THE BLOG
06/29/2016 06:57 pm ET Updated Jun 30, 2017

O&G Industry Targeting the Last Vestige of Democracy: The Citizen Ballot Initiative

Industry has followed the lead of the American Legislative Exchange Council by seeking to place citizen ballot initiatives out of reach for all but the wealthy. ALEC advocates making it harder to qualify referendum language, and requiring supermajorities to pass an initiative.

Heavily promoted by Gov. John Hickenlooper and lobbied by the oil and gas industry, with sponsorship by Democrat Rep. Lois Court and Republican House Minority Leader Brian Del Grosso, HB 15-1057 represented long-standing oil and gas industry efforts to require a "fiscal impact statement" on each page of a petition ballot initiative. Such a "fiscal impact" statement is designed to enumerate loss of tax revenue to the state (and not coincidentally, loss of income to industry) if oil and gas activity is curtailed. There is no comparable consideration of social and moral impacts, or even fiscal impacts of industrial activity on people, health environment and communities.

Fracking-restrictive ballot initiatives in various communities in 2012 prompted stepped-up challenges to the citizens ballot initiative process by oil and gas front groups. HB 15-1057 was regarded a preemptive strike against anticipated 2016 ballot measures to moderate or ban oil and gas drilling. Colorado Concern is among oil & gas front groups leading the assault on citizen ballot initiatives, and was the primary force behind two 2014 Colorado pro-oil industry ballot measures - one requiring a fiscal impact statement became the model for HB15-1057.

Earlier incarnations of these ALEC proposals have been heavily lobbied by industry in Colorado. A 2014 bill also sponsored by Rep. Lois Court called for doubling the number of required voter signatures to place an initiative on the ballot, as well as a percentage of signatures from each of Colorado's seven congressional districts.

Also in 2015, Senators Ellen Roberts (R) and Pat Steadman (D) introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 2, requiring voter approval in two consecutive annual elections for any proposed state constitutional amendment. It also called for public hearings by state officials in each of the state's seven congressional districts prior to the second round of voting.

Industry is advancing a similar initiative to the 2016 ballot under the rubric "Building a Better Colorado." Following ALEC's prescriptions, the measure calls for a 55 percent super-majority vote to pass, and signatures to include two percent of all registered voters in each of 35 senate districts. What is two percent on any particular day? "Sorry, you did not obtain 2 percent of registered voter signatures in four senate districts." The increased cost alone excludes initiative efforts by all but the wealthy.

The citizen ballot initiative is already out of reach for most. Common wisdom holds that the cost of hiring petition gatherers to obtain sufficient signatures is a quarter of a million dollars. Not a problem, say industry high-rollers. President of the Colorado Petroleum Association Stan Dempsey laughed at the notion that anyone would lack money to pay signature gatherers.

Always invoked as reason to put the Citizens Ballot Initiative out of reach of the people, the Colorado TABOR Amendment is a complex multi-subject initiative passed in 1992, before the single-subject rule for initiatives was adopted. Such a complex mutli-subject initiative is no longer permitted on the state ballot. The various parts of TABOR each deserve to be reformed by a ballot referendum.

The legislature ostensibly is pushing statutory instead of constitutional reform. Nevertheless, statutory law reinforces power of the legislature, as they can easily overturn a statutory initiative and the will of the voters with a simple majority vote - once again, placing the will of the corporate-friendly legislature above the people's will.

The Colorado Community Rights Amendment: Antidote to Corporate Preemption of Local Democracy

The Colorado Supreme Court on May 2 overturned the Longmont ban and the Ft. Collins moratorium on fracking and "storage and disposal of fracking wastes" within city limits. Both decisions were based on preemption by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act, overriding local laws passed by majorities in both cities.

Article V of the Colorado Constitution declares the citizens sovereigns and the citizen initiative the first power reserved by the people, superior even to the legislature.

If anything belongs in the Constitution it is the ability of the people to govern themselves. The Colorado Community Rights Amendment would prioritize the rights of natural persons over so-called "corporate personhood" rights. The CCRA secures the right of counties and municipalities to govern to protect the health, safety and welfare of their communities without being subject to nullification by federal, state or international law - so long as local laws "do not restrict or weaken existing fundamental rights or legal protections for natural persons."

The Amendment reinforces the basic right of people to self-government, as stated in the Colorado Constitution, Article II, Bill of Rights:

"All Political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government, of right, originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole."