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November 06, 2013 03:04 PM UTC

Why Amendment 66 Got Slaughtered, Part 1

  • by: Colorado Pols
A metaphor.
A metaphor.

FOX 31's Eli Stokols offers some solid insights into last night's biggest story in Colorado politics, the crushing defeat of the Amendment 66 school finance measure by a 65-35% margin:

After an election in which fewer than 1.2 million Coloradans — roughly 30 percent of the electorate — cast ballots, it’s hard to draw too many big conclusions about our state.

But it’s safe to say that the overwhelming defeat of Amendment 66, an income tax hike that would have funded a number of education reforms, is another reminder of the near-impossibility of raising taxes under TABOR and another rebuke to the Democrats who control the state Capitol…

Democrats trying to convince their neighbors to approve the tax hike, from Gov. John Hickenlooper with his diminished approval ratings on down, did so with a weakened hand. In some ways, the party appears to have lost the trust of the state’s swing voters, the suburban women; Tuesday’s overwhelming defeat of Amendment 66 by a two-to-one margin (the Yes on 66 campaign still thought it had a chance to win as of just a week ago) shows their message never really resonated with moderates, never mind many Democrats (even in liberal Denver, voters were split on it).

Convincing voters to raise their own taxes is going to take more than politicians, smart strategists and willing donors. It’s probably going to take a genuine grassroots movement.

In 2011, a much smaller and less-funded coalition attempted to pass a smaller tax measure to fund public education, Proposition 103. Proposition 103 failed by a 64-36% margin after spending about $600,000 on the campaign. The highest-profile face of the Proposition 103 campaign was Sen. Rollie Heath, the longsuffering 2002 Democratic gubernatorial candidate who lost by a mile to Bill Owens. In the aftermath of Proposition 103's defeat, much of the blame was laid at the feet of Heath and the underpowered coalition backing the initiative.

Today, Rollie Heath should feel a little better. Two years after Proposition 103, a ten million dollar campaign for Amendment 66, headlined by Gov. John Hickenlooper with a much larger coalition, performed even worse than Proposition 103. The question is, why?

Stokols suggests that this year's legislative session, despite generally passing legislation favored by the public, aggregated into a narrative of "overreach" that Republicans were successfully able to capitalize on. In addition, Stokols asserts that the troubled rollout of the "Obamacare" health insurance marketplaces in Colorado and federally contributed to voter mistrust in government.

We do believe those were perhaps incremental factors, but we have to say that we never understood the overall campaign strategy for Amendment 66. Heavily consultant-driven with a rigidly controlled message, this is a campaign that always seemed afraid of its own shadow despite the massive resources invested. Proponents relied much too heavily on lavish buys of slick television ads, and counted on an "under the radar" field campaign effort that completely failed. The complicated details of Amendment 66 were freely misrepresented by opponents, and the campaign was never quite able to keep up. Apart from the huge ad buys, seemingly no effort was made at secondary earned media, and in fact Amendment 66 appeared to garner less coverage in the media than Proposition 103 did two years before. If this was by design, in hindsight it was clearly a mistake.

Throughout the campaign, proponents expressed confidence that grew increasingly brittle as it became clear the initiative was in trouble. But with no real strategy other than pouring cash into TV ads, the campaign was powerless to do anything to change course. They had their playbook and they stuck with it to the bitter end.

The defeat of Amendment 66 undeniably feeds into the GOP's desired narrative of "overreaching Democrats" getting their comeuppance. Looking more closely, it's not that simple, even if Democrats do need to look inward to figure out what happened. It was a tough climate for Amendment 66, but Democrats also failed to use the resources they had this time imaginatively–or even just definitively. You can't pass an amendment like this without having a big conversation with Colorado voters, which is a major reason why Referendum C passed in 2005. Amendment 66 needed to be the issue of the election that everyone was talking about, but it wasn't. Anecdotally, we talked to a lot of potential supporters who didn't even know what it was. With a tax increase like this, you absolutely must grab hold of the narrative and never let go. You don't tell people why they should vote for it; you make the case that they must support the measure.

We doubt this will be the last look back at the this campaign–and for Democrats who want to hold on to the power they've had in this state for a decade, the hard lessons here must be learned. Voters have given Democrats control in this state and asked them to lead…and lead they must.


32 thoughts on “Why Amendment 66 Got Slaughtered, Part 1

  1. The Republicans will go on and on that the defeat of Amendment 66 signifies the public believes the Democrats overreached. They'll continue to say that but I doubt it has much validity or that voters will remember in November 2014.

