Yesterday, supporters of two ballot measures aimed at regulating oil and gas drilling near existing residential and other development–one laying out rights of local communities to regulate oil and gas drilling within their boundaries, and another mandating large setbacks between existing structures and new oil and gas development–delivered their petitions to qualify for tis November’s ballot. Proponents reportedly were still gathering signatures right up to the deadline yesterday afternoon, and the Secretary of State now has 30 days to certify the petitions.
A press release from Yes For Health and Safety Over Fracking posted last week to their website asserts that petitioners gathering signatures for Initiatives 75 and 78 were repeatedly harassed by a well-organized campaign of…”public education?” Intimidation? It depends on who you ask:
In at least ten separate incidents in several Colorado cities (Windsor, Greeley, Steamboat Springs, Loveland, Thornton, Denver and Boulder), local volunteers and paid circulators collecting signatures to safeguard their communities have reported being followed, yelled at, and physically threatened by unidentified people repeating oil and gas industry talking points. These confrontations come at the same time that industry front groups like CRED and Protect Colorado have greatly expanded an advertising campaign aimed at defeating citizen initiatives to protect the rights, health, and safety of Colorado communities.
In one case, an aggressive man lectured people who had already signed a petition, forcing them to cross their names out. In another, canvassers were followed, yelled at, and threatened throughout the day by a man in a vehicle. There have been social media threats of violence, demeaning language used in public places, and, in one case, an 84-year old canvasser was followed, repeatedly called “crazy,” and physically taunted while trying to walk away. Such acts of intimidation represent a violation of Coloradans’ civil and constitutional rights…
In addition to being an effort to stifle the democratic process, threats of violence and the safety of volunteers must be taken very seriously. Volunteers are working tirelessly to defend the rights of Coloradans through democratic institutions. They are now being made to fear for their safety by paid, untrained, and aggressive actors. Those engaging in legal, democratic signature gathering must be protected and kept safe as they carry out their duties. Threats must be taken seriously by law enforcement.
Tricia Olson, Executive Director of Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking, said: “I wish it were a surprise that oil and gas is using organized harassment of people collecting signatures for our ballot initiatives, but it isn’t. In addition to misleading ads and promotions, we now have assaults on people and our democratic process. Bullies shouldn’t decide our future. Instead, let the people of Colorado decide if they want industrial drilling next door to their homes and neighborhoods.”
The Loveland Reporter-Herald reported on incidents alleged to have occurred in northern Colorado:
Petitioners are trained to avoid engaging in arguments with people while they are working to gather signatures, Henricks said, so he tried telling the man he did not want to try and convince him to sign. The man continued insisting they discuss the issue, calling Henricks “crazy” and “stupid” for advocating for the initiatives, getting within a foot of Henricks and pointing a finger at his chest, according to Henricks.
“I didn’t want to just walk away and pretend he wasn’t there,” Henricks said.
His partner at the event went in to the market to get the manager for help, who them told the man he had to stop yelling or the police would be called…
Incidents of petitioners being harassed or feeling bullied or threatened have been reported in cities across Colorado, including Loveland, according to a news press release from Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking. All of the alleged incidents have involved people gathering signatures for voter initiatives 75 and 78.
As the Greeley Tribune reports, tensions persisted even as proponents of the measures turned in their signatures:
The groups circulating petitions seeking in one measure to allow communities’ ability to ban oil and gas drilling and in another seeking to require oil and gas facilities be located at least 2,500 feet away from specific residential areas, met with a bit of turmoil Monday as they handed in their signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.
A group of oil and gas supporters met them in the office, and a bit of shouting ensued, reported Lynn Bartels, spokeswoman for the Colorado Secretary of State.
“There was a little jousting going on in the room where they were accepting ballots,” Bartels said. “It was kind of wild. The fractivists, they were incensed when they saw (oil and gas representatives) there, and they felt they were harassing them.”
So, we weren’t present for these incidents of alleged harassment against petition gatherers, and we can only take Lynn Bartels’ word about whatever happened yesterday in the Secretary of State’s office. What we do know is that the oil and gas industry’s “Decline to Sign” campaign against these measures was well-funded and organized. It’s not unreasonable to assume there were many facets to that campaign, including some unbranded grassroots “direct action” to interfere with signatures gathering efforts.
Somewhere in there resides the fine line between free speech and harassment.
Assuming the truth of these allegations, it certainly represents an escalation of the industry’s fight back against additional regulation of their activities in our state. But the fact is, we could easily see this kind of ugliness play out with other ballot measures for which passions run high–abortion comes to mind, and there are undoubtedly others.
That seems like a bad precedent to set.