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November 17, 2007 05:25 PM UTC

Colorado Constitutional Convention

  • by: Dan Willis

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

In another thread, the possibility was raised that Andrew Romanoff may be eyeing calling a Constitutional Convention and that he would be a natural chair for such an event.

Here is the process by which a Constitutional Convention would be called and how it would play out if Andrew (or any else for that matter) gets the ball rolling in 2008:

1. The legislature (or a citizen’s petition) puts a question on the ballot asking the voters to call a Constitutional Convention. (say in 2008)

2. If it is successful, at the following general election (2010), two people will be elected from each senate district to form the convention, which has to convene in a few months after they are elected.

3. The Convention would meet throughout much of 2011, having public testimony on various issues, much like the legislature operates.

4. The proposed changes, or a new constitution altogether, would be submitted to the voters for ratification in 2012.

So assuming everything flowed without interruption, the earliest we could have a new constitution would be Jan 1, 2013.


44 thoughts on “Colorado Constitutional Convention

  1. I think overhauling the Colorado Constitution is long overdue, but doubt whether the process for making such sweeping changes is realistically achievable.

    There would be 70 ELECTED members of the Convention who would have to agree on and draft a Constitution.  Can that work?  I believe the workings of the legislature and interactions of bloggers provide some insight into how effective such a body might be.

    The Colorado General Assembly is made up of elected individuals from throughout the state.  In the last couple decades, I think it’s been rare (there are couple single-issue examples) that they rose above partisan politics and special interests to work towards a common interest result.  In my opinion, they have shown a capability to debate narrow matters (e.g., should smoking be allowed in public places) rather than holistic issues (e.g., what should be included in the over-arching governing document for the state of Colorado). 

    Blogs are also people who get together to discuss issues.  Just look at how warm, collaborative, and intellectually engaged the discussions are on this blog.  People on blogs always make an effort to understand the views of others.  Surely, such a dynamic proves that it would be easy to draft a Constitution.

    Then, once the Constitution is drafted it would become subject to real-politik and put up to a vote of the people.  Special interests would rise up and urge rejection if the Constitution did not include their issue AND mandate the specific result they want (unions, abortion, gun control, smoking, same-sex marriage, health care, global warming, school funding, property taxes, etc.).

    1. …I would welcome it. Our state constituion toally nneds to be overhauled. I am of the belief all those single-issue items mentioned in bpilgram’s post above should be kept out of the constituion.

      A constitution should be very basic and very simple: establish the government, give a very high-level framework under which that government operates, and leave the details to be made and changed by legislation.

      I suppose I should disclose my interest in this. If there were to be a Constitutional Convention, I would very likely run for one of the convention slots. I would argue for a very lean document that has the flexibility to allow non-constitutional legislation to be passed and repealed as needs warrant.

        1. That would be my dream entry into elected politics, assuming someone doesn’t give me a good reason to run for something sooner!

          I’m not a lawyer, but the structure of government is a big interest of mine.  Colorado could definitely use a re-vamp in that department – a return to a basic structure and rights document uncluttered by issue items.

      1. I, too, would welcome such a Convention, but I’m doubtful that it would accomplish great things.

        Members of the Constitutional Convention would be elected in each Senate District, which — unless some sort of divine intervention happens — seems unlikely to produce an especially enlighted group of folks akin to those who drafted the federal Constitution.  No offense, but more likely, representation would consist of political activists who were focused on beating the “Damn Dems” or “Corrupt Repubs”, or political insiders annointed by their political party (D or R), rather than principled, thoughtful visionaries focused on what’s best for the state.  Think any Unaffiliated representatives would be elected?  I doubt it and believe that would be wrong.

        I suspect that the mix would mirror the mix of folks in the Senate and result in the same partisan political bickering that characterizes government today.

        1. I think that the average voter is only vaguely aware of how messy our state constitution is, which means that they’d take only a minimal interest in how the proceedings go. (Hopefully the newspapers would write editorials supporting it – regardless of your political stripe it’s hard not to conclude that serious cleanup is required.)

