Amendment 46, Initiative 82 backers go toe-to-toe in accusations

Liar, liar! Pants on fire!

By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The political finger-pointing over Amendment 46, also known as Colorado’s “Civil Rights Initiative,” has escalated in recent weeks, with each side continually accusing the other of lying in order to get onto the ballot.

On Tuesday, proponents of Amendment 46, which would abolish affirmative action programs in Colorado, revealed a radio ad campaign denouncing a competing initiative that they say has been designed as a toothless parallel of their measure.

“A new deceptive issue, Initiative 82, seeks to undermine the will of the voters,” the radio ad intones.

Initiative 82 is backed by the “No on 46” campaign, and would protect state-funded programs for women and minorities that are being targeted by Amendment 46. It also bans “preferential treatment” by the government, as would Amendment 46, but Initiative 82 defines “preferential treatment” as quota systems and other practices that have been overturned as discriminatory by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ad further quotes a March editorial in
The Rocky Mountain News in which conservative commentator Vincent Carroll asserted that Initiative 82 backers “have broken new ground in abuse of the initiative process.”

“Now they’re sending paid signature gatherers into our community to mislead us. Don’t be fooled. Don’t sign (Initiative) 82. It doesn’t end race and gender preferences or discrimination in hiring, contracting and education,” the ad continues.

Craig Hughes, spokesman for the “No on 46” campaign and Initiative 82 backers, asserted that the Amendment 46 ad was “factually challenged,” and said Carroll had been writing about a precursor to Initiative 82, a measure then numbered Initiative 61, which had the same aims as Initiative 82 but was too vague to gain approval from the state’s title board.

“Maybe before they attack us, they should get their facts straight,” Hughes said.

He further argued, as opponents have for months, that the Amendment 46 campaign undercuts exactly what it says it aims to uphold — civil rights.

Jessica Peck Corry, a spokeswoman for the Amendment 46 campaign (and policy analyst for the conservative think tank the Independence Institute), laughed at Hughes’ complaint about the ad and said the use of Carroll’s quote was appropriate.

“Same people, same campaign, same message,” Corry said.

She went on to lambaste the “No on 46” campaign for “lying” during their signature-gathering process, a charge her opponents first leveled, perhaps ironically, against Amendment 46 circulators as early as February.

Six complaints were filed with the Colorado Department of State earlier this year by citizens who wanted to pull their names from petitions supporting Amendment 46 after they learned that the measure would abolish — rather than support — affirmative action. On July 7, Denver District Court Judge William Robbins agreed to review, on his own, a “sample” of the roughly 130,000 signatures submitted by the Amendment 46 backers to obtain a spot on the ballot. Opponents alleged that the Amendment 46 petition circulators broke state law and committed fraud in their signature gathering.

Then last week, the other shoe dropped when a reporter for the conservative blog Face the State recorded an Initiative 82 petition circulator, identified only as “Janelle,” stating to a potential signatory that Amendment 46 would affect battered women’s shelters and even keep women from holding jobs in “certain companies,” a charge that Corry said was “ridiculous.”

“We have proof that they’re lying,” Corry crowed.

Hughes confirmed that the circulator, who was in the employ of Fieldworks, a petition-gathering firm his group hired, had been reprimanded and that the instructions to circulators had been clarified.

“Our circulator should not have said that, but it’s understandable that people would be confused over what this would do, given that the proponents refuse to say what this would or would not impact,” Hughes said.

He argued that another major problem with Amendment 46 is it doesn’t target any specific programs, but adds a prohibition of preferential treatment to the Colorado Constitution without clearly defining what it is banning. That, Hughes said, means that to ban any particular program, legal action would be required. It also means the courts would probably wind up defining the term “preferential treatment” and its scope, instead of the voters or state government.

“The problem with Amendment 46 is it’s ridiculously complex, with unknown and far-reaching consequences, and they also refuse to say what programs will be affected,” Hughes said. “You don’t know what it would do.”

He said attorney Richard Westfall, who argued the case for Amendment 46 before the state title board, had refused to speculate on which programs would or would not be affected by the constitutional change. Westfall called such speculation a “slippery slope” that he didn’t want to go down.

Corry countered that the measure wouldn’t touch programs for the poor or oppressed, only programs that are specifically designed around minority status.

“The whole thing is so false, to suggest that our initiative is going to abolish any programs is so ridiculous,” she said. “The purpose is to open all programs up to all people, regardless of race or gender.”

Corry added, “I don’t need the government to spoon feed me success. I can do it on my own. What we’re advocating is colorblind affirmative action.”

Amendment 46 was certified for the November ballot in March. Initiative 82 proponents have until Aug. 4 to submit the required 76,047 signatures to gain a spot on the ballot.