Measures 46, 47 draw liberal fire

By John Schroyer

About 50 Denverites turned out Friday evening June 13 to hear a group of nine liberal-minded activists and labor representatives spread the word about a pair of “real hateful measures” that will be on this November’s ballot.

There was no shortage of political rhetoric that evening at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theater, a converted church in central Denver’s Uptown neighborhood.

“It’s a game these folks are playing, and they’re playing with our lives,” said Ruthie Johnson, president of the Denver chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor group that organized the event.

Johnson was alluding to Amendment 46, dubbed the civil rights amendment by its supporters, which would abolish all affirmative action programs in the state, and Amendment 47, known as the right-to-work amendment, which would cripple labor unions in Colorado by allowing workers in union shops to refuse to pay dues or agency fees to unions.

Opponents blasted Amendment 46 as an anti-minority measure that would tilt the political and economic playing field against women, blacks and Hispanics.

Both measures have drawn serious opposition from liberals in general. The group that gathered Friday night to discuss the proposals included labor representatives, a local minister and a spokesman for the Colorado Progressive Coalition.

Mark Schwane, executive director of the Colorado chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), went so far as to suggest that both measures are being pushed by the same backers.

“They’re all driven by the same group of people… with an agenda to destroy the middle class,” Schwane charged.

That doesn’t seem likely. Amendment 46 was filed by California activist Ward Connerly and his organization, the Civil Rights Institute. Amendment 47 was filed by Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier and is backed by a number of Colorado business groups.

But although the evening offered a few such overstatements, the gist was clear to all: both initiatives pose a serious threat.

“The fears are real that both of these initiatives could get passed,” said Gary Scott, the president of the Postal Workers Union.

Again and again, the members of the panel implored their audience, which responded with applause, to get the word out and tell as many friends and family members as they could about the measures.

The hope is to motivate voters early enough that they can defeat both measures, said Colorado AFL-CIO executive director Mike Cerbo.

“To the overwhelming public at large, this is not on the radar yet,” he said.

Alan Lee, the APRI’s labor liaison, added, “We always come a day late and a dollar short… We need to inform folks on the front end.”

And the Rev. Patrick Demmer, the political vice president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, warned that despite the historic political success of Democrat Barack Obama, the party should not simply rest on its laurels and trust political momentum to defeat such measures as Amendments 46 and 47.

“We dare not fall asleep at the wheel,” Demmer declared. “Anyone in here who believes that we don’t need affirmative action must be living in a different world.”

Demmer went even further, however, and remarked that he was “irritated” that the Amendment 46 campaign has “the audacity to put a black face on this,” referring to Connerly, who is black.

“It makes me wonder what side he was on (during the civil rights struggle in the ’60s),” Demmer said. “I wonder if he was on the side with the dogs and the water hose.”

When Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez finally received the microphone after the litany of comments in front of him, he couldn’t even remain in his seat, he said, because he was “too agitated.”

“This legislation is not just anti-people of color. It’s anti-Denver,” Lopez declared, to cheers and shouts of “Amen!”

But he wound his way around to a note of optimism, and told the crowd, “People defeat money. Those dead presidents don’t vote. We vote.”

Throughout the meeting, there was also an undercurrent of anger toward many liberal community leaders and Democrats, and more than once, audience members pressed the panel on what kind of action they plan on taking and how they could hold their leaders accountable, particularly in the religious community. One audience member asked Demmer flat-out what recourse he had if he was unhappy with Demmer’s leadership, and Demmer told him directly to go attend a different church if he was dissatisfied. The man smiled and clapped, obviously pleased with the answer.

Still, Lee felt compelled to address the simmering dissatisfaction he felt, and commented, “We have an obligation to call certain ministers ‘Judas.’”

He did not expand on his comment or single out any particular pastors, but the message was clear — the community could trust the panel; they could trust Demmer, Lopez, Cerbo and the others.