    People vote based on where they see themselves, especially their personal circumstances, at the time of the election. There are both long term and short term narratives that influence why voters choose to give a candidate or ballot issue a majority or hand either a defeat. This election isn't any different.

    The long term narrative hanging over all government programs is the 2008 recession. There is still a gnawing feeling that we aren't quite back to a stable economy. Couple that with the recent government shutdown, the near breach of the debt ceiling, and the discussion that all of that could lead us into another major recession, voters were worried about their jobs and their economic well being. I believe that turned the voters decisively against 66.

    The roll out of the Affordable Healthcare Act ("AHA") probably contributed to the defeat of 66 but the conneciton is tenuous.

    The television advertising for 66 came up short, especially the first run of commercials that ran on the theme of "Big Change – Small Price." And what did the proponents say we were going to get for our money, more gym classes. I think that unintentionally, but definitively, sent the wrong message to voters. It made the entire effort look silly. The ads should have emphasized literacy, math and science, internet access and capital construction, which in some school districts is badly needed, but impossible to fund due to the lack of bonding authority.

    I voted for 66 so this comment is not coming from a "winner" on that issue. 

    1. The mess of conflicting tax and spending amendments in the state constitution made be reluctant to support Amendment 66. Had Amendment 66 passed and did what it was intended to do,   we might have been forced to gut other worthy programs (e.g. higher education) to comply with the constitutional requirements.  

      I'm hardly a supporter of TABOR but Amendment 23, especially when combined with the rest of constitution has led to cutting funding for higher-education so the state can meet the K-12 requirements.

      Although the iniative and referendum process was probably put in with good intentions, it's out of control–every interest group is trying to get their pet project or idea enshrined in the constitution, so it can't be easily repealed–it's making this state ungovernable. 

      The long term narrative hanging over all government programs is the 2008 recession. There is still a gnawing feeling that we aren't quite back to a stable economy. Couple that with the recent government shutdown, the near breach of the debt ceiling, and the discussion that all of that could lead us into another major recession, voters were worried about their jobs and their economic well being. I believe that turned the voters decisively against 66. – See more at:

  2. I've never gotten much traction on this, but I'll try again.

    A liberal Democrat, absent violence or treason I'd vote for much more money for schools, from facility to salaries to books, and have.  I greatly admire teachers, and had many good ones.  But the TV ads in the past and in this cycle resonate all wrong with me, and suspect that they have with many others.  This cycle featured the martyr, a teacher who has struggled with less and won't be around to see the benefits of 66 had it passed.  Noble.  And icky.

    In the past, discussions between teachers about how great and noble they are to be 'overheard' by the viewer brought up my lunch.  People sense condescension and school marm theatrics a mile away.  These offend me.

    This is damned important, and someone should stand up and say if we don't start producing healthy or at least not morbidly obese children qualified to enter CU or the other colleges, we can start announcing our long civic and economic decline now.  Our colleges have to recruit under tables in Asia to find enough qualified to be worthy of our still great universities.  Your children can't spell, add, or figure out anything even with tablets and calculators, you can't write a coherent sentence even if you had configured something of interest to say.  You're going to be out debated, out earned, out gunned all through life because we've become a nation run by Third Rate White Men so afraid of women, sex, and level playing fields they have to find solace in a simplistic religion composed almost entirely of unaccomplished idiots while they try to impede and rob all the children, including their own, rather than face their own inadequate and cowardly lives.

    TABOR is wrong, stupid, and self defeating.  It is near treason, and little imagined can weaken this nation more than unenthused support for public ed.  Nauseating cowardice all around.

    1. Dark Cloud wrote: “TABOR is wrong, stupid, and self defeating.”

      I won’t disagree; however, the anti-tax lobby isn’t going away anytime soon. We had those three anti-tax proposals back in 2010, which  if passed—thankfully they all were defeated—would have made TABOR look mild. It’s kind of become an almost predictable cycle: the anti-tax crowd proposes something, another constituency proposes an amendment to protect a program from being gutted, and the whole cycle repeats itself.


      The initiative and referendum process is out of control in this state, as every constituency wants to get their pet project enshrined as a constitutional amendment, so as to be immune from the legislature. The conflicting tax and spending amendments are putting this state on a path towards a fiscal trainwreck.

      We should really get rid of the I&R process but good luck finding the political support to do so.

  3. 30 percent of the electorate cast a ballot.  That's the key takeaway for me. 

    Markos at DailyKos makes a similar point under his blog post titled "We Can't Win Big If Our People Don't Vote."  "The Democrats biggest problem heading into 2014 is the poor turnout performance of its core base groups: single women, young voters and people of color."

