Grand Junction chamber officials: Raise state constitutional bar

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Matthew Breman believes voters across Colorado should have a say in amending the state constitution, not just those on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver.

That’s one of the reasons the businessman and chairman of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors said he supports a ballot measure that would require the signatures of voters across the state to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Breman, who owns the Cranium 360 marketing firm, was among three chamber officials to speak out at a news conference in favor of Amendment 71, an initiative that’s been titled “Raise the Bar.”

Janie VanWinkle, a beef producer who owns the VanWinkle Ranch and sits on the chamber board, also said she supported the measure. So did Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.

The chamber board has come out in support of the measure, Schwenke said, because proposed constitutional amendments in Colorado often present a costly threat for businesses to fight. “This is a business issue for us,” she said.

If approved in November, Amendment 71 would change the process by which constitutional amendments make the ballot. Petitions for a citizen-initiated amendment to the constitution would require signatures from a minimum of
2 percent of registered voters from each of the 35 state senate districts across the state.

Existing provisions require the signatures of at least 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for the office of Colorado secretary of state in the preceding general election — as of right now, 98,492 signatures that may be gathered anywhere.

Breman said it’s easier to gather signatures in populated urban areas in Denver and the Front Range than worry about what voters in other areas of the state might think about a given proposal.

The geographic requirement of Amendment 71 would change that, Breman said. “The entire state has to be involved in the process, not just the Denver area.”

VanWinkle said that would also give people in rural areas a say. “All of Colorado would have a voice if the amendment passes.”

Amendment 71 also would raise the bar to pass a constitutional amendment in requiring at least 55 percent of votes cast in an election. Current provisions require a simple majority — 50 percent plus one vote to pass.

Amendment 71 would not affect the way existing provisions of the constitution are amended, but rather apply only to amendments adding new provisions.

Schwenke said the chamber board has pushed for a decade for an effort like Amendment 71.

She said existing provisions make it too easy to change the constitution, which has resulted in 150 amendments. That makes the Colorado Constitution more than 2.5 times as long as the U.S. Constitution, which contains only 27 amendments, she said.

VanWinkle said the ease of changing the constitution has made Colorado attractive to outside interests pushing their agendas or conducting social experiments.

Moreover, groups sometimes use the prospect of a constitutional amendment on the ballot as a threat to promote their positions, she said.

Schwenke said businesses face a costly election battle when those proposed amendments appear on the ballot.

In addition to supporting Amendment 71, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce board has come out against Amendment 69, which would implement the so-called ColoradoCare single-payer health care system, as well as Amendment 70, which would increase the minimum hourly wage in the state up to $12 by 2020.

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