Energy, Featured, Peter Blake

Blake: The Polis Predicament

It would be easy enough for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis to extricate himself from the fix he is in with fellow Democratic officeholders without losing face: Ease off on signature gathering for the two anti-fracking initiatives he is pushing.

After all, his operatives have little over a month to gather the 120,000 signatures they need to make sure that at least 86,105 are valid. They didn’t begin until about July 1 and the deadline is Aug. 4. If the effort falls a little short it would be no disgrace. Those who start circulating petitions earlier in the election cycle have up to six months to collect signatures and often need all that time.

But it looks as though the three signature-gathering firms he’s hired are still going all out, despite pleas to stop by not only the business community but other Democrats. If Polis succeeds on getting one or both issues on the ballot, it will be a remarkable personal achievement.

It may not boost his political career, however — or the careers of some fellow Democrats trying to keep or seek office. They don’t believe the state will be well served by crippling the oil and gas industry and, more to the point, fear the ballot issues could lead to their defeat as well. Gov. John Hickenloooper, Sen. Mark Udall, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and 6th Congressional District candidate Andrew Romanoff have all come out against the ballot issues. So has former Democratic Gov. Roy Romer.

Amendment 88 would quadruple the distance required between a new well and an occupied structure, from 500 to 2000 feet. Amendment 89, after a paean to “clean air, pure water and natural and scenic values,” buries the lead: Local governments would be empowered to set stricter standards than the state’s.

But at last report, the three signature-gathering registered with the secretary of state are pressing on. Two are from Portland, Ore: Encore Political Services and Democracy Resources. The third is Buzzards Bay Strategies, from Boston and Washington.

Oddly, there is apparently no local firm involved, at least directly. Dan Kennedy, of Kennedy Enterprises in Colorado Springs, is often involved in such drives. But he would admit to nothing. “I may or may not be involved in all kinds of things,” he said, “but I self-contract out a lot of stuff too.”

A spokeswoman for Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy, the Polis-backed coordinator of the effort, claimed last week to have about 65,000 signatures.

Gathering techniques have changed this cycle. No longer do grocery stores seem to be the main focus. A tour of numerous Safeway, King Soopers and Whole Foods stores in metro Denver turned up no Polis circulators — just one person pushing the petition that would require that genetically modified foods be so labeled starting July 1, 2016. That was in front of a Whole Foods, which along with Natural Grocers supports the GMO labeling initiative.

But other major grocery chains do not, and they may have decided to discourage all petition circulators so as not to seem to be discriminating against one issue.

Another change: The decline of piecework. More petition firms are paying circulators by the hour instead of by the signature. Democracy Resources claims on its Web site that its signature gatherers are “hourly employees and never paid a per-signature bounty.” Their emphasis. That would amaze traditional firms.

In 2009 the Colorado legislature passed a law requiring that petition circulators be paid by the hour or through a hybrid system in which no more than 20 percent of their pay could be per signature. But it was thrown out by a federal judge who could find no evidence that the older, less expensive piecework system prevented fraud.

So where are the signatures being gathered? Rick Ridder, a veteran Denver strategist who is a consultant to the Polis effort, said circulators are doing especially well in Boulder, Fort Collins and on the Western Slope. In Greeley, at the heart of fracking country, he said there is a “very active” volunteer effort made up of various anti-fracking groups.

Kennedy has heard that rumors that circulators are mainly going door-to-door, which he said “is not very fruitful” since so many people aren’t home or don’t respond.

The most interesting rumor Ridder has heard is that the oil and gas industry has hired one local firm to NOT collect signatures. How that works exactly he didn’t know. It sounds like the electoral equivalent of the old soil-bank program, in which farmers were paid not to farm. Does the firm report how many signatures it didn’t collect today and get paid accordingly?

By thumbing his nose at top fellow Democrats, Polis may be endangering his chances of being chosen head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2016 cycle, a job he has been seeking. That might be a good reason to stall the signature campaign.

On the other hand, imagine the consternation he will cause — and the publicity he will garner — if he and his enviro allies not only make the ballot with the issues, but spend enough millions to get one or both of them passed. After all, the proponents were recently waving a poll taken in May showing that the anti-fracking initiatives are popular with the public.

If Polis wins, the Democratic candidates who have rejected his efforts would have to eat great quantities of crow — provided they also win their own elections.

Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes every other Thursday for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him atpblake0705@comcast.net You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com.

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