2024 Election, Columnists, Gold Dome, Jon Caldara, Politics

Caldara: Why we’re not running ballot measures this year

(You can listen to this column, read by the author, here.)

In the fight for limited government, resources are remarkably scarce. Many of Colorado’s right-leaning donors are understandably fatigued of putting money into losing efforts.

By contrast, the left’s deep pockets have seen incredible political returns on their investments. There are two reasons for this. First, they just spend a lot more than their conservative counterparts. And they have reason to. Special interests, like the teachers union and the environmental industrial complex, get financial windfalls when their team wins.

But also, the left’s individual patrons, motivated by social causes, just personally give more. Tim Gill, Patricia Stryker, Rutt Bridges and Jared Polis have collectively given hundreds of millions.

And second, the deep pockets on the left use their money much differently, with a much more long-term perspective. They give less to consultants and more to tedious infrastructure that works between election cycles.

While conservative donors get excited about shiny things, like candidates or ballot measures, the left spent 15 years investing in the really boring but important stuff like voter outreach, community organizing, ballot-harvesting operations, think tanks, news reporting, recruitment, etc.

As a generalization, conservative funders don’t want to eat their vegetables.

All of which is to say those of us working to free Colorado from the socialism devouring us must never waste a dime. There are simply not that many dimes left. Wasting resources on efforts likely to lose is malfeasance against good and generous donors.

This is why I’m not going to put any citizens’ initiatives on the ballot this year (and I hate that).

One of the great strengths of Independence Institute, the scrappy organization I run, is we know how to win at the ballot box with citizens’ initiatives. We have passed open meetings and transparency laws; we’ve cut the state income tax permanently two times in the last two elections.

This year we brought forward a slate of good government initiatives and got them through the process up to the point of collecting signatures, which can cost up to $1 million per ballot question.

I’ve learned the hard way never to put something on the ballot without carefully polling voters on the exact language that’s going to appear on their ballot.

I have polled eight potential reform initiatives we were working on. If you hear anything, hear this: The left’s long-term investments in non-shiny things have worked. The political culture here has changed.

Let me give one example: We have an initiative to cut the state’s legislative session from 120 days to 90 days. Many states have much shorter legislative sessions than Colorado, and many have it every other year. I had no doubt this would have huge popularity.

I was wrong. Coloradans seem happy to keep their crazed legislature in session. Polling showed my “slam-dunk” measure only had 20% support. Think on that for a moment. Needless to say, I’m not moving forward with the idea.

I also brought forward another income tax rate reduction. The last two I ran won with about 66% voting “yes.” The legislature did not like that, so they passed a law requiring future tax cut questions have “poison-pill” language on the ballot.

Instead of asking a voter if they wanted to “reduce the income tax rate from X to Y,” the new law requires a blatant falsehood be put in the ballot question saying this tax cut “will,” not “may,” reduce funding for heart-string issues like education, health care, public safety, etc.

The poison-pill language is doing what it was intended. Our polling shows a tax cut, which usually comes in with 66% support has only 47% support after this legislative tampering.

The one initiative that polled well forces the state legislators back into the open-meetings law, which they recently exempted themselves. If passed, it would only get us back to where we were before, stopping legislators from having smoke-filled, closed-door meetings.

I’ve decided not to spend limited resources on it this year just to reverse one bad law. Instead, we’ll be spearheading a better initiative to greatly expand transparency and open meetings next year.

Reality sucks. And political reality sucks even more.

We practitioners of politics should never close our eyes to reality just to spend other people’s money. And the funders of political causes should always be asking this: in the long term what are we getting for our money?

Jon Cladara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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