Colorado has the initiative process; that is, we lowly citizens can act as the legislature and change law. Elected officials of all stripes hate the initiative, and you can understand why. The initiative is the check and balance on their power. Would politicians ever vote to limit their own terms? Of course not. Fortunately, through the initiative, we the people did. Would they ever vote to limit how much they spend, or ask voters for a tax or debt increase? We the people did through the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Would politicians ever vote to make all their meetings open to the public? Well, we the people did…you get the idea.
So in 2009, the legislature passed a bill, HB-1326, that made it so onerous, expensive, and potentially personally bankrupting that no thinking person would ever put something on the ballot again. (And as you’ll see, I am no thinking person.) So we decided to fight to keep our right to petition. It has been a long and expensive fight, but with a judge’s order on Friday, we have now completely won!
Let me give you an idea just how bad this law was. It made the proponents of an initiative personally liable for the actions of petition gatherers. I’ve been a political activist for over two decades and, like most Americans, never thought that being part of the democratic process would land me in court and possibly bankrupt me. Well, that’s just what happened.
I was the sponsor of our Health Care Choice initiative in 2010, along with our health care star Linda Gorman. When the opponents wanted to derail the effort, they used the new law and claimed that a paid petition gatherer misrepresented my initiative to get a citizen to sign my petition. So into court I was dragged. If the opponents won I would be liable for their legal costs. We of course won, but still, my legal costs were about $100,000. This nuisance complaint did what it was created to do – cost time and money. If, however, we’d lost, I’d have had to pay hundreds of thousands to the opponents. I would have been wiped out and in bankruptcy.
After what happened to me, it became clear that no one would ever chance their own fiscal ruin by putting an initiative forward again. With our input, the Secretary of State has made rule changes to provide at least some protection to future sponsors.
If that wasn’t enough, HB-1326 outlawed paying petition gatherers by the signature. Instead, they were to be paid by the hour or on salary, which would make the process so expensive that only very rich people and political interests could get things on the ballot. We were able to get a judge to temporarily enjoin that just in time for us to get the signatures needed for the Health Care Choice initiative in 2010.
On Friday, the judge made that temporary injunction permanent! This is a major victory for the right to petition.
And if THAT wasn’t enough, HB-1326 required that petition gatherers be residents of Colorado, even though the most effective, professional gatherers travel around the country and may be out-of-state. Again, the law was made to make it unaffordable to get something on the ballot. On Friday, the judge permanently enjoined that part of the law, too. We’ve won on everything.
The lawyer we used was none other than David Lane, who skillfully navigated this suit. Thanks David.
To make a long story short, the Independence Institute is willing to take on the nitty-gritty battles, like this one, to protect our freedoms. And this is yet another victory in our path towards true liberty.
Advancing liberty ain’t always pretty, ain’t never cheap, and is always longer and harder than imagined. But if you and I don’t do it, who will?