    We lost the recall elections because of poor turnout.  We blamed it on lack of mail ballots, but yesterday was all mail balloting, correct?

    I don't know if 66 would have passed even with higher turnout, a 2 to 1 thumping is hard to overcome.  But, the point remains that we are toast if we can't motivate our voters to vote. 

    It's not too early to think about GOTV – 2014.

  4. What will be interesting is the undervote count on this amendment and on the school board races. I know a lot of people who skipped one, the other or both. They don't have kids in school, so they're not directly affected and don't pay enough attention to the school board to know one candidate's philosophy from another. There is no party affiliation to go on so attention must actually be paid to speeches and profiles. If they don't have school kids, they can't be bothered. They didn't want to say "yes" to 66 because, 1) it would be locked into the Constitution and people have become incredibly reticent about inflexible budget items   2) there was a lack of earmarks for the money. I spoke to people who said, "Trust us to spend the money wisely" just wasn't good enough. Would it actually go into the classrooms via materials and new teachers? Or would it end up in existing teachers paychecks? And remember, the teapublicans started , accurate or not, with TAXED ENOUGH ALREADY.

  5. One thing I know is, we can't afford any more fuckups like this. There do seem to be a class of consultants that continue to get work even when they lose and lose big. We can't play favorites, we need to focus on what (and who) can win.

  6. I never thought it would pass because it's a very tough climate for a tax hike. I also think many people have education system fatigue after decades of flavor of the month reforms and spiffy new theories that don't seem to be evidence based and make little difference. I think a lot of people just don't believe their sacrifice is going to help much. 

  7. One piece of conventional wisdom was ignored in both 2011 and 2013 — in that both were off-year elections.  Generally, such tallies draw few voters — 30 percent this time.  Those voters are disproportionately older and more conservative.   Seniors, especially, see little reason to vote higher taxes for schools if they have no kids in them.   A senior myself, I reluctantly voted for 66 – reluctant mainly because it is another constitutional amendment that doesn't belong in the constitution.  But I have two grandkids in DPS.  Off-year elections are special elections which tend to help conservatives.   So why did the liberals twice sign off on such suicide missions?   Go figure.   66 had so many problems it would have probably failed even in a general elecltion, but it would have been much closer.

    1. Veeger, you should know this.

      Odd-year elections. State law clarifies the types of proposals that can appear on a statewide ballot in odd-numbered years. Odd-year election proposals are limited to state matters arising under Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado Constitution, which is commonly referred to as TABOR or the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. These types of proposals include a new tax, a tax rate increase, an extension of an expiring tax, a tax policy change directly causing a net revenue gain, and emergency taxes. They also include the creation of multiple year fiscal obligations or debt, an increase in the assessment rate for a class of property, the weakening of a state limit on spending, and voter-approved revenue changes. A full list of the types of and proposals that can be on a statewide ballot in an odd-numbered year can be found in Section 1-41-102, C.R.S.



      1. You miss the point, Ralphie.  Off year elections are limited to TABOR-type votes.   But you also have the option of bringing them up in a general election year.  As Blue Cat notes, 66's backers could have — and should have — waited for a friendlier electoral environment.

  8. Actually, the reason 66 failed is quite simple — according to the GOP master plan, first destroy the middle class (great recession – check) so they won't have the cash to spare to fund our future. Second, take over local school boards to drive out good teachers, and instill fear and ignorance in the remaining staff – check.

    Next, with a rising number of desperately poor undereducated 99 percenters – viola! – Serfs ready to serve the 1%!


  9. Is it a coincidence, or even a good idea, that Rollie Heath was the front and center of these most recent two failed initiatives???

    I'm just wondering here if Mr. Heath ever was or ever has been a good face, or even a good voice, for any kind of statewide initiative??  While I do appreciate his good intentions, I can't help but think he would be a better behind-the-scenes guy and leave the fronting to someone else, although admittedly I not sure whom?

    1. I know Sen. Heath and he is a great spokesman for any cause he takes up. He is the work horse of the state senate. If you want something done he is the go to senator. I've been around the general assembly for nearly four decades and he is one of the most effective members I've ever seen.

    2. I guess you must not like Senator Heath because you are spewing a lot of bile his way.

      First, Amendment 66 was Senator Mike Johnston's baby, though Senator Heath did pitch in. As did many others.

      Secondly, the reason Senator Heath proposed and ran Proposition 103 was because the Governor cut nearly $1 billion out of K12 funding that year due to severe budget shortfalls. It was a modest proposal and meant only as a short term fix until either a long term solution or improvement in the economy came through. Or both.

      While Prop 103 did fail, I applaud his courage in trying to do something for Colorado's children. What have you done to help struggling schools and Colorado's kids?

