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EDITORIAL: Anti-fracking initiatives were efforts to abuse democracy

By: The Gazette editorial
August 9, 2014 Updated: August 11, 2014 at 11:48 am
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"Democracy" — a term overused and misused — is not a harmless, patriotic concept.

In Boulder, protesters confronted U.S. Rep. Jared Polis with signs that said "sellout," "shame," "Jared betrayed us," and Jared harmed "democracy." They're angry about a deal he made to keep anti-fracking initiatives off the November ballot. Author and Boulder Weekly editor Joel Dyer described the deal as "betrayal" of democracy.

"A funny thing happened on the way to the Secretary of State's office to turn in those quarter of a million signatures from Colorado residents who wanted to protect their families and communities from oil and gas industry contamination; Polis traded them for a bag of magic beans," Dyer wrote.

The agreement between Polis and Gov. John Hickenlooper stopped ballot measures 88 and 89, which could have led to huge setbacks for drilling rigs and created an anything-goes "bill of rights" to empower environmental activists. The bean bag also contained an agreement by pro-energy groups to remove two fracking-friendly measures. The deal creates a blue ribbon panel to recommend possible legislative remedies to fracking concerns.

"Actually, beans would have been a better deal," Dyer wrote.

The initiatives vanished because the Democratic establishment feared they would generate conservative turnout and defeat Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall, who top lists of endangered Democrats.

Coloradans devoted to creating these laws did not care about political fallout. Most may be Democrats, but they're environmentalists first. Though misguided by exaggerated dangers, they care about clean air, clean water and a desire to keep energy production far from playgrounds, schools and homes. The most troubling aspect of their outrage involves a belief "democracy" should justify any victories they achieve.

"Democracy in Colorado took a hit last Monday and it's going to take a while to nail down exactly what occurred," Dyer wrote.

And this: "In the end, millions of Colorado voters, Democrats, Republicans, Independents and others, lost their right to have their voices heard because a small handful of politically powerful men and woman are afraid of democracy. That's the real deal behind this betrayal."

"Democracy" gets tossed around as a flag-waving concept morally equivalent to "freedom," "liberty" and "justice." The notion of enforced majority will as an inherent form of virtue, a sentiment on the right and left, has twisted Colorado's constitution into a helix. The Colorado Economic Futures Panel, the Colorado Forum and University of Denver researchers have studied and detailed our state's constitutional crisis.

"Voters are being asked to make critical fiscal decisions in isolation and through separate, unrelated measures," explains the Colorado Forum's website. "Numerous — and oftentimes contradictory — constitutional provisions have been adopted over the years."

The fracking deal avoids further contradiction, at least for the moment. The same Constitution that protects property rights should not trounce them by falsely authorizing politicians to control and negate investments in subsurface minerals and surfaces — otherwise known as private property — without so much as the burden of condemnation proceedings.

This country uses limited democratic process with caution. We're fortunate powerful men and women fear mob rule. In the United States, voters can't quell religion or silence speech. They can't take guns. It appears they can't forbid same-sex marriages. Beyond question, voters cannot take homes, businesses and other forms of private property without due process and compensation. Voters can't do these things because the federal and state constitutions keep democracy in check.

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