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Ryan Frazier puts his job on the line with Amendment 47

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In June, an Arapahoe County judge dismissed Hines's lawsuit — but by that point, Frazier was busy defending himself against a complaint that his campaign was misleadingly vague about its contributors. Then came a lawsuit, later dismissed, alleging that Amendment 47 was on the ballot because of fraudulent signatures, and another menacing commercial noting that the company Frazier and his colleagues hired to collect signatures had employed criminals, including a sex offender.

"I'm from the South; I can take a little heat," Frazier says of the attacks, all of which he attributes to big labor unions. "We see this as David versus Goliath."

Frazier seems almost proud of the beating he's been taking, of the fact that his opponents, with a roughly $15 million war chest, are likely to outspend their $2 million-plus campaign by an enormous margin. It makes Frazier and his colleagues seem like the little guys, the ones idealistically fighting against the odds, while the unions play the role of the big, brutish bullies. While the large staff of his opponents, Protect Colorado's Future, has ensconced itself in a sizable office bedecked in dry-erase board lists and voter district maps, the pro-right-to-work campaign, A Better Colorado, makes do in a two-room office with mismatched furniture and an unmarked front door. The only obvious indication that the office has anything to do with Frazier's ballot issue is the "Yes on Amendment 47" television backdrop against one of the walls. "We were pretty excited when we got that," says spokesman Harp, one of the campaign's only employees.

This under-funded underdog image probably isn't completely by choice. While Amendment 47 has received endorsement from business groups like the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, the Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, several major business groups are noticeably absent, most notably the powerful Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

When the chamber came out against Amendment 47 in June, it had nothing to do with the idea of right-to-work itself, says spokeswoman Kate Horle, adding that if circumstances had been different, "there might have been another vote in the chamber that day." But the organization couldn't judge this ballot issue on its own merits. "When we looked at Amendment 47, we connected it to Amendments 53, 55, 56 and 57, which were the four amendments unions put forward in response to Amendment 47," she says. If any one of the four — which dabbled in fraud laws, health-care benefits, employment rules and workers' compensation regulations — had passed, she adds, "it would have devastated our economy."

In business circles, it was assumed that Frazier or Cole, the only ones capable of doing so, would pull the ballot issue they'd co-sponsored in order to get labor to do the same. That was the only way, it seemed, to avoid mutually assured economic destruction.

There was only one problem: Frazier and his colleagues wouldn't back down — even when very powerful people demanded that they do so.

"Let's put it this way," Frazier says. "Between the labor interests and certain Denver business executives, it was coming from both sides. Most of it was political in nature: 'Ryan, if you do this, your political future is in question.'"

There were stern phone calls, tense meetings, point-blank assertions that Frazier's intransigence could upset the delicate balance between Colorado's labor and business interests for a long time to come. But none of that seemed to matter.

"What I found out is, nothing changed my belief," says Frazier. "The choice was pretty clear: to not waiver and move this thing forward."

On October 2, organized labor pulled their four poison pills just hours before the deadline to do so. In return, they were joined by business leaders — including Bill Coors, Jonathan Coors's great-uncle and former Coors Brewing Company president, who had a falling-out with Jonathan's father in the 1990s over equal employment rights — and interests that agreed to donate $3 million to fight Amendment 47.

Now Frazier and his colleagues were on their own.

"He has unified people in a way that seldom happens," Jess Knox says sarcastically. "When you have businesses and labor leaders and elected officials joining against this initiative, that's really good for Colorado and really bad for Ryan Frazier."


Frazier is once again in a cheerful mood, despite the latest dispiriting news.

He's sitting in a back corner of the concert hall at the University of Denver's performing arts complex, calmly preparing for his first major televised debate on Amendment 47 — where he'll face off against Knox, the head of the organization that's been going after him all these months. "I'm feeling good," he says, even though a public-opinion survey just concluded that only 21 percent of those polled supported Amendment 47. "Notice that all those people had was the ballot language. We know from internal polling that if you go with just the legalese, our amendment struggles. But we know that if we're given the ability to connect the dots on right-to-work, our polling goes way up."

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner