Pull Kristi Burton's string, and the wind-up doll may say a couple of things. The right of protection for every human being — that's one of her signature catchphrases. As are laying a common sense foundation and determining a concrete definition. But try to get the 21-year-old sponsor of Amendment 48 — the so-called "Personhood Amendment" that would alter the Colorado Constitution to define a "person" as beginning at the moment of fertilization — to admit that her ballot initiative has implications that go much further than establishing definitions, and the doll shuts down.
Kristi Burton is simply not wired that way.
Independence Institute president Jon Caldara learned this firsthand when he moderated an Independent Thinking debate between Burton and Fofi Mendez, the campaign director for No on 48. Despite Caldara's self-proclaimed efforts to "hold her to the fire," Burton displayed the icy unflappability and steel resolve of the best policy wonks, dogmatic in her black blazer and shoulder-length blond hair, a chilling premonition of Fox News sound bites yet to be. Repeatedly insisting that her only goal was to establish a concrete definition of when life begins so that people can reasonably debate the issues, Burton never gave credence to claims that her many opponents are howling from the rooftops: that, if passed, this amendment would have the potential to outlaw abortion, birth control and stem-cell research and, in some instances, pit a mother's health against that of her unborn child. She never acknowledged that her amendment could potentially lead to a legal battle over Roe v. Wade in the United States Supreme Court.
Instead, she held fast to her talking points.
"Those are issues that should be dealt with by our courts and legislature," Burton responded time and time again, referring to the thousands of instances when the word "person" appears in Colorado statutes, which would all have to be re-examined if the amendment passes. "But before we can debate any of them, we need to establish a concrete definition."
You could almost make it into a drinking game.
"She's got a million-dollar genuine smile," Caldara said after the debate. "She's vivacious, she's attractive, she's so on point you can't pull her off of it! When I own a nuclear power plant and it goes all Chernobyl on me, I'm hiring her as my PR flack.... She's an incredibly impressive woman, and she's got a future, for sure. I'm not with her on her issue — but the lady has a future."
Mendez was also impressed by Burton's skills, but believes the way she wields them is dangerous. "My take on Ms. Burton is that her enthusiasm and idealism are commendable until those qualities start to hurt real families and create a legal nightmare in the Colorado Constitution," she says. "In her discussion around what Amendment 48 would do, Ms. Burton refuses to answer any real questions."
Kristi Burton tries to answer a few real questions when I interview her in KBDI's green room, where her blazer-clad father is seated alongside her. But when I ask for the most rebellious thing she's ever done, she's absolutely stumped, and a day later still can't come up with an answer. She thought about getting a tattoo once, she says, either the Chinese symbol for "eternal love" or "enough," but she never followed through.
Born in Peyton, Colorado, to Michael and Debra Burton, Kristi was raised in a religious household and home-schooled by her mother, as were her two younger brothers. As a child, she remembers playing with goats on her family's ranch; in high school, she qualified for the nationals as a debater.
"A lot of people say, 'Oh, if you're home-schooled, you don't get to be socialized.' I don't feel that's really true," she says. "We did take some classes, art classes and writing classes, with other students, and my brothers played sports. It also gave me a lot of opportunities to try things that kids in school all day couldn't."
Like graduating early, for example. A tenacious student who early on dreamed of being a teacher like her mom, Burton finished high school when she was fifteen. She worked for two years at her father's real-estate firm, established a girls' group at her church and attended music programs to hone her skills as a vocalist and recorder player. At seventeen, Burton began taking classes through Oak Brook College of Law and Government, an online law school whose mission is "to train individuals who desire to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ through service as advocates of truth, counselors of reconciliation, and ministers of justice in the fields of law and government policy." (Oak Brook students are also encouraged to "rely upon the indwelling Holy Spirit to give them the power to develop within them Christ-like character qualities.")
Two years ago, she decided she was ready to act on the vision she'd had while sick in bed as a thirteen-year-old, praying: that it was her calling to protect those who couldn't protect themselves. Specifically, the unborn.