          The problem nowadays is that powerful interest groups have discovered the magic of legislating via ballot box, and this happens all across the country. They’d exert all the influence  on the convention to come up with something that would still mean they could easily do this, and they’d probably fight it tooth and nail before it reached that point. With their deep pockets and ability to manipulate ill-informed voters, it will be hard to fight back. Add this to the current state of intraparty hostility and you don’t have a recipe for a better document. (Thankfully the people still have to ratify it, don’t they?)

          Maybe I’m underestimating the average voter’s grasp of the situation, but I think most if not all of the proposed amendments would lose if the electorate understood all the implications of voting popular initiatives into the constitution.

  2. …my guess is that economic interests had their hands in the process but that the single-issue, social issue lobbyists (both left and right) were nowhere to be seen because they didn’t exist then.
      Imagine the pandemonium that wil erupt if there is a constitutional convention in this day and age…..God only knows what the end product will be, but it will be very entertaining to watch it in the making!
      One protection which we have is that the U.S. Constitution requires that state governments be secular, republican forms of government (although what exactly that means would be up to some activist judge).
      Would Andrew Romanoff really want to be the ring leader in this three-ringed circus?

    1. I’m not sure I could define either of these as “limits” given the horses that have already left the barn.

      Secular.  One of the legal arguments against school vouchers is that they would be spent at religious schools, thus, violating the separation of church and state.  However, tuition vouchers under the GI Bill are redeemable at any university — secular or religious.  Likewise, Medicare, Medicaid and other government health care payments are also redeemable at hospitals with religious foundations.

      Republican.  Our Congress — the same people who are now running for President — passed the Real ID Act.  Under that Act, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is empowered to waive ANY law to facilitate building a fence along the Mexican Border.  Appeals of the agency action may only be raised within 60 days the decision and only if the appeal raises Constitutional issues.  In Colorado, gaming taxes are set by the Gaming Commission, an administrative agency comprised of appointed officials who are not elected and not accountable to the electorate.  It’s akin to empowering the IRS to set your tax rates and clearly a legislative activity delegated to an administrative agency.  What does Republican mean when any power — e.g., the power to waive laws, the power to tax — can be delegated to an appointed executive branch official or agency? 

      1. One can argue that GI Bill vouchers are nothing more than a specialized form of compensation.  We cannot regulate where government employees spend their money in re religious donations, and it is that limitation that we’d be imposing on GIs who have earned their educational vouchers.

        Regarding Republican government, I think we’re in agreement – the Legislature should control legislative issues.  It’s one thing to delegate regulation under guidelines created in law to an administrative body – no Legislature has the time to finagle all the details – but it’s another when the Legislature effectively passes on their legislative duties to the Administrative branch of government.  Tax rates, unregulated authority to condemn or override all other law, and the delegation of war authorization all bypass the spirit of the system as it was designed.  But I don’t think that it’s any defect of the Constitution as currently designed that led us to this point.

  3. Would be either built into the new constitution or just done away with, or other funding guidelines put forth, no?

    Although the CO constitution no longer effects me, I believe that it is time to at least discuss it.  We have patches on the patches on the patches on the inner tube.

    1.   Dear God, please do away with all of that crap that doesn’t belong in a state constitution!  Isn’t that one of the main reasons for discussing the possibility of such a const. convention?
        I voted for A-23 back in 2000 only because of TABOR.  A few years back (I believe it was just prior to Ref. C & D), there was some talk about suspending both TABOR and A-23 as a compromise between R’s and D’s. 
        But the wing nuts in GOP (IIRC, led by John Andrews) balked at the suggestion….so they ended up with TABOR suspended but A-23 remaining in effect.
        How’d that turn out, guys?

      1. All of the ticky details removed from the Constituion and be worked out in the statutes.

        However, I would support a high-level constitutinal clause that keeps the core principal of TABOR: tax or debt-increases need to be approved by voters.

        As for Amendment 23, that is waaaaay to detailed for a constitution. I would be okay with the constitution having a generic clause stating public education will be adequately funded by the state, but leave all of the details how to do that in the statutes.

          1. ….these items could be included in the text of the proposed constitution itself.  And I suspect voters would not be able to mix-and-match diferent sections or articles.  It would be voted upon as a package deal…..

            1. Can the Convention propose NON-CONSTITUTIONAL language to move things like TABOR and Amdt. 23 from the Constitution and into statute?

