Longform

WHO'S THE BOSS?

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DeLay needs to get about 54,000 valid signatures in order to get the amendment on the ballot. But her group can't start collecting those signatures until it has successfully steered the amendment through the state's ballot title process, which is designed to ensure that the ballot accurately represents the initiative to voters. The first hearing in that process, held in early November, resulted in the approval of DeLay's group's original language by an oversight panel headed by Secretary of State Buckley.

But the results of that hearing were appealed just two days later. Katie Reinisch, Lewis L. Kelley, executive director of the Colorado Coalition for the Protection of Children, and Dr. James Allen McGregor, an epidemiologist and adolescent health expert at the University of Colorado's Health Sciences Center, filed for a rehearing based on three issues. Their appeal argues that the proposed amendment violates Colorado's single-subject ballot law; that the explanation of the amendment fails to express correctly and fairly the meaning and true intent of the law; and, finally, that the fiscal impact statement doesn't provide sufficient detail. "We're prepared to take it all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to," says Reinisch.

But DeLay is anything but worried. "We will gather plenty of signatures; we will pass the quota for valid signatures, therefore putting it onto the 1996 ballot, and it should win with a high majority," she says confidently.

Denver political analyst and pollster Floyd Ciruli takes a more cautious view of the amendment's future. "This will be a pretty serious debate with a lot of people in the middle," he predicts. "The liberals will engage and say this is a back-door effort to make sex education illegal. Conservatives will say no, this is about parental versus government rights."

In addition, says Ciruli, Colorado voters traditionally have been leery about ballot initiatives that on their face appear innocuous. "During the last election, there was an individual who put on the ballot an initiative related to welfare," Ciruli says. "On its surface it was also appealing, [requiring that] biological parents refund state medical assistance payments as an inhibitor to children having babies. But it lost."

Passage of a parental rights amendment is "not a foregone conclusion, that's for sure," Ciruli concludes. "It depends who lines up on what side. It's going to be a big battle."

And it's a battle John Spearing is more than willing to fight to the bitter end. "We don't want the clinics, social workers or anything like that" in schools, he says. "I may be accused of having a self-serving agenda, but that's okay. I'm not ashamed of it.

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Michelle Johnston