Building a Better Colorado group discusses election, finances, citizen initiative

RBC I Craig Mayor Ray Beck, former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis, Moffat County Superintendent of Schools Brent Curtice, former Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner and Craig Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Christina Oxley were local hosts for a Craig community summit Sept. 23.

The Building a Better Colorado (BBCO) gathering was held at the Clarion Hotel, and the specially invited group discussed Colorado’s financial future as well as the state’s citizen initiative and election processes.
A total of 34 voting participants took part: 24 from Moffat County, five from Rangely and five from Meeker.
The group had the opportunity to respond to questions from the facilitators via electronic “clickers” that logged directly into a computer for immediate vote counts. Through the use of these individual small, calculator-like devices, it was revealed that the crowd was registered 74 percent Republican, 17 percent unaffiliated and 9 percent Democrat. The mix, of course, will be very different in the many of the 30 other similar community meetings BBCO expects to hold across the state.
The project held its first “top of the grass roots” meeting at the Western Slope’s Club 20 meeting in Grand Junction on Sept. 12. Since then, summit meetings have been held in Durango, Glenwood Springs, Montrose, Steamboat Springs, Alamosa and Trinidad as well as Craig.
In their invitations, BBCO stated “Colorado is a remarkable state with remarkable people who have done remarkable things. We can be pleased by our historic leadership in so many areas, but today, our state faces some real challenges that can only be solved by voters.”
These challenges, BBCO continued, include: the ease with which our Colorado Constitution can be amended; the conflicting provisions in our Constitution as a result; the decreasing citizen confidence and involvement in our election process; the length of time our elected officials can serve; and the imbalance between residents’ expectations of government services and the ability of our government to meet those expectations.
BBCO explains that a growing and diverse coalition of concerned citizens from across Colorado has come together with the shared belief that we can do better and that the path to doing better lies in engaging citizens throughout the state in discussions about these problems and exploring possible solutions. The intent, BBCO states, is to work “together to make the state that we all love a better place for ourselves and our children.”
After brief background presentations on the three subject areas from BBCO’s lead operative, Reeves Brown, a former executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Club 20 executive director and director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, BBCO used three break-out group sessions to work out recommended solutions for discussion by the whole group.
Generally, on the financial future, the Craig group largely favored eliminating the current statewide “hospital fee,” which helps pay for Medicare, from being included under the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) limits set in the Constitution, which further limits state resources in paying for expected services; “de-Brucing” from TABOR [named for Douglas Bruce who headed the effort to put TABOR in the Constitution in the first place]; creating more flexibility for the Legislature in dealing with TABOR limits; and creating a separate state education fund that would be exempt from TABOR limits. The latter could potentially eliminate the requirements of Amendment 23 that was passed by voters in 2000 to consistently increase K-12 funding—a mandate the Legislature has not had the money to fund—and then authorize local school districts to raise more money themselves for their schools.
On the initiative process, the group agreed, for example, that amendments to the state Constitution should be made harder to place on the ballot by requiring a minimum number of petition signatures from broad geographical areas of the state like each of the Congressional districts. Also, amendments to the Constitution should require more signatures to qualify than statutory changes. The group felt, too, that Constitutional amendments should have to have a super-majority, at least 60 percent voter approval to pass.
Regarding the state’s election procedures, one of the key areas of concern is that voter participation, for example, was down to 22 percent in the 2014 primaries. That occurred because 37 percent of the state’s active voters are not affiliated with any party, and, in 2014, 57 percent of the newly registered voters were unaffiliated. The more than 1 million registered, but unaffiliated, voters in Colorado cannot vote in primaries unless they register with a party well before the primary election.
Colorado has led the nation in percentage increase of unaffiliated voters since 2008.
While a few participants in Craig clearly wanted to continue and protect the state’s party caucus system, a majority felt that the caucus system alienates many voters, especially younger voters. The group generally agreed the caucus system should be replaced with a petition process for ballot entry and an open, universal ballot to be available to all voters, with the top two or three vote-getters moving on to the general election ballot regardless of party affiliation or non-affiliation.
The group supported the elimination of term limits for state legislators, capping years of continuous service at 16 (rather than the current eight) or requiring a candidate who had served the limited number of years to get voter approval by petition to run again.
Colorado held presidential primaries in 1992, 1996 and 2000 thanks to voters approving a referred measure in 1990. The Legislature discontinued Colorado Presidential Primaries in 2002 for budget reasons. The Craig group last week saw no need to re-establish them in Colorado.
Craig Mayor Beck said “BBCO is a statewide effort to bring civic leaders and local elected officials together in a bipartisan setting to engage in dialogue around the future of the state’s finances, the ease by which statutory and constitutional amendments can be petitioned onto the ballot and passed, and the nature of public participation in voting.
Beck encourages citizens and civic leaders to take the opportunity to change the course of Colorado policy by paying attention to the BBCO project.
In early October, the BBCO website (www.betterCO.org) will launch an engagement tool for any interested Colorado citizen to explore the issues, share their thoughts and sign up for ongoing updates.
Brown told the group in Craig that BBCO hoped to have their process finished and their recommendations ready by January for the Legislature to review. They then expect much of the work to be carried forward to initiated ballot measures for the general election in November 2016.
Participants from Rangely were Town Manager Peter Brixius, Town Counncil member Lisa Hatch, former county commissioner Ken Parsons, county Superintendent of Schools Matt Scoggins and CNCC President Russell George.
Meeker participants were school board member and probation officer Mindy Burke, county development coordinator Katelin Cook, county commissioner Jeff Eskelson, superintendent of schools Chris Selle, and this Herald Times reporter.