              I guess one of the Constitutional provisions could be: “blah blah blah” is enacted into statute by passage of this Constitution.  This section of the Constitution is obsoleted immediately after its enactment.

  4. There might be some benefit to a Constitutional Convention… but it would cost millions of dollars, so who, praytell, would foot the bill? Colorado taxpayers?

      1.   But if the election for delegates is based on the 35 state senate districts, and if the most recent voting trends continue over into delegate selection process, then we could see the convention split between 30 hard right wing nuts and 40 center-left Dems.
          That’s workable…….

  5. It’s way pat time to bring what we have into the modern era. And to clean out all the crap that has built up in it over the years.

    No the final product won’t be perfect – but it will be a lot better and cleaner than what we have. And it could very well end up that we get to vote on a constitution and a small set of amendments at the same time that leave the final yes/no of a couple of issues to the voters.

    One thing I would like to see, amendments require 60% to pass, then the legislature if it thinks it is bad, can pass a bill that would delay implementation for 2 years so it could be undone in the next election if it turns out to be a major problem like 41.

    – dave

    1. I think a 60% passage would be a good start; not so sure on giving the Legislature the ability to “dodge” it for 2 years, but it’s worth a discussion.  We’ve discussed I&R reform here several times, and I think there’s a consensus here that a super-majority for Amendments is a Good Thing.  Also, a super-statute Initiative, where the Legislature would need a super-majority to override any statute passed by Initiative, to give incentive to petitioners to go the statute route.

      1. Thre has also been kicked around the idea of raising the number of signatures to get a constitutional amendment or lowering the number needed for a statutory change. I’m kinda iffy on that one.

        1. Raising signatures I’ll listen to.  Lowering signature requirements is Right Out.  It’s not that difficult to get something on the ballot right now if you can find the people to work it (aka you have grassroots support before you start in on writing laws…).

      2. The developers easily swayed 3 commissioners in either body and mostly got their way. They, and the realtors, fought these initiatives tooth and nail, but in the cold light of dawn (or mid-evening internet results) the citizens took back control of both bodies.

        They also booted three pro-development incumbents in the city of Venice (home of Mohammed Atta and His Flying Fez Fanatics), one slow-growth person being the new mayor.

  6. Be careful what you ask for – you might get it.

    I could see a Constitutional Convention being utterly hijacked by “hot button” topics like the above.

    Right now the Democratic Party is riding high – for good reason. With any luck, that’ll continue. But if Clinton/Obama/Edwards wins in 2008 and we have a recession in 2009, we may see John Andrews and his ilk spearheading the Convention.

    That would be an abomination. Better to let sleeping dogs lie. The Colorado Constitution is a typical state constitution: full of stuff that has no business being in such a document, but basically workable.

    1. It’s always the reason the voters vote “No” in New York every 20 years when it’s put to the ballot (a requirement of that Constitution) – they’re afraid that as screwed up as it is, it’ll be worse after a Convention.

        1. Massachusetts just had what they call a Constitutional Convention this past June, but the only issue before the convention was the gay marriage ban.

          Hawaii may have been the last grand-scale overhaul. They had a convention in 1978.  New York and Pennsylvania last tried it in ’67.

          That’s what I could find, anyway…

    2. Yes there is risk. But we are sitting are a very good time to do this, a slight Dem majority so it should be somewhat progressive but close enough that the Repubs will have a strong voice and so have reason to cooperate.

      It’s not just cleaning up the document, it’s looking at how we live and work and legislate now and trying to create something that will work well for the next 50 – 100 years.

      And it will also give us a forum to discuss what we want the state (and to some degree local governments) to do. We never step back and look at the big picture but this would force us to do so.

      – dave

    3. Would your concerns be answered if the resulting constitution had to be approved by a 60%-66% majority of those voting rather than a simple majority?  I would think under such a restriction that the constitutional convention would have to stick to producing a document agreeable to the majority of voters rather than a partisan document that could squeak by the voters with enough spin.

      1. Make some feel better, but I doubt anything produced would garner that margin.  I think people would vote against it if they didn’t understand it, so we’d be lucky to get a simple majority…

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