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.

Amendment 16: Obscenity
In one of the quirkiest coalitions of the campaign season, Denver socialites have joined with porn-again Christians to push for Amendment 16, which would allow local communities to set the standards for what they deem obscene. (My nomination: the ungodly amount of attention paid to high society in Denver's dailies.) Not only does this measure raise the specter of censorship, but it's entirely unnecessary. While Colorado's constitution generously supports freedom of expression, there's always the U.S. Constitution to put the brakes on the fun. Vote no.

Amendment 17: Term Limits
Term limits are this decade's pet-rock fad of the conservative movement--and a real millstone around the necks of truly valuable politicians. Colorado was one of the first states to adopt term limitations four years ago; this measure would extend those restrictions by limiting local elected officials to two consecutive terms and congressional representatives to three--for a total of six years in the House, hardly enough time to unpack their pencils, much less affect policy. By passing Amendment 17, Colorado would essentially strip its congressional delegation of any real power--and discourage many able candidates on the local level.

If Republicans really want to get rid of Pat Schroeder, why don't they try running--and funding--a viable candidate?

Vote no.

Amendment 18: State Medical Assistance Repayment
Remember, we're not talking trust-fund babies here. Although the ostensible rationale for this measure is to hold families accountable for their offspring's actions, it's hard to hold them accountable when they don't have anything in their accounts. This amendment would require that Medicaid costs incurred in pregnancy and birth be repaid by the parent not directly involved (presumably the father) or, if that parent is a minor, repaid by the baby's grandparents. Besides the fact that this amendment would require the state to seek waivers from conflicting federal statutory provisions, wouldn't it make more sense to let the relatives concentrate on supporting the baby instead of hocking their belongings to pay for the birth? Vote no.

Special bonus questions!

Referendum A: Single Subject for Initiatives and Referenda
After wading through this year's ballot (particularly the muck and mire of Amendment 12), most voters will find it difficult to fault the notion of confining any measure proposed by initiative or referendum to a single subject--and making sure that that subject is clearly expressed in the title. No more gambling bills disguised as school-revenue sources! Critics of the proposal--which was endorsed by 99 percent of Colorado's lawmakers--point to snafus in Florida, where a similar measure has tied up initiatives in the courts. But since Colorado's proposals invariably see plenty of legal action before they make the ballot, it's unlikely that this measure would do anything but help untangle the mess. Vote yes.

Referendum B: Ballot Information Booklet
Ditto. The General Assembly's Legislative Council already prepares a handy pro/con analysis of ballot measures that is enormously helpful. This proposal would call for sending it out to all Colorado voters rather than making it available on demand. (Extra points this election to state representative Ken Gordon, who sent the council's analysis to voters at his own expense.) By the time you've gotten this far, B should be a no-brainer. Vote yes and I won't have to write this election-year column again.

Referendum C: Post-Conviction Bail
Of all the mind-numbing minutiae on this year's ballot, C may be the winner. It purportedly cleans up a constitutional provision adopted by voters in 1982 that may have inadvertently created an absolute constitutional right to post-conviction bail for most types of convicted offenders. But then again, it may not.

When in doubt, remember: You should never end a sentence with a proposition. Vote no.

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