The Dougster, for those of you who've never seen him in action, truly is a piece of work. Supremely media-savvy, always ready with a nasty sound bite, and ready to make absurd assertions with an absolutely straight face, he's a formidable opponent in debate. You can't really argue with him. In the space of 30 seconds, he'll throw out a dozen factoids, misstatements and outright lies.
You just have to hope that the audience can cut through his tangled web.
And the facts so overwhelmingly support C & D that it's difficult to understand how any sensible person could vote against either referendum. I wondered why our local Republican legislators were against it, until I debated state Senator Doug Lamborn last Friday at the monthly meeting of the local AARP chapter.
Lamborn is everything the Dougster isn't: amiable, reasonable and personally likeable. He's a hardcore conservative, but he's not nuts. He knows that the TABOR flaw that C & D would correct needs to be fixed -- he just doesn't want to fix it this year.
How come? He and some of his colleagues want to link a TABOR ratchet-provision fix with a re-do of Amendment 23, the voter-initiated constitutional amendment that aims to bring state funding for K-12 education back to 1988 levels (inflation-adjusted). They think that, by defeating C & D this year, they'll force Democrats and mainstream Republicans (i.e., Governor Owens) to ask the voters next year to gut Amendment 23 if they want to reform TABOR.
So how would Lamborn and his pals avoid the drastic cuts in next year's state budget (estimated now at $350 million to $500 million) that the governor predicts? Simple: hold a fire sale.
They'd like to sell the income stream from the state's share of the so-called tobacco settlement to the gimlet-eyed bankers on Wall Street. They're right in thinking we could get enough money to keep the wolves from the door for a year, but we'd lose about $100 million in annual income. So next year, we'd be in exactly the same situation, only the annual cuts would be $100 million deeper, since the tobacco income would be flowing to Wall Street, not Colorado.
It's a nasty little gamble. C & D are far from a sure thing, and linked changes to both TABOR and 23 would be even less likely to pass.
And, of course, some ber-conservative Republicans, perfectly happy to starve the public schools, would campaign in 2006 against TABOR reform and for the measure that would gut 23. Brilliant!
If they got their way, a one-two punch of cuts would come with a vengeance. Transportation and higher education would take the brunt of it, but every service the state provides would be cut drastically.
As University of Colorado president Hank Brown has said: "The question with Referendum C is this: Do you want to help low-income kids go to college? Or is that something you want to phase out?" Because, absent Referendum C, Colorado will become the first state in the union to de-fund higher education.
And what about Referendum D? As the impeccably conservative editorial page editors of the Rocky Mountain News pointed out Saturday, "Any hopes for improving our road network depend squarely on passing referendums C & D ... should we go on letting our existing jammed and dangerous highways cost us $3.3 billion a year in unnecessary costs and immeasurable hassles?" The Rocky, along with the Indy, the Gazette and every other daily newspaper in the state, has endorsed C & D.
Meanwhile, our city's credulous Republican establishment apparently is unconcerned about the possible takeover of District 11 by Steve Schuck-financed loonies.
Realtors, developers, builders, businesspeople: This one's gonna hit you in the pocketbook. It's fine to give lip service to "reform." But these people, as Cara DeGette's article last week made abundantly clear, aren't reformers -- they're utopian revolutionaries.