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On Variances – Ziska Childs’ Letter to the Editor

The consequences of amendmentitus

Aspen Daily News, March 31, 2015 -Referendum 1 would change the Aspen charter, and that’s a bad thing.

The arguments against constitutional amendments may be boring, but let’s look at where we are in Colorado for a moment. The Colorado Constitution been amended 150-plus times — compare that to 33 for the U.S.  We haven’t changed the Colorado Constitution since 1876 (hello statehood!), but we’ve sure tinkered with the dangly bits. The list of amendments included Amendment 2, which was a blatant attempt at denying LGBT persons with civil rights by a nifty little linguistic trick denying “special rights.” That one took four years until it was overturned in the Supreme Court, and Justice Scalia’s majority opinion is well worth the read.

We certainly didn’t stop in 1992. We’ve gone on with personhood, leg traps, regulation of hog facilities, casino gambling, marijuana and the infamous TABOR. The list is long and could be a fabulous stand-up routine if only it weren’t the foundation of our state’s governance.

There is a pattern to amendmentitus. First you get a catchy slogan like “no special rights,” about which everyone says, “Hey! That sounds fair.” Then you try and spin it as “helping” the process by keeping the issue out of the hands of the legislators. Finally you cite examples of how this amendment would have stopped something which the majority thought was bad. The key to that last one is the past tense.

There is a lot of prediction going on with Referendum 1. Here is one thing which should be blatantly obvious from the amendment abuse at the state level: No one, and I mean no one, can predict the unintended consequences of changing the charter. The one thing we do know is that once you’ve changed the charter it’s damn near impossible to walk it back.

Amendments are for righting fundamental inequities — like slavery and voting rights. Unintended consequences are rife, from the Second Amendment to the ill fated 18th.

Jim Griesemer has an excellent article in The Denver Post explaining our amendmentitus, and it can be found online.

Ziska Childs
Aspen