Ref. C: All over but the crying
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on November 14, 2005.
Out of the five Colorado counties that voted against Ref. C by a margin of greater than 60 percent, Mesa County is fourth on the list and by far the largest, with more than twice as many voters as the other four counties combined. Mesa County opposed Ref. C by a margin of 65.1 percent, with a vote against of 25,365 to 13,591.
Of the counties that supported Ref. C by similarly wide margins, Denver and Boulder are by far the largest. In fact, if the votes of Denver and Boulder are subtracted from the totals, Ref. C loses in the rest of the state. (This is true even though 36 out of Colorado's 64 counties voted in favor of Ref. C.) Denver voted 64.9 percent in favor of Ref. C; Boulder 63.6 percent.
So local politicians who gleefully helped Governor Owens and Mayor Hickenlooper stir the Ref. C mix might now be wondering whether "C" will become the political equivalent of concrete galoshes.
Two strong supporters of Ref. C, State Representative Bernie Buescher and State Senator Ron Teck, were certainly out of step with their constituents.
Teck, who will spend his final year in the legislature helping to spend your TABOR refunds, has demonstrated one of the disadvantages of term limits. Would Teck have been as vocal in his support of Ref. C if he had been able to seek reelection in 2006?
One of the many rumors produced by this hot summer is that Buescher was in line to run for the senate seat vacated by Teck. Now that seems unlikely. Indeed, he may have trouble retaining his house seat. Many Western Slopers will be wondering whether a guy who throws his support with Denver and Boulder is representing the right area.
Republicans Josh Penry and Matt Smith have announced their candidacies for Teck's seat. The winner of this political battle will be the one seen as the biggest opponent of Ref. C. Will local Republicans see Penry as a leader able to cross chambers early? Will Smith, who also opposed Ref. C but with less enthusiasm, be seen as a fence-sitting insider?
Politics is the new western drama. Perhaps we could reprise the title "High Noon" for the new series, with Penry slipping into the boots of Gary Cooper. One can almost feel the tension and hear the hard beat of the music as Penry confronts Owens.
Or perhaps a better title would be "The Magnificent Seven," with Penry and Smith riding high in the saddle, fighting for the leadership of the courageous band. Although new to the political scene, Craig Meis took the reins in his teeth and rode hard into the fray. Janet Rowland reflected the performances of Katherine Hepburn, who portrayed western women as strong and determined. Tom Keller and Jared Wright represented the best of the youth of the Western Slope. And there was the determination of Alan Farina and others. Political cynics may take heart as this group and its supporters rides into the sunset to fight another day.
Despite relentless tax-and-spend propaganda by most of the political and media establishment in Colorado, Ref. C passed by a slim margin of 52 percent. That means that 48 percent of voters said "no" to the net tax increase.
The unintended consequence of Ref. C will be greater scrutiny of taxes and the budget. This country has a long tradition of tax revolts. Even before we became an independent nation, the Boston Tea Party showed our scorn for taxes.
Colorado's fight over the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and Ref. C has put Colorado in the national spotlight. Despite Ref. C, several other states are looking to Colorado's TABOR as a model. Western Colorado helped lead the TABOR movement, and Mesa County certainly showed its dislike for Ref. C. Our tax dollars that were supposed to be returned to us over the next five years instead will be spent by the legislature, and then our TABOR refunds will be forever reduced.
The paper written by the younger of your authors, "Wasteful Spending by Colorado Government," took some early steps in examining state spending. Not only will state spending be subjected to more independent audits, but city and county budgets will be more exposed to similar scrutiny. Even before the election, former Senator Hank Brown cut spending for alcohol at the University of Colorado and trimmed high-paying but low-value administrative positions. Tim Foster told the Free Press, "[W]e must and will maintain low administrative costs" at Mesa State. In other words, in Harry Truman's words, "The buck stops here."
Taxpayers are increasingly demanding: "Show us the money." The passage of Ref. C was a defeat for fiscal conservatives in Colorado. In the long run, it may prove to be a greater defeat for its supporters.