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Also on CHILD's list of supporters was the Colorado PTA. But the PTA's chief executive, Steve Mathers, failed to tell legislators that he was also a paid lobbyist of CHILD. That angered lawmakers such as Johnson and Democrat Paul Weissman of Louisville, who pointed out that Mathers was a hired gun.

Both Weissman and Johnson say that the more lawmakers explored the measure's ramifications, the more leery they became. But voters may not pay as much attention to the fine print before they go to the polls.

"I think it has a good chance," Weissman says of Amendment 16. "Who's not for the First Amendment? Who's for obscenity? It depends whether people go to the polls and maybe get bored or skip a bunch of these ballot measures. I think the supporters are hoping for no discussion of it."

Except among the true believers. Last week Dobson sent a special letter from his Colorado Springs bunker, pleading with his flock to back Amendment 16. A recent CHILD fundraising appeal from Armstrong harks back to the Amendment 2 conflict by railing against "homosexuals, pedophiles, criminal sex offenders and the other users of illegal hard-core pornography."

In contrast, 16's opponents are off to a slow start. At this point they include librarians, local booksellers such as Joyce Meskis of the Tattered Cover, national groups of booksellers and video-store owners, media giants TCI and HBO, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Although some stories in the local press have portrayed the fight as the PTA versus the ACLU, Senator Johnson says she thinks PTA members have been "conned" by the measure's supporters. And just who really supports Amendment 16 remains murky. For all their talk about protecting Colorado's women and children from hard-core pornography--Planned Parenthood's Reinisch recalls Arrington as particularly obsessed with "women and dogs"--the proponents don't have Colorado's prosecutors in their corner. The Colorado District Attorneys Council has decided not to take a position, says its president, John Suthers.

Suthers, the Colorado Springs DA, says he personally supports Amendment 16. But most prosecutors, he adds, are concerned that "proponents are raising wholly unrealistic expectations."

"The prosecutors don't want people going to them and saying, `There's a Penthouse on the shelf down at the 7-Eleven. Get rid of it.'"

On the other hand, Suthers says opponents' talk of the measure's potentially "chilling effect" on free expression is "pure BS.

"That has more to do with other currents going on in our state--the Christian right and all that," he says. "Some of the merits of the thing are lost in the shuffle."

Regardless of what Suthers says, national anti-censorship groups worry that measures like Amendment 16 would cause retailers of books and videos to censor themselves out of fear that they'll be prosecuted.

"Amendment 16 seems reasonable in its wording," says Chris Finan of New York City's Media Coalition. "But underneath there is extremism. We're accused of being alarmists, but what if a minority attempted to exploit the law to use it not just against hard-core porn but against any depiction of sexuality that doesn't agree with their own?"

The one thing on which proponents like Suthers and opponents like Denver attorney Dan Recht can agree is that Coloradans right now have more freedom of speech than is guaranteed under the First Amendment.

"Historically in Colorado, there's greater freedom of expression," says Recht, who represents booksellers. "For instance, the federal court says shopping malls aren't public places for free expression, but in Colorado we have the right to political speech in malls. This is about more than obscenity."

Recht says CHILD's talk about "protecting children" is "pure, unadulterated bullshit. There's a national agenda to restrict freedom of expression, and Colorado's an easy target. After all, it's the state that passed Amendment 2."

Mund, the Arvada housewife who leads CHILD, still insists that the issue is simple. "Censoring is illegal," she says. "We're just asking for First Amendment standards. I've been called a `blank-blank' and a `Puritan.' But we're not of the religious right at all."

Perhaps to emphasize that contention, CHILD's list of supporters no longer includes preachers. Also gone is Ringsby, as well as the Colorado District Attorneys Council, which was mistakenly listed last spring.

CHILD is now "focusing on a grassroots campaign," says Mund. The group's next report on its campaign contributions, due October 28, will be "much more diverse," she says. "Bill and Verna will be cutting back.

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy