THE NOVEMBER NUMBERS GAME

Has a Colorado campaign season ever been less inspired? Less inspirational? After being fed a daily diet of Benson divorce drivel and troopersuperduper details, it's hard not to have fantasies of being chased out of state by a mysterious red Chevy until sometime after November 8. That failing, however, here's an arbitrary road map to this year's amendments and initiatives. Caution: Rough road ahead!

Amendment 1: Tobacco Tax
Where there's smoke, there's ire--and plenty of it. The arguments over this amendment have become as murky as the air around a college freshman puffing away on his first stogie. So in the interest of clearing away much overheated rhetoric, let's accept one thing as a given: Smoking is bad for you. Bad, bad, bad. And despite the overpriced ads being foisted upon us by the tobacco industry, it's perfectly fair to make smokers pay a price for their vice.

The fatal flaw in this proposal is not the fifty-cent surcharge (although Colorado's constitution hardly needs to have a tax rate written into it), but where the money it brings in--an estimated $132 million each year--would go. And that's where the amendment's supporters are really blowing smoke. As written, the measure would direct the proceeds to a new Citizens' Commission on Tobacco and Health, nominally located within the Colorado health department but acting almost entirely on its own. This commission would be charged with divvying up the proceeds to programs that promote and provide health care, encourage health-related economic development, educate the community a to the evils of tobacco and, not incidentally, keep the commission in business. You get the picture. Unfortunately, there's no real control over the commission and no way to ensure that the money goes where it's truly needed. Why finance a brand-new bureaucracy in a state already overloaded with them? Colorado needs health-care reform, but this isn't the way to get it.

Too bad, too, because having to side with the tobacco industry--which has made this fight Colorado's most expensive campaign ever--is enough to make you gag. Even so, vote no.

Amendment 11: Workers' Choice of Care
Opponents of this measure would have you believe that small business will grind to a halt as barely winged workers head off for fully subsidized aromatherapy. But there's nothing wrong with letting an employee injured on the job seek a second opinion or have a choice of health-care provider--rather than force him to see a physician recommended by his employer. Although the amendment comes with built-in controls--employers and insurance companies will retain the right to evaluate what medical care is reasonable, and fees will be subject to state regulation--its language is lamentably vague and no doubt will inspire several lawsuits before things settle down. Vote a wary yes.

Amendment 12: Election Reform
A moment of silence, please, for the imminent parting of Colorado's All-Time Fun Couple. No matter how the vote goes on Amendment 12, Douglas Bruce won't have Secretary of State Natalie Meyer to kick around any more. She's leaving the public eye; sadly, the same can't be said for Bruce. Still, Meyer has given the Colorado Springs curmudgeon a little something to remember her by: a 229-word (give or take a few hyphens) ballot title attached to Bruce's latest baby.

In fact, one of Amendment 12's provisions calls for all future ballot titles to be limited to 75 words. If Bruce had stopped there, his amendment would be a winner. But, of course, he didn't. Next he threw in some equally valid suggestions concerning petition signatures on initiatives. After that, though, he was off and running, extending petition powers to all governmental entities in "district matters," but also removing any responsibility for fiscal impact statements and summaries of those ballot measures. He also added sections that would strictly regulate campaign contributions (and severely penalize officials who violated donation limitations) and make judges subject to recall.

Taken on their own, some of Bruce's ideas have merit. But with Bruce, it's always all or nothing. Just say no.

Amendment 13: Limited Gaming in Manitou Springs and Public Airports
Tempting as it is to endorse this measure as a means of covering the ever-expanding costs of the still-unopened Denver International Airport (not to mention filling the coffers of Colorado's school districts, another supposed beneficiary of this crackpot amendment), it hardly seems fair to do so over the expressed desires of Manitou Springs residents. Three years ago they voted--by an overwhelming margin--to prohibit gambling, no matter how limited, from their town. Honor their interests by voting no.

Amendment 14: Limited Gaming in Trinidad
Rest period! A judge threw this self-serving measure off the roster after the ballots had already been printed. So you don't need to think about it now--but rest assured that the few folks in Trinidad pushing this proposal (and betting on their balance sheets) will be back in the future.

Amendment 15: Campaign and Political Finance
If only it were this easy to clean up campaigns. Unfortunately, not only does this amendment create unrealistic contribution limits and put burdensome reporting demands on donors, but it also creates a new commission--another bureaucracy--to oversee campaign finance laws. Our election system is broken, but this won't fix it. Vote no.

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