Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU, 9News host ballot initiative debate

Is marijuana safer than alcohol? Are domestic partnerships the equivalent of gay marriage? 

Debate over these questions and more raged across center stage at DU’s Gates Concert Hall Sept. 26 as 9News and DU presented “Ballot Measures 101: Issues and Insights.” Five panels argued the pros and cons of six of 14 issues appearing on the Nov. 7 ballot — the second longest in state history. 

On the point of Amendment 44, which would legalize adult possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers argued that marijuana is dangerous and that legalizing it would lead to increased use by young people. 

Proponent Mason Tvert of Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation claimed that marijuana is safer than alcohol and that adults should be allowed to choose their drug of choice without losing their freedoms. 

Amendment 43 would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. 

Jeff Crank, former aid to retired U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley, called marriage the “building block of society” and said Colorado needs a marriage definition in its constitution to prevent “activist judges” from legalizing gay marriage. 

Rev. Phil Campbell, director of ministry studies at the Iliff School of Theology, said the state should “support and stabilize” loving, committed relationships, no matter whether they are between opposite- or same-sex couples. 

Referendum I would allow legal rights for gays in domestic partnerships. Sean Duffy of Coloradans for Fairness said the measure would allow gay couples many of the “practical, common sense” rights that heterosexual couples have, including health care benefits and child support. 

But Carrie Gordon Earll of Focus on the Family said gays can establish rights through current legal means. 

Amendment 39 would require school districts to spend 65 percent of their budgets in the classroom. 

Proponent Lee Kunz of First Class Education Colorado said administrative expenses and salaries are out of line and that the amendment would shift $400 million to teachers and students. 

Adele Bravo, Colorado Teacher of the Year, countered that the measure is too narrowly defined and could force layoffs of needed support staff, such as social workers, counselors and nurses. 

Linda Meric of 9 to 5 National Association of Working Women addressed Amendment 42, which would raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.85 per hour and index it to inflation. She said the minimum wage should be raised for the first time in 10 years to bring 138,000 “hard-working men and women” out of poverty. 

Christine O’Donnel of Respect Colorado’s Constitution said the measure would do little to fight poverty and would devastate small businesses and lead to layoffs. 

Amendment 38 would expand access to the ballot, making it harder for opponents to challenge petitions and easier for voters to understand ballot language, said Jessica Peck Cory of the Independence Institute. 

But, House Speaker Andrew Romanoff cited a DU report in arguing that Colorado’s crowded constitution should be harder, not easier to amend. Government by petition, he said, leads to conflicting state mandates.

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