      1. Absolutely agree with almost everything you and R-36 say about Mr. Heath — he is a workhorse, he is a champion of much legislation, I said he obviously has good intentions — except my bile.  My question is, is Mr. Heath, who is easily tagged by any opponents to his efforts as an obvious "Boulder liberal," a good front for statewide issues, particularly those involving increased taxes, in Colorado?? 

        It appears to me, despite his in-legislature accomplishments, that his statewide electoral record argues strongly otherwise?

        1. I got a little carried away on the bile, sorry. Back to Senator Heath. I live in Denver and I never saw the connection made between Sen. Heath and Amendment 66. He was not the face of it here. And I would even venture that the actual face of 66, Senator Mike Johnston is not known to the average voter. There are a lot of reasons why 66 failed, but it is not because of an association with Rollie Heath.

          One of the biggest reasons 66 failed is that it was a tax increase and it is too easy to convince the average voter that government has too much money and "they" don't need anymore money to waste. It is shameful that we don't value education here. There are many Pols commenters who have a book of reasons why 66 failed. I am sure that you are the only one who blames Rollie Heath.

  10. This may be an oversimplification, but…
    I see two items on my ballot. One raises taxes on pot smokers…one raises taxes on everyone…
    both involve funding education. I wonder how many voters made this simple evaluation and voted accordingly?

    1. Only the first 40 million of the Prop AA marijuana tax funds school construction and improvement – the rest will be an ongoing general revenue stream.  Probably, voters were confused about it, and decided to "let pot smokers fund education. "

      Pisses me off. In Pueblo district 60, we'll still be dealing with ripped up carpet, broken desks, 20 year old computer monitors, recycled textbooks with missing pages. Meanwhile, richer districts next door with higher tax bases have first-class everything. Everyone posting on here that has never worked in a classroom, and has some self righteous "constitutional" reason for keeping Colorado schools unequal for poor kids, I invite you to spend a day in a high-poverty school in your district. THEN justify your "no" vote on 66.


      1. Mamajama55 you're absolutely correct about the conditions in school district 60 compared to other districts in Colorado and 66 was, in part, designed to improve the conditions in the poorer school districts but therein is one of the other problems the 66 campaign inflicted upon itself. Local school bond issues win because the districts specifically tell the voters where the money will be spent. Why didn't the people running the 66 campaign run adds showing outdated books and computers, crumbling school infrastructure and indicate the money would be utilized to repair or build new buildings and bring academic resources up-to-date.

        Again, I voted for 66 so this comment isn't coming from someone rubbing it in after being on the winning side. I really think the messaging was presented from the wrong angle.

  11. I recognize the importance of new funding for k-12 schools.  I volunteered in an all-day Aurora kindergarten class that had over 30-35 kids in it and only 1 teacher and one aide besides myself. The size of the class in this lower-lower middle class schools was heartbreaking.  Some of the kids had never been read to at home and a fair percentage of them were on the school food program.  Yet I thought about it a long time before I voted for Amendment 66. 

    One of the things that bothered me about the amendment was the lack of specificity.  How exactly was the money to be divided.  I suppose this is at least partly due to TABOR which means the money must come from an amendment rather from the legislature.  (I lived in another state when CO was going through the TABOR mess so I don't really know much about it.)

    And then I saw that  funds would be allocated through a proposed Senate bill that allocated a few hundred million of that money to charter schools.  I vehemently oppose charter schools and vouchers.  I very nearly voted against 66 because of that proposed allocation alone. I finally decided that a senate bill could be amended once the charter school frenzy passes, but it's a tragedy that politicians will so foolishly continue to blindly support the Rhee and Ravitch folly.

    1. I'm afraid your vehemence is misdirected, CDW.

      I vehemently oppose charter schools and vouchers.


      Charter schools are public schools.   They are a key part of reform efforts that aim to keep dissatisfied parents from going to private schools.   Dems from Roy Romer on down have pushed charter schools.   Vouchers for private private schools , especially religious ones, are another matter and deserve your vehement opposition.

      My grandkids are in charter DPS public schools and I'm proud to have them there.


  12. Isn't it even more simple than all of the above?  The right was unified that it was "a billion dollar tax," while the left argued over whether it was "merely necessary" or "abetting corporate takeover of our public schools."  In a two party system, when you split one of the parties, the other party wins in a landslide.  To "bullshit's" comment about consultants, and "Dio's" on Sen. Heath/Johnston, it WAS their job to end the division on the left, but they shied from it.  Not a knock on them as human beings, but a knock on how they handled this campaign…for sure.

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