,” he said, adding the Front Range wants the money “back over the hill.”
Jones said the property-taxes-instead-of-severance-taxes formula was a way for the county to keep the money from the companies in the county.
Questions from the crowd were about whether it could increase gasoline and natural gas prices and how Colorado compared with other states in severance taxes.
When they got to Amendment 59, the crowd seemed to be getting restless, as the questions were fewer and farther between. Gray explained for some people how the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and Amendment 23 currently work, and how this amendment would change things, such that funding wasn’t locked in for schools, but there would not be any TABOR refunds since the formula for how much money the state could keep would be changed and excess money would be put in a fund for K-12 education.
“Another tax increase,” one man said, stating his opinion on the measure.
Then, Gray and Jones moved on to the referendums, which come from the Legislature, instead of citizens.
Discussion was very limited on Referendum L (lowering the age a person can run for the Colorado Legislature to 21 from 25) and M and N (to remove obsolete provisions from the Colorado Constitution). And Referendum O, which would change the number of signatures and where they are gathered required to place an issue on the ballot for either a statute or amendment, only got a brief discussion, as the event needed to wrap up.
“The whole state of Colorado would be involved in putting it on the ballot,” Jones said.
People seemed to like the idea that signatures would need to be gathered from all of the congressional districts and not just in a major metropolitan area.
Plenty to consider
Gray said he was pleased with the level of involvement and the questions that the people asked.
“I’m always amazed at how this group is perceptive and pretty informed,” he said. “I was just impressed with the kind of questions, quality questions. It showed really good interest. : There’s a lot of information about these amendments. It’s hard to keep it in the right sequence. This is definitely a complicated ballot.”
When it was over, Muldoon said that she appreciated that Jones and Gray took the time to explain each of the ballot issues.
She said she liked that it was “a real explanation of what each one of the amendments mean. There’s a lot of legal double talk. : It’s a hard ballot.”
Eighty-one-year-old Jane Stout agreed with Muldoon.
“It’s hard for older people to understand it the way it’s written,” she said.
“They didn’t tell us how to vote. They wanted us to make our own minds up. They weren’t persuasive.”
Walt Cisar, of Craig, said he thought Jones and Gray did a good job of staying unbiased.
“Now, it’s up to us to use our own conscience and do the right thing,” he said.
At the end, Jones recommended that everyone head to the polls take a filled-out cheat sheet with them.
And most of the attendees left with sample ballots in tow and the answers that they were looking for about what “no” and “yes” votes really meant.
“Some of these ballot issues are pretty tough. I’m not sure that I understand them entirely,” he said afterward.
Jennifer L Grubbs can be reached at 875-1970 or firstname.lastname@example.org