Does anyone care?
The Colorado state constitution provides “we the people” with the power of the initiative petition so that private citizens can propose legislation to be placed on the ballot. This power extends to the state as a whole, municipalities, and “home rule” counties such as Pitkin, and tax issues are legislative questions which are subject to the initiative process.
So, in Pitkin County, the circulation of a petition on a question of taxation is a state constitutional right.
The first step in the county initiative process is to have the form and content of the petition reviewed by the county clerk. Despite three separate attempts, the Pitkin County clerk has refused to approve the content of a local tax initiative, citing a provision of the Pitkin County Home Rule Charter that prohibits petitions on the “levy of taxes.”
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County clerks take an oath of office that they will uphold the state and federal constitutions, and yet we have a letter from Pitkin County Clerk Janice Vos Caudill in which she says that “as an elected official, one is sworn to uphold the Home Rule Charter …!”
A county charter cannot override a state constitutional right, just as a state law cannot violate our rights secured under either the state or federal constitution. The concept that a law or regulation cannot supersede a constitutional provision is so ingrained in our system that we tend to forget that this is the context of that familiar two-word phrase: “It’s unconstitutional.”
Not too many years ago, a county clerk who violated their oath of office for the purpose of preventing citizens from exercising their constitutional right to circulate a petition would have caused a public uproar. Anyone with strong management skills who wanted to replace that county clerk could probably have had the job for the asking at the next election.
Today, I write this letter with the almost certain knowledge that nobody cares if a county clerk violates the constitution. The news media doesn’t consider it newsworthy, nor do editorial writers consider it worth mentioning. Anyone like myself, who stubbornly insists that constitutional principles still matter, is considered naïve and unsophisticated, and is generally treated with bemused condescension.
We are in an era of hyper cynicism where indifference toward core principles is presented as savvy wisdom, and government is left to interpret the rules to suit its own purposes.
Can anyone explain to me how we got to this point? What caused us to allow this to happen? Does anyone care enough to respond to these questions?
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