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A Wolf in sheep’s clothing?

October 18, 2010

On the Colorado statewide ballot this year is Amendment Q, Temporary Location for the State Seat of Government. There are really three types of issues on the ballot: amendments with a letter have been referred by the state legislature and this is one.

This is a deceptively simple-sounding amendment that allows the governor to decide where the legislature is going to meet in case of a state of emergency. It is fraught with peril.

The Colorado Bluebook Summary and Analysis presents this as a simple administrative measure missing from our constitution and present in 36 other states. The governor, after conferring with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the leaders of both houses of the legislature, designates where the legislature is to meet. The legislature must meet there.

Since the legislative session is only six months long, why is this even necessary? Why now?

Emergency powers must be granted very carefully. In the Roman Republic, in case of emergency the Senate appointed two dictators to rule in place of the Senate. You may know the name of one of the last of these dictators: Julius Caesar, who declared himself dictator for life. He was assassinated by pro-Republicans who have come down to us in history as the villains of the story because they lost the ensuing civil war. Rome became an empire and her leaders were called Caesars.

In the American colonies, the King appointed the governors. Before the Revolution, legislatures elected by the people were dissolved or moved at the pleasure of the governor–it is the source of no less than three complaints in the list of Facts in the Declaration of Independence. Consider this one:

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

Could the Colorado governor do that with this new power? Yes he could. Could you imagine a Governor Ritter, Supreme Court Chief Justice Marquez,  Senate President Morse  and House Speaker Carrol deciding that the legislature is going to meet in Telluride? It is possible. The governor must confer–but doesn’t have to take the advice.

This amendment is especially dangerous since it is the governor who declares a state of emergency in the first place. The amendment clears the path for the governor to rule by fiat, just as the king’s governors did in the colonies, and to become a dictator in the original Roman sense of the term.

Vote NO on Amendment